Part 2 – God the Father – Week 5

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 5

In the past weeks, we have seen how Ratzinger’s analysis of the Christian notion of God in Introduction to Christianity hinges upon two key aspects that are already present in the episode of the burning bush: that, on the one hand, He is the God of ‘faith,’ the personal God who lives on the plane of I-You, who makes Himself known in history to a specific people and enters into a relationship of love and self-giving with them as their Father; and that at the same time, He is also the God of the ‘philosophers,’ the source and summit of all that exists in as much as He is, in as much as His name, ‘I Am’ identifies Him as Being itself and thus as Almighty. This week we will see how Ratzinger approaches the question of creation and the title of God as Creator, translating the language of His ‘names’ into terms in which the contemporary debate about atheism is framed, into terms which answer the question about the origin of all that exists by referring not to the eternity of ‘matter’ and pure chance, but to God’s creative and free thought.



Christian faith in God means first the decision in favour of the primacy of the logos as against mere matter. Saying “I believe that God exists” also implies opting for the view that the logos – that is, the idea, freedom, love – stands not merely at the end but also at the beginning; that it is the originating and encompassing power of all being. In other words, faith means deciding for the view that thought and meaning do not just form a chance by-product of being; that on the contrary all being is a product of thought and indeed in its innermost structure is itself thought. […]

This decision in favour of the intellectual structure of the kind of being which emerges from meaning and understanding includes the belief in creation. This means nothing else than the conviction that the objective mind we find present in all things, indeed, as which we learn increasingly to understand things, is the impression and expression of subjective mind and that the intellectual structure which being possesses and that we can re-think is the expression of a creative pre-meditation, to which they owe their existence.

To put it more precisely, in the old Pythagorean saying about the God who practises geometry there is expressed that insight into the mathematical structure of being which learns to understand being as being-thought, as intellectually structured; there is also expressed the perception that even matter is not simply non-sense which eludes understanding, that it too bears in itself truth and comprehensibility which make intellectual comprehension possible. […]

It may be useful to clarify and confirm this statement by inserting it – again only in broad strokes – into a kind of self-criticism of historical reason. After two and a half thousand years of philosophical thinking it is no longer possible for us to speak happily of matter itself as if so many different people had not tried to do the same thing before us and come to grief. Moreover, when we survey the acres of shattered hypotheses, vainly applied ingenuity and empty logic which history shows us, we might well lose all heart in the quest for the real, hidden truth that transcends the obvious. Yet the situation is not quite so hopeless as it must appear at first sight, for in spite of the almost endless variety of the opposing philosophical paths which man has taken in his attempts to think out being, in the last analysis there are only a few basic ways of explaining the secret of being. The question to which everything finally leads could be formulated like this: In all the variety of individual things what is, so to speak, the common stuff of being – what is the one being behind the many “things”, which nevertheless all “exist”? The many answers produced by history can finally be reduced to two basic possibilities. The first and most obvious would run something like this: Everything we encounter is in the last analysis stuff, matter; this is the only thing that always remains as demonstrable reality and consequently represents the real being of all that exists – the materialistic solution. The other possibility points in the opposite direction. It says: Whoever looks thoroughly at matter will discover that it is being-thought, objectivized thought. So it cannot be the ultimate. On the contrary, before it comes thinking, the idea; all being is ultimately being-thought and can be traced back to mind as the original reality; this is the “idealistic” solution.

The Christian belief in God is not completely identical with either of these two solutions. To be sure, it too will say, being is being-thought. Matter itself points beyond itself to thinking as the earlier and more original factor. But in opposition to idealism, which makes all being into moments of an all-embracing consciousness, the Christian belief in God will say: Being is being-thought – yet not in such a way that it remains only thought and that the appearance of independence proves to be mere appearance to anyone who looks more closely. On the contrary, Christian belief in God means that things are the being-thought of a creative consciousness, of a creative freedom, and that the creative consciousness that bears up all things has released what has been thought into the freedom of its own, independent existence. […]

This also clarifies the root of the conception of creation: the model from which creation must be understood is not the craftsman but the creative mind, creative thinking. At the same time it becomes evident that the idea of freedom is the characteristic mark of the Christian belief in God […]. At the beginning of all being it puts not just some kind of consciousness but a creative freedom that creates further freedoms. To this extent one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom. For Christianity, the explanation of reality as a whole is not an all-embracing consciousness or one single materiality; on the contrary, at the summit stands a freedom that thinks and, thinking, creates freedoms, thus making freedom the structural form of all being. […]

The implications of this are very extensive. […] In a world which in the last analysis is not mathematics but love, the minimum is a maximum; the smallest thing that can love is one of the biggest things; the particular is more than the universal; the person, the unique and unrepeatable, is at the same time the ultimate and highest thing. In such a view of the world the person is not just an individual, a reproduction arising by the diffusion of the idea into matter, but, precisely, a “person”. Greek thought always regarded the many individual creatures, including the many individual human beings, only as individuals, arising out of the splitting-up of the idea in matter. The reproductions are thus always secondary; the real thing is the one and universal. The Christian sees in man not an individual but a person; and it seems to me that this passage from individual to person contains the whole span of the transition from antiquity to Christianity, from Plato to faith.”



Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [20002], 151-160.



  1. Reflect on the reality that all of creation, that all that exists – the planets and the universe in its vastness, the almost infinite variety of plants, animals, insects, birds, and fish, and the complexity of the microscopic world made up not only of molecules and atoms, but even quarks and strings – all bears witness to the presence of God, to His goodness, to His providence, to His love. Realize that God’s presence surrounds us and envelops us; it is written into the very ‘DNA’ of everything that exists.
  2. Realize that in my individuality and personhood I am not a chance product of materialistic evolution. I am thought and willed by God who in His freedom and love chose to create me, chose to make me into a unique image and likeness of Himself. Each of us is, in a distinctive way, the masterpiece of God, not just something ‘mass-produced,’ but a someone created through a conscious act of love.

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