The Only Son of GodFR. KENNETH BAKER, S.J.
After professing our belief in “one Lord, Jesus Christ”, we go on to the next phrase of the Creed to proclaim that he is “the only Son of God”.
The Old Testament was familiar with the idea of a son of God. At various times angels were referred to as "sons of God". The title is applied to the people Israel as a whole (Ex 4:22; Is 1:2; Hos 11:1). The title can also designate a devout person (Ps 73:15) and the Davidic king (2 Sam 7:14). In the Old Testament the idea behind the title is that a "son of God" has a special relationship to Yahweh that involves his protection and care.
In the New Testament the title "Son of God" is applied to Jesus in a very special way. The four Evangelists and St. Paul, writing many years after the Resurrection, knew and believed that Jesus was God and that he was therefore intimately related to God the Father and to God the Holy Spirit.
In his lifetime Jesus had often spoken of God as his father and he had prayed to God as his Father. Therefore Jesus was the Son in some very special senses. The Gospel according to St. Mark opens by saying, "The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1). Both at Jesus' Baptism and at his Transfiguration a voice from heaven was heard saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him" (Mt 17:5; 3:17).
Perhaps the most dramatic confession of faith in the divine sonship of Jesus is that of Peter who, in reply to Jesus' question about who he is, said, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). All in all, the title "Son of God" is frequently applied to Jesus in the New Testament. We find it thity-one times in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), forty-two times in the Epistles and twenty-three times in the Gospel of St. John.
Just as "to be a father" means to have generated someone, so also "to be a son" means that one has been generated by someone. In our Catholic faith we profess our belief that the relationship between Jesus and God that Father is a relationship of Son to Father. We are dealing here with two distinct Persons but only one God. Both the Father and the Son share in the same divine nature. The Son resembles the Father in everything, except in the aspect of being a Father. In the coming essays we will go into more detail about the special relationship between Jesus and his Father and we will try to explain how it has been understood by the Church and by her greatest doctors of theology such as St. Athanasius and St. Thomas Aquinas. For, the next four phrases of the Creed explain in more detail what is meant by the title "Son of God".
For now let it suffice to say that Jesus is the "only" Son of God. By the word "only" the Church intends to say that Jesus is singular in that he is the perfect image of the Father. The Holy Spirit is also divine but he does not proceed from the Father in the same way as Jesus the Son does. We are sons of God by adoption (faith and sanctifying grace). Only Jesus is the Son of God by nature. We profess this truth in the Creed. We should also try to make it a reality in our own lives.
See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.
Kenneth Baker, S.J. "The Only Son of God." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 11 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 43-44.
This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has served for the past thirty years as editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. In 1970 he served as president of Seattle University and in 1971 became editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In 1973 he published his translation of the Philosophical Dictionary and adapted it to American usage. In 1975 he became president of Catholic Views Broadcasts, Inc., which produces a weekly 15-minute radio program that airs on 50 stations across the United States. He has built and run three community television stations. In 1983 he published a three-volume explation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, Eschatology.
Copyright © 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker,
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