Paragraph 65: The Last Word
65 "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son."26 Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.27
Paragraph 65 marks the climax in the Catechism’s chronicle of God’s self-revelation. The Book of Hebrews, one of the literary masterpieces of the New Testament, in perhaps its most memorable passage, states unequivocally the God’s final Word to humanity comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. This text from Hebrews, 1:1-6, is the assigned reading for the Mass of Christmas morning. It is hard to imagine a clearer statement of the doctrine of the Incarnation: “Christ…is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything, there will be no other word than this one.”
Here is a case of written language struggling to define or describe something that is beyond human comprehension, how the infinite God expresses himself in the human Jesus of Nazareth. The Evangelist John, in his Last Supper account, describes Phillip asking Jesus to “show us the Father, and that will be enough.” Jesus replies with a mild rebuke: “Phillip, he who sees me sees him who sent me.” The idea of a perfect God-figure taking upon himself the human limitations of space and time was the hardest bridge to cross for Jew and Gentile alike. The metaphysically minded Greeks lived by the principles of Plato, who taught that all created and differentiated things were reflections on perfect, unattainable ideals. Christian preachers were challenging the Greek mind to accept the idea that the perfect ideal and the “imperfect reflection” could be one and the same was, to put it mildly, a stretch.
For centuries, the Jews had worshipped a perfect God, so beyond their comprehension that to mention his name was itself blasphemous. When Moses encountered the burning bush in the Book of Exodus, he asked for the name of the being he has encountered, to later tell Pharaoh whose authority he (Moses) is bringing into play. The bush relies enigmatically, “I am who I am” has sent you. In Hebrew, this phrase was consolidated into its consonants YWH, from which the sacred name Yahweh was derived. Jews were forbidden from uttering this name, and several alternatives were developed, such as Jehovah or Emmanuel. The sacred presence of YWH was situated in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Christian preachers were now identifying the human person of Christ—crucified in the most shameful of fashions at that—with the YWH of the Temple. Such claims constituted a blasphemy of unimaginable proportions for many Jews.
In fairness, it took Christians themselves some time to come to grips with the Incarnation. One can see, for instance, that the idea of the divinity of Christ is stated much more emphatically in St. John’s Gospel than in St. Mark’s text written at least thirty years earlier. Even centuries later a heresy known as Arianism divided the Roman Empire and led to the calling of the Council of Nicaea by the Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. Arianism held that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, but not materially; there had been a time when Jesus was not. It was only with the Council of Nicaea that the term “Son of God” meant the same as God. Nicaea developed the language describing Jesus as “of one substance with the Father.” (Homoousias in Greek, Consubstantial in Latin.) It is the Council of Nicaea that gives us the doctrinal framework of the Trinity.
The second portion of para. 65 is supporting text from St. John of the Cross, the sixteenth century Spanish mystic and reformer, perhaps best known for his Dark Night of the Soul. However, in this context he is cited more as a doctrinal source than a devotional one. The gist of his quotation reinforces the centrality of Christ as the fountain of all revelation, summing up the partial revelation given to the prophets and the full revelation of the Father in time. John underscores a reality of Christianity that bears constant repeating today, that all divine revelation begins and ends in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel Jesus teaches that only an adulterous generation demands signs, or what we might call today “special knowledge.” Some early Christians, for a multitude of reasons, sought hidden meanings or revelation beyond what was available in the Gospels. Such heretics were called Gnostics, from the Greek gnosis, or knowledge. John of the Cross calls this extra-biblical search “the desire for some other novelty.” The straightforward example of Jesus of prayer and works of charity apparently is not enough for those who find the economy of Jesus’ example to be too pedestrian. The quest for “more revelation” beyond what God has given has plagued the Church throughout most of its existence, and it is not uncommon to come across reports even today of individuals within the Church who claim to have received new information from the Blessed Virgin, particular saints, or even Christ himself. Para. 66 explores this further next week, but for now it is enough to say that the Church does not accept “new content,” and teaches that all things necessary for salvation are revealed in the person of Jesus Christ through the medium of the sacred scriptures. It is a doctrine of the Catholic Church that God’s revelation was completed with the death of the last evangelist, John.
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