Luiz Ruscillo FAITH Magazine September – October 2012
In the last issue we published Canon Ruscillo's synthesising of Pope Benedict's post-Synodal exhortation Verbum Domini with aspects of Fr Edward Holloway's New Synthesis concerning the Incarnation. Here he does something similar with the Pope's symphonic analogy, where the Pope continues to develop the magisterial development of scriptural theology of the last 150 years and to encourage "further thought" and development.
This is a developed extract of the first part of a talk given to the Faith Theological Symposium 2012. Canon Ruscillo is director of education in Lancaster diocese and parish priest of Hornby and Kirby Lonsdale.
The Symphony of the Word
The Synod Fathers referred to a "symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: 'a polyphonic hymn'." Benedict says of the liber naturae, "Creation is born of the Logos and indelibly bears the mark of the creative Reason which orders and directs it". This idea is not drawn out in much further detail. The Pope quotes Psalms 19 and 33 to illustrate the work of the Word in creation and then cites Dei Verbum, but the further implications of this idea are not developed. Even so, he does say that sacred Scripture itself invites us to acknowledge the Creator by contemplating his creation. Continuing in a reflection on the creation of man we read, "Reality, then, is born of the word, as creatura verbi, and everything is called to serve the word." Further on we read, "The word of God makes us change our concept of realism: the realist is the one who recognises in the word of God the foundation of all things." In a rather lengthier sentence Fr Edward Holloway, a true realist, expresses it in this way:
"All the laws of all the elements, every nature synthesised upon them, and the scientific expression, or formula, when attainable, of the law of its being, all this and the conjunction that events have to each other in space and in time, are only aspects of this overall Law of Control and Direction within which, and through which, all things subsist."
Holloway evokes a "law of control and direction" across the whole of creation and salvation history. Pope Benedict describes the activity of the Logos as one which "orders and directs". The Logos is the architect of creation who also gives and reveals the purpose of creation. This purpose is union with God the Father and, the Pope suggests, only comes about through the Incarnation. "In the Prologue of his Gospel, John thus contemplates the Word from his being with God to his becoming flesh and his return to the Father with our humanity, which he has assumed for ever. In this coming forth from God and returning to him (cf Jn 13:3; 16:28; 17:8-10), Christ is presented as the one who "tells us" about God (cf Jn 1:18)... Jesus Christ is the definitive and effective word which came forth from the Father and returned to him, perfectly accomplishing his will in the world."
In the passage of Verbum Domini quoted above, it is not only the phrase "orders and directs" that catches our attention.
The idea of the "polyphonic hymn", at once one and many, resonates with Holloway's insistence on the one Wisdom of God at work in creation and salvation. It is the single Word which is spoken in eternity, in creation, in humanity, in history and, through Mary, in time. In Verbum Domini the Pope suggests that "there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression ['the word of God' expressed analogically] are interrelated, so that the unity of God's plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly."
Holloway's "new synthesis" enables this centrality of the person of Christ to shine forth more clearly. The unity of God's plan is expressed time and again in Verbum Domini, and in many forms. From the realism which has the Word at its foundation, the document moves to the history of salvation as found in the Old Testament. Heb 1:1 -2 describes the "handiwork of the Blessed Trinity through the divine Word". It is the Word which gives this history its unity. Indeed the entire Old Testament appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word. It is according to the plan of God that Israel might learn by experience, listen to the voice of God and make God's ways known to the nations.
For Catholicism: A New Synthesis this is "the line of promise" found in Israel as the custodian for mankind. "It will not be enough if God work to raise up religious truth, now here and now there, without any line of sure direction to fulfilment. This would not suffice to implement the basic principle of that Unity-Law of Control and Direction to fulfilment through which God has from the beginning worked in the processes of creation." This idea is expressed as an integral and necessary part of the plan of God for man and creation. In Verbum Domini it is described as a real part of the present economy of God. It is an essential of God's plan now, in this dispensation. Yet the impression is given, just through his Christocentric ontology and anthropology if not explicitly, that Pope Benedict is suggesting the same. By basing his whole approach on the Logos of the Prologue he inevitably tends, for the sake of coherence and fullness, to this position.
