In the Beginning Was the Word

Can Jesus Christ, as he was before all ages, be an object of our knowledge? He can, for it is to us that the Gospel has been addressed. Let us follow the eagle of the Evangelists, the beloved among the disciples, another John than John the Baptist. Let us follow John the Son of Thunder, who does not speak a human language, but who lights up, who booms, who deafens. John brings every created mind to the obedience of faith, when by a rapid flight, cutting through the air, piercing the clouds, raising himself above the angels, the virtues, the cherubim and seraphim, he intones his Gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). It is here that he begins to make Jesus Christ known. We must go further back than the Annunciation of Mary.

Let us consider well: in the beginning was the Word. Why say the beginning when speaking of the one who had no beginning? It is in order to say that at the beginning, at the origin of things, he was. He did not begin: he was. He was not created, he was not made: he was. And what was he? What was the one who, without having been made and without having a beginning, already was when God began everything? Was it a mixture of matter upon which God set himself to work, to change and to form? No. What was at the beginning was the Word, the interior word, thought, reason, intelligence, wisdom, the in­terior discourse, sermo, a discourse without running over, that is, not a discourse from which one derives one thing from another by reasoning, but a discourse in which ev­ery truth exists substantially, and which is the truth itself.

Where am I? What do I see? What do I hear? Be silent, reason. And without reasoning, without speech, without images drawn from the senses, without words formed by the tongue, without the help of vibrating air, or an imagination that has been stirred, without anxiety or human ef­fort, let us say within ourselves, let us say by faith and with a captive and submissive understanding: in the beginning, without beginning, before every beginning, above every beginning, was the one who is and who endures forever, the Word, the eternal and substantial thought of God.

This article is from Meditations for Advent.

He was, he was subsistent, but not as something separated from God, for he was in God (cf. John 1:1). And how shall we explain to be in God? Was he in God in the manner of an accident, as our individual thoughts happen to be in us? No. The Word is not in God in that way. But how then? How shall we explain what has been said to us by our eagle, by our evangelist? “The Word was with God: apud Deum” (John 1:1). This was to say that he was not something inhering in God, or something that affected God, but something that remained in him as subsisting in him, as being a person in God, and another person than this God in whom he is. And this person is a divine person: and the Word was God. How? Was he God without a source? No, because this God is the Son of God, the only Son, as Saint John will soon call him. “We have,” he said, “beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

This Word, then, is in God, remains in God, subsists in God, is in God a person processing from God himself and remaining in him, always produced, always in his bosom: unigenitus Filius qui est in sinu Patris — “the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father” (cf. John 1:18). He is produced there, inasmuch as he is Son; he remains there because he is the eternally subsisting thought. He is God like him, for the Word was God. God in God, God from God, begotten by God, subsisting in God, God, like him, “over all things . . . blessed for ever. Amen,” in the words of Saint Paul (Rom. 9:5).

Ah! I am lost. I can go no further. I can but say, “Amen, it is thus.” What silence. What wonder. What astonishment. What new light. But what ignorance. I see nothing, and I see all. I see this God who was at the beginning, who is in the bosom of the Father, and I do not see him. “Amen, it is thus.” This is all that remains of the whole discourse that I have just made, a simple and irrevocable acquiescence, through love, in the truth that my faith shows to me. Amen, amen, amen. And once more, amen. And forever, amen.

All Things Were Made Through Him

In the beginning, the Word subsisted in God. Ascend to the beginning of all things; push your thoughts as far as you can. Go to the beginning of the human race. He was. Go to the first day, when God said “Let there be light.” He was. Continue to ascend. Rise higher than the days before the first day, when everything was chaos and darkness. He was. When the angels were created in the truth, in which Satan and his minions did not remain, he was. In the beginning, before everything that had a beginning, he was. He was alone, in his Father, beside his Father, in the bosom of his Father. He was, and what was he? Who will be able to say? Who will recount for us, who will explain his generation? (Isa. 53:8). He was; like his Father, he is the one who is (Exod. 3:14). He is the perfect one; he is the existent one, the subsistent one, being itself. But what was he? Who knows? We know nothing other than that he was, that is to say, he was, but he was begotten by God, subsistent in God; that is, he was God and he was Son.

Where do we see that he was? “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Let us, if we can, conceive of the difference between the one who was and everything that was made. To be the one who was, and through whom all things were made, and to be made: what an immense distance separates these two things! To be and to make, this is what is proper to the Word. To be made, this is what is proper to the Creature. He was, therefore, as one by whom all that was made was to have been made. What force, what distinctness to express clearly that all was made by the Word: all through him, nothing without him. What remains in human language to signify that the Word was the Creator of all, or, what is the same thing, that God is the Creator of all through the Word? For he is the Creator of all, not by any effort, but by simple commandment, as it is written in the book of Genesis, and similarly in this verse of David: “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps. 33:9).

We must not understand this through to refer to any­thing material or ministerial. All things were made through the Word, just as every intelligent being makes what he makes by his reason, by his thought, by his wisdom. This is why, if it is said here that God made everything through his Word, which is his wisdom and his thought, it is said elsewhere that “the eternal Wisdom that he had begot­ten in his bosom, and that he had conceived and given birth to before the hills, is with him, together with him ordered and arranged all things, rejoiced in his presence, and delighted himself by the facility and variety of his designs and his works” (cf. Prov. 8:22-31). And accord­ingly it was said to Moses that “God saw all that he had made” by his command, which is his Word, and that he was pleased, “and saw that it was good, and very good” (Gen. 1:18, 21, 25, 31). Where did he see this goodness of the things that he had made, if it was not in the very goodness of the wisdom and of the thought by which he had destined and ordered them? This is also why he said “he had possessed,” that is to say, that he had begotten, he had conceived, he had given birth to his wisdom, in which he had seen and ordered the beginning of his ways (Prov. 8:22). He delighted in his wisdom, and this eternal Wisdom, full of goodness and infinitely beneficent, found its pleasure and delight in being and in living with men, a delight brought to fulfillment when the Word was made man, “was made flesh,” was incarnate, and “dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Let us also delight in the Word, in the thought, in the wisdom of God. Let us listen to the speech of the one who talks to us in a profound and wonderful silence. Let us lend him the ear of our heart. Let us say to him, like Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10). Let us love prayer, which is communication with and familiarity with God. Who will impose silence upon himself and upon all that is not God, and let his heart flow peaceably toward the Word, toward the eternal Wisdom, especially now that he has “been made man” and has “dwelt among us”? Among us, in nobis, in what is most intimately ours, according to what has been written: “He found out all the way of knowledge, and gave it to Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward he was seen upon earth, and conversed with men” (cf. Bar. 3:36-37).

What virtues should be born in us from this commerce with God and with his Word! What humility! What self-abnegation! What devotion! What love of truth! What generosity! What candor! May our speech be straightforward and plain — may our yes be yes and our no be no — and may we be truthful in all things, for the truth “abides with us” (cf. 1 John 4:12).

Editor’s note: This article is from two meditations in Bishop Bossuet’s Meditation for Adventwhich is available as an ebook or leatherette from Sophia Institute Press

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Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was a theologian and French bishop. With a great knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he devoted himself to writing in a way that was approachable to every person. Though lionized by the great English converts such as Waugh, Belloc, and Knox, his writing has only recently been made available in English. His Meditations for Advent is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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