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The Living God Has Revealed Himself As Eternity Itself

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 4 September 1985 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church incessantly professes the faith expressed in the most ancient Christian creeds: "I believe in one only God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." These words mirror in a concise and synthetic way, the witness which the God of our faith, the living and true God of revelation, has given about himself, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking "by the prophets," and ultimately "by the Son" (Heb 1:1-2). The Church comes forward to meet the changing needs of the times and it probes the truth about God, as the various Councils witness. I refer to the First Vatican Council whose teaching was dictated by the need to withstand both the errors of nineteenth century pantheism and those of materialism, which had begun to assert themselves at that time.

2. The First Vatican Council taught: "Holy Church believes and confesses that there is one only living and true God, creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect, will, and in every perfection; who being one single spiritual substance, absolutely simple and immutable, must be proclaimed as really and essentially distinct from the world, in himself and of himself most blessed, and ineffably supreme over all things that are outside of himself or that are conceivable" [1] .

3. It is easily seen that the conciliar text starts off from these same ancient symbols of faith which we too recite: "I believe in God...almighty...creator of heaven and earth." But it develops this fundamental formulation in accordance with the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. Vatican I lists the "attributes" of God in a more complete form than those of the ancient symbols.

By "attributes" we mean the properties of the divine "Being" which are manifested by revelation, as well as the best philosophical consideration (cf. e.g. Summa Theol., I, qq. 3 ff.). Sacred Scripture describes God by using various adjectives. They are expressions of human language, which shows itself to be so limited, especially when it seeks to express that totally transcendent reality which is God in himself.

4. The passage from the First Vatican Council, quoted above, confirms the impossibility of adequately expressing God. He is incomprehensible and ineffable. The faith of the Church and its teaching about God maintains this "incomprehensibility" and "ineffability." But they do not content themselves with a negative kind of recognition, as does the so-called apophatic theology. This view maintains that human language, and so theology, can express only or almost only what God is not, since it lacks adequate expressions to explain what he is.

5. Thus Vatican I does not limit itself to statements which speak of God in a "negative way," but it expresses itself also in an "affirmative way." Thus, for example, it teaches that this God who is essentially distinct from the world (a mundo distinctus re et essentia), is an eternal God. Sacred Scripture expresses this truth in various passages and in different ways. For example, we read in the Book of Sirach: "He who lives forever created the whole universe" (Sir 18:1), and in the Book of the Prophet Daniel: "He is the living God, enduring forever" (6:27).

The words of Psalm 102, echoed by the Letter to the Hebrews, are similar. The Psalm says: "Of old you did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like raiment, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end" (Ps 102:25-27). Some centuries later, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews will take up the words of the psalm just quoted: "You, Lord, did found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle you will roll them up, and they will be changed like a garment; but you are the same, and your years will never end" (Heb 1:1-12).

Eternity is here the element which essentially distinguishes God from the world. While the latter is subject to change and passes away, God remains beyond the passing of the world. He is necessary and immutable: "you are the same...."

St. Paul wrote, conscious of faith in the eternal God: "To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim 1:17). The Book of Revelation again expresses the same truth: "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Rv 1:8).

6. These facts of revelation also express the rational conviction to which one comes when one considers that God is the subsisting Being, and therefore necessary, and therefore eternal. Because he cannot not be, he cannot have beginning or end nor a succession of moments in the only and infinite act of his existence. Right reason and revelation wonderfully converge on this point. Being God, absolute fullness of being, (ipsum Esse subsistens), his eternity "inscribed in the terminology of being" must be understood as the "indivisible, perfect, and simultaneous possession of an unending life," and therefore as the attribute of being absolutely "beyond time."

God's eternity does not go by with the time of the created world. "It does not coincide with the present." It does not precede it or "prolong" it into infinity. It is beyond and above "being." Eternity, with all that mystery of God, includes in some way the "beyond" and the "above," all that "from within" is subject to time, to change, to the contingent. The words of St. Paul at the Areopagus of Athens come to mind: "In him...we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Let us say "from the outside" in order, by this metaphorical expression, to affirm God's transcendence over things, and of eternity over time. We realize and reaffirm that God is the Being that is intrinsic to the very being of things, and therefore also to time which passes as a succession of moments, none of which is outside his eternal embrace. The witness of Vatican I expresses the Church's faith in the living, true, and eternal God.

He is eternal because he is the absolute fullness of being which cannot be understood as a sum of fragments or of "particles" of being which change with time. The texts quoted from the Bible clearly indicate this. The absolute fullness of being can come to be understood only as eternity, which is, as the total and indivisible possession of that being, God's own life. In this sense God is eternal: a "Now," a "Present," subsisting and unchanging. This mode of being is essentially distinguished from that of creatures, which are "contingent" beings.

