The God of Jesus Christ II — by Jean Daniélou

March 15, 2012

Allegory of Wisdom and Strength 1580 by Paolo Veronese

These are the properties of the Persons, of which we must now speak. We shall do this by turning first to the testimony of Scripture, in which each of the Persons is revealed through the pattern of salvation. Only later shall we be able, by reflecting on the facts as given there, to understand something of the eternal relationships between the Persons. I shall chiefly emphasize the Word and the Spirit, the understanding of which is vital to the New Testament.

The first revelation is that of the Father. He is the principle, the origin, the archè of the Trinity. Thus in creation, which is the joint work of the Three, like all their works ad extra, the Father reveals himself in a special manner. It is he who proffers the creative Word: “God said, Let there be light.” And it is he who is well pleased when he surveys the accomplished work: “God saw that it was good.”

Here Gregory of Nazianzen is right in saying that the Old Testament is a revelation of the Father, although, strictly speaking, it is the revelation of the One God, and everything in it is the joint work of the Three Persons. But insofar as it is a question of origination, of the origin of creation, the origin of election, the origin of mission, the Old Testament refers especially to him.

It shows him to us also as the Father. This fatherhood with regard to creation seems to be a reflection, in the order of mission, of the eternal relationships. Thus when Christ speaks of “your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust,” [Matthew 5:45] he is not speaking of the Father in the eternal relationship that he has with his only begotten Son, but in the paternal Providence that is the continuation of creation.

Similarly, when Hosea says of God, “Because Israel was a child, and I loved him: and I called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea11: 1), he refers, as we have seen, to the relationship created by election and the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, which is a visible theophany of his Fatherhood in relation to his own begotten Son.

Thus the Person of the Father appears in the Old Testament in the reflection of his creative, providential action. But it will be fully revealed only in the New Testament, for it cannot openly appear except in relation to the Son, whom only the New Testament reveals in his personal reality. But even so, it is not at first revealed directly, but in relation to the Son in his Incarnation. So again it is through the redemptive pattern that the Fatherhood is revealed.

It is through the works he accomplishes that Christ appears in relation to his Father, when he is singled out for approval at the Baptism, when he beseeches him to let the cup pass at the Passion, when he commends his Spirit into the Father’s hands. The Trinity appears here in the mirror of the divine economy.

This becomes still clearer in the Second Person. The Old Testament reveals him darkly as the Word of the Father. The phrase here must again be carefully interpreted. The Hebrew dabar, which the Greek translates as logos and the Latin as verbum, has a well-defined content. For the Greeks, the logos is chiefly the word as intelligibly enunciated; this is how the expression comes to mean the inward law of things, their reason. But the Hebrew dabar has quite another meaning, as Gerhard Kittel has noted. [Theological Works, N.T., IV, 89 ff] The word appears here as performing what it enunciates, as the speech of blessing or cursing. It is an act, not merely a meaning. 

Applied to the divine sphere, the Word of God is revealed, above all, as a force. It is, first of all, a creative force. “By the words of the Lord are his works”, says the son of Sirach. [Sirach 42:15] St. John, too, proclaiming the identity of the creative Word with that of the Incarnate Word, says: “All things were made by him.” The efficacy of the Word of God is clearly shown in Isaiah:

And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And return no more thither,
But soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring,
And give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth .. .
But it shall do whatsoever I please.
Isaiah 55:10-11

It is this creative Word, by whom all was made, and by whom every moment of time is provided, that St. John, by a foreshortening that throws into relief the staggering paradox of Christianity, shows to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth: “And the Word was made flesh.” For it is in fact the same Word on whose pattern the Father made man in the beginning, who, according to St. Irenaeus, came to touch again this plasma that was his (though it had strayed far from him), and to restore it in himself in a conclusive manner.

