Why is it so important that the creedal aspects of faith be not merely generally correct, but precisely so? Must doctrine be so finely discovered, unveiled, taught—or is a more coarse definition of belief sufficient? These questions are at the heart of the concept of doctrine—in the moral sense, but especially in the creedal sense. For the moral sense tells us something about ourselves and our relationships with each other; but it is the creeds which teach us most about God.
Consider an analogy to human relationships. When two people begin to fall in love with that each other, they both see mostly the good things about the other person—those things which are liked about him or her. On rare occasions do they see the flaws through their infatuation; these become more apparent later as each relaxes around the other and the infatuation begins to wear thin. The first annoying habit, the first embarrassing flaw, the first fight—these things begin to surface, and the relationship is tested, so that the couple’s love either grows or dies. The rose colored glasses fall off, but something better replaces them: the ability to adapt to each other’s faults and to accept them, to love the other person for who he or she really is, and be loved in kind, to be one’s own self.
Suppose the rose colored glasses never fell off. We would only see the façade presented by our own desires and expectations, never the flaws, those cracks and holes through which the real person is revealed. Would we be in love with the other person, really in love with them as a real person, or would they be only a surrogate for a fantasy love? I suspect that the latter would be the case. We would love a person who wasn’t really there, and the real person would be only a vessel for the imagined love of a contrived soul-mate. Such a person may return our false, imagined love, but never can we two become co-subjects of love, both loving each other and being loved by the other as our selves. In short, we reduce the other person to an object of our own self-love, a thing which may at best satisfy what Lewis once referred to as our Need-Love, and at worst becomes first an object of desire, and then not even desirable. Yet, as Pope John Paul the Great has written, love does not have objects, only subjects.
In spite of this, it is all too easy to approach relationships in this manner, to see other people as who we wish them to be and not who they actually are. Worse still is when we take this same approach with God. This we all do to some extent, at one point or another. For if God is a perfect Being, and infinite Being, and unchanging Being, then where there is a need for change, it is we who must change, and not God. Sometimes this change is hard, painful, requiring of vast effort of will. How much easier it would be if God was more in tune with our desires—so we are tempted to put God in a box. The Infinite Good must be made finite so that He can satisfy our desires.
How this happens is more difficult to grasp than the reduction of a fellow human being, and yet it is also much easier to accomplish. For we do not interact directly with Him in a face-to-face encounter as with other people. God is not known to us in the same sense that we can know other people—hence St. John’s admonition that “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). We know or fellow men because we are each one of them; we have, as Peter Kreeft puts it “inside information” about what it is to be man. Our interactions with other men are (or can be) face-to-face, as equals.
It is not so with God. We have only indirect interactions Him, or direct though veiled interactions: with His image in other men; directly with Him though in a hidden way in the Eucharist; directly though not ace-to-face as in prayer. What we know of God is revealed to us by Him: we can be certain of this, and nothing more. The Revelation, the Word, was made flesh and walked among us; and the Spirit of God spoke to and through the prophets and later the apostles; and His Word is alive in us, images of God, if we listen in prayer. But the prophets, the Incarnation, the apostles—these were so long ago, and it is difficult to truly discern that voice which speaks to us.
It is for this reason which He established His Church, a vessel through which His Spirit may speak and guide us—a guardian of revelation. The creeds taught by the Church—first the Apostle’s Creed and then later the Nicene Creed—serve as a sort of summa for revelation. They are a summary of what we know about God’s existence and action. The written word too reveals much about our Lord, as have the oral teachings of His followers. From these we do not know everything about God, but what they do reveal is true. Among other things, we know that He is the summum, infinitum, et perfectisimum bonum, that is to say that He is Perfect, the highest Good, et omni dilectione dignum, deserving not just our desirous love, but our devotion, our true love for Him, and not merely our fallen ideal for Whom He is.