GOD FROM GOD: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith

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CREDO: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith

 

GOD FROM GOD

by Melanie Bettinelli

Here I am stuck with this phrase I didn’t choose. No one chose it. Poor little orphan. No one chose it. I wonder why! And so I must step in and find the words. Some words—any words—to fill the gap. I’m flailing and I know it. Stop. Breathe. Pray. Ask that the words will come.

I’m reading this book of poems on Rembrandt’s religious paintings, Drawn to the Light by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. As I turn to the image of Christ on the Cross (1631) I find these words:

Fully human, fully God.
The one claim is clear enough,
the other so at odds with this
tortured image of defeat, only faith
could possibly consent.

Only faith could possibly consent.

God from God. Deum de Deo.

I am no historian or theologian to rehearse how these words are here to combat the Arian heresy—those people long ago who could not consent, who could not possibly fathom that this man was God. I’m just a tinkerer with words.

But I do recognize in them a sort of fence, limiting what we can know an not know. Words that create a boundary, saying that He was somehow not God is going too far. Stop. Wait. We may be confronted with mystery as we contemplate the person of Christ and the nature of the incarnation and the nature of the Trinity, but this is where the line holds. We can say this but not that.

Three little words. Why are they so overwhelming? One noun, repeated, and a preposition.

I can look at them in the negative sense, outlining what we can and can’t say about God. But I want something more. Not just a way to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. I want to understand what the words mean. What do they tell me about God? How do they help me to approach him? To know him?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” I have always loved the beginning of John’s Gospel. Perhaps my favorite line in all of Scripture.

The Word was with God. The Word was God. Can you grasp that? Can I? Can anyone? “With” implies separateness, two of them together but different. But “was” implies identity, the two are the same. I can’t wrap my mind around it.

No wonder there are heretics in every generation. Those who claim that this man, Jesus, was a wise man, a teacher, a leader, a moralist. Or a charlatan, a fool, a madman, a rebel. Anything but God. How could a man be God?

God from God.

I can’t help but think of Mary. In this Advent season you can’t avoid that song, Mary did you know? It’s a terrible song. (I’m sorry if it’s your favorite and you love it; but it’s still a terrible song.) But now I am in my thirty-seventh week of pregnancy, almost at the end, contemplating my latest ultrasound photo, contemplating the face of the child I will meet in two short weeks, wondering what she will be like. The mystery that persists despite far too many ultrasounds. Now I can’t help but think of Mary and I can’t help but wondering what she knew and what she speculated about.

Mary pregnant. Mary wondering on that long journey from Nazareth to visit her cousin Elizabeth, wondering who was this person she carried whose arrival was announced by the angel’s words. Mary on the long journey back home after hearing Elizabeth’s amazing greeting and after witnessing an amazing, miraculous birth that had also been announced by an angel. What did she ponder in her heart?

Mary, on another long journey to the town of Bethlehem, pondering, pondering the words of the angel, the words of her cousin as the weary miles trudge by. Who is this baby? Did she know? Could she grasp that he was God? I’ve heard people say, “Of course she did. The angel told her.” But I think one could spend a lifetime pondering the angel’s words and never reach the bottom. How much of how we read them is tempered by what the Church has spent two thousand years working out? It took a Church council to hammer out these words of the Creed so that we could properly understand what it was the angel’s greeting meant. What did they sound like to that young woman who was overwhelmed by the glory of the messenger and the immensity of the message? What did she know?

God from God.

Did she really grasp, that pregnant young woman who felt God kicking at her ribs, did she really know that he was God? The same God who she worshipped in the Temple, whose glory was hidden behind the veil? The same God who created the stars and the sun and the moon and the world and all it holds. How could that God be contained within her? How could his glory be veiled in her own solid, tired, aching flesh?

And if she was able to grasp it, full of grace as she was, if her intellect unclouded by sin was able to accurately understand the fullness of those words, the fullness of that truth, then how could she go about the daily tasks of baking bread, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, mending clothes, while knowing that God himself was there with her?

God from God.

And then my wandering mind turns to John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. He must have know Jesus growing up. After all, Mary had traveled to attend his birth. When he announced, “I am not fit to fasten the strap of his sandal,” did he know that the man he referred to, the one whose coming he announced was also his God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob? 

God from God.

I can’t begin to comprehend what those words mean. That God can look upon God, contemplate the face of God, pour out his love and his life, his very being to beget a Son who is also, somehow, God.

In the Office of Readings this week Isaiah proclaims the oneness of God:

“I am the Lord and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.”

And Jesus says, “The Father and I are one”

These words scramble to reconcile the oneness of God with the otherness of the Son, the person who became man and who dwelt among us.

When I try to break apart this section of the Creed it seems so repetitive, so many ways of trying to say the same impossible thing in words that won’t quite hold the meaning we are trying to force into them because no words can quite hold the vastness they are trying to convey:

the Only Begotten Son of God
born of the Father before all ages
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with the Father

It helps me to think that this section, this litany about the Second Person of the Trinity, is poetry not prose. The repetition, the rhythm, reaches past what the mind can grasp, what we can dissect and define and into the realm of mystery. There is something here that we can’t put into plain English (or plain Latin or Greek or French or whatever language you want to try to translate it into) because it is so far beyond us that words are inadequate. And so as with all poetry, at some point I stop struggling with the meaning, stop trying to throw my own inadequate words at it as if more and more of them would do anything to make it less mysterious and just let the words be: God from God.


What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “God from God”?

 

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Melanie Bettinelli is a very tired, very pregnant mother of four little ones who begs pardon if her words fail to make any sense at all.

 

Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.

 

10 Responses to GOD FROM GOD: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith

  1. GeekLady December 26, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Merry Christmas, Melanie!  I hope you’re feeling better after a day of rest and broth and book.  (Which sounds pretty lovely to me – we’ve all been languishing from minor colds for weeks now.)

    Your children are lovely, and lovely to each other.  In contrast, David gets thoroughly upset and scolds his little cousin every time the baby cries, and is far more interested in playing with the baby’s new toys than his own.

    I love how excited Sophie is with her book!  I can’t read the title in the picture, what is it called?

  2. Melanie Bettinelli December 26, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Merry Christmas!

    I am feeling a bit better today. Yesterday’s rest was what the doctor ordered and last night Anthony slept through the night, only waking at about 5:30, which is a marked improvement!

    ScotchMeg, I haven’t read it. Will have to check it out.

    Geek Lady, I do try to focus on the positive, but don’t let that fool you. There has not been a shortage of pitched battles over toys. Anthony loves to grab Ben’s newest favorite car and run with it to the other room while Ben follows, screaming. This morning has been one long four way squabble over Ben’s new helicopter. Anthony was delighted to have all of Ben’s new construction vehicles to himself yesterday afternoon while everyone else was at the party.

    Sophie’s new book is called I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen We had checked it out from the library before on Melissa Wiley’s recommendation and it’s a delightful book about a bear looking for his lost hat. Sophie also got a second book by the same author called, This Is Not My Hat about a little fish who has stolen a hat from a big fish.

    Here are the book trailers:

    <iframe width=“640” height=“360” src=“http://www.youtube.com/embed/TYYQW_uCdzM?rel=0&#8221; frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen></iframe>

    <iframe width=“640” height=“360” src=“http://www.youtube.com/embed/6MuDfdxESOQ?rel=0&#8221; frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen></iframe>

  3. Colleen Martin December 26, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Merry Christmas Bettinelli Family!! 

    Your kids are so beautiful, and the accountant in me hopes the baby makes her appearance before 2013 so you can get one more tax deduction smile

  4. Melanie Bettinelli December 26, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Oh and about distress over crying babies. Several of my kids have had that. I find that sometimes talking them through the process of figuring out why the baby is crying can help. Something like this is what I’ll be doing with Anthony: “Oh, Lucia is crying. It’s very loud and doesn’t sound nice. Babies cry because they don’t know how to use words yet. It’s how they tell us things. I wonder what she’s trying to tell us? Does she have a wet diaper? Is she hungry? Is she tired? Maybe she thinks it’s too loud in here? Maybe she’s not feeling good?”

  5. Melanie Bettinelli December 26, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Merry Christmas, Colleen. Never fear, she’s scheduled to arrive by c-section on Dec 31. We’ll be getting our tax deduction, to Dom’s great relief.

  6. GeekLady December 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    David got Tomie dePaola’s The Friendly Beasts (I wish he would do books for lots more carols, I love how he puts illustrated sheet music in the back of the book!) which is wonderful. I learned the tune from a YouTube video so I could sing I as I read, and it’s been a big hit.
    He also got the collected My Father’s Dragon books for read aloud and we read a couple chapters this morning. He had some misgivings at first, but now likes it. I knew he would.
    Isn’t it wonderful how littles love mittens and tights and such?? David got Angry Birds underwear, and he excitement was hysterical.

  7. Melanie Bettinelli December 26, 2012 at 1:48 am #

    We’ve checked The Friendly Beasts out from the library before; but it’s not a part of our collection. Tim Ladwig’s version of Good King Wenceslas has the sheet music at the end and I think so does Susan Jeffers’ Silent Night, if you’re looking for other books in that vein. If I come across others, I’ll let you know.

    My Father’s Dragon was definitely a hit.
    I wish Ben would get excited enough by Cars underwear that I could use it for a potty training bribe, but no such luck. However, he was enchanted enough by his new Christmas outfit from Grandma, which had a sweater vest with a train on it, that he even let me put him in a button-down shirt that went with it. He hates shirts with collars and double hates button downs, so that was a huge win.

  8. GeekLady December 26, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    Underwear bribes never worked for me either.  I don’t think there’s any rushing it.  David’s so strong willed that I just occasionally stuck him in those gerber training pants for a 2-3 day stretch and just waited for him to catch on.  That approach takes lots of energy though, and I had hard work reining in my temper.

  9. scotch meg December 26, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Merry Christmas, Melanie!  Feel better… and soon Lucia will be here, shifting the focus of your family once again.

    Have you read “You’ll Soon Grow Into Them, Titch” to your children?  The author is Pat Hutchins.  The fourth child is arriving… of course, Lucia is your fifth, but I suspect they’ll all enjoy it anyway.

    God bless you this last week of waiting.  Your family’s Advent is only a little longer.

  10. Kyra December 27, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    “I HAVE SEEN MY HAT!!!”

    Nathaniel got that book from Thomas’s godparents. I love it. The illustrations are so funny.

    Thomas seems to have decided to toilet train himself, sort of. This is amazing to me, because almost two years, heavy bribing, and lots of rage and despair have not insured that Nat is likely to make it through the whole week dry. This maddens me, but I’m hoping his brother learning will be added impetus.

    Your children ARE lovely, and I’m so glad they had such a magical Christmas.

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