5/3 A Catechism on the Divine Will . . .

Vatican City, February 06, 2013
Here is a translation of the General Audience Pope Benedict XVI gave in Paul VI Hall
(Previously published in 2013, worth rereading again)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Creed, which begins by describing God as “Almighty Father,” as we meditated on last week, then adds that He is the “Creator of heaven and earth,” and thus takes up the Bible’s opening line. In the first verse of Sacred Scripture, we read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1): God is the origin of all things and his omnipotence as a loving Father unfolds in the beauty of creation.

God manifests himself as Father in creation, inasmuch as He is the origin of life, and in creating, reveals his omnipotence. The images used in Sacred Scripture in this regard are very powerful (cf. Is 40:12; 45:18; 48:13; Psalm 104:2.5; 135.7, Prov 8:27-29; Job 38-39). He, like a good and powerful Father, takes care of what he has created with a love and loyalty that never fail or diminish, as the Psalms repeatedly affirm (cf. Ps 57:11; 108:5; 36:6). Thus, the creation becomes a place in which to know and recognize the omnipotence of the Lord and his goodness, and becomes an appeal to faith as believers so that we proclaim God as Creator. “By faith”, writes the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, “we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible”(11:3). Faith implies, therefore, knowing how to recognize the invisible by identifying the traces of it in the visible world. The believer can read the great book of nature and understand its language (cf. Ps19:2-5), but the Word of revelation, which stimulates faith, is necessary for man to achieve full awareness of the reality of God as Creator and Father. It is in the book of Sacred Scripture that human intelligence can find, in the light of faith, the interpretative key to understand the world. In particular, the first chapter of Genesis holds a special place, with its solemn presentation of the divine creative act that unfolds in seven days: in six days God completes creation and on the seventh day, the Sabbath, he ceases from all activity and rests. A day of freedom for all, a day of communion with God. And so, with this image, the book of Genesis tells us that God’s first thought was to find a love responding to His love. The second thought is then create a material world in which to place this love, these creatures who answer him in freedom. This structure, therefore, causes the text to be marked by some significant repetitions. Six times, for example, the phrase is repeated: “God saw that it was good” (vv., and finally, the seventh time, after the creation of man: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (v. 31). Everything that God creates is good and beautiful, full of wisdom and love, the creative action of God brings order, sets things in harmony, bestows beauty. In the Genesis account then, it emerges that the Lord creates by his word: ten times the texts uses the expression “God said” (vv. It is the word, the Logos of God who is the origin of the reality of the world and by saying, “God said,” and it was so, it emphasizes the effective power of the Word of God. As the psalmist sings: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all their host … because he spoke and all things were created, he commanded, and it was done” (33:6.9). Life arises, the world exists, because everything obeys the divine Word.

But our question today is: in the age of science and technology, does it still make sense to speak of creation? How should we understand the Genesis narratives? The Bible is not intended as a natural science manual; its intention instead is to teach us the authentic and profound truth of things. The fundamental truth that the Genesis stories reveal to us is that the world is not a collection of contrasting forces, but has its origin and its stability in the Logos, in God’s eternal Reason, who continues to sustain the universe. There is a plan for the world that arises from this Reason, from the creating Spirit. Believing that such a reality is behind all this, illuminates every aspect of life and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with confidence and hope. Thus, the Scriptures tell us that the origin of being, of the world, our origin is not irrationality or necessity, but rather reason and love and freedom. Hence the alternative: either priority of the irrational, of necessity, or priority of reason, freedom and love. We believe in this latter position.

But I would like to say a word about that which is the apex of all creation: man and woman, the human being, the only being “capable of knowing and loving his Creator” (Pastoral Constitution. Gaudium et spes, 12). The Psalmist, gazing on the skies, asks: “When I see your heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established, what is man that you remember him, the son of man that you care for him?”(8:4-5). The human being, created by God with love, is a small thing before the immensity of the universe; sometimes, when gazing, fascinated, upon the huge expanses of the sky, we too have perceived our limitedness. The human being is inhabited by this paradox: our smallness and our frailty coexist with the magnitude of what the eternal love of God has willed for us.

The creation stories in Genesis also introduce us to this mysterious area, helping us to know God’s plan for man. First of all they affirm that God formed man of the dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7). This means that we are not God, we did not make ourselves, we are earth; but it also means that we come from the good soil, by the work of the good Creator. Added to this is another fundamental reality: all human beings are dust, beyond the distinctions made by culture and history, beyond any social difference; we are one humanity moulded with the one soil of God. Then there is a second element: the human being has its origin in God breathing the breath of life into the body moulded from the earth (cf. Gen 2:7). The human being is made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). So we all carry within us God’s breath of life and every human life – the Bible tells us – is under God’s special protection. This is the most profound reason for the inviolability of human dignity against any attempt to judge the person according to utilitarian and power-based criteria. Being in the image and likeness of God means, then, that man is not closed in on himself, but finds in God his essential point of reference.

