From the Beginning: The Father and the Son

To examine the content of our daily reading is a worthy project. A priest is fortunate as the daily reading of his Breviary puts him in contact with something other than the daily fare. The amount of information available to us via the media, cell phones, kindles, and such devices is simply overwhelming.

Moreover, the daily events are themselves rather infinite. We can spend all day today trying to figure out what went on yesterday. Plato tells us of a character, a kind of doctor/trainer, who was sickly. He spent his whole life taking care of his health. As a result, he did not do anything but attend to himself. Both in health and in our daily occupations, we need to have something from outside our daily routine impinge upon us, or better surprise us, remind us,  teach us, break  in on us.

Of the Church Fathers, Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202 A.D.) is striking. His multi-volumed treatise, Against Heresies, is a mine of wisdom. A passage from Book Four appeared in the Breviary the other day (Wednesday, 1st Week). The primary function of the Church, its teachers and doctors, is to be sure that we know, ultimately, is going on in the world. We have in English the expression “the daily grind.” It may come from coffee-making. It means roughly that our daily lives are composed of many small and routine details, things usually good in themselves. But we can become so narrowly focused on “the daily grind” that we never raise our eyes to anything beyond the horizon.

Irenaeus is a shot in the arm. He tells us, something we find in John, that “No one can know the Father apart from God’s Word, that is, unless the Son reveals him, and no one can know the Son unless the Father so wills.” Our civilization is full of thinkers who have claimed to know the Father without Christ.  Likewise, we find those who claim the Son can be known by study or by philosophy. He does not “reveal” anything but a visionary, a carpenter, a zealot, a revolutionary. What Irenaeus tells us is that getting it right is important for our very well-being.

The Father sends the Son into the world. “The Father is beyond our sight and comprehension, but he is known by his Word, who tells us of him who surpasses all telling.” We are listening to instructions here. We may not want to hear them. Yet, if something is to be known, we have to know it after the manner in which it is shown to us. “Knowledge of the Father consists in the self-revelation of the Son, for all is revealed through the Word.”  The Son reveals himself in His words and deeds.

Why would the Father want to reveal Himself to us? “The Father’s purpose in revealing the Son was to make himself known to us all and so to welcome into eternal rest those who believe in him, establishing them in justice, preserving them from death.” In other words, the Father was concerned about making Himself known to each of us. How to do this was the question. The unexpected answer was that God’s inner Word should become Man. We are intended to be “welcomed” into eternal life. Justice will have to be faced. Death, which God never intended, will end in resurrection.

After establishing this order, Irenaeus next places it in the context of creation. Creation itself is also the Father’s revealing Himself through His Son. “Through creation itself the Word reveals God the Creator,” Irenaeus tells us. “Through the world he reveals the Lord who made the world. Through all that is fashioned, he reveals the craftsman who fashioned it all. Through the Son the Word reveals the Father who begot him as Son.”

Is it all right for ordinary people to think, reflect on such truths in the course of their days? If not, it is like saying that we can deal with everything but what is really important to us. I am a believer in the ordinary intelligence of ordinary people. It looks like Irenaeus was also.

“The Son performs everything as a ministry to the Father, from beginning to end, and without the Son no one can know God.” All heresy, Irenaeus implies, is rooted in a claim to know the Father apart from the Son, or even worse, to know neither Father nor Son but only oneself as an adequate explanation of what each of us is.

Irenaeus next sketches the scope of what we deal with. “The word ‘revealed’ refers not only to the future—as though the Word began to reveal the Father only when he was born of Mary; it refers equally to all time. From the beginning the Son is present to creation, reveals the Father to all, to those the Father chooses, when the Father chooses, and as the Father chooses.”

Thus, we can expect that the study of the world itself will “reveal” signs of Word within its very structure of time and space. The cosmos will turn out to be oriented to the appearance of the rational creature within it. The purpose of the universe will be the drama of human existence, including its judgment. We are under the divine plan, a plan that includes God’s responses to our choices in response to what is revealed to us in the Son about the Father.

We cannot “deduce” end times from cosmological time measurements because the Father’s choosing, its “when” and “as,” is concerned with the “to whom” the Son is to reveal the Father. These are the free creatures. Their choices are not indifferent or insignificant.

The final words are of Irenaeus: “So there is in all and through all one God the Father, one Word and Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation for all who believe in him.” No other “salvation” that we concoct for ourselves will work. We are free to try one. This is what justice and judgment and history are about, from the beginning.


The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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