7. Thus the living God, who has revealed himself, is the eternal God. More correctly let us say that God is eternity itself. The perfect simplicity of the divine Being (omnino simplex) demands such a form of expression.

When with our human language we say: "God is eternal," we indicate an attribute of the divine Being. Since no attribute of God is distinguished in the concrete from the very essence of God (while human attributes are distinguished from the person who possesses them), in saying: "God is eternal" we wish to affirm: "God is eternity."

For us who are subject to space and to time, this eternity is incomprehensible, just like the divine essence. However, it makes us perceive the infinite greatness and majesty of God, also under this aspect. We are filled with joy at the thought of this Being-Eternity which includes all that is created and contingent, including also our little being, our every act, every moment of our life.

"In him we live and move and have our being."

[1]   Const. Dei Filius, can. 1-4, DS 3001

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Je salue tous les pèlerins de langue française; je leur souhaite:, à J l’occasion de leur présence à Rome, d’éprouver la joie de la foi, la joie d’être aimés de ce Dieu infiniment grand qui est aussi proche de nous.

Je voudrais saluer en particulier le groupe des pèlerins venus de Guinée avec Monseigneur l’Archevêque de Conakry, le groupe des anciens du Séminaire Français de Rome, et aussi les Frères de l’Instruction chrétienne qui sont venus célébrer le cinquantième anniversaire de leur entrée dans leur Congrégation. Je les bénis de grand cœur, ainsi que vous tous ici présents.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. I am pleased to greet the groups of priests and religious, in particular the priests from the Diocese of Orange in California; the Franciscan Fathers coming from various parts of the United States; and the Brothers from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate present in Rome for the First Congress of Oblate Brothers.

* * *

My heartfelt greetings go to the new students, together with the Rector and faculty, of the North American College here in Rome. I pray that you young men will be strengthened by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ as you seek to dedicate yourselves to the priestly ministry of his Church.

* * *

I offer a warm welcome to the parishioners from various Dioceses in England here today, and especially to the Friends of Don Orione group of handicapped and elderly pilgrims, accompanied by their assistants.

* * *

I am also happy to greet the Swedish pilgrims from the Catholic Cathedral of Stockholm, and I pray that you will be renewed in your witness to the Gospel of Christ.

* * *

Finally I welcome the Indonesian Pilgrimage from Jakarta. May your pilgrimage to Rome deepen your love for the Church and her mission.

Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Bruder und Schwestern!

Herzlich grüße ich bei der heutigen Audienz alle Pilger und Besucher aus Deutschland, Osterreich und der Schweiz; unter ihnen besonders die Gruppe von Priestern aus der Diözese Regensburg sowie die der Barmherzigen Schwestern aus Augsburg. Einen weiteren Willkommensgruß richte ich and die Teilnehmer der Rom-Wallfahrt der Erzdiözese München und Freising und der Diözese Passau wie auch and die große Pilgergruppe der Katholischen Männerbewegung aus Graz. Euch und allen Audienzteilnehmern wünsche ich einen frohen und auch geistig fruchtbaren Aufenthalt in der Ewigen Stadt und erteile euch von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo dirigirme ahora a los visitantes de lengua española aquí presentes, procedentes de España y de América Latina. De modo especial saludo a los peregrinos de la diócesis de Plasencia (España), acompañados por su Obispo Mons. Antonio Vilaplana; también a los responsables de Catequesis de la parroquia “Santa Mónica”, de Madrid, y la peregrinación de Venezuela, compuesta en gran parte por jóvenes estudiantes. Igualmente saludo a los grupos de jóvenes de Barcelona, Gerona y Pozo Canada (Albacete).

Vuestro afecto al Sucesor de Pedro me recuerda también el de las comunidades eclesiales que he tenido ocasión de encontrar en mis visitas pastorales a los diversos Países. Os exhorto a todos: amad intensamente a la Iglesia y sabed ser dignos hijos de ella.

