Monday, September 26, 2005

John 14: The Father

A large part of St John’s Trinitarian theology is concentrated in the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. For the next few days, I’d like to focus on the way each Person of the Holy Trinity is presented therein, so as to better understand one of our earliest sources for this divine and eternal mystery. Even though I’m arranging the posts this way, it will be clear that none of the Divine Persons can be adequately considered apart from the others. Therefore, much of what we will see flows from the relationship of Persons in the Trinity. What we will learn about the Most Holy Trinty comes from the mouth of Jesus Himself.

The Father is revealed as the ultimate goal of our lives, because salvation is presented in terms of coming to the Father, by way of the Son: “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Heaven is described as “My Father’s house.” The main emphasis in this chapter is the inseparable oneness of the Father and the Son: “If you would have known Me, you would have known My Father also”; “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” But the evangelist takes care to present the ineffable mystery of union and distinction, as he did in the beginning of his Gospel when he wrote: “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Though the Father and Son are completely One, they are not merely two different “faces” or “modes” of the same Person (as some early heretics taught, and as some modern ones still do). They are actually two Persons: “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me… I go to the Father… I will pray to the Father… the word you hear is not mine but the Father’s… I do as the Father has commanded Me…” Even though “the Father and I are one” (10:30), there is still a “Me” and a “Him” that are Son and Father.

They are not only one in being but one in love. “He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him…” Moreover, the doctrine of the divine indwelling is repeatedly stressed in John’s Gospel: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him… I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” If Heaven is the Father’s house, and if Jesus and the Father wish to make their home with us, then God is promising us a foretaste of Heaven on earth through this mutual abiding, which is the fruit of love, and also of the Holy Eucharist (6:56).

It is the Father who is the eternal Origin of the Son and the Spirit, though not in any sort of temporal priority. All three Persons are consubstantial (of the same divine essence or nature) and co-eternal, but the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father (15:26). So it is always the Father who acts through the Son and the Spirit: “the Father who dwells in Me does his works”; “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send… whatever He [the Spirit] hears, He will speak” (the last passage is from 16:13). And it is the Son and the Spirit who refer back to the Father: “I go to the Father… I do as the Father has commanded… I love the Father.” Notice in the icon above (a symbolic image of the Trinity as three angels, based on the way God once appeared to Abraham), that the angels who represent the Son and the Spirit are both looking toward the one who represents the Father.

Since the Father is the ultimate Origin in the Trinity, the Scriptures often refer to Him simply as God. In many cases, “God” ought be to taken to mean the Holy Trinity as such, but it’s obvious when Jesus says, for example, “believe in God; believe also in Me,” that here “God” means the Father.

Perhaps we ought to learn here (I was reminded as I wrote) that everything comes from the Father and everything returns to the Father, in one way or another—if only for judgment, in some cases. Whatever Jesus and the Holy Spirit say or do for us comes ultimately from the Father. The Father, as both eternal Origin and everlasting Destiny, is silently present and at work in the world and in every aspect of your life. “Our Father” may be in Heaven, but He’s as close to you as your own heartbeat. He loves you and wants to make his home with you.