Part 2 – God the Father – Week 1

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 1

Having explained the meaning of the words “I believe” that run throughout the Creed, Ratzinger begins Part One of Introduction to Christianity with a reflection on God. The Creed, he tells us, describes God using three principal titles: Father, Almighty (from the Greek ‘pantokrator’ which more literally translates as ‘Ruler of all’), and Creator, with all of these ultimately based on Israel’s faith in the One God. And this Old Testament faith, he then continues, is in turn centred in a unique way on the episode of the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-15, on that mysterious encounter in which Moses bargains with God and demands that in a polytheistic world full of gods he could not go to enslaved Israel without knowing in whose name he was to speak and act, without knowing who this God who was sending him back to Egypt was. And it is at this point, in the revolutionary fact that God actually pronounces His name – ‘I am who I am’ – to Moses, and identifies Himself as ‘the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,’ that we pick up Ratzinger’s commentary on what Christian belief in God, ‘the Father, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,’ really means.



“The God upon whom they [Israel] decided is characterized by the fact that, in the language of religious typology, he is a numen personale (personal god), not a numen locale (local god). What does this mean? Let us try to elucidate briefly what is meant by each phrase. First we should recall that the religious experience of the human race has continually been kindled at holy places, where for some reason or other the “entirely Other”, the divine, becomes especially perceptible to man; a spring, a huge tree, a mysterious stone, or even an unusual happening that occurred at some spot or other, can have this effect. But then the danger immediately arises that in man’s eyes the spot where he experienced the divine and the divine itself merge into each other, so that he believes in a special presence of the divine at that particular spot and thinks he cannot find it in equal measure elsewhere: consequently, the spot becomes a holy spot, the dwelling-place of the divine. The local connection of the divine thus resulting then also leads, however, by a sort of inner necessity, to its multiplication. Because this experience of the holy occurs not just in one spot but in many, while the holy is regarded in each case as confined to the spot concerned, the result is a multitude of local divinities, who thus become at the same time gods of their own respective areas. […]

In contrast to the heathen tendency towards the numen locale, the locally defined and limited deity, the “God of our fathers” expresses a completely different approach. He is not the god of a place, but the god of men: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is therefore not bound to one spot, but present and powerful wherever man is. In this fashion one arrives at a completely different way of thinking about God. God is seen on the plane of I and You, not on the plane of the spatial. He thus moves away into the transcendence of the illimitable and by this very fact shows himself to be he who is always (not just at one point) near, whose power is boundless. He is not anywhere in particular; he is to be found at any place where man is and where man lets himself be found by him. […] The fathers of Israel thus made a choice of the greatest importance: they opted for the numen personale as opposed to the numen locale, for the personal and person-centred God, who is to be thought of and found on the plane of I and You, not primarily in holy places. This basic characteristic of [God] remained the one sustaining element not only of the religion of Israel, but also of the New Testament faith: the emanation of God’s personality, the understanding of God on the plane defined by the I-and-You relationship. […]

After all our reflections we must now finally ask in completely general terms: What is a name really? And what is the point of speaking of a name of God? I do not want to undertake a detailed analysis of this question – this is not the place for such an analysis – but simply to try to indicate in a few lines what seem to me to be the essential points. First, we can say that there is a fundamental difference between the purpose of a concept and that of a name. The concept tries to perceive the nature of the thing as it is in itself. The name, on the other hand, does not ask after the nature of thing as it exists independently of me; it is concerned to make the thing nameable, that is, “invocable”; to establish a relation to it. […] Let us take an example: if I know of someone that he falls under the concept “man”, this is still not enough to enable me to establish a relation to him. Only the name makes him nameable; through the name the other enters into the structure, so to speak, of my fellow-humanity; through the name I can call him. Thus the name signifies and effects the social incorporation, the inclusion in the structure of social relations. Anyone who is still regarded only as a number is excluded from the structure of fellow-humanity. But the name establishes the relation of fellow humanity. It gives to a being the “invocability” from which co-existence with the namer arises.

This will probably make clear what Old Testament faith means when it speaks of a name of God. The aim is different from that of the philosopher seeking the concept of the highest Being. The concept is a product of thinking that wants to know what that highest Being is like in itself. Not so the name. When God names himself after the self-understanding of faith he is not so much expressing his inner nature as making himself nameable; he is handing himself over to men in such a way that he can be called upon by them. And by doing this he enters into coexistence with them, he puts himself within their reach; he is “there” for them.

  1. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [20002], 122-124, 133-134.




Reflect on the fact that God is, in His deepest reality, in His innermost essence, someone who wants to be close to me, someone who wants to enter into a personal relationship of friendship, trust, and love with me, someone who wants to ‘build His life’ together with me.

Do I think of God in these terms? Do I live my life believing, trusting, and loving this God who is defined by the I-You relationship? Or do I live as if God was a numen locale, whose presence in my life is limited to specific places and moments like, for example, only when I go to Church?

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