We certainly do discover God by admiring his incomprehensible essence, which still lies hidden in the hope of the promise. But we also see him through the greatness of his creation, and the consideration of his justice, and the help of his daily providence. We see him when with pure minds we contemplate what he has done with his saints in every generation, when with trembling heart we admire his power, with which he governs, directs, and rules all things, or the vastness of his knowledge, and that eye of his from which no secrets of the heart can lie hidden. We see him when we consider the sand of the sea, and the number of the waves measured by him and known to him, when in our wonder we think that the drops of rain, the days and hours of the ages, and all things past and future are present to his knowledge; when we gaze in unbounded admiration on that ineffable mercy of his, which with unwearied patience endures countless sins that are every moment being committed under his very eyes. We see God in the numberless opportunities of salvation he grants to those whom he is going to adopt. We see him in the way he made us be born so that from our very cradles his grace and the knowledge of his law might be given to us. Finally, we see him in the way he undertook the dispensation of his Incarnation for our salvation, and extended the marvels of his sacraments to all nations. But there are numberless other considerations of this sort, which arise in our minds according to the character of our life and the purity of our heart, by which God is either seen by pure eyes or embraced.
St. John Cassian, Conferences, 1.15
– A Year With The Church Fathers
What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honour was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.
Augustine: Tractates On The Gospel of John 51.4
“It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down, the disbelief that veils God again when he has revealed himself, all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement—all this, absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself and before the world.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible, Chapter 7
“Divine compassion presupposes both impassibility and passibility. It is the main contention of the patristic understanding of the incarnation that God, remaining fully divine, became human, accepted the limitations of human existence, subjected himself to voluntary suffering for the salvation of the world and triumphed over sin, death, and corruption in the end. God is impassible inasmuch as he is able to conquer suffering and he is passible inasmuch as he is able to suffer in and through human nature.”
Paul Gavrilyuk, The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought, Oxford University Press, 2006
“This is the rule of our faith, the foundation of the building, and what gives support to our behaviour.
God the Father uncreated, who is uncontained, invisible, one God, creator of the universe; this is the first article of our faith.
And the second is: The Word of God, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to the prophets according to their way of prophesying and according to the dispensation of the Father. Through him all things were created. Furthermore, in the fullness of time, in order to gather all things to himself, he became a human being amongst human beings, capable of being seen and touched, to destroy death, bring life, and restore fellowship between God and humanity.
And the third article is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and our forebears learned of God and the righteous were led in the paths of justice, and who, in the fullness of time, was poured out in a new way on our human nature in order to renew humanity throughout the entire world in the sight of God.”
Irenaeus of Lyons, Quoted in Alister E McGrath (ed), The Christian Theology Reader, 2nd ed, Blackwell 2001, pp 174-175.
Here is a neat Early Church example of the Trinity as Gospel. The writer of the Epistle to Diognetus demonstrates that Christ reveals to us God’s nature as the foundation of our salvation. What was hidden before – the true relationship of God to the world and therefore his character – is revealed through Christ, giving us understanding of God, creation, ourselves and making salvation available to us:
“He always was was, and still is, and will ever be kind and good and free from anger and true; and he formed in his mind a great and unspeakable plan which he communicated to his Son alone. As long, then, as he held and preserved his own wise counsel in concealment he appeared to neglect us, and to have no concern or care for us. But after he revealed and laid open, through his beloved son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, he conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in his benefits and see and understand”
Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 8, Quoted in Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church , Hodder & Staughton:London, 1970, (134).
