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Word, Logos, Creation: nn. 8-13 Apostolic Exhortation "Verbum Domini"

2010, September 30

The cosmic dimension of the word

8. When we consider the basic meaning of the word of God as a reference to the eternal Word of God made flesh, the one Saviour and mediator between God and humanity,[1] and we listen to this word, we are led by the biblical revelation to see that it is the foundation of all reality. The Prologue of Saint John says of the divine Logos, that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3); and in the Letter to the Colossians it is said of Christ, “the first-born of all creation” (1:15), that “all things were created through him and for him” (1:16). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews likewise states that “by faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (11:3).

For us, this proclamation is a word of freedom. Scripture tells us that everything that exists does not exist by chance but is willed by God and part of his plan, at whose center is the invitation to partake, in Christ, in the divine life. Creation is born of the Logos and indelibly bears the mark of the creative Reason which orders and directs it; with joy-filled certainty the psalms sing: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6); and again, “he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps 33:9). All reality expresses this mystery: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Thus sacred Scripture itself invites us to acknowledge the Creator by contemplating his creation (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19-20). The tradition of Christian thought has developed this key element of the symphony of the word, as when, for example, Saint Bonaventure, who in the great tradition of the Greek Fathers sees all the possibilities of creation present in the Logos,[2] states that “every creature is a word of God, since it proclaims God.”[3] The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum synthesized this datum when it stated that “God, who creates and conserves all things by his word (cf. Jn 1:3), provides constant evidence of himself in created realities.”[4]

The creation of man

9. Reality, then is born of the word, as creatura Verbi, and everything is called to serve the word. Creation is the setting in which the entire history of the love between God and his creation develops; hence human salvation is the reason underlying everything. Contemplating the cosmos from the perspective of salvation history, we come to realize the unique and singular position occupied by man in creation: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). This enables us to acknowledge fully the precious gifts received from the Creator: the value of our body, the gift of reason, freedom and conscience. Here too we discover what the philosophical tradition calls “the natural law.”[5] In effect, “every human being who comes to consciousness and to responsibility has the experience of an inner call to do good”[6] and thus to avoid evil. As Saint Thomas Aquinas says, this principle is the basis of all the other precepts of the natural law.[7] Listening to the word of God leads us first and foremost to value the need to live in accordance with this law “written on human hearts” (cf. Rom2:15; 7:23).[8] Jesus Christ then gives mankind the new law, the law of the Gospel, which takes up and eminently fulfils the natural law, setting us free from the law of sin, as a result of which, as Saint Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (Rom 7:18). It likewise enables men and women, through grace, to share in the divine life and to overcome their selfishness.[9]

The realism of the word

10. Those who know God’s word also know fully the significance of each creature. For if all things “hold together” in the one who is “before all things” (cf. Col 1:17), then those who build their lives on his word build in a truly sound and lasting way. The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things.[10] This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral. Possessions, pleasure and power show themselves sooner or later to be incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart. In building our lives we need solid foundations which will endure when human certainties fail. Truly, since “for ever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” and the faithfulness of the Lord “endures to all generations” (Ps 119:89-90), whoever builds on this word builds the house of his life on rock (cf. Mt 7:24). May our heart be able to say to God each day: “You are my refuge and my shield; I hope in your word” (Ps 119:114), and, like Saint Peter, may we entrust ourselves in our daily actions to the Lord Jesus: “At your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5).

Christology of the word

11. From this glimpse at all reality as the handiwork of the Blessed Trinity through the divine Word, we can understand the statement made by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “in many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (1:1-2). It is very beautiful to see how the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word: indeed, “by his covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen 15:18) and, through Moses, with the race of Israel (cf. Ex24:8), he gained a people for himself, and to them he revealed himself in words and deeds as the one, living and true God. It was his plan that Israel might learn by experience God’s ways with humanity and, by listening to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, might gradually understand his ways more fully and more clearly, and make them more widely known among the nations (cf. Ps 21:28-29; 95:1-3; Is 2:1-4; Jer 3:17).”[11]

This “condescension” of God is accomplished surpassingly in the incarnation of the Word. The eternal Word, expressed in creation and communicated in salvation history, in Christ became a man, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). Here the word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity. We can see, then, why “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction.”[12] The constant renewal of this encounter and this awareness fills the hearts of believers with amazement at God’s initiative, which human beings, with our own reason and imagination, could never have dreamt of. We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty: “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! Saint John, an eyewitness, tells us so: “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14b). The apostolic faith testifies that the eternal Word became one of us. The divine Word is truly expressed in human words.

12. The patristic and medieval tradition, in contemplating this “Christology of the word”, employed an evocative expression: the word was abbreviated.”[13] “The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Saint Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: 'The Lord made his word short, he abbreviated it' (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28) … The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us.”[14] Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth.[15]

Reading the Gospel accounts, we see how Jesus’ own humanity appears in all its uniqueness precisely with regard to the word of God. In his perfect humanity he does the will of the Father at all times; Jesus hears his voice and obeys it with his entire being; he knows the Father and he keeps his word (cf. Jn 8:55); he speaks to us of what the Father has told him (cf. Jn 12:50); I have given them the words which you gave me” (Jn 17:8). Jesus thus shows that he is the divine Logos which is given to us, but at the same time the new Adam, the true man, who unfailingly does not his own will but that of the Father. He “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lk 2:52). In a perfect way, he hears, embodies and communicates to us the word of God (cf. Lk 5:1).

