The Symphony of Revelation in Verbum Domini

In Verbum Domini, the Pope provides a quick summary of the theology of revelation:

In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of “the word of God”. They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: “a polyphonic hymn”.[17] The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God’s self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, “became flesh” (Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression “word of God” here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit “he has spoken through the prophets”.[18] God’s word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book”: Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”.[19] Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.[20] (Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, sec. 7)

It is funny to me how we use the term “word of God” with so many different meanings. What connects them all is that each meaning somehow denotes God’s revelation. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the word of God. Even creation is the word of God. I’d like to set the whole thing up as an equation:

The Word of God = Creation + The Bible + Jesus + Salvation History + Apostolic Preaching + Tradition

But I do not think it is quite that simple. Somehow, each element listed can be said to be the Word of God, not just a “part” of the word of God. They are all interrelated and yet not one of them is perfectly complete without the others. I mean, for example, Jesus stands outside of creation and yet is part of creation through his incarnation. Tradition somehow encompasses the Bible and yet is distinct from it. The Apostolic preaching included biblical material, especially from the Old Testament, but it also proclaimed the resurrection of Christ before the New Testament was in written form. Salvation history is recorded in the Bible and yet extends beyond the reach of the Bible. Jesus is the culmination of Salvation History and yet the story extends beyond him into his effects on the whole world. All the elements of the Word of God, of God’s revelation to man are essential, interrelated and overlapping. Rightly do the Synod Fathers declare the word of God to be a “symphony.”

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