Many people think of the Word of God as an “it” when in fact, the Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come merely to give us information and exhortation. He came to give us his very self. He is the “Word made Flesh.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict made this point in, the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini. I want to give an excerpt and then reflect briefly upon it.
[There is a] 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)….. 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 ”.…. “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). ….. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face….(Verbum Domini 11-12)
The Word of God is not merely on the pages of a book. The Word of God is not just an idea or ethical system. The Word of God is not just a set of teachings or doctrines. The Word of God is Jesus Christ. And to really grasp this Word to the degree that we come to know Him, and experience Him and His power active in our lives.
It is a danger to turn Scripture into an abstraction or just a text. St Thomas Aquinas says, The Son is the Word, not any sort of word, but one Who breathes forth Love. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. ix 10): “The Word we speak of is knowledge with love.” Thus the Son is sent not in accordance with [just] any kind of intellectual perfection, but according to the intellectual illumination, which breaks forth into the affection of love, as is said (John 6:45): “Everyone that hath heard from the Father and hath learned, comes to Me. (Summa Prima Pars, 43.5 ad 2).
Hence we cannot really grasp Scripture unless we come to know Jesus Christ. Further, to authentically read Sacred Scripture is to more and more encounter Jesus Christ there. Before we analyze a text of Scripture we are summoned to encounter the One who is speaking to us.
It is surely possible for some, even secular scholar to analyze a Greek text of Holy Writ and parse its verbs. Perhaps another scholar can analyze idioms, or the historical context. Such research can help us understand what the text is saying at a mechanistic level. But only a deepening and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ can help us to know what the text really means. It is this personal, historical, and on-going encounter with Jesus Christ that distinguishes true theology from mere religious study or literary criticism.
Indeed, theologians and Scripture scholars are dangerous if they do not personally know Jesus Christ. To “know” Jesus is not the same as to “know about” Jesus. I might know about Jesus Christ from a book or from some other person. But it is not enough to know “about” him. I must know him. To be a true “authority” in Scripture requires that we have met and know the “author.” Do you see the word “author” in “authority?”
Note how Pope Benedict quotes the Prologue of John’s Gospel ”.…. “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ”(Jn 1:14a). and then says, These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! The Pope also says above in reference to the Hebrews 1 text: Here we are set before the very person of Jesus.
In the Liturgical context of Scripture this fact is enshrined in our ritual. As the Priest or Deacon proclaims the Gospel, all the people stand out of respect. For, it is Christ himself who speaks to them and whom they encounter in this proclamation of the Word. At the conclusion of the proclamation of the Gospel, they acknowledge that they are encountering Jesus as they say to him personally: “Laus tibi Christe!” (Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ).
Hence, Scripture, and the wider concept of the Word of God, authentically interpreted by the Church, is not merely a book or a set of ideas. It is an encounter with a living God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ.
Perhaps a couple of quick stories to illustrate the difference between seeing Scripture merely as a text, and seeing it as an encounter with the Word made flesh, Jesus.
1. A rural Appalachian community was visited by a Shakespearean actor. They were amazed at his elegant but strange way of speaking. At one moment in his public recital he recited the 23rd Psalm. The words were elegant, pronounced in finest King James English with great drama and flair. At the end of his recitation a strange silence filled the room. Where applause would usually follow, an awkward silence ensued. Finally a poor farmer in the back of the room stood and apologized that no one knew to applaud and that they meant no offense but they just weren’t sure he was done. “See, out in these parts we say it a little different.” The poor farmer then began, “The Loerd is mah shayperd….” When he completed the psalm the room was filled with amens and “praise the Lord”s. The Shakespearean actor then told the poor farmer, “I was elegant, but your words had greater power. That is because I know only the technique, but you know the author.”
2. Some years ago I heard a Black AME Preacher address an ecumenical gathering at a revival. And he said to the gathered, “You know I heard some strange stuff in seminary! The professors said Jesus never really walked on water, that he didn’t really multiply loaves and fishes, he just got folks to be generous. They said, he didn’t really know he was God, or rise from the dead. He just lives on in our thoughts or something…..Can you believe they taught me that in a Christian seminary?!” Through his description of these wretched “teachings” the moans and disapproval in the congregation of Protestants and Catholics were audible. He built his litany of faulty scholarship and you could hear folks saying, “Lord have mercy!” and “mah, mah, mah.” And then he stopped and mopped his brow, and looked at them and said, “I tell you what! The problem with them wasn’t that they read the wrong books, y’all. The problem with them was that they ain’t never met my Jesus!” Well the house came down and folks were on their feet for ten minutes praising God. The Choir too leapt to their feet and began the familiar chorus: “Can’t nobody do me like Jesus, he’s my Lord!”
Well, you get the point, when you’ve met Jesus Christ you just don’t doubt that he walked on the water, multiplied loaves, raised Lazarus, knew perfectly well that he was God and stepped out of the tomb on Easter morning.
The Word of God is not merely a text. It is a person, Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Word made flesh. And once you’ve met him his spoken (and later written word) begins to make greater and greater sense and there is just no doubt that this Word is true and powerful.
Let me let Pope Emeritus Benedict conclude as we recall his words above: the Word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus….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, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 Replies to “The Word of God is not a mere text, He is a person. A meditation on the Personal Relationship we must have with the Word.”
