1.2.1 Christian faith: God is love

Back to 1.1.6

Unit 1 Contents

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Christian faith is in God.

The central claim of Christian faith is that God is love and that God has freely chosen to reveal his love in the world. God has done this in a special way, namely in a particular history. This way is as follows:

  • God’s revelation is first to a particular people, Israel, about which we learn through the writings that form the Jewish Bible, which Christians have traditionally called the Old Testament. These writings include narratives of the early history of Israel, and they portray God in several ways, including as a shepherd, a king and a father to Israel.
  • God has revealed his own being supremely in a human person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the unique Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth lived on earth 2000 years ago, a member of the people of Israel. We learn about Jesus through the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  • God is revealed by the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of God’s Son’ (as the New Testament puts it, Gal. 4:6), who is active in many ways in the world and is given especially to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and who form a people committed to living in imitation of the way he lived. This people is the worldwide community called the Church.

These three points together form a narrative or a history of God’s self-revelation to humanity. As a whole, the Christian Bible presents this narrative to us.

Through this, the Christian Church came to affirm that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are fully divine, and that God is mysteriously three in one, Trinity. A good way to begin to understand this is by thinking of a dance: three distinct people performing a highly choreographed dance move as a unity, and the beauty, for those who watch, comes from this, even more than from the movement of each separate person.

Unit 3 of this module gives some attention to the distinctly Christian vision of God as ‘triune’, and what this means for human beings who are created ‘in the image of God’ (as the first chapter of the Bible says).

Christian faith is in God who is made known to humans in that way. There are plenty of forms of faith in something called ‘god’ which are not in God as Christianity understands God to be. When someone says, ‘I don’t believe in God’, or ‘I do believe in God’, it is worth asking: ‘What is the god like that you don’t (or do) believe in?’

Just as Christian faith understands God’s love as revealed in that way, so people who profess to have Christian faith are supposed to practise love of others. According to the New Testament, Jesus taught that what God requires of people is summed up in the twofold command to love God and to love one’s neighbour (Mark 12:29-31). The article by Christine Allen that you read referred to this.  (See 1.1.1.)

People studying this module will include Christians, adherents of other faiths and those who profess no religious faith. For Christians, the above is likely to be pretty familiar. For those who are not, it might be less so.

That very brief summary of Christian faith in God raises some large questions.  For example:

  • Why such a focus on Jesus, a man who lived in the distant past?
  • How can we know those claims are true?  Putting this another way, what are the sources of those beliefs about God?
  • Why believe in God at all?
  • What does ‘love’ mean, in theory and for practical moral issues?

We can’t address all these questions in this module but you could do so in various courses in a philosophy, theology or religious studies degree, or in your own reading and reflection.

The question that has to be addressed for the purpose of this module is: what does God’s self-revelation in that way mean for how people are supposed to live together in society – for example in working life, as purchasers of goods and services, or as citizens in a democracy? What does love of neighbour mean in practice in the life of society? This is what ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ addresses.

There now follow two short readings which take further what this screen has outlined about some of the basics of Christian faith.  The first is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a large book that sets out in a systematic way the Catholic Church’s main beliefs and practices. 

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PRACTICAL NOTE ON HOW TO LOCATE READINGS IN VATICAN DOCUMENTS

The main ‘official’ Vatican documents that you’ll be asked to access in this module are introduced on page 1.2.3.  But, given readings below, you need to know that all such documents are numbered by sections, not by pages.  When you are directed to a reading, the screen will give the specific section numbers to locate, using the symbol ‘#’ for ‘section’. The two readings immediately below show this. Readings have been selected to relate to what you’re focusing on at each point in the module – so you might wish to note the section numbers given before you go to the URL.

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Reading (4pp)

Catechism of the Catholic Church##51-66, Article on ‘The Revelation of God’

Note

This URL takes you to #50, but I suggest start at #51.

The reading will open in a new window. When you get to #66, close or minimize that window to return to this page. (This instruction will not be repeated in subsequent readings.)

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The next reading comes from the first major teaching document written by Benedict XVI after he became Pope in 2005. The English translation of its title is ‘God is Love’. He was insisting that God’s love is the very heart of Christian faith.

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Reading (4pp)

Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est##1 and 12-15

Notes

If you have already completed study of Module B, you will have read this already.  If so, re-read it but include ##2-11.

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Both these readings bring out that, when Christians talk of God’s love, they immediately speak about this love being manifested most fully in the coming of Jesus Christ. In turn, this is to speak of ‘the gospel’.

The next page looks at what the Church means by ‘the gospel’.

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End of 1.2.1

Go to 1.2.2 The Christian gospel: God saves

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