Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier: A Brief Look at Fatherhood, Trinity, and Analogy

by Doug McManaman

Recently one evening, as I was walking home, I noticed a young teenager (with a rather interesting haircut and wearing a black Raider's jacket) straddle a bike. Not so unusual. What I didn't notice immediately was his father, short, chubby and rather bald, standing next to him and on a bike as well. The father headed down the slope of the driveway and his son pursued. They were going out for a ride together; father and son. Having taught many teenaged boys in a tough area of Toronto, Ontario who have had no relationship whatsoever with their fathers, I was somewhat touched by the sight of the two of them sharing one another's company. There was a very real intimacy there, and I sensed or otherwise imagined a slight discomfort in the teen age boy. I thought he might have been looking to see if his friends were watching. And yet had they been watching, I was sure that would not have prevented him from completing his outing with his daddy.

Despite the fact that it was my wife who, for the most part, made the difficult sacrifices of getting up every night to comfort and feed our infant daughter crying out for a bottle every three hours, it was "dadda" that she came to utter well before she pronounced "mamma". There were times when we'd pronounce the word "mamma", placing special emphasis on the `m', trying to induce her to emulate, but she'd always return with a quick and definite "dadda". Certainly "dadda" is phonetically easier than "mamma", and most babies say that word before saying "mamma", but she learned "dadda" so decidedly because my wife had spoken the word to her often, directing our girl's attention away from herself, and towards me. I believe that witnessing my daughter's reaction upon my return from school--running on her little pins and calling `daddy' at the top of her voice--is one of my wife's greatest joys. It is a maternal joy, to be sure.

There is something here that is holy and very basic, a relationship that belongs to all things insofar as they are. The groom/bride relationship and that between their offspring all seem to be more than metaphors when it comes to their images found in things. These relationships are analogous, and they are basic to human being. And Catholicism is the only religion (outside of Judaism) that is entirely true to these facts so fundamental to human existence. That is why I contend that the tendency on the part of some people to begin their prayers or prayer services "in the name of the creator, the redeemer, and the sanctifier", or the refusal to refer to God as Father and to see such designation as an anthropomorphism, or a sexist projection of a specifically male quality onto God, is rooted precisely in a confusion between a metaphor and an analogy.

It has always been the faith of the Church that everything God the Father can say about Himself has been definitively said in the Person of Jesus, the eternal Word and perfect image of the Father. Jesus is God's Word about Himself, not man's word about God. Christianity is a revealed religion. To refer to the Triune God as "creator, redeemer, and sanctifier" constitutes a very subtle but real denial (as we find in the religion of Islam) that Jesus is the "eschatological prophet", the final and definitive self-interpretation of God the Father. The formula also betrays either a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity or, what is worse, an outright denial of the Triune nature of God.

"Creator" is not an accurate translation of the first Person of the Trinity. For all things came to be from the Father, the first Person,through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. The entire Trinity is the Creator. And Jesus is certainly the redeemer, but prior to this he is the Son; and he is the eternal Son not in relation to us, but in relation to the first Person of the Trinity, the Father. For the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; begotten not made, and one in being with the Father. Had the Son not joined Himself to a human nature, He would still be the Son, and eternally so--only we wouldn't know it. For it is the Son who reveals the Father: "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14, 9). And the Holy Spirit sanctifies, but prior to this the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as the mutual and personified love between them.

If the formula is not an accurate translation of the Trinity, why must the trinitarian formula contain the male relations of father and son? The answer is that father and son are analogous terms and, as such, are not limited to human generation. In fact, on the human level, a male is only imperfectly a father. On the human level neither male nor female alone can initiate life. But it belongs to a father to originate a generation in a way that involves the transmitting of a vital force which originates outside itself and leads beyond itself. It belongs to a mother to receive the seed from the father, from which follows the union, within her womb, of her contribution with his seed. She conceives the new life within her womb, nurtures and gives birth to it. Note that her reception is not purely passive. She contributes as much as the father, and the egg does actively "go out to meet" the male seed, but her activity does not proceed outside of her (at least for the human mother), but within her. Both human parents are co- creators, and therefore originators, but a mother originates in a receiving kind of way whereas the father originates in a transmitting kind of way. There is nothing in the nature of fatherhood that entails physical maleness. To be a human male is to have the potentiality to originate a human generation in this transmitting kind of way (which can only be realized by the receiving action of the woman). Now God is the ultimate origin and first "transmitting" cause of all generation and being outside of Himself (not within Himself, as I shall explain), and so God is preeminently and most perfectly Father. Human fatherhood is really only an imperfect sharing in the perfect Fatherhood of God because a human father is a source and "transmitting" cause only incompletely (he is not the cause of the soul of his offspring nor of his/her act of being).

God is Father of creation. That is not a metaphor; it is an analogy. But "God is a consuming fire" is a metaphor, as are "shepherd", "eagle", and "vine". In the analogy of proper proportionality, there is a simultaneous sameness and difference both outside the mind and inside the mind, which is not the case with a metaphor. There is a sameness of ratio between terms of different pairs. For example, "2 is to 4 as 3 is to 6"; or, "sharp is to touch as shrill is to hearing". Both pairs are different from one another, yet there is a sameness of ratio between them. God is not really fire, nor is He really a vine, but He is really Father because He really is the principle and origin of all generation and being, in particular the generation (not creation) of the Son. Thus we can say that God is to creation as a human father is to his child. As professor Centore comments: "In each case the creator is separate from his creation. This does not rule out a loving relationship between father and child, but it does serve to distinguish God from his creation in a way that a term like mother would not".