“The Word of God, the Only Son, has always been present to humanity. According to the Father’s pleasure, he has united and mingled himself with the work which he had formed. He became flesh. This Word made flesh is Jesus Christ, Our Lord. It is he who suffered for us, who has been raised for us, who will return in the Father’s glory in order to raise all flesh, to reveal salvation and to apply the rule of just judgement to all who will be subject to his power. There is, thus, only one God, the Father, as we have demonstrated; and one Christ Jesus, Our Lord, who has passed through all ‘economies’ and has recapitulated everything in himself (Eph 1:10). In this ‘everything’ man is also included, this work formed by God. He thus also recapitulated man in himself; invisible he became visible, indiscernible he became discernible, impassible he became passible, the Word made man. He recapitulated everything in himself in order that, just as the Word of God has the primacy over the supercelestial, spiritual and invisible beings, he might also have it over visible and corporeal beings, assuming this primacy in himself and setting himself up as Head of the Church (Eph 1:22) in order to draw all to himself at the proper time”
Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses III:16:6.
“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God“
Irenaeus of Lyons – Adversus Haereses IV:20:7.
Below is a quote from Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians in which he describes the fullness of life the Corinthians enjoyed prior to the crisis in the leadership that he was writing to correct. What is most noticeable is the link he makes between their humble obedience and the pouring out of the Spirit. Far from being an esoteric pursuit for the sake of experience, the Spirit’s presence and power was given as they faithfully strove to live according to the commands of Christ:
Who has not admired the sobriety and Christian gentleness of your piety? Who has not reported your character so magnificent in its hospitality? And who has not blessed your perfect arid secure knowledge? For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the laws of God, obedient to your rulers, and paying all fitting honour to the older among you. On the young, too, you enjoined temperate and seemly thoughts, and to the women you gave instruction that they should do all things with a blameless and seemly and pure conscience, yielding a dutiful affection to their husbands. And you taught them to remain in the rule of obedience and to manage their households with seemliness, in all circumspection.
And you were all humble-minded and in no wise arrogant, yielding subjection rather than demanding it, “giving more gladly than receiving,” satisfied with the provision of Christ, and paying attention to his words you stored them up carefully in your hearts, and kept his sufferings before your eyes. Thus a profound and rich peace was given to all, you had an insatiable desire to do good, and the Holy Spirit was poured out in abundance on you all.
You were full of holy plans, and with pious confidence you stretched out your hands to Almighty God in a passion of goodness, beseeching him to be merciful towards any unwilling sin. Day and night you strove on behalf of the whole brotherhood that the number of his elect should be saved with mercy and compassion. You were sincere and innocent, and bore no malice to one another. All sedition and all schism was abominable to you. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours; you judged their shortcomings as your own. You were without regret in every act of kindness, “ready unto every good work.” You were adorned by your virtuous and honourable citizenship and did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were “written on the tables of your heart.”
All glory and enlargement was given to you, and that which was written was fulfilled, “My Beloved ate and drank, and he was enlarged and waxed fat and kicked.”
We should learn this lesson from the Early Church well: The Spirit is given in response to faith, but not abstract faith. Rather, faith working through love.
Let us fix our gaze on the Father and Creator of the whole world and cleave to his splendid and excellent gifts of peace, and to his good deeds to us. Let us contemplate him with our mind, let us gaze with the eyes of our soul on his long-suffering purpose, let us consider how free from wrath he is towards all his creatures.
The heavens moving at his appointment are subject to him in peace; day and night follow the course allotted by him without hindering each other. Sun and moon and the companies of the stars roll on, according to his direction, in harmony, in their appointed courses, and swerve not from them at all. The earth teems according to his will at its proper seasons, and puts forth food in full abundance for men and beasts and all the living things that are on it, with no dissension, and changing none of his decrees. The unsearchable places of the abysses and the unfathomable realms of the lower world are controlled by the same ordinances. The hollow of the boundless sea is gathered by his working into its allotted places, and does not pass the barriers placed around it, but does even as he enjoined on it; for he said “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” The ocean, which men cannot pass, and the worlds beyond it, are ruled by the same injunctions of the Master. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter give place to one another in peace. The stations of the winds fulfil their service without hindrance at the proper time. The everlasting springs, created for enjoyment and health, supply sustenance for the life of man without fail; and the smallest of animals meet together in concord and peace. All these things did the great Creator and Master of the universe ordain to be in peace and concord, and to all things does he do good, and more especially to us who have fled for refuge to his mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the majesty for ever and ever, Amen.