Summer 2009

God the Father: A Beginning Without Beginning

Antonio López

“The divine triunity is one of communion only because the origin of the divinity is the Father who possesses himself as always already given away.”

The mystery of the Father remains an ever-greater one. We also know that the eyes of faith are too weak to bear all of his eternal light (“You cannot bear it now,” Jn 16:12; “it has not appeared as yet what we will be,” 1 Jn 3:2). Keeping these two things in mind, this essay would like to ponder the mystery of divine fatherhood through a reflection on the meaning of begetting, which is the constitutive personal property of the first hypostasis of the Trinity. We thus seek to explore in what sense the Father is the permanent origin of the divine triune communion and what it means that without him, this communion cannot be. The Father is his giving, that is, his begetting of the Son, and with and through the Son, his spiration of the Holy Spirit. Approaching the mystery of paternity through Scripture will help us to perceive what the tradition of the Church means when it states that the Father is “the source and origin of all of the divinity” (DS 490).1

Revelation invites us to enter into the mystery of the Father through what later philosophy would call the transcendental properties of being. It is the Father who accounts for divine union: he can thus be considered, in a certain sense, the “absolute person” (section 1), from whom all divinity comes. To be “father” is to reveal oneself, to let one’s own beauty shine through another (section 2). The Father’s allowing another to participate fully in his own glory is coincident with his pouring out of himself to the end in another, in order that this other might exist. In order better to perceive the extent of the Father’s goodness in and through the primordial gift of self, the role of difference within God must be addressed: we will approach this by way of Hegel’s conception of negativity, which, though stemming from scriptural revelation, ultimately offers its most radical alternative (section 3). Since the Father’s beauty is the outpouring of himself in another without losing himself, his personhood can be understood only thanks to the constitutive relation with the Son (and the Spirit) who, in some sense, “retroactively affect the origin without neutralizing the order of origination.”2  Divine truth is thus an unfathomable relation of love (section 4). Since it has its ultimate ground in the Father who reveals, gives, and is himself in eternal relation with the other two hypostases, divine unity is always a communion of persons (section 5).3


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1. The Council of Toledo VI states that “Patrem ingenitum increatum, fontem et originem totius deitatis” (DS 490). See also Tertullian, Adv. Prax. 8, 5–7; Gregory Nazianzen, Or. 2, 38; 30, 7; Augustine, De Trin. IV, 20, 29; Councils of Toledo XI (DS 525), XVI (DS 568).

2. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic. Theological Logical Inquiry, vol. II: Truth of God (=TL II), trans. Adrian J. Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 147.

3. Since the three persons are the one God, both statements are true: on the one hand, each of the persons reflects the glory, truth, goodness, and unity of the divine esse, and, on the other hand, a transcendental can be appropriated to each person. Bonaventure, for example, indicates Truth to the Son, Goodness to the Spirit, and Unity to the Father (see Bonaventure, Breviloquium I, 6). At the same time, we cannot appropriate a transcendental to a hypostasis without seeing that it can also be predicated of the others: unity is expressed in the Son and consummated in the Spirit—the one in whom the Father and the Son are united. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, a truth that the Son is because he eternally receives it from the Father. The Holy Spirit is love (amor) and gift (donum) and hence goodness, a goodness that he receives from the Father and the Son. It is important to note that this approach to the mystery of the Father does not project philosophical categories onto theological speech. While theological reflection on the mystery of the Father sheds light on the philosophy of being and the latter helps the former, we cannot ascribe to philosophy the capacity to account for God’s divine fatherhood.