This last fall there was a synod of bishops gathering held in Rome focusing on the word of God. The theme of the synod was, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” During the synod there were some noteworthy happenings: His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, offered a meditation for the participants and for the first time in history a Synod of Bishops invited a Jewish rabbi to offer a reflection on the Hebrew Scriptures. Both reflections were well received and respected by the participants and added much to the discussion and thought of the synod.
It is also worthy to note – and the focus of this blog – that in his post-synodal exhortation (“Verbum Domini”) Pope Benedict moves quickly from the contemplation of God in His being and essence to an understanding of the human person. This all occurs within the first section of the exhoration. Below is the central quote.
“The novelty of biblical revelation consists in the fact that God becomes known through the dialogue which he desires to have with us. The Dogmatic Constitution ‘Dei Verbum’ had expressed this by acknowledging that the unseen God ‘from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends, and lives among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company’. Yet we would not yet sufficiently grasp the message of the Prologue of Saint John if we stopped at the fact that God enters into loving communion with us.
In reality, the Word of God, through whom ‘all things were made’ (Jn 1:3) and who ‘became flesh’ (Jn 1:14), is the same Word who is ‘in the beginning’ (Jn 1:1). If we realize that this is an allusion to the beginning of the book of Genesis (cf. Gen 1:1), we find ourselves faced with a beginning which is absolute and which speaks to us of the inner life of God.
The Johannine Prologue makes us realize that the Logos is truly eternal, and from eternity is himself God. God was never without his Logos. The Word exists before creation. Consequently at the heart of the divine life there is communion, there is absolute gift. ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:16), as the same Apostle tells us elsewhere, thus pointing to ‘the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny’.
God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love. Created in the image and likeness of the God who is love, we can thus understand ourselves only in accepting the Word and in docility to the work of the Holy Spirit. In the light of the revelation made by God’s Word, the enigma of the human condition is definitively clarified.”
The Holy Father knows that a correct understanding of the human person is necessarily linked to a correct understanding of God – fully revealed in Jesus Christ and encountered throughout the length of Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome is credited with the saying, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” to this we can also add, “Knowledge of the God revealed through Christ is knowledge of the human person.” I believe that the Holy Father, by linking Scripture and anthropology in such a manner at the very beginning of his exhortation, is inviting the Church to an intentional reflection on the distinct anthropology discovered and revealed only through the Christian revelation experience.
From the first chapter of Genesis we learn that humanity is made in the very image and likeness of God (indeed a reality wounded by sin, to the point of our being lost and standing in need of a savior, but yet a reality not totally destroyed). From the first letter of John we are told that God is love. If 1. God is love and 2. we are made in the image and likeness of God then it can be surmised that at the very core of our identity is also found the dynamic of love. Further, this truth points out that our fulfillment in life can only be achieved through the dynamic of love which is fundamentally the giving of self for others. The Holy Father points out that it is in and through the revelation; ‘God is love,’ that we arrive at ‘the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny’.
Why is the Holy Father doing this? He is, I believe, bringing the study of Scripture to its proper focus – not a dry academic discourse dealing with dusty old volumes of the past but saving wisdom, awareness and new life for today which brings insight into the lived human condition. Pope Benedict is bringing to our attention the value of Scripture to answer the nagging questions of anthropology that beset our day, age and individual existence. What, exactly, is the human person? How do we define ourselves? What is at the core of our identity? Why is there sin in the human condition? How do we find our fulfillment? Is the human person just an isolated individual disconnected from others and any larger reality or at the core of the human person is there a point of connection with others that is fundamental and cannot be denied?
Sacred Scriptures addresses these questions.
“God is love” is a uniquely Christian claim. God as a communion of persons whose very natures are defined by gift of self is also a uniquely Christian claim. Humanity made in the image and likeness of God is a fundamental Judaeo-Christian premise. All these claims and premises do eventually add up (at least, if one is being authentic) and through them we are brought to a specific understanding of the human person that we, as Christians, must acknowledge if we are, indeed, to be honest in our faith and our mission as the Body of Christ in our world.
Fundamentally, the Holy Father and the Synod is saying that we need to know ourselves as rooted in love and communion if we are to meet the brave new world that awaits us and that stands in need of the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
This knowledge is there to be gained through reflection on Sacred Scripture and what it says about God and ourselves.