FIRST COMES LOVE
Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity
Jacket illustration by John Snogren Jacket design by Ellen Elchlepp
First published in Great Britain
in 2002 by-:
First published in the USA in
This revised and updated edition
The right of Scott Walker Hahn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Nihil Obstat: Rev. James Dunfee, Censor Librorum
The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions or statements expressed.
Book design by Julie Duquet
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cromwell Press, Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
Scott Hahn has the rare ability to explain the essential teachings
of Catholicism in a totally accessible manner. Rather than burdening the reader with difficult or arcane references
and arguments, he writes of familiar feelings and situations and allows the theology to unfold naturally. In First Comes Love, Hahn turns his attention to the search for a sense of belonging,
revealing the intimate connection between the families men and women create on earth and the divine family, the
In recent years we have seen the family on the defensive, often denigrated and even portrayed as a place of repression and fear rather than of openness and love. Scott Hahn shows that our only hope of regaining happiness and wholeness lies not in attacking the family but in a recovery of our understanding of the family as the heart of God's plan for creation.
Theology and biblical interpretation take on the excitement of an adventure story in this irresistible and often moving reflection on love, relationships, the family, the Trinity, and the Church.
– Aidan Nichols
This new edition includes a new chapter by the author.
The extraordinary vision and panache of Scott Hahn's writing have made Catholic theology and spirituality thrilling and accessible for millions of readers inside and far beyond the boundaries of the Church. He is the author of eight other DLT books: The Lamb's Supper; Hail, Holy Queen; Lord, Have Mercy; Swear to God; Letter and Spirit and Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace, Signs of Life and Covenant and Communion. He is Professor of Theology and Scripture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
—Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.,
—Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl,
—John F. Boyle
—Peter Kreeft, PH.D.
—Robert Fastiggi, PH.D.
Douglas Norwicki, OSB
—Archbishop John Myers
—Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR
—Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP
Sources and References 175
Foreword for the U.S.A. version of the book
By Ronald D. Lawler, O.F.M. Cap.
God is great, and He is full of love. He is not a solitary God. He does not tower above heaven and earth as one entirely alone. He is a Father, and He has an eternal Son, to Whom He is united with dearest closeness by the love that is the Holy Spirit. He is a family.
Because He is great, God wishes His children to be great and to be filled with love. As the eternal Father is forever a member of the divine family we call the Trinity, He is not alone and He cries out from the beginning of mankind that "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Gn 2:18). We are to live in love and in families—in our own little families, in the family of faith and in the family of the Trinity.
Human persons are called to live in great love, in families. A man and a woman are called to find the love that overcomes the deep loneliness and selfishness our flesh can be heir to, by giving themselves entirely to each other in the love that creates marriage and homes and calls into being children more dear to parents than all else.
Human love is weak,
and human funilies need to be caught into the great family of God to become what they long to be. Even before God
taught us fully the mystery
The first head of the human family failed, so God made known and sent to us His eternal Son, to bring, to us in a more sublime way the gifts of love and unity He wished us to have. Cardinal Newman speaks of how what failed in Adam most surely did not fail in Christ.
Astonishingly striking are the ways in which the mystery of the human family and the mightier mystery of the Family or God are brought into unity by Jesus, the eternal Son. The place of the Eucharist is spoken of with great fire here (chapter 7). When Adam failed to show the love God enabled him to share, and led his human family into sin, the eternal Son became our very brother and the new head and founder of our human family, and He did not fail. He gave us, and all in our families, kinship with God. As Dr. Hahn puts it:
The book draws to a close with a treasury of ''Sources and References," whose riches I urge you to consult.
In the visible family of the Church, as in the family of the Trinity that is God, every person, however broken his or her home and hopes may have been, can find a most dear family. The Church offers strength and light to every small family—that it may with gladness and greatness become what it is made to be: a place of love, shining with the gifts of the God Who enables the family and each of its members to acquire varying and wonderful kinds of greatness.
Every family, even the weakest and most suffering family, is called to greatness. And it can come to greatness, for it is meant to be, and can be, caught into the great Family of God Himself, Who is the source and joy of greatness for all.
Foreword for the U.K. version of the book
By Aidan Nichols OP
Scott Hahn is always a surprise. You pick up the book thinking that, after a glitzy autobiographical opening in the American fashion, this will be a replay of an old record, following well-worn grooves. But then, as you read on, the absolute freshness of the thinking rises up and hits you between the eyes.
