The Story of Faith

Jewish faith grew through a long history of personal and collective encounters with God: from such shadowy figures as Abraham, Sarah, Melchizedek, and others who belong to the patriarchal period (that lasted down to around 1200 BC), who are gratefully remembered in the NT (e.g. Rom. 4: 1-25; Heb. 5-7), and two of whom (Abraham and Melchizedek) are recalled in the First Eucharistic Prayer or Roman Canon, down to Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon, and Anna—those holy Jewish men and women who people Luke's account of Jesus' conception and birth (Luke 1-2). From these chapters of Luke's Gospel, Catholics and other Christians have drawn some very Jewish prayers that have constantly nourished their life with God: the Magnificat (from the words of Mary), the Benedictus (from Zachariah), the Nunc Dimittis (from Simeon)—not to mention the Gloria inspired by the angelic praise when Christ was born (Luke 2: 14) and the Ave Maria or Hail Mary, inspired words addressed to Mary by the angel Gabriel and by Elizabeth (Luke 1: 28, 42).

Dramatic moments punctuated the long Jewish story. When calling Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and take on a pilgrim existence, God promised them special blessings: 'I will make you a great nation.In you all the families of the earth will be blessed' (Gen. 12: 1, 3). God appeared to Moses in the 'flame of fire' that came out of a blazing bush on a mountain in the wilderness, presenting himself as 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' and revealing the divine name of YHWH, interpreted as 'I am who I am'. God commissioned Moses to liberate the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the chosen people, from captivity in Egypt (Exod. 3: 1-4: 17). Their deliverance involved not only forty years of wandering in the desert but also God's covenant at Mount Sinai, pre-eminent among the seven covenants gratefully recalled by Ben Sira (Sir. 44-7).

Around 1000 BC with King David a Jewish monarchy emerged, and the historical books offer connected and often overlapping narratives of Israel's story, narratives consistently determined by a sense of God's constant involvement with the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. The anointing of David, for instance, was understood to bring upon him permanently the powerful presence of God's spirit (1 Sam. 16: 1—13). YHWH shaped the identity and functions of his visible representative, the king who became God's 'son' on the day of his installation (Ps. 2: 7).

Traditionally ascribed to David, the psalms formed the hymnal of ancient Israel and seem to have been mostly composed to accompany acts of worship in the magnificent Temple constructed in Jerusalem by David's son and successor, King Solomon. The psalms reflected the people's deeply personal experience of God, as they joyfully praised YHWH, asked for help in time in trouble, expressed confidence in the divine power, and, both collectively and individually, poured out their hearts to their God. The psalms would become the prayerbook for Catholic Christianity, used day after day by communities and individuals in their public and private worship. If the ancient axiom lex orandi lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) applies anywhere, it applies to the way in which for two thousand years the psalms have shaped and interpreted the Catholic sense of who and what God is. Those who daily pray the psalms should not need to be persuaded that what primarily matters is knowing (and experiencing) God with the heart rather than merely knowing about God with the mind. Such personal knowledge of God slips easily into committing oneself to God in faith.

Jews, Catholics, and other Christians have found the psalms maintaining their basic religious identity as creatures bound in an intimate relationship to their Creator and Lord. These prayers have constantly served to purify false images of God and eradicate the idolatry that seeks to manipulate the divine for one's immediate advantage and forgets the need for moral and spiritual renewal. In a psalm traditionally attributed to David, after the prophet Nathan reproached him for his sins of adultery and murder, the psalmist declares: 'My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise' (Ps. 51: 17). 'The God of the psalms' is the shortest and best answer to the question: who is God for the OT?

Over the centuries Catholics have learned more of God from praying the psalms than from studying the teachings of general councils of the

Church.73 Philosophical precision shaped these teachings, as when the Fourth Lateran Council confessed 'the one true God' to be 'eternal, immense [i.e. being unmeasured and unmeasurable], unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty, ineffable', and 'entirely simple' (DH 800; ND 19). To this list the First Vatican Council added a few such attributes as God being 'infinite in intellect, will, and all perfection' (DH 3001; ND 327). These precise adjectives can keep errors at bay. More importantly, the boundlessly intense nature of these attributes (God as being in-finite, im-mense and unchangeable, and therefore for us in-comprehensible, and in-effable) respects the mysterious otherness of the divine Being who largely transcends human knowing.

The story of faith also included all that the prophets communicated about God and the way human beings should live before God. First, in the greatest prophetic communications the divine holiness and glory figured centrally. Thus on the occasion of the call in the Temple of the prophet Isaiah (active £".742—£.701 BC), heavenly creatures proclaimed: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory' (Isa. 6: 3). (As the Sanctus74 or Trisagion, this thrice-holy acclaim of God has passed into the worship of Catholics and other Christians.) A prophet to the Jewish exiles after the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC, Ezekiel nineteen times extolled 'the glory of the Lord' (e.g. Ezek. 10: 3—4), the glorious and overpowering majesty of God that would return to the restored or Second Temple (Ezek. 43: 1—12). Second, during the exile in Babylon the anonymous author of Second Isaiah (Isa. 40—55), joyfully announced that God their Saviour would bring the exiles home. He revered God as not only the Lord of history but also the Creator of the universe (e.g. Isa. 40: 12-31; 44: 24), 'the Holy One of Israel' (Isa. 41: 16, 20). Third, for some centuries, in worshipping one God, Israel may have practised only monolatry ('worship of one God') without necessarily denying the existence of lesser deities and being explicitly monotheist. By the time of Second Isaiah, however, Israel's monotheism clearly entailed rejecting the reality of any other gods (Isa. 43: 10-13; 44: 8; 45: 21-2). This anonymous prophet witnessed to genuine monotheism, the

Until recently only a small minority of Catholics and other Christians could read, much less be moved to study the teachings of the councils. Yet, indirectly, through worshipping together and living their faith, most Christians absorbed those teachings.

After the preface of every eucharistic prayer, the Sanctus introduces the hymn of praise that follows.

belief in one (and only one), personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God, who is the Creator and Lord of everyone and everything and yet exists distinct from and 'beyond' the whole universe. Fourth, at a time of cruel suffering for the Jewish exiles, Second Isaiah confidently proclaimed God not only as Creator, Saviour, and Lord of all history for the chosen people, but also as the One whom all nations should worship and in whom all can find salvation (Isa. 45: 22-5).

This final point recalls the promise to Abraham and Sarah: in them 'all the families of the earth' would be blessed (Gen. 12: 3). What precedes that promise in the text of Genesis is the covenant with Noah, which shares the divine promise and law with all human beings and, indeed, with all non-human creatures (Gen. 9: 1-17). This universal covenant interprets Noah's three sons as the ancestors for all nations. The divine covenant with this Hebrew patriarch enjoys universal, cosmic extension. The Book of Jonah, probably written in the fifth century BC and so some decades after Second Isaiah, witnesses powerfully to the divine love for all people. God's merciful forgiveness extends to all human beings. The NT was to endorse God's loving concern for all peoples (e.g. Acts 14: 15-17; 17: 22-8), a truth that many Catholics and other Christians were often to forget down the centuries.

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