An Ordinary Viewpoint

Who is God? - VI

Seeing God

In the Book of Exodus God bluntly told Moses, "You cannot see My Face" (Exodus 33:18-23). God probably set down that prohibition because of His desire to honor the outlook of His primitive Chosen People of old, who were convinced that seeing anyone means placing his image, and in some way his very being, into one’s eye and then conceptually into one’s mind. Since God is infinite, seeing Him, like knowing His name, would somehow be an attempt to encompass Him, and, thus, be a blasphemous try to limit Him Who cannot be limited. Therefore, in the Old Testament the vision of God’s face was confined only and exclusively to an after-death experience. The people then in those ancient times were terrified to see God’s face, for that would mean immediate death. Moses, the great lawgiver himself, who spoke with God "as a friend does, face-to-face" (Exodus 33:11), really only was permitted to view God’s "back". Even with that restriction, the face of Moses glowed so brightly after talking with God that he had to veil it when he later talked to the Israelites who were otherwise too frightened to look at him (2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

Divine ingenuity, however, designed for the New Testament, a way that we mortal human beings, who are, with no merit of our own, the predestined folk of the New and Eternal Covenant (Romans 8:30; Ephesians 1:5-11), could, while still dwelling on earth, gaze on the sacred countenance of God. This was accomplished, of course, by the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who united to His divine Personhood and His infinite nature a created human nature, body and soul, becoming like us in all things but sin (Hebrews 4:15).. Thus, He was able to say, "Philip, he who sees Me sees also the Father" (John 14:9). In His human nature Jesus would say: "....for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28), while in His divine nature and divine Personhood He would proclaim that He constitutes forever one eternal Reality with God, the Most Blessed Trinity: "The Father and I are One" (John 10:30).

An unpublished "schema" for the First Vatican Council said, "Although it was the whole Blessed Trinity Who effected the incarnation of the Son of God, because the works of the Trinity cannot be divided, it was the Son alone Who took on a Servant’s form unto this one Person, not in the unity of the divine nature, but unto that which is proper to the Son and not what is proper to all Three Persons" (Philippians 2:5-11).


The fourth Ecumenical Council in the history of the Catholic Church took place in the year 451 A.D. in what was then a suburb of Constantinople. Its main purpose was to settle various Christological questions, to eliminate some doctrinal confusion, and to refute some serious heresies in regard to beliefs about the identity of our Lord. Pope Saint Leo the Great sent legates from Rome to preside at the Council and also sent a famous "Tome" to guide the deliberations of the Bishops. When it was read aloud to the Council Fathers, they called out all together: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo!" The Council issued an important and welcomed declaration of faith, removing ambiguity and strengthening dogmatic clarity throughout the Catholic world. It said:

"Following the teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church, we all with one accord teach this profession of faith in one identical Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We declare that He is perfect both in His divinity and in His humanity, true God and true Man, composed as Man of body and rational soul, and that He is consubstantial with the Father in His divinity and consubstantial with us in His humanity, being like us in every respect except for sin. We declare that in His divinity He was begotten of the Father before time began, and in His humanity He was begotten in this last age of the world of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of God, for us and for our salvation. We declare that the one selfsame Christ, only-begotten Son and Lord, must be acknowledged in two natures without any commingling or change or division or separation, and that the distinction between the natures is in no way removed by their union, but rather that the specific character of each nature is preserved and that they are united in one Person and one Hypostasis. We declare that Jesus is not split or divided into two Persons, but that there is one selfsame only-begotten Son, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 1:1-14). This the prophets have taught about Him from the beginning and this is what Jesus Christ Himself has taught us. This is the Creed which the Fathers have handed down to us. This holy Ecumenical Council has formulated these truths with all accuracy and care and, therefore, orders that no one may bring forth or put into writing or devise or entertain or teach others anything contrary to this faith."

The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon show that the Bishops at the Council intended to mean this declaration as a commentary on the text: "No one has ever seen God. It is the only-begotten Son, Who is nearest to the Father’s heart, Who has made Him known" (John 1:18).

Pope Benedict XVI

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says: "The great question.... What did Jesus bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has He brought? The answer is very simple: God! He has brought God. He has brought the God Who formerly unveiled His countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, then in the (biblical) Wisdom literature, the God Who revealed His face only to Israel, even though He was often honored among pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, Whom Jesus has brought to all the nations of the earth. And, now we can know His face, now we can call upon Him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny, faith, hope, and love."

The Holy Father notes the importance and significance of the exchange of the words of Jesus with His bitter and hateful foes: Our Lord said to them. "You will die in yours sins, unless you believe that I am" (John 8:24). It is clear from the context of that exchange that Christ (Exodus 3:14) used the sacred tetragram ("Yahweh- "I Am Who Am"). Then He used the expression again, saying, "Before Abraham came to be I am" (John 8:59). On that occasion, as on another that Saint John relates (John 10:31-33), the Jews "took up stones to cast at Him", and the reason was the same in both incidents. Christ’s enemies told Him, "Not for any good work do we stone You but for blasphemy, because You, being a Man, make Yourself out to be God." Jesus, Saint Paul tells us, "is the image of the invisible God....For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and invisible..." (Colossians 1:15-16).

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