Now he has done it for family, Trinity, Church. If you think the beginning is schmaltzy read on. For Hahn, romance breaks down egoism, and children break down égoïsme à deux, but even when our nuclear families are not spoiled by dysfunction, neither romance nor children is good enough. Our longing for love, family, home, can only be fulfilled in the divine family plan—which is where Israel and Christ, Trinity and Church come in.
He starts from Israel. The twelve tribes, Hahn argues, were "trustee families", with "covenant" the legal, ritual way to accept new members. Without some such background of social—and religious—coherence, the nuclear family may just be a transitional stage, he thinks, before we reach the "atomised family" where familial duties are resented as bars to individual happiness.
But that—the Israelite experience—was only a beginning.The Saviour spoke a family language of a new kind, a language of a Father's children, and a God who is (as we would come to say, in shorthand) "Trinity". His aim was to draw people away from even the primal families of the old Israel into a new supernatural family that would be "as big as God".
To see what the Lord was up to, we have to go back to basics. Why, asks Hahn, does the Genesis creation narrative use the plural form for the divine decision to make man "in our image and likeness"? Could it be because the archetype of familial relation lies in God? Developed doctrine says of the Trinity that two—Father and Son—are one so fruitfully that their oneness is itself a living Person—the Holy Spirit. In the basic family cell, the one that two become is "so real that, nine months later, they give it a name". Why, Hahn asks again, does the Genesis author make the divine creative activity end with a sabbath rest that, in relation to the God who is all act, makes no immediate sense? Could it be because, given the closeness of the Hebrew words for the sabbath and swearing an oath he means to insinuate that the seventh day sealed a family bond between God and man? It was after all by means of covenants—renewals of such oaths and bonds—that the Lord of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, constantly remade the primal families with which he shared his life.
Just why such re-making was necessary, and why, in the last analysis it took the Incarnation and Atonement to make it stick, it is the job of the narrative of the Fall in the Book of Genesis to explain. Here Hahn's account takes on the tension of a detective story. I will not spoil the reader's enjoyment, but limit myself to saying: Hahn's theology of the Fall is wholly original and wholly orthodox, two qualities that, in such wide-ranging biblical interpretation, are rarely combined.
The message of Jesus's career is: only a "blameless life given to another, for another"—given sacrificially, then—could reverse the Fall and reveal the Trinity. For in Hahn's theology, God is not only Covenant. He is also Sacrifice. The "new and everlasting covenant" Jesus spoke of at the last Passover of his life assures our "upward mobility" because it is entry into the eternal sacrificial Covenant which the Trinity is. This is the only family bond that can last forever, and the proof of its reality is Eucharistic communion in the Real Presence. True love runs smooth thanks to grace, as asceticism and the virtues serve God's intent for us: our participation in his own divine nature. Except through the "Pour House" of the Trinitarian life, even the most decent natural family will be a poor house in the end.
And so finally to the Church. The great trustee family of ancient Israel moves to the margins but Jesus's disciples are not left orphans. In the Church, Christ has a bride that is also his body—not as strange as it sounds, for a woman was so to cleave to her husband as to become one flesh. And this bride is, through our baptism, our Mother. Or rather, it is because the Holy Spirit's mothering of believers happens through Mother Church that she—the Church—can regenerate in baptism. As the communion of saints, human sin notwithstanding, this is a family that is always functional, and in its context all those domestic realities from which Hahn started—the married couple, children, sexuality, and indeed single people, whether consecrated celibates or not—can find their home at the sacred hearth of God.
The delicacy with which Scott Hahn reaches out in his conclusion to those who have suffered in the family circle, or suffered from having no family circle to call their own, is not the least strength of a remarkable book.
FEW ARE THE powers that can lure a college student away from his cafeteria. The undergraduate male sustains an enormous and primal appetite for food—even institutional food. And I was as undergraduate and as male as any other student at Grove City College.
Yet, one autumn day, I discovered a force of nature that trumps even food. Her name was Kimberly Kirk.
I spied her playing piano just outside the dining hall. The music was beautiful, but music—even at its finest, and her songs were dazzling—ranks relatively low with the undergraduate male.
At a distance, I could see that the young woman at the keyboard had a cute, sassy haircut—and a sassier smile.
I made my way over and, between songs, tried to make casual conversation. She was, I found out, very active in theater and interested in literature; her major was communication arts. She played a piece she had written, and it was magnificent. Then she sang to her own accompaniment, and I thought to myself, She could do this for a living.