But the work of the Word is not only that of creation. He is also the Word who judges, the sharp sword that divides, that saves and condemns. Thus the Book of Wisdom shows him to us:

For while all things were in quiet silence,
And the night was in the midst of her course.
Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven …
With a sharp sword carrying thy unfeigned commandment.”
Wisdom 18:14-16

The Roman liturgy applies this text to the Incarnation of the Word in the introit to the Mass for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas; and Tauler comments on the eternal generation of the Word in the soul of the saints. St. John likewise applies this theme to the Incarnate Word: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and with justice doth he judge and fight … And he was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood; and his name is called, The Word of God…. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp two edged sword.” [Revelations 19:11-15]; The Epistle to the Hebrews cries in its turn, “For the Word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit.” [Hebrews 4:12]

Finally, the Word of God is a revealing Word. It is to this that the Book of Samuel (1Kings) refers when it tells us that the child Samuel did not recognize him, because “the word of the Lord was precious in those days, there was no manifest Vision.” [1 Kings 3:1] It is this Word that is delivered to the prophets, and is the principle, as we have said, by which the revelation comes to them. But this revelation that is made to men is only a created reflection of that eternal manifestation by which the Father proffers the eternal Word, who is his perfect in-age, in whom he acknowledges his whole presence, and in whom he rejoices infinitely. Through the mission of the Word, it is eternal generation that is revealed.

If St. John shows us in the Second Person the creative, illuminative Word, St. Paul prefers to describe him as subsistent wisdom. Here again it is by reference to the Old Testament that the Second Person is characterized. Wisdom, hohkma, which the Greeks translated as sophia, meant, for the peoples of the East, prudence in the conduct of life, such as they found in the sayings of wise men.

Thus the princes of Oriental monarchies compiled books of wisdom for the education of their subjects. When Solomon made Israel a great monarchy in the Oriental style, he wished likewise to endow his people with a monument of sagacity. “Solomon also spoke three thousand parables: and his poems were a thousand and five”, as we are told in the Book of Kings. [3 Kings 4:32]  For this reason the Bible puts his name to the Books of Proverbs and Wisdom.

But the idea of “wisdom” takes on a new character when it is transplanted into Yahwist religion. It is no longer simply human prudence, but the conduct of life according to the ways of Yahweh. For Israel, the sole rule governing man’s existence is the Law of God revealed to Moses and the prophets. Wisdom is thus identified with the Torah, the Law, and it comes to mean, not merely the Law of God, such as existed in his communication with man, but the very thought of God, the underlying archetype of that law. Thus it is Wisdom that presides over the whole divine scheme; in Wisdom God has formed the plan of his mighty works, and in Wisdom he watches over their completion.

The Wisdom literature devotes some noble passages to the praise of this aspect of divinity. Proverbs contains this description:

The Lord begot me, the first-born of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth ..
Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth…
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth
[and I found delight in the sons of men].”
Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom presides over God’s creation, but precedes it, being founded from eternity. This is one of the texts that are most often quoted by subsequent theologians.

Wisdom is described in turn by the Book of Wisdom as presiding not only over creation, but also over the destiny of God’s people. It shows Wisdom saving Noah at the time of the Flood and Lot at the destruction of Sodom. It is Wisdom who leads Joseph “in the right way” and delivers Israel from the Egyptian captivity. Here we find the sources of Irenaeus’ conception of the function of the Word in the history of salvation. Through these manifestations Wisdom reveals her essence:

For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness…
indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.”
Wisdom 7:25-8:1

Thus Wisdom appears in her eternal reality as the perfect image of God, as the complete expression of his infinite perfection.

Moreover, it is with this language that St. Paul and the whole tradition after him describe the Second Person. In Jesus there is revealed the subsistent personal reality of that Wisdom which the Old Testament described in her manifestations, though without showing them as subsistent. Thus, at the outset of the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul writes of the Son, “who is the image (eikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth.” [Colossians 1:15-16] So, too, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, inspired by St. Paul, in a text that is the leitmotif of our present chapter, applies to the Second Person the language of Wisdom:

God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.
Hebrews 1:1-3

Here is expressed the whole basic theology of the Word, such as the New Testament itself inaugurates. The Apostles were confronted with the fact of Christ, who claimed divine authority and power. This was the basic, elemental, fundamental datum of revelation.