A vosotros y a vuestros seres queridos imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini giunti dalla Polonia

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymkę z diecezji siedleckiej z księdzem biskupem ordynariuszem; z parafii św. Szczepana w Krakowie; z parafii św. Klemensa w Wieliczce; młodzież akademicką z kaplicy Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiej w Warszawie; duszpasterstwo harcerek i harcerzy - Poznań; pielgrzymkę dekanatu Głubczyce z diecezji opolskiej; również dekanatu Ozimek z tejże diecezji; pielgrzymkę kobiet-żołnierzy Armii Krajowej, powstańców warszawskich wraz z rodzinami i przyjaciółmi; grupę studentów Wydziału Architektury z Krakowa; grupę nauczycieli z Bierutowa, parafia św. Józefa; pielgrzymkę z parafii Przemienienia Pańskiego z Cleveland, w Stanach Zjednoczonych. Prócz tego przedstawicieli Polonii z Buffalo i innych miast Stanów Zjednoczonych; Akademicki Chór Politechniki S Śląskiej z Gliwic; księdza biskupa pomocniczego ze Szczecina, bpa Szymanka; uczestników grup turystycznych PKS, PTTK i Orbisu . . .

Proszę bardzo przekazać moje pozdrowienie i błogosławiństwo wszystkim rodakom w Ojczyźnie, w każdej parafii, z której pochodzicie, w każdej diecezji i wszędzie w całej Polsce.

A un gruppo di studentesse giapponesi provenienti dalla città di Nagoya

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissime studentesse dell’Università Nanzan di Nagoya.

L’uomo studia e viaggia per formare in primo luogo se stesso e per potere poi meglio servire la società.

Ed ora, carissime alunne di Nanzan, vi auguro che la vostra visita qui a Roma raggiunga tale scopo.

Con questo augurio vi imparto di cuore la mia benedizione apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini provenienti da varie regioni d’Italia e ai vincitori del concorso radiofonico “I giovani incontrano l’Europa”

Un benvenuto cordiale rivolgo a tutti e singoli i pellegrini italiani. Ma desidero riservare una speciale parola al gruppo di seminaristi della Diocesi di Bergamo, che sono venuti qui insieme con i loro genitori. Carissimi, durante la vostra vita di seminario, seguite con fedeltà il Buon Pastore e a lui conformatevi con lo studio della sua parola, con la preghiera liturgica e con la vita fraterna, delicatamente guidata dai vostri superiori. Vi preparate così a comunicare, un giorno, da autentici discepoli, la presenza salvifica del Redentore.

A testimonianza della mia benevolenza vi imparto di cuore la mia benedizione apostolica.

* * *

Un saluto affettuoso va anche ai religiosi e alle religiose che, provenendo dall’Asia, dall’Africa e dall’America Latina, stanno frequentando a Roma un corso di aggiornamento sul tema “L’inculturazione del messaggio biblico”.

Auguro che le giornate di studio, a cui partecipate, contribuiscano a nutrirvi della parola della fede e della buona dottrina, di cui siete testimoni e annunciatori in varie parti del mondo.

Mentre vi esorto a perseverare nel bellissimo compito di portare Cristo a tutte le genti, accompagno tale impegno con la mia benedizione apostolica.

* * *

Una parola di saluto intendo rivolgere anche ai responsabili e ai vincitori del concorso radiofonico “I giovani incontrano l’Europa”.

Nell’auspicare che questa iniziativa rinsaldi sempre maggiormente i legami fra i popoli europei, contribuendo a una convivenza basata sulla verità, la giustizia, l’amore, invoco su di voi la divina assistenza e vi benedico di cuore, estendendo la benedizione apostolica a tutti i vostri cari.

Ai giovani

Il mio più cordiale pensiero e saluto va ora a tutti i giovani qui convenuti da ogni parte del mondo.

Carissimi, ancora una volta vi auguro che i mesi estivi che stiamo vivendo siano per voi occasione non solo di salutare riposo, ma contribuiscano anche a rendervi sempre più ricchi mediante preziose esperienze di vita, capaci di aiutarvi camminare con speditezza ed entusiasmo alla sequela di Cristo Nostro Signore.

Agli ammalati

Saluto poi con il particolare consueto affetto tutti gli ammalati qui presenti.

Il Signore della vita vi prenda per mano, carissimi, e vi conceda il suo aiuto nelle prove, il suo conforto nelle difficoltà e nel dolore, la sua gioia quale premio delle sofferenze da voi abbracciate per amore dei fratelli, in totale adesione alla croce redentrice di Cristo.

Agli sposi novelli

Infine mi rivolgo ai novelli sposi venuti a questa udienza per ricevere la benedizione sulla loro nascente famiglia.

Il Dio che è Amore vi accompagni nel cammino che avete da poco iniziato con il vincolo nuziale e vi aiuti ad essere - vicendevolmente e con totale dedizione - ministri dell’amore cristiano, che voi siete chiamati a vivere all’interno del vostro nuovo focolare e a darne testimonianza con generosa coerenza in tutti gli ambienti, in cui verrete a trovarvi.

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