I admit Msgr. that I have a hard time with some of the Bible stories. I just told my CCD class about Moses, the ten plagues and the parting of the red sea. One child asked me if it was a true story and I hesitated in answering yes. Most of my hesitation was because of the violence of the story (the death of the first born Egyptians). I know that the Passover story is directly related to Jesus’s own death & resurrection; but I admit I still have trouble teaching this. Any suggestions?
It may be of some help for your students to realize physical death is not the worst thing that can happen. Spiritual death is. True that there is a spiritual sense of the text where pharoah represents our enslavement to sin before Christ’s act of redemption. However, there is a pbc (pontifical biblical council) document you can get online that addresses Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and that these are indeed historical books. Yes, there is violence and death, but just remind your students that God is not the author of death- man is- and God will give himself up to death to offer redemption to all those first born souls that awaited His descent into hell.
I’m sure it was worth the wait! There is a good book, recently published, that uses Aquinas and Pope Benedict’s method of addressing the dark passages of the Bible. As a teacher of the faith, I highly suggest you read it so you may be armed when these questions arise. “Dark Passages of the Bible- Engaging Scripture with Benedict xvi and Thomas Aquinas”. By Matthew Ramage
I am so happy that you have decided to write about this topic, especially after your recent post about Kirsten Power’s conversion. Several of your readers remarked that they have not undergone what they referred to as a “St. Paul moment” and were concerned. After reflecting upon my own conversion experience, I determined that I had been converted (in part) by reading Scriptures, where I encountered the Holy God.
I read the entire New Testament and it didn’t really make any sense to me, so I decided to read it again, along with the Old Testament. As I wrote earlier, “Jesus’ words worked on my mind and my heart.” It changed me – dramatically! Reading Scriptures is transformational. This cannot be stressed enough. Catholics need to be exhorted to read the Bible regularly. So, thank you, Monsignor, for this important post.
Monsignor, what scripture is Jesus displaying in the beautiful icon you used for this article. My RSV Bible has a similar icon on the cover and the scripture is John 8:12.
It looks like John 11:25
Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή· ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται,
I am the resurrection and the life, the one who goes on believing in me will live even if he die
Thank you for the reply.
Made me think of this passage: James 1:25 “Whereas one who gazes into that perfect law, which is the law of freedom, and dwells on the sight of it, does not forget its message; he finds something to do, and does it, and his doing of it wins him a blessing.”
Also, I think it is astounding and humble that the Apostle John, the Beloved Disciple, who was with Jesus as He walk bodily on the earth for three years, who was among the witnesses to Jesus’ Transfiguration, and who experienced the visions and ecstasies that led to the writing of the Book of Revelation, said, “No man has ever seen God[;] . . . (1 John 4:12).”
Thought provoking post, Monsignor.
Some write in such a way so as to make it seem that they have this gnosis, and to make everyone else worried that they have not obtained this gnosis. It reminds me, not fondly, of my protestant days of competitive piety when everyone claimed to have a deeper salvation than everyone else. Myriad levels of sanctity were discovered as each person tried to one-up their neighbors’ experience of Christ, and faith was twisted from trust in the words of a reliable witness, to an ever more medical experience.
I gratefully shed all that when I joined the Church, in favor of the certainty of grace conveyed through the sacraments, the clarity of the scriptures interpreted through tradition, and the tangible leadership of the hierarchy.
I also gratefully shed that ugly narrow-mindedness that claims that if a person is enthralled with higher criticisms of religion, that they are lost in darkness without Christ. Such judgmentalism is not really Catholic, is it? To boldly say that another Christian doesn’t ‘know Jesus’ is bold, vague, and ultimately useless.
St. Irenaeus protect us from shepherds who tell us that our belief in the miracles of Christ should happen by way of strong feelings abut them, rather than our confidence in the Church to convey God’s truth to us across centuries. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, who certainly knew Jesus, but admitted in her writings that she was never confirmed by feelings, pray for us to have clear vision of what it means to live a Holy life.
What on earth are you talking about here. I am not sure what this has to do with this post. It’s funny too, since you seem to be condemning gnosticism or “Gonsticism” as you term it. We’ll just presume a typo there. But what’s funny is that is that you seem to be in some sort of gnostic place of your own, since the poor likes of me has no idea what you are talking about. You seem to be criticizing “shepherds” (me?? maybe the bishops??? who??) that we teach some sort of emotionalism. Really? where? Who are you talking about? And what does this have to do with St. Irenaeus? Or St Teresa ?? And who is climing deeper salvation?? Non ginosko se
Loved your write up. I was impressed that you addressed not turning the Word into abstract. I have listened to many religious that have done so and it just makes me close my ears to the message they are trying to preach. This is a very valuable writing. Each morning
I read scripture with friends out loud and the words come alive and things we didn’t hear before become known to us. Thank you.
When i was in Bible study we were asked to join in a reading the Bible in a year group, which hungry me wanted badly. It was a pivotal year, as Scripture came alive! The Word indeed was flesh. Amazing grace Msgr. Pope. I agree with Donna, we NEED much more Scriptural reading/classes. The other day on FB, i got into am almost 2 hour debate with a few fellow Catholics who did not understand God’s holiness and how because of sin we are not fit to be in his presence, until we undergo conversion/repentance. Worse Msgr. Pope, they believed that when Christ suffered and died for us, nothing more was required of them They were saved. I was utterly horrified at what they thought of as truth.. They called me a heretic, a fake Catholic, a schismatic and worse lol! When i produced Scripture to back up my assertions they thought I wrote it! This is quite troubling.
What heavenly music!
Thanks you Msgr. Pope!
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