When they sought for language in which to express this fact, the Apostles turned to the Old Testament and borrowed their terminology from it. That is why this basic theology is an entirely biblical theology, showing the presence, in the Person of Christ, of that Wisdom of which the Old Testament only provided glimpses, but which is revealed in the New Testament in all its personal subsistence.

However, the term that brings us deepest into the understanding of the Second Person is that of “the Son” — an expression frequently used in the Old Testament in various senses. But its use in the New Testament, and especially by Christ himself, proves, as Vincent Taylor says, that it belongs to the knowledge that Jesus had of himself, that he was in a special sense the Son of God. [The Names of Jesus, p. 65] The first text in which the word appears makes this clear. It comes from Matthew: “All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no man knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.” [Matthew 11:27] It is clear from this that there is between the Son and the Father a unique relationship, that they belong to the same sphere of existence, that there is complete mutual contact between them.

This is the theology of the Son that pervades the Gospel according to St. John, while that of the Word appears only in the Prologue. The Son comes from the Father: “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” [John 16:28] He belongs to the same order of existence as the Father. He alone knows the Father, and this is why he alone can make him known. He is the object of the Father’s love, and this love is concentrated in him. He is the Son in whom the Father is well pleased. He has one thought and one will with the Father: “The Son cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing.” [John 5:19] His likeness to the Father is such that he who has seen him has seen the Father. Between the Father and him there is mutual immanence: “Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee.” [John 17:21]

Thus, according to St. John, the relations between the Father and the Son in the order of the divine economy make transparently clear the perfect unity of their divine nature and the perfect distinction between their Persons. Never will human eyes penetrate more deeply into the innermost relationship between the Father and the Son than did those of the Apostle who lay upon Jesus’ breast.

The revelation of the Spirit presents a similar development, with the addition, as Gregory of Nazianzen well understood, that the Gospels are only a small part of the Spirit’s activity, and that this activity is set forth in the time of the Church, beginning at Pentecost. The Hebrew word that the Greek has translated pneuma is ruah. More than anywhere else, we must be careful here to find the exact meaning, for the word esprit is susceptible of a multitude of ambiguities that give entirely distinct meanings, as we shall see first in a frequent image, that of “breath”.

The Greeks preserved here the idea of a subtle form of matter; thus it serves to describe the nonmaterial element in man, the soul as contrasted with the body. Such is the familiar philosophical contrast. [See Verbeke, La Doctrine du Pneuma]

But for the Hebrews ruah means a breath of wind as it appears in the storm. The ideas connected with it are not those of non-materiality, but of power, of irresistible force. Consequently the idea of esprit, applied to God, does not mean his non-materiality, but his irresistible power, by which he accomplishes his mighty works. Thus in the scene at Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit is accompanied by a shaking of the whole house.

Applied to man, it refers to that in him which is the work of God’s power. Thus the Pauline contrast between spirit and flesh does not by any means cover that of soul and body. It is the contrast between the whole man, soul and body, when it is enlivened by divine energy, and the whole man, soul and body, when it is abandoned to its own misery. It is thus that for St. Paul there are spiritual bodies and carnal spirits, which would be a contradiction if body were contrasted with spirit.

We see how many false problems may be resolved in this way. Christians are often accused of despising the body, and it is true that we often encounter this depreciation; but this error is due to substituting Platonic opposites for Christian opposites. This can be a source of grave errors in spirituality. Similarly, Christians may give the impression that they are on the side of the world of intellect against that of matter. Again, even the word “spirituality” is ambiguous. When we speak of “Eastern spirituality”, we speak of the possession of its true inwardness; when we speak of Christian spirituality, we speak of the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit in the soul.

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