He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism

By E. L. B. D. Mascall | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

LOGICALLY and essentially, the doctrine of God is the fundamental doctrine of the Christian Religion, for, according to its teaching, everything other than God depends upon him and exists for his glory. "The Catholic Faith is this," declares the Athanasian Creed, "that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity." This does not mean, however, that the truth of the triune being of God is the first thing of which most of us become conscious in our life as Christians. One of the drawbacks of being a mere creature is that you see everything the wrong way round; you look at things from man's standpoint and not from God's. The order in which things ultimately exist, the ordo essendi, is usually the precise opposite of the order in which we come to know them, the ordo cognoscendi;1 and this is specially true of that which is of all beings the most fundamental, namely God himself. If we were brought up in a Christian home, our first religious contact was with the practices and objects of Christian devotion: the crucifix or picture above our bed, the prayers which were first said for us and which later on we learnt to say for ourselves, the structure and furniture of our parish church. Then we learnt about the events of our Lord's life and about his teaching, and only--if ever--when we began to study the Catechism were we given any systematic instruction about the nature of God. That is to say, we passed from the practice of Christian devotion to the study of the person of Christ, from that to some understanding of God. The logical order is the reverse of this: God comes first; then Christ, who is God incarnate in human flesh; and last of all, the faith and devotion of the Church which Christ founded. And this is, in fact, the order adopted by both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creed, which begin with God the Father, then summarize the facts of the Incarnation and of Redemption, and only at the end mention the inspired Scriptures, the Church and Baptism. As Karl Barth says, the order is not genetical but essential.2 In saying,

____________________
1
Professor Whitehead remarks that the "identification of priority in logic with priority in practice has vitiated thought and procedure from the first discovery of mathematics and logic by the Greeks." ( Process and Reality, p. 75.)
2
Credo, p. 40.

-1-

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