Jesus’ mission is ultimately fulfilled in the paschal mystery: here we find ourselves before the “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has “spoken” exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us. The Fathers of the Church, in pondering this mystery, attributed to the Mother of God this touching phrase: “Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks, lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move.”[16] Here that “greater” love, the love which gives its life for its friends (cf. Jn 15:13), is truly shared with us.

In this great mystery Jesus is revealed as the word of the new and everlasting covenant: divine freedom and human freedom have definitively met in his crucified flesh, in an indissoluble and eternally valid compact. Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, in instituting the Eucharist, had spoken of a “new and everlasting covenant” in the outpouring of his blood (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20), and shows himself to be the true sacrificial Lamb who brings about our definitive liberation from slavery.[17]

In the most luminous mystery of the resurrection, this silence of the word is shown in its authentic and definitive meaning. Christ, the incarnate, crucified and risen Word of God, is Lord of all things; he is the victor, the Pantocrator, and so all things are gathered up forever in him (cf. Eph 1:10). Christ is thus “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12), the light which “shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5) and which the darkness has not overcome (cf. Jn 1:5). Here we come to understand fully the meaning of the words of Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105); the risen Word is this definitive light to our path. From the beginning, Christians realized that in Christ the word of God is present as a person. The word of God is the true light which men and women need. In the resurrection the Son of God truly emerged as the light of the world. Now, by living with him and in him, we can live in the light.

13. Here, at the heart, as it were, of the “Christology of the word”, it is important to stress the unity of the divine plan in the incarnate Word: the New Testament thus presents the paschal mystery as being in accordance with the sacred Scriptures and as their deepest fulfillment. Saint Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, states that Jesus Christ died for our sins “in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3) and that he rose on the third day “in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:4). The Apostle thus relates the event of the Lord’s death and resurrection to the history of the Old Covenant of God with his people. Indeed, he shows us that from that event history receives its inner logic and its true meaning. In the paschal mystery “the words of Scripture” are fulfilled; in other words, this death which took place “in accordance with the Scriptures” is an event containing a logos, an inner logic: the death of Christ testifies that the word of God became thoroughly human “flesh”, human “history.”[18] Similarly, the resurrection of Jesus takes place “on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”: since Jewish belief held that decay set in after the third day, the word of Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus who rises incorrupt. Thus Saint Paul, faithfully handing on the teaching of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:3), stresses that Christ’s victory over death took place through the creative power of the word of God. This divine power brings hope and joy: this, in a word, is the liberating content of the paschal revelation. At Easter, God reveals himself and the power of the trinitarian love which shatters the baneful powers of evil and death.

Calling to mind these essential elements of our faith, we can contemplate the profound unity in Christ between creation, the new creation and all salvation history. To use an example, we can compare the cosmos to a “book” – Galileo himself used this example – and consider it as “the work of an author who expresses himself through the ‘symphony’ of creation. In this symphony one finds, at a certain point, what would be called in musical terms a ‘solo’, a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. This ‘solo’ is Jesus. … The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work.”[19]


[1] Cf. Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and of the Church Dominus Iesus (6 August 2000), 13-15: AAS 92 (2000), 754-756.

[2] Cf. In Hexaemeron, XX, 5: Opera Omnia V, Quaracchi 1891, pp. 425-426; Breviloquium I, 8: Opera Omnia V, Quaracchi 1891, pp. 216-217.

[3] Itinerarium mentis in Deum, II, 12: Opera Omnia V, Quaracchi 1891, pp. 302-303; cf. Commentarius in librum Ecclesiastes, Cap. 1, vers. 11; Quaestiones, II, 3: Opera Omnia VI, Quaracchi 1891, p. 16.

[4] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 3; cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 2, De Revelatione: DS 3004.

[5] Cf. Propositio 13.

[6] International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law, Vatican City, 2009, No. 39.

[7] Cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 2.

[8] Cf. Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality, Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct (11 May 2008), Vatican City, 2008, Nos. 13, 32, 109.

[9] Cf. International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural Law, Vatican City, 2009, No. 102.

[10] Cf. Benedict XVI, Homily during the Celebration of Terce at the Beginning of the First General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops (6 October 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 758-761.

[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 14.

[12] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 1: AAS 98 (2006), 217-218.

[13] “Ho Logos pachynetai (or: brachynetai)”. Cf. Origen, Peri Archon, I, 2,8: SC 252, 127-129.

[14] Benedict XVI, Homily on the Solemnity of the Birth of the Lord (24 December 2006): AAS 99 (2007), 12.

[15] Cf. Final Message, II, 4-6.

[16] Maximus the Confessor, Life of Mary, No. 89: Testi mariani del primo millennio, 2, Rome, 1989, p. 253.

[17] Cf. Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007), 9-10: AAS 99 (2007), 111-112.

[18] Benedict XVI, General Audience (15 April 2009): L’Osservatore Romano, 16 April 2009, p.1.

[19] Id., Homily for the Solemnity of Epiphany (6 January 2009): L’Osservatore Romano, 7-8 January 2009, p. 8.