As the culmination of the "polyphonic hymn", "the eternal Word, expressed in creation and communicated in salvation history, in Christ became a man, "born of a woman" (Gal 4:4)." Pope Benedict describes the unique and singular history of Jesus as "the definitive word which God speaks to humanity". He says that the "constant renewal of this encounter and this awareness fills the hearts of believers with amazement at God's initiative, which human beings, with our own reason and imagination, could never have dreamt of. We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty."
Looking at the very "structure" of creation, not only at the "present economy", Holloway is bolder. The Incarnation is "expected" in Holloway's synthesis. He writes: "Man could not receive from God his adequate determination in the nature of his being unless Revelation were part of the natural scheme of man's creation, but here a word of warning must be given." If revelation is part of the natural scheme, the Incarnation is also. The word of warning Holloway makes is that, although revelation is part of the "natural scheme" of man, this does not mean that man's (created) essence is of one order with the being of God. Nor does it imply that God and the creature are related in the same order of mutual relationship. The created spirit has no claims, rights or debts to collect, as Holloway expresses it, upon the nature of God. The intelligibility of man is "related not to the Divine Essence as a claim, but only to the Divine Wisdom, as the principle of meaning for the whole of creation." Divine Wisdom is true to itself.
Moreover in answer to questions concerning the "natural end of man" Holloway tended to hold back from claiming for Divinisation what he claimed for the Incarnation, saying that the former is an astounding scriptural revelation, and that God could intelligibly have given us a lesser end in relationship with Him.
Pope Benedict raises a similar point to Holloway's warning. In our response to the God who speaks and calls into dialogue, the mystery of the Covenant is established. But this is not a covenant of equals, it is not a "meeting of two peers". The Synod Fathers expressed it in this way: "Dialogue, when we are speaking of revelation, entails the primacy of the Word of God addressed to man."
This is an essential aspect of the biblical notion of covenant. In the Old Testament we often read of human covenants between equal parties (eg two kings) or between unequal parties (a king and a vassal). Either party could initiate or invite the covenant, whether it be the "inferior" or "superior" party. But any covenant with God is always and only initiated by God and is always clearly "unequal".
Taking on board the words of warning, Holloway insists that the Incarnation is expected. Pope Benedict expresses it as an "inconceivable novelty".
The Cross - Silence
Verbum Domini now touches briefly on the paschal mystery, in which we find ourselves before the "Word of the Cross", which has spoken exhaustively and becomes silence. Pope Benedict quotes Maximus the Confessor who attributes to Mary the phrase: "Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks; lifeless are the eyes of the One at whose Word and whose nod all living things move."
Since God's revelation and relationship with creation is put in terms of the dialogue of and with the Word, sin is aptly defined as the refusal to hear the Word, to listen and engage in the dialogue. The "Word of the Cross" is the culmination of how Jesus in his perfect humanity does the will of the Father at all times. In a perfect way he hears, embodies and communicates to us the Word of God.
The paschal mystery can be described as an eternally valid compact: "divine freedom and human freedom have definitively met in his crucified flesh, in an indissoluble and eternally valid compact." In this mystery Jesus is revealed as the Word of the new and everlasting covenant. "In the most luminous mystery of the resurrection, this silence of the Word is shown in its authentic and definitive meaning. Christ, the incarnate, crucified and risen Word of God, is Lord of all things."
In this way of understanding revelation as an encounter, a dialogue with the Word, sin is described as the "refusal to hear the Word". It breaks the covenant and results in being closed to God who calls to us. The radical obedience of Jesus "unmasks sin", "brings about the New Covenant" and "grants us the possibility of reconciliation". While it is easy to understand how Jesus' obedience "unmasks" sin, and establishes the New Covenant, it is not fully explained why this should bring about reconciliation for all other human beings.
