Verbum Domini: The God who speaks

Column Kieran Fenn FMS Biblical revelation is presented here as the dialogue God wishes to have with us as God’s friends, an invitation to the loving communion that God begins…


Kieran Fenn FMS

Biblical revelation is presented here as the dialogue God wishes to have with us as God’s friends, an invitation to the loving communion that God begins with creation in Genesis 1. The coming of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is a mystery of God’s infinite love which we are invited to share with others.

Verbum Domini: The God who speaks Archdiocese of WellingtonThere are several different ways in which we speak of ‘the word of God’, it refers to God’s self-communication, the eternal Word, the only Son who became flesh (John 1:14), consubstantial (of the one substance) with the Father and at the same time consubstantial with us. Creation itself also speaks the word of God as does salvation history. With the power of the Holy Spirit God speaks through the prophets of our times and in the living tradition of the church. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred scripture, the Old and New Testaments.

Given the rich symphony encompassed by the term, ‘word of God’, Christianity is the ‘religion of the word of God, not of a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living word. Hence, 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’. The synod fathers expressed the wish that the faithful be made aware of the depth and variety involved in the term ‘word of God.’ From Creation to Incarnation the message rings clear, to acknowledge fully the precious gifts received from the Creator, the value of our body, the gift of reason, freedom and conscience. Every creature is a word of God, since it proclaims God.

Those who build their lives on God’s word build, in a truly sound and lasting way, a solid foundation that will endure when human certainties fail. The point made in Pope Benedict’s [2006] encyclical Deus Caritas Est is that ‘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’. This awareness fills the hearts of believers with amazement at God’s initiative. The words ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14 point to lived experience.

Personal reflection
How often we need to remind ourselves that the heart of our religion is encounter with the person of Jesus Christ at the human and divine levels. It is too easy to be Christians who name their God Jesus and forget that 87 times Jesus’ own self-reference was ben’ adam – a son of the human one. Jesus in fact emphasises “I am like you” – a mortal, a human. Fascinating that the church condemned as a heresy a failure to balance the humanity and divinity in Jesus! To take his humanity seriously means we have to take our own seriously. To tie together scripture and Eucharist as the synod did would mean recognising that in the Eucharist we receive the one who gave himself to and for us (the gospel story) that we might give ourselves to and for others (again the gospel call).

Richard Rohr makes an excellent point that true spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now. The great discovery is always that what we are searching for has already been given! We did not find it; it found us!

When Irenaeus states that ‘The presence of God in his word is as real as his presence in the Eucharist’ he was stating the truth we should experience at each Mass, with its two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with its two tables, the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. The tragedy of the Reformation was surely the splitting of the two tables and the attempt to feed people from one table or the other. How richly we could and should be fed from both tables. I see the exhortation Verbum Domini as an urgent call to continue to make the word of God the vital force of our Catholic Christian renewal and identity. We are stewards of that word, its message and its mission.

Articles 12-14
The Son is the Word, the Logos, the eternal word who became small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us. Reading the gospel accounts, we see how Jesus’ own humanity appears in all its uniqueness precisely with regard to the word of God. In stressing the unity of God’s plan in the incarnate word, St Paul relates the event of the Lord’s death and resurrection to the history of the old covenant, again stressing the value of both parts of the bible.

‘The Christian dispensation, since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. St John of the Cross expresses this truth: ‘in giving us Jesus, God spoke everything at once in this sole word – and has no more to say… Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending God and by living with the desire for some other novelty.’

The synod pointed to the need to ‘help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations’, which require ecclesiastical approval that they contain nothing contrary to faith and morals and can be regarded as a help which is proffered, but are not obligatory for use.

Personal reflection
There is a clear priority given to the word of God in its various forms. One has to wonder when private revelations and the contents of apparitions are given a higher priority than the scriptures in the lives of so many. One can almost sense a note of pastoral concern in Proposition 47 of the document. The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of public revelation: the latter demand faith. Private revelation demonstrates its credibility only when it refers back to the one public revelation and only then can it be given prudent adhesion. The Letter to the Hebrews expresses the great biblical truth that for a long time God has been sending advance sketches of what God is like, but now God has given us an exact portrait in Jesus the Son (Heb 1:1-6).