“Born of the Father before all Ages. Wait, What?

As the Year of Faith got launched, Melanie Bettinelli of The Wine Dark Sea undertook the ambitious project of enlisting various writers to take on single, separate lines of the Creed, and create a series that focuses on these lines throughout the year.

When I learned that “born of the Father, before all ages” was unclaimed, I happily nabbed it — it is my favorite line.

So far, Melanie’s writers have hit home-runs with their lines — these writers have all been splendid, instructive, humble and wise. This weekend, as we pray through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and begin the Second Week of Advent, you might want to take the time to read through and catch up:

I believe in One God by Julie Davis

The Father Almighty by Pat Gohn (whose new site looks great!)

Maker of Heaven and Earth by Jennifer Fulwiler

Of all things Visible and Invisible by Calah Alexander

I believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ by Leila Lawler

The Only Begotten Son of God by Domenico Bettinelli

And latest (and least-est) Born of the Father before all Ages by me.

Unfortunately all the really great reading ends there, because I bring the least coherent thoughts to the party.

It’s not that I didn’t try, but while I’ve loved the line for the past year we’ve been saying it — it tripped off my tongue so nimbly the very first time that I wondered if I’d said it in my youth, during that transitional time of upheaval and translation — when I sat down to really think and pray over it, I realized that any understanding I could find was a) wholly instinctive and visceral, precluding language and b) tied up with other things.

“Born of the Father before all ages. . .” brings me to Genesis, but also to the opening to John’s Gospel. This is not terribly surprising; as I have written in the past (precisely 6 years ago):

In Advent, I keep thinking about the Incarnation, and about all the Intention that resides in creation, the Intention that is, in fact, necessary to creation.

If one goes back to the first lines of Genesis and to the first lines of John’s Gospel we see the same images – emptiness, a Word, movement – and it is natural to think that Christ’s birth is a reflection of the whole “big bang” of Creation – the first one made the world and everything in it, the second returned it to its origins, wedded in covenant. …

Yeah, and when I wasn’t thinking of that, or of 1 Colossians, or Psalm 110 (“…from the womb before the dawn I begot you.”) I was thinking about nothing, and about how “nothing” is impossible with God, and only possible without God, as I finally wrote for Melanie:

It’s another beloved bit of scripture — words I often recite to myself in times of stress, to remind myself that I, and my life, are puny things — but these are words full of shiny things that pull my synapses in too many different directions. I want to talk about that first part — the Word being with God; that sounds like the ticket! But as usual, I find myself carried off by those last words: without him, nothing came to be.

On the one hand, they seem so obvious: Without a creator there is no creation. But then, taken another way: “without him ‘Nothing’…came to be.”

Considered that way, it’s a whole plunge into questions of voids and darkness. There could never have been “nothing.” God was always there, right? And God fills everything, down to the molecules and atoms which — if they stop moving, it’s all over.

So there can only be “nothing” where God is not.

Where God is not, is where “nothing” comes into being. And this can only be a spiritual thing — a spiritual state of nothing — an active willing-away from God that opens up to nothingness and the Being of Nothingness, who is the evil one.

I dwelt on “nothing” for a while — it is a fascinating concept. While I did not include this in my musings for Melanie, I kept remembering pinning my mother’s First Communion pin to her dress as she lay in her coffin (something she’d been telling me to do all my life) and being shocked at how cold her body was, and not just her body, but even the air immediately above her body. I had waved my hand above remains and felt the coolness, wondering at the complete absence of energy; even the box in which she lay was cold. In Chinese medicine they say “chi moves with the blood” separate from it but moving with it. When the chi is depleted the blood stops moving; there is no energy. There is nothing. The physical state of nothingness is cold. Even if the atoms are somehow whirring, there is nothing. And if the physical state of nothing is cold, what is the spiritual state?

You see? There I go again! This line of the creed is too full, too rich, too deep, too mysterious. I would love to plumb its depths but fear I would never emerge. The line just leads to wonder and then to wondering, and then to more wondering.

Which is not a bad thing. As Gregory of Nyssa said, “only wonder leads to knowing.” But the workday does intrude…

So, I fell back on the old, “well…it’s a mystery…”

But I believe it is a mystery we instinctively know — we intuit it. We simply know a great deal of that mystery and its truth, which is why we pass over it in murmured, often absent-minded, prayer and move forward.

And that is where I hopefully bring us with this piece. Forward, to the next line, to the next place God wants us; where he is.

Thanks to Melanie for the invitation to join in on this exercise. I apologize for my meager efforts. Do avail yourself of all the previous essays. You’ll be glad!

As for me, I have never been a pot-smoker, but I am convinced that one need not smoke pot; one can get the same, “whoa, man…that’s like…I have the whole answer to the world” effect by just pondering this one line, daily. Without the munchies.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Adam

    Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! (Sorry, I feel like the kid in class who desperately wants to raise his hand and get attention!)

    Elizabeth, if you’re an Old Testament fan, you need to flip through Wisdom, Proverbs, and Sirach! In my Bible studies class earlier this year, we learned how John in his Gospel and Paul in Colossians very likely borrowed his opening speech from those books and applied their concepts to Christ.

    The Old Testament Jews, after Babylon but before the Maccabean revolt (so, 537 to 170 B.C.) were *desperate* to figure out divine wisdom. They knew that all wisdom dwelt with God, but they really, really wanted to understand what that meant. So much so that they personified “wisdom” as a female figure who guided God in the creation. (They did *not* believe in a separate deity–”Lady Wisdom” was just an exercise in understanding.) Anyway, in those texts, you’ll see some really familiar passages:

    Pv. 8:22: The LORD begot [wisdom], the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago.

    Wis. 7, 27: And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; And passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets.
    Wis. 7, 29-30: For [wisdom] is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence; for that, indeed, night supplants, but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.
    Wis. 8, 1: Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.

    The mind-blower for me came in Sirach Chapter 3 (and seriously, I feel bad for Christians who don’t have Sirach in their Bibles):

    In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
    in the presence of his host she tells of her glory:
    “From the mouth of the Most High I came forth,a
    and covered the earth like a mist.
    In the heights of heaven I dwelt,
    and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
    The vault of heaven I compassed alone,
    and walked through the deep abyss.
    Over waves of the sea, over all the land,
    over every people and nation I held sway.
    Among all these I sought a resting place.
    In whose inheritance should I abide?
    “Then the Creator of all gave me his command,
    and my Creator chose the spot for my tent.
    He said, ‘In Jacob make your dwelling,
    in Israel your inheritance.’
    Before all ages, from the beginning, he created me,
    and through all ages I shall not cease to be.

    Wisdom was with God from the beginning and guided the creation. Jesus Christ is the living incarnation of wisdom. John and Paul understood this and borrowed appropriate language from the Old Testament so their Jewish audiences would understand this. They’re basically saying: you who seek wisdom, here he is!

    I hope I’m not rambling. It’s just that certain parts of the Old Testament are so…if I could make an Advent pun…pregnant with Jesus Christ! Reading Sirach really gave me that “pot smoking” moment on John’s opening chapter!

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