In the entire Old Testament, God is only addressed as “Father” about 20 times.[1] In the Gospels, Jesus freely speaks of God as “Father” about 170 times, whether simply as “Father” or “My Father” or as “your Father.”

In today’s second reading, First Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul witnesses to how readily the early Christians adopted Jesus’ practice of addressing God as “our Father”: “Grace and peace from God our Father” (1 Cor 1:3). Scholars estimate that Paul wrote the First Letter to the Corinthians about the year 57, twelve to thirteen years before Mark wrote the first Gospel.

St. Thomas Aquinas comments that the name “Father” excludes two possible errors about God: “Some men said that God does not care about human affairs … According to this error, it is vain that something be asked of God. Others said that God does not have providence but providence itself imposes necessity upon things” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Pope John Paul reminds us that human names are not applied to God in a literal sense but in an analogous sense, so that there is a certain similarity to parents.[2] Thomas affirms the importance of this particular name for God: “By the fact that we say, ‘Father,’ we call ourselves His children…. He is called Father by relation to His children… For a son has a notion of liberty” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Thomas affirms that “father” suggests “giving”: “For if He is a Father, then He wishes to give: ‘If you then being evil, know how to give good things to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to those who ask Him’ (Mt 7:11)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Thomas asserts that the name, ‘father,’ evokes charity, by which Thomas means our love for God: “It avails for stirring up charity. For it is natural that a father loves his son and vice versa: ‘Be you followers of God, as most dear children’ (Eph 5:1). By this word we are provoked to imitate him. For a son ought to imitate his father as much as he can: ‘You shall call Me father and not cease to walk after Me’ (Jer 3:19)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

The name also arouses in us love for others: “By this word our affections are directed to our neighbor, since if there is one Father of all, someone ought not to scorn his neighbor by reason of his race; ‘Have we not all one father? Has not God created us? Why then does every one of us despise his brother’ (Mal 2:10)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Paul’s greeting brings out the close relationship of Jesus to the Father because he prays, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace and peace come not only from the Father but from the Father and from Jesus. Because we are accustomed to the relation between the Father and the Son, this doesn’t startle us, yet we can see that this close relationship was also assumed within seventeen years of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension and active presence with the Father are likewise assumed.

St. Thomas reflects: “The one who causes grace and peace is mentioned when he says: ‘from God our Father’: ‘Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down form the Father of lights’ (Jas 1:17). He adds: ‘and from the Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘by Whom He has granted to us His precious and very great promises’ (2 Pt 1:4); “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

As Thomas has affirmed, a “father” suggests one who gives, Paul thanks God for the gifts He has given to the Christians at Corinth: “I continually thank my God for you because of the grace He has bestowed on you in Christ, in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge” (1 Cor 1:4-5)

Thomas recognizes that Paul rejoices in these gifts because of his love for the Christians: “He also mentions those for whom he gives thanks when he says: for you, in whose blessings he rejoiced as in his own because of the union of charity: ‘No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth’ (3 Jn. v. 4)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians)..

Paul thanks God for the “grace” given them. Thomas notes that the grace has been given “in Christ Jesus”: “… the grace of God, which was given you in Christ Jesus, i.e., by Christ Jesus: “Of his fullness we have all received and grace for grace: (Jn. 1:16).”

Paul asserts that grace has been abundantly given: “Paul mentions the abundance of their grace, saying: because in every way, namely, which pertains to salvation, you were enriched, i.e., made to overflow in him, i.e., through Christ: “For your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you become rich (2 Cor 8:9).”

Thomas notices that Paul considers that the Corinthians have been given “every spiritual gift”: “He touches on the perfection of grace when he says: you are not wanting in any spiritual gift, namely, because various persons among them enjoyed all the Charismatic graces”

Paul encourages the Corinthians to have hope in the future coming of Christ:

“He mentions their expectation of a future blessing when he says: to you, who not only have grace at present but are waiting for the future revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely because He will be manifested to His saints not only in the glory of His humanity… but also in the glory of His divinity: ‘The glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ (Is 40:5). This is the revelation that makes men happy: ‘When He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2), and in which eternal life consists: ‘This eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (Jn. 17:3) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).  

The happiness of the believers is based on hope: “Now just as those to whom Christ is revealed are happy in reality, so those who await this are happy in hope: ‘Blessed are all they that wait for him’ (Is 30:18). This is why he gives thanks for their expectations” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).  

God will strengthen them: “He shows that this expectation is not vain because of the help of God’s grace: hence he adds: Who, i.e., Christ, Who gave them the hope of such a manifestation, will sustain you in the grace received: ‘After you have suffered a little while, He will restore, establish and strengthen you’ (1 Pt 5:10) to the end of your life: ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt 10:22) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

Paul declares: “God is faithful, and it was He who called you to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). Thomas considers this “fellowship” to be a type of “friendship”:

“Charity signifies not only the love of God, but also a certain friendship with Him; which implies, besides love, a certain mutual return of love, together with a mutual communion … That this belongs to charity is evident from 1 John 4:16: ‘He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him’ and from 1 Cor 1:9, where it is written ‘God is faithful, by Whom you were called to fellowship with His Son” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Thomas explains that we already share in this fellowship in the present by grace: “This fellowship of a man with God, which consists in a certain familial colloquy with Him is begun here, in this life, by grace, but will be perfected in the future life, by glory; each of which things we hold by faith and hope” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Thomas emphasizes the importance of believing that God will be true to His promises: “Just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in or despaired of the possibility of their fellowship or familial colloquy, so too friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this friendship and colloquy with God, and to hope to attain to this fellowship” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Paul assures us that God will be true to His promise: “God is faithful” (1 Cor 1:9). Thomas reflects:

“Paul assigns the reason for his promise, saying that God will strengthen you, because God is faithful … By whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, i.e., to have fellowship with Christ, both in the present life through the likeness of grace: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 Jn. 1:7) and in the future by sharing in His glory: ‘Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom 8:17). But God would not seem to be faithful, if He called us to the fellowship of His Son and then denied us on His part the things by which we could attain to Him. Hence Joshua (1:5) says: ‘I will not fail you or forsake you’ (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians may be found on the website, http//dhspriory.org/Thomas/.

 References to the Commentary on Matthew may be found in St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, trans. Rev. Paul M. Kimball. Dolorosa Press, 2012, pages 243-244.

References to the Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, in this case the first part of the second, the Prima Secundae, followed by the particular question, in this case, question 65, and then the article, in this case, article 5.

[1] Joachim Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965), 9-16.

[2] John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, 8.