Holloway indicates that it is the unity of the material order, and God's entering into it in the Incarnation, that provides the "vehicle" for the "connection" with others. In this connection all human beings can share in the reconciliation achieved by Christ. It is in calling to mind these mysteries of our faith, expressed as Symphony, Solo and Silence, that we see the unity between creation, the new creation and salvation history in Christ. Here Pope Benedict uses an example which is used by Galileo. "We can compare the cosmos to a 'book'" and consider it as, "the work of an author who expresses himself through the 'symphony' of creation. In this symphony one finds ... what would be called in musical terms a 'solo', a theme entrusted to a single instrument or voice which is so important that the meaning of the entire work depends on it. The 'solo' is Jesus ... The Son of Man recapitulates in himself earth and heaven, creation and the Creator, flesh and Spirit. He is the centre of the cosmos and of history, for in him converge without confusion the author and his work."
The inspiration of the same Fathers of the Church lie at the heart of Pope Benedict's and Holloway's thought:
"They [the Fathers] use the Word [recapitulation] to denote that all the force and meaning of the material universe, and the spiritual personality of man, works up to a climax in Christ, the King and the Heir of the Ages, who as God in Person, brings all things to a head, and to a consummation of fulfilment in his own Being, in the Incarnation of God."
The Holy Spirit
In Verbum Domini Pope Benedict explains that there can be no authentic understanding of revelation apart from the mission of the Holy Spirit. This is because God's self-communication always involves the relationship of the Son and the Holy Spirit. "The missions of the Son and the Spirit are inseparable and constitute a single economy of salvation." It is the same Spirit who acts in the Incarnation, who guides Jesus through His mission, who is promised to the disciples; the same Spirit spoke in the prophets and continues to inspire the Church; it is the Spirit who inspires the authors of Scripture.
This is the point of unity between Scripture and Tradition. Benedict writes:
"Ultimately, it is the living Tradition of the Church which makes us adequately understand the sacred Scripture as the Word of God. Although the Word of God precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture, nonetheless Scripture, as inspired by God, contains the divine word in an altogether singular way."
Catholicism: A New Synthesis draws further conclusions from the principle of the inseparable missions of the Son and the Spirit and the single economy of salvation:
"Tradition, God's word of teaching, has priority over the word written down. For long ages there could be no Holy Writ, but there was a teaching Church... The Bible is hers [the Catholic Church]. Unless the teaching ministry precedes, there will be no written word. The authority of the written word is one principle with the solemn authority of the teaching word... Tradition and Holy Writ are one principle, not two. The written word was, and remains, the one divine teaching. The teacher is teaching to a climax, to His coming in the flesh as Emmanuel. After He has ascended to the Father He teaches still, with divinity, with God's authority on earth as the Environer of man. 'I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak...for He will take what is mine and declare it to you' (Jn 16:12-14)."
The understanding of the single economy is summed up in this passage of Verbum Domini:
"In the Son, 'Logos made flesh' (Jn 1:14), who came to accomplish the will of the one who sent him (Jn 4:34), God, the source of revelation, reveals himself as Father and brings to completion the divine pedagogy which had previously been carried out through the words of the prophets and the wondrous deeds accomplished in creation and in the history of his people and all mankind. The revelation of God the Father culminates in the Son's gift of the Paraclete (Jn 14:6), the Spirit of the Father and the Son, who guides us 'into all the truth' (Jn 16:13)."
The Church is central to God's plan as the place where the Holy Spirit is received. "Indeed, the Word of God is given to us in sacred Scripture as an inspired testimony to revelation; together with the Church's living tradition, it constitutes the supreme rule of faith." In the dialogue of revelation the proper human response to the God who speaks is faith. "It is the preaching of the divine Word, in fact, which gives rise to faith, whereby we give our heartfelt assent to the truth which has been revealed to us and we commit ourselves entirely to Christ: 'faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the word of Christ' (Rom 10:17)... Christ Jesus remains present today in history, in his body which is the Church; for this reason our act of faith is at once both personal and ecclesial."
The Church, then, is the essential location of the human response. Holloway, in a similar but more poetic and earthy manner, places the Church in Eden: "All Earth is Eden, God's Garden of Delights. And the friendship of loving recognition and contemplative love, however simple, marks the primal revelation of God to His people. This surely must be the moment of the Church."