I knew I had better move on, and quickly. Scott Hahn was not about to fall for another woman. You see, not too long before that encounter, I had made a firm decision to quit dating. After several relationships, I concluded that the dating scene was an emotional trap, an extended battery of mind games—hurting and getting hurt. I'd had enough. Besides, I was already triple-majoring in economics, philosophy, and theology, and working as a resident assistant. I just didn't have the time.
So, that autumn day, with a polite "Nice to meet you," I turned my undergraduate-student body back toward the cafeteria.
My mind, however, was another matter. A few days later, I was walking across the quad and I caught sight of Kimberly Kirk a half-quad away. Watching her walk, I thought, Boy, is she pretty. Then I thought back to our encounter in the dining hall: And she's really intelligent and musical . . .
Still, my stubborn will remained. I couldn't ask her for a date. Dating was out of the question at that point in my life—even dating a young woman so radiantly beautiful, so witty, and so talented. No, I couldn't do it.
So I did the next-best thing. I asked her if she would consider joining me in Young Life, a youth-ministry program I was helping to run at a local high school. She said yes, to my delight, never letting on to me that her dad had been one of the founding leaders of Young Life, some two decades before!
In this shared ministry, I really saw Kimberly Kirk. She had faith and an evangelical zeal that surpassed all her other gifts. I never tired of her company. Soon we were spending four, five, six hours a day together, punctuating our work with snowball fights, long walks, long conversations, and music, sweet music.
Within a month, my rash vow had expired. I was a goner. Kimberly Kirk and I were falling in love.
I don't mean to bore you with personal details. I know that there's nothing exceptional about our story. We met; we were attracted to one another, yet determined to tough it out alone; so we resisted the attraction till we could resist it no more. Boy meets girl: It's quite literally the oldest story in the world.
One Is the Loneliest Number
When Christians and Jews tell the story of the human race, they begin "in the beginning," with God's creation of a man named Adam. "Adam" is the name of an individual, the founding father of the human race, but it is more, too. Adam is the Hebrew word for "humanity." This is something like the way Americans use the name "Washington" to mean the first president of their country, the capital city of their country, and the government of their country. Washington's story is, in a sense, America's story. Yet Adam's story is even greater than that. It belongs to all the nations of the world and to everyone. Adam's story is our story: mine and Kimberly's, and yours.
Let's revisit that story at the beginning of the Bible. The Book of Genesis begins with the account of God's creation of the universe. In six consecutive "days," God created everything: night and day; the sky and the seas; the sun, the moon, and the stars; the birds and the fish; and the beasts of the fields. After each act of creation, God looked at what He had made and pronounced it "good." To crown His work, God created man on the sixth day and gave him dominion over all the earth. Only then did God look at His work and declare it "very good" (Gn 1:31).
We see in the next chapter of Genesis that God furnished the whole world for man's delight. "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (2:9). God gave Adam this lush, fruitful garden to till and to keep (2:15). Thus, Adam lived in a world custom-made for his pleasure, a world without sin, suffering, or disease—a world where work was always rewarding, a world that, Genesis tells us, was unstintingly good.
Yet God Himself looked upon this situation and, for the first time in the Scriptures, pronounced that something was "not good." He said, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gn 2:18).
What a remarkable statement! Remember, this took place before the Fall of humankind, before sin and disorder could enter creation. Adam lived in an earthly paradise as a child of God, made in God's own image (Gn 1:27). Yet something was "not good." Something was incomplete. The man was lonely.
God set out immediately to remedy the situation, saying, "I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:18). So God brought all the animals to man and asked him to name them—to exercise authority over them.
Even so, things were still "not good": "for the man there was not found a helper fit for him" (Gn 2:20). Though Adam could rule over the beasts—though he could enjoy fruitful, rewarding labor—he was still unfulfilled. For God made man on the same day as the animals, but He made man different from the animals. Only man was made in God's image and likeness. Thus, even with all the animals in the world, man was alone upon the earth.
What comes next in Genesis is the heart of every love story:
"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man' " (2:21-23).
Adam's world had seemed complete. He had a good job, a beautiful home, dutiful pets, and plenty to keep him busy. Yet he was incomplete. Even as the "image of God," he was only complete when the woman, Eve, joined him in life. The man and his wife became "one flesh" (Gn 2:24). "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gn 1:27).
Adam should never have known loneliness again, because he had Eve by his side in a perfect world. He could see, now, that there was more to life than fruitful labor, more to life than a beautiful house, more to life than power. There was truly human love. Nor would Adam's good company be limited to the perfect match, the "helper fit for him." For "God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth' " (Gn 1:28).