In the first chapters of the Book of Genesis we find two significant images: the garden with the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the serpent (cf. 2:15-17; 3,1-5). The garden tells us that the reality in which God has placed the human being is not a wild forest, but a place that He protects, nourishes and sustains; and man must recognize the world not as property to be plundered and exploited, but as a gift of the Creator, a sign of His saving will, a gift to cultivate and care for, to grow and develop with respect, in harmony, following its rhythms and logic, according to the plan of God (cf. Gen 2:8-15). Then, the serpent is a figure derived from oriental fertility cults, which appealed to Israel and were a constant temptation to abandon the mysterious covenant with God. In light of this, the Sacred Scripture presents the temptation that Adam and Eve undergo as the essence of temptation and of sin. What does the serpent say, in fact? He does not deny God, but slips in a subtle question: “Is it true that God has said ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'”(Gen 3:1). In this way, the serpent raises the suspicion that the covenant with God is like a chain that binds him, depriving him of freedom and of the most beautiful and precious things in life. The temptation becomes to build their own world in which to live, to not accept the limitations of being a creature, the limits of good and evil, of morality; their dependence on the love of God the Creator is seen as a burden to be shaken off. This is always the essence of temptation. But when it distorts the relationship with God, with a lie, putting oneself in His place, all the other relationships are altered. Then the other becomes a rival, a threat: Adam, having succumbed to the temptation, immediately accuses Eve (cf. Gen 3:12); the two hide from the sight of that God with whom they used to converse in friendship (cf. 3:8-10); the world is no longer a garden to live in in harmony, but a place to be exploited and which conceals pitfalls (cf. 3:14-19); envy and hatred towards each other enter into the heart of man: one example is that of Cain, who kills his brother Abel (cf. 4:3-9). By turning against his Creator, in reality man turns against himself, he denies his origin and therefore his truth; and evil enters into the world, with its painful chain of sorrow and death. And so what God had created was good, in fact, very good; and after this free decision of man for a lie and against the truth, evil enters the world.

In the creation stories, I would like to highlight one last teaching: sin begets sin and all the sins of history are interconnected. This aspect leads us to talk about what we call “original sin.” What is the meaning of this reality, so difficult to understand? I would like offer just a few elements. First, we must consider that no man is closed in on himself, no one can live only in and for himself; we receive life from the other and not just at the moment of our birth, but every day. The human being is relation: I am myself only in you and through you, in the relationship of love with the Thou of God and the you of others. Well, sin is to upset or destroy the relationship with God, this is its essence: to destroy the relationship with God, the fundamental relationship, to put oneself in the place of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that with the first sin, man “chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (no. 398). When the fundamental relationship is disturbed, all the other relational poles are compromised or destroyed, sin ruin relationships, and in this way ruins everything, because we are relation. Now, if the relational structure of humanity is troubled from the start, every man walks into a world marked by this disturbance of relationships, he enters a world disturbed by sin, of which he is marked personally; the initial sin attacks and injures human nature (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 404-406). And man alone, one alone cannot get out of this situation, he cannot redeem himself alone; only the Creator Himself can restore the right relationships. Only if He from whom we have strayed comes to us and takes us by the hand with love, can the right relationships be stitched together again. This is done in Jesus Christ, who goes in exactly the opposite direction of Adam, as described in the hymn in the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:5-11): while Adam does not acknowledge his creaturely status and wants to put himself in the place of God, Jesus, the Son of God, is in a perfect filial relationship with the Father, he lowers himself, he becomes the servant, he goes the way of humbling himself to death on the cross, to reorder our relations with God. The Cross of Christ becomes the new Tree of Life.

Dear brothers and sisters, to live by faith is to recognize the greatness of God and accept our smallness, our creaturely condition, letting the Lord fill it with His love and so allowing our true greatness to grow. Evil, with its burden of pain and suffering, is a mystery that is illuminated by the light of faith, which gives us the certainty of being able to be freed: the certainty that it is good to be a human being.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis during this Year of Faith, we now reflect on the Creed’s description of God as “Creator of heaven and earth”. In the work of creation, God is seen as the almighty Father who by his eternal Word brings into existence a universe of goodness, harmony and beauty. The world thus has meaning as a part of the divine plan, a plan which in a special way embraces man and woman as the culmination of God’s creative activity. The Scriptures teach us that man was created in the image and likeness of God, formed from the dust of the earth. Here we see the basis not only of the unity of the human family but also of our inviolable human dignity. We also see something of the mystery of man as a finite creature called to a sublime role in God’s eternal plan. The tragedy of Adam’s sin, by falsifying our original relationship with God, has affected our relationship with one another and the world itself. Through the saving obedience of Christ, the new Adam, God himself has justified us and enabled us to live in freedom as his beloved sons and daughters.

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland and the United States. May your visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul inspire you never to place anything before the love of Christ. Upon all of you, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana