Part 2 – God the Father – Week 7

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 7

Ratzinger spends several pages of Introduction to Christianity trying to explain the complex history of the Church’s struggle to define the doctrine of the Trinity and distinguish it from the errors of both Subordinationism – which held that Christ and the Holy Spirit were not actually God but only beings close to God, messengers between God and man – and Monarchianism, which held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were only ‘masks’ that God put on when dealing with man but that did not actually reveal the reality of God in Himself. What is more important than the details of these theories, he also claims however, is what they both imply and what our reading last week already hinted at: that in reality man is “cut off from God,” “circling around in himself and not penetrating God’s own reality,” unable to know God-in-Himself. This observation then allows him to explore the consequences of the doctrine of the Trinity for Christian life, for the meaning and shape of Christian existence, and basing himself on the Gospel of John, he writes:


“In St John’s gospel Christ says of himself: “The Son can do nothing of his own accord” (5:19 and 30). This seems to rob the Son of all power; he has nothing of his own; precisely because he is the Son he can only operate by virtue of him to whom he owes his whole existence. What first becomes evident here is that the concept “Son” is a concept of relation. By calling the Lord “Son”, John gives him a name that always points away from him and beyond him; he thus employs a term that denotes essentially a relatedness. He thereby puts his whole Christology into the context of the idea of relation. Formulas like the one just mentioned only emphasize this; they only, as it were, draw out what is implicit in the word “son”, the relativity which it contains. On the face of it, a contradiction arises when the same Christ says of himself in St John: “I and the Father are one” (10:30). But anyone who looks more closely will see at once that in reality the two statements are complementary. In that Jesus is called “Son” and is thereby made relative to the Father, and in that Christology is ratified as a statement of relation, the automatic result is the total reference of Christ back to the Father. Precisely because he does not stand in himself he stands in him, constantly one with him.

What this signifies, not just for Christology but for the illumination of the whole meaning of being a Christian at all, comes to light when John extends these ideas to Christians, who proceed from Christ. It then becomes apparent that he explains by Christology what the Christian’s situation really is. We find here precisely the same interplay of the two series of statements as before. Parallel to the formula “The Son can do nothing of his own accord”, which illumines Christology from the son concept as a doctrine of relativity, is the statement about those who belong to Christ, the disciples: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Thus Christian existence is put with Christ into the category of relationship. And parallel to the logic which makes Christ say, “I and the Father are one”, we find here the petition “that they may be one, even as we are one” (17:11 and 22). The significant difference from Christology comes to light in the fact that the unity of Christians is mentioned not in the indicative, but in the form of a prayer.

Let us now try briefly to consider the significance of the line of thought that has become visible. The Son as Son, and insofar as he is Son, does not proceed in any way from himself and so is completely one with the Father; since he is nothing beside him, claims no special position of his own, confronts the Father with nothing belonging only to him, retains no room for his own individuality, therefore he is completely equal to the Father. The logic is compelling: if there is nothing in which he is just he, no kind of fenced-off private ground, then he coincides with the Father, is “one” with him. It is precisely this totality of interplay that the word “Son” aims at expressing. To John “Son” means being from another; thus, with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere “I”. When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being “from” and “towards”, that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seen, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence. To John, being a Christian means being like the Son, becoming a son; that is, not standing on one’s own and in oneself, but living completely open in the “from” and “towards”. In so far as the Christian is a “Christian”, this is true of him. And certainly such utterances will make him aware to how small an extent he is a Christian. […] It is the nature of Christian existence to receive and to live life as relatedness, and thus to enter into that unity which is the ground of all reality and sustains it.”

Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [20002], 185-188.



What does the doctrine of the Trinity, and especially the realization that as ‘Son’ Christ is complete openness, completely ‘from’ and ‘toward’ the Other, teach me about my own life? Do I live in a fundamental relationship of being ‘from’ and ‘toward’ the Father, receiving everything from Him as a gift in gratitude, bringing all my joys and sorrows back to Him in love and trust? What areas of my life are still closed off to God because of pride or fear?

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