The image of God was made complete with the creation of the family. Only then was Eden truly paradise.
From Garden to Grove
Boy meets girl. Adam meets Eve. Scott meets Kimberly. You know the story. It's the stuff of most of our movies, novels, ancient epics, and popular songs. It's the substance of our fondest memories, our deepest longings, or our most aching needs. It is not good to be alone.
Whenever I read this oldest story in the world, I can't help but get nostalgic, and I can't help but identify with Adam. I had all that I thought I needed in life: three academic majors, each of which I found fascinating; an active and rewarding ministry with young people; and, of course, a cafeteria. I lived on a treelined campus that was pleasant to the sight, stimulating to the mind, and generous at mealtimes. I didn't even know 1 was incomplete— I couldn't know—until I saw what I'd been missing.
God had made me not just for philosophy, economics, theology, or ministry, as good as all these things might be. God had created me for much more than that, and God had created me for Kimberly Kirk. His image in me would not begin to be complete until I said yes to His clear calling for me to marry her.
God made me, as He made you and everyone else on earth, for family. All the things we see and hear and feel and taste in creation are good, but it is not good for us to be alone.
What I'll call the family imperative is a basic assumption in our culture. Universities know it, for example, and so they try to market themselves as a surrogate family to teens who are making their first venture from the parental homestead. They succeed remarkably well, creating bonds that often last a lifetime. The college I attended likes to refer to itself in alumni mailings as alma mater, which is Latin for "nourishing mother." The campus has both fraternities and sororities—literally, brotherhoods and sisterhoods—and every year it celebrates homecoming week. The folks at the alumni association know that, as long as they can keep those family associations alive, I'm more likely to send money "home" to Grove City College.
Not Your Garden-Variety Families
Marketers know it, and we know it, too. We are made for family. For many people, this is a self-evident truth; but for some, it is an empty or broken promise, an almost unbelievable proposition. In recent generations, we have seen the family, as an institution, fall into rapid decline. A century ago, most marriages ended only with the death of a spouse. Today, many marriages end, bitterly, in divorce. Many children must come to terms with feelings of abandonment by one or both parents. Many adults struggle with anger and a deep sense of betrayal. Family dysfunction is epidemic, if not pandemic.
For the victims of such circumstances, the word "family" does not evoke happy memories or pleasant associations. For them, it seems a cruel God who would create us to live amid treachery, unkindness, or even abuse.
Those who have grown up in dysfunctional homes, or those who have been betrayed by lovers, know that they have been deprived of some great good. Their anger, bitterness, and sadness overwhelm them precisely because they know they lack something essential. They have been deprived of something that is theirs by right. They nurse a deep wound, and a wound is the sign that something in nature has been pierced, cut, or broken.
The wound is a sign that they lacked something that a family should have provided. Their family was not what it should have been, not what God created it to be. The fault, then, is not with the family as God created it, but with particular families as they stray from God's plan. Family dysfunction is undoubtedly a consequence of Original Sin; but it is not something God dreamed up to torment us.
Indeed, our only hope for regaining wholeness and happiness is if we recover God's family plan for creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that we must all "cleanse our hearts" of any "false . . . paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area 'upon Him' would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into His mystery as He is and as the Son has revealed Him to us" (no. 2779).
We must make the effort to undergo this cleansing, because God's family plan is more than just a recipe for domestic order (though it is that, too). It is a fulfillment of our deepest longings: for love, for family, for home. It is a recovery of the romance we were made to enjoy. . .forever. More than that, it is the title deed to a family estate that no one, not even the tax collector, can take from us. Still more, it is the revelation of God Himself, in His deepest mystery.
For at the core of human experience is the family, which is familiar to all of us, and which most of us think we understand, while somewhere far beyond the limits of our minds is God the Blessed Trinity, Whom many people find remote, abstract, and inaccessible. Yet I propose that we don't understand what we think we understand—that is, the family—and we do possess a key to understanding what we find inscrutable: the Trinity.
I believe all this because I have seen it. I married Kimberly Kirk on August 18, 1979. We made our home, and we knew the pleasure and the joy of the union of a man and a woman. It was not, however, in the ecstasy of our bodily union that I first glimpsed how a family most vividly manifests God's life—though that union surely had something to do with it.
For me, the first revelation came when Kimberly was nine and a half months pregnant with our first
The remainder of the chapter cannot be displayed due to publisher's limitation.