Iesus, imago Patri

When Christians talk about God, we are apt to focus on His love. We must “keep []ourselves in God’s love,” 1, and St. Paul assures us that nothing will be able to separate us from that love. 2 Yet there is more: God is love; so St. John tells us in 1st John 4:8. “These words,” said Pope Benedict XVI , “express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny.” 3 But what is the character of that love? How are we to relate to an abstract concept possessed as an attribute by (for want of a better word) an entity that no one has ever seen? 4

Humans are inevitably anthropocentric in our thinking, and we tend to relate to the world around us by anthropomorphizing things. Many primitive and ancient religions, such as the Romano-Grecan “gods” demonstrate this propensity. And we are limited in our thinking: When we seek to understand abstract concepts, we seek to ground them in concrete experience, or at least to approach them through analogy and metaphor to that which is familiar. Such is the purpose of a parable, for example. 5

Unsurprisingly, then, the God who made and knows us “cho[oses] to relate to his creations in ways in which one might expect the creations to be able to understand.” 6 Accordingly, He sent to us His Son, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” 7 And so, in that famous formulation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 8 To be sure, we see that there are other divine attributes that are claimed of Jesus, as indeed Jesus Himself claimed them. 9 He was full of grace and truth. But above all, Jesus “bore witness to God’s love for us,” 10, a “perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death.” 11  “’It is Christ … who fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling by revealing the mystery of the Father and the Father’s love.’” 12

If we wish to understand God’s love, then, we are most apt to understand it by looking at the life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ, a mirror to us of the Father’s love. Jesus reveals God to us by giving us a representation of the Father and His love for us in concrete, human terms, in things to which we can relate, and we understand what God is like by seeing the example of Jesus’ actions. “In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” 13

Notes:

  1. Jude 1:21.
  2. Rom 8:38-39.
  3. Encyc. Deus caritas est, no. 1, 98 AAS 217 (Benedict XVI,  2005).
  4. See Jn 1:18; 1 Jn 4:12.
  5. See Simon Dodd, A brief note on the notion of a parable, 4 MPA __ (2014), available at https://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1529.
  6. Dodd, The tactility of the Church, 2 MPA 62 (2012).
  7. Col 1:15.
  8. Jn 1:14.
  9. Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity 134-36 (1977).
  10. Thomas Stegman, [Commentary on] Second Corinthians 287 (2009) (emphasis added).
  11. Encyc. Lumen fidei, no.4, 105 AAS 555, 557 (Benedict XVI & Francis I, 2013).
  12. Encyc. Veritatis splendor, no. 2, 85 AAS 1133, 1134 (John Paul II, 1993).
  13. Deus caritas, supra note 3, no. 12.