This God is known to us not speculatively but existentially. He expresses this: “Without God, you cannot know God.” God is never an object. But in all knowledge, He is He who knows, in us and through us. Only He can know Himself, and we may participate in His knowledge of Himself, but He is not an object whom we can know from outside. According to His greatness, His absoluteness, His unconditional character, God is unknown. According to His love, in which He comes to us, He is known. Therefore in order to know God, you must be within God, you must participate in Him. You never can look at Him as an object outside of yourselves. This God has created the world out of nothing. This phrase “out of nothing” is not a story about. the way in which God has created, but is a protective concept which in itself is only negatively meaningful, that. there was no presupposed resisting matter out of which God created the world – as we have it in paganism.. This is the meaning of this doctrine. God has created the world “out of nothing” means God was not dependent on a matter which, (as the Greek matter, against the Demiurge), resisted the form which the Demiurge, the world-builder, wanted to impose on it. This is not Christian. The Christian idea is that everything is created directly by God, without a resisting matter; He is the cause of everything.
His purpose, the immanent telos of reality, is the salvation of man. Therefore the result is: the creation is good, and the creator-God is the savior-God: they are not two. If you know a little of Church history and of our present situation, you will see immediately that these ideas are not old-fashioned problems of the past, but are very modern problems. In Puritanism, religious or secular, there is much blasphemy of the creator-God. We should always realize that that this blasphemy of the creator-God is always based on the confusion of created goodness with the distortion of creation. You only need to think of the sexual problems to know what I mean.
Now this one God is a trius, a trinity. The word trinitas appears first in Tertullian – since God, although one, was never alone. Irenaeus: “There is always with Him the word and the wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, through which He has made everything freely and spontaneously.” Here we still have the motives of the transcendent trinity, of the trinity in God. God is always a living God, and therefore He is never alone, never a dead identity with Himself. He has always with Himself His word and His wisdom, symbols for His Spiritual life, His self-manifestation and His self-actualization.'” It would be good if we sometimes went back to people like Irenaeus, to look into the motives of those doctrines such as the Trinity, which have become holy pieces to be adored on the altar and to be used in liturgical formulas, and never understood that they shall really say something about God as living, and make understandable the presence of the Divine as a living, creative ground.
According to Irenaeus, these three are one God, because they have one dunamis, power of being, essence, potentiality – you can use all these words. (Potentiality and dynamics are the Latin and Greek words, respectively ; “power of being” is perhaps the most exact translation.) Tertullian speaks of the one Divine substance which develops in the triadic economy, I. e. , “building up”; the Divinity builds itself up eternally in a unity. Any polytheistic interpretation of the Trinity is sharply rejected. On the other hand, God is established as a living God and not as dead identity. Thus una substantia, tres personnae , asTertullian calls it, who used the formula first, and which ever since has been used. Man of course, contrary to Gnosticism, is created good. He is fallen by his own freedom. Man who is immortal by nature was supposed to be immortal through obedience to God, remaining in Paradise and participating in the food of the gods, in the tree of life. But he lost this power by disobedience to God. So it must be regained. Immortality – I said this already in connection with Justin and Ignatius – is not a natural quality but is something which must be given, out of the realm of the eternal: namely, the Divine. There is no other way to get it. Sin is spiritual as well as carnal. Adam has lost the possible similitudo (similitude) with God, namely immortality, but he never has lost the natural image, because the natural image makes him man. This is Irenaeus’ famous distinction between similitudo and imago. These two words are used in the Vulgate translation of the first verses of Genesis, that God made man in His similitude, in His image. This repetitious sentence is translated in two ways. This is long before the Vulgate and Irenaeus, who makes something theological out of it, which you cannot do from the Hebrew, which has only one word. But the interpretation is theologically very interesting. The one is the natural image of God, which every man has: man as man, man as rational being, man as able to have relationship to God, man as finite. . . is the image of God. Similitudo is a possible development of man, namely, becoming similar to God. And the main point in the similarity with God is eternal life, because that’s what God has and if somebody gets this, then he overcomes his natural mortality and participates in the eternal life in terms of a gift of God. Again, I say, that if we had a Church council deciding between the traditional idea of the immortality of the soul..–..so popular especially in this country..–..and my own position that this is non-Christian and not even genuinely Platonic. . then I think if we could call Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus to decide which of us were heretic, I think they would decide for me, and against those of you who would defend the natural immortality of the soul. The one is classical theology; the other is a popular remnant of the theology of the Enlightenment, where the three ideas of God (in terms of a moral ideal), of freedom (in terms of a possible moral decision), and of immortality (as a guarantee in terms of moral progress) were in the center of rational theology. This was not Christian, but more or less misunderstood Platonism, and it is something which is still much more powerful than any Christian eschatological idea in the popular religious feeling of this country. And I emphasize this so much because it has so many other consequences theologically.