by Scott Hahn, Emmaus, £12.99
Valentinus, a heretical priest of the 2nd century, was uncomfortable with the idea of God being a Father. He preferred to describe God as the “First-Beginning”, or “First-Unthinkable, who is both unutterable and unnameable”. In response, the great St Irenaeus said that if we were going to start replacing divinely revealed names with our own, why stop there? And to demonstrate the point, he launched into a discussion of Valentinus’s theology incorporating some new terms such as Melon, Gourd and Cucumber.
Part of the appeal of Scott Hahn’s work has always been these entertaining details of history and theology. Hahn, a professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, is a man learned well beyond his main field of Scripture. There is considerable erudition behind that chatty, simple style.
Though shorter and less detailed than books such as A Father Who Keeps His Promises and The Lamb’s Supper, the approach Hahn takes in The Creed, newly out in paperback, will be familiar to those who know his work. He takes something familiar in Catholic life and deepens our knowledge of it through anecdote, theology and an immersion in Scripture. The point of this book, at its simplest, is that words matter. “I believe in one God …” is a phrase which effects something, like “I do” or “You are sentenced to 37 years.”
As Hahn points out, St Paul says our salvation comes from what we say: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Throughout the New Testament, it is profession of faith which marks out the Christian: Peter’s “You are the Christ,” Thomas’s “My Lord and my God.” And from the early Church, the rite of Baptism included a profession of faith.
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