In Verbum Domini, Mary's role is described in terms of the "Mother of God's Word" and the "Mother of Faith". She is the one in whom the interplay between the Word of God and faith was brought to perfection. "By her 'yes' to the word of the covenant and her mission [Mary] perfectly fulfils the divine vocation of humanity." Mary is presented as the perfect image of the human reality. She is the one who is completely open to God's will, made full of grace, unconditionally docile to the word, obedient, attentive and attuned to the word. In this way Mary is the image of the Church, actively listening, interiorising and assimilating the word. She is the model and archetype of the Church's faith.
Holloway expresses Mary's role further since he is more explicit on the necessity of the Incarnation in the plan of God's revelation and the very meaning of the created order. "It is necessary that the Heir to the Ages come into his own through the womb of woman, so that the human nature of man may be the perfect means of the action ... of God in Person upon 'his own' and upon the material order itself, through mankind... In this magnificent consummation of the created order by God in himself, it cannot happen that the divine Being be subjected to the intrinsic relativism of a coming to be, also in personality, which is involved in the co-operation with God in human beings in sexual intercourse."
Mary is the model of the perfect response of faith to the invitation to dialogue inherent in revelation. In this she is truly "Mother of faith". She is also "Mother of God's Word" because she is necessary as the "world-place", freely cooperating in God's plan, where the Word can take flesh.
It is Holloway's insistence on the Incarnation, as absolutely necessary according to the wisdom of God in his plan, which brings out Mary's role to the full.
Verbum Domini is a significant moment in the Catholic Church's approach to the word of God in sacred Scripture and in the Church. Catholic scripture scholarship must discover anew the Trinity-centric orientation of the Gospels, the essential place of the Church, the unity of scripture, the true meaning of hermeneutics and exegesis and that the Bible is the Church's book. As Pope Benedict writes: "Consequently, 'since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written', exegetes, theologians and the whole people of God must approach it as what it really is, the word of God conveyed to us through human words (cf 1 Thess 2:13)".
In as much as it tries to reflect all the voices of the many bishops present at the Synod, this document is, however, a wordy mishmash in much of the latter parts. This is a great pity because its significance goes further than giving a sure foundation to our approach to reading, studying and praying the Bible. Pope Benedict's constant reference to the Prologue of John gives to the understanding of revelation a particular synthesis which cannot be ignored. The union of the plan of creation and revelation, of wisdom and Word, of ordering and directing, is firmly established. In so doing, he comes tantalisingly close to asserting the necessity, within God's plan, of the Incarnation. But if we are expecting it to be declared explicitly, we remain on the threshold. It is continually suggested and insinuated but never quite stated.
It is Holloway who is the bolder:
"We must therefore expect and presume the union and communion of God with men through space and time, through history and society, through priest and prophet. And what a majestic theme this is! It is the surge of God's communion with men until it is crowned in the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, our God in Person, who fulfils all in all - from the foetus in the womb to the entire People of God as Church and as community in heaven and upon earth."
 Verbum Domini, 7.
 Verbum Domini, 8.
 Verbum Domini, 8; Ps 33:6-9; Ps 19:1; Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19-20; Dei Verbum, 3 (and Dei Filius, Chap 2).
 Verbum Domini, 9.
 Verbum Domini, 10.
 E Holloway, Catholicism: A New Synthesis, p40.
 Verbum Domini, 90.
 Verbum Domini, 7.
 Verbum Domini, 11.
 Catholicism, p130.
 Catholicism, p122.
 Verbum Domini, 11.
 Verbum Domini, 11.
 Catholicism, p108.
 Catholicism, p109.
 Verbum Domini, 22.
 Verbum Domini, 22.
 Verbum Domini, 12.
 Maximus the Confessor, Life of Mary, 89.
 Verbum Domini, 26.
 Verbum Domini, 12.
 Verbum Domini, 12.
 Verbum Domini, 26.
 Verbum Domini, 13; Benedict XVI, Homily on the Feast of the Epiphany 2009.
 Catholicism, p205.
 Verbum Domini, 15.
 Verbum Domini, 17.
 E Holloway Perspectives in Theology, Vol. I, pp38-39, Oxford 2005.
Verbum Domini, 20.
 Verbum Domini, 18.
 Verbum Domini, 25.
 E Holloway Perspectives in Theology, Vol. I, p37, Oxford 2005.
 Verbum Domini, 27.
 Verbum Domini, 27-28.
 Catