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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Cynthia Stewart

Many modern Catholics view stories such as the fall and the cosmic war as mythological, legends that explain the nature of reality rather than historically accurate records of divine activity. Catholics believe that the mystery of God cannot be fully contained within human understanding, and that stories such as these can best express truths that are ultimately beyond the ability of humans to grasp.

The Trinity and angels have existed since before the creation of the cosmos, but Catholics also venerate some human beings, especially the saints and Jesus' mother, Mary. A saint is one who is in communion with God, but Catholics usually think of the saints in a more particular way: as those humans who lived lives of such virtue and openness to God that they are assured of entering heaven at their deaths. From heaven, the saints are able to intercede with God-in effect, to pray for those who are still on earth-in a more direct way than humans can themselves.

Mary is sometimes referred to as the greatest of the saints, and for much of Catholic history she has been called upon to intercede with God. The relationship of Mary to the Trinity is unique: as the mother of Jesus, she participated in the incarnation of God in a way that no other human could. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared her to be the theotokos, the God-bearer, although this term is not as important to Catholics as it is to Eastern Orthodox Christians. Catholics think of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, meaning that God prepared her for her role in the incarnation by allowing her to born without the original sin that plagues all other humans except her son.  The Immaculate Conception and the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven following her death are the only two Catholic doctrines that have ever been defined under the terms of papal infallibility. 

Study Questions:
     1.    Why could original sin be seen as a necessary evil within the Catholic Church?
     2.    Describe the Catholic understanding of the Trinity.
     3.    How do Catholics understand angels? How do angels intervene in society?
     4.    How was Mary’s human nature different than the whole of humanity’s?


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