God originates without a mother, that is, without an actively "receiving" cause. God does not receive anything from outside Himself. For anything that is, has its is (being) from God. There is no potentiality in God whatsoever. For He is pure Act of Being (I AM), and therefore virginally Father. And so God is not mother--although there is a certain motherhood in God, as I shall attempt to bring out. But life does not develop within God. Rather, it develops within creation. Creation is mother. The mystery of woman is the mystery of creation redeemed, completed and espoused by God (Bouyer). For all created things have a received existence, and this existence has been received from God, who is the source and "transmitting" cause. Moreover, my received act of existing is diverse, in that there is nothing in common between my act of being and God's, or anyone else's for that matter. Hence, I am a separate being. An existent is not within God as a child is in the womb, but is rather in nature as a child is in the womb.

Confusing the distinction leads to difficulties. Consider the reverse for a moment. If I do not have a unique and diverse act of being, but rather hold it in common with God or anything else, then what is it that will distinguish me from any other being? It will have to be something outside of what I have in common with God or any other thing, that is, something outside of being. But that which is outside of being is non-being, or nothing. Hence, nothing distinguishes me from God or anything else, and so I am God, as is everything else. God becomes the One. By turning existence into a logical entity (a concept or common genus), as did Parmenides, Spinoza, and Hegel, we inevitably fall into pantheism, or panentheism, which is probably the most polite form of atheism available today.

But God is also Father in Himself, and not only in reference to creation. There is in God a real relation of Father and Son insofar as the Son proceeds from the Father as His Word, and is thus generated from the Father, who in turn is the principle or source of that generation. A son is a likeness of his father, and the eternal Word is a perfect likeness of his origin, the first Person of the Trinity. Hence, he is the eternal and only Son of the Father. All other generation found in created being is an imperfect and distant echo of the perfect generation of the eternal Word who, in the beginning, was "with God" and who "was God" (Cf. Jn 1, 1)

What then is this motherhood in God? The two stories at the beginning of this article contain echoes of that motherhood. In the depths of the divine being, this motherhood of love is the Holy Spirit, who joins Father and Son with each other in a boundless joy. My little girl uttering "dadda" well before she could say "mommy" is testimony to my wife's unselfish love; for it was she who put the word on my daughter's lips (despite its phonetic ease). It was her desire that my daughter and I be united in love and that I feel loved by her. And the joy I felt witnessing the comradery of father and son that one evening not long ago was a maternal joy, perhaps a taste of a mother's joy.

In God there is conception, but one that does not involve reception or potency. According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Holy Spirit is "the flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love, that prototype of all created love, is necessarily a divine "conception". The Holy Spirit is, therefore, the "uncreated eternal conception", the prototype of all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe."

The Holy Spirit is an uncreated immaculate conception, obviously related in some way to the created Immaculate Conception (Mary). Kolbe writes: "The Spirit is, then, this thrice holy "conception", this infinitely holy "immaculate conception." Drawing out the implications of this theology, St. Maximilian teaches that if the Holy Spirit were to become flesh, we would not notice any difference between that incarnation and Mary (this in no way implies that Mary is such an incarnation. She is a creature and one of the redeemed). But he writes:

A human mother is an image of our Heavenly Mother (the Immaculata), and she in turn is the image of God's own goodness, God's own heart. God's perfections, flowing from the ineffable inner life of the Trinity, repeat themselves throughout creation in numberless forms.

So all the perfections found in the created order exist in God most perfectly, especially those of woman and motherhood. But this does not mean that God is mother. Mary is preeminently mother; the Church is Mother and Bride; and creation is woman. But "the divine Person who is the source of divinity itself, and as such the sole first cause in the most radical sense, not only exercises his fatherhood eternally, but defines himself by this fatherhood which is always in is much more than a function: it is a subsistant relationship by virtue of which everything subsists which ever shall subsist." (Bouyer)

There are no relationships more intimate and more conducive to emotional and spiritual well-being than the familial relations (father, mother, son, daughter, etc.,.) These relations are meant to be introductions to and the foundations of a more intensely personal and intimate relationship with the Trinity and the entire Communion of Saints. I shudder to picture my daughter greeting me with the functional designation of `teacher' or `provider', rather than `daddy'. I am her daddy. That is a profoundly intimate relation that is permanent and will not change. But I will not always be a teacher, nor will my wife and I always be her provider. Certainly God will always be our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, but it wasn't necessary that He create us, redeem us or sanctify us. The formula says nothing of who or what God is in Himself. It is this that has been revealed, and it is into this intimate trinitarian relationship that the Father draws us: "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me" (Jn 6, 44). The formula "creator, redeemer, sanctifier" does not take us forward, but impoverishes and homogenizes the revelation of Jesus and takes us back centuries before Christ, even before the covenant of Abraham--we find similar terms in Hinduism.

There is no doubt that many fathers (including clerical fathers), by their violence or complete lack of tenderness and character, have made it very difficult for their sons or daughters to relate to the God who is more completely their father than anyone else. Hence, the genius of Catholicism; I refer to the role played by the Blessed Mother in the lives of wounded hearts throughout the past two thousand years. But freedom comes to us not by changing the world, language, or the Gospel. It comes to us through the difficult and painful work of forgiveness (easier said, I realize), which can only begin to happen when we actively insert ourselves into the Person of Jesus and begin living every moment within the shadow of his holy cross.

Copyright 1998 Doug McManaman His Web Site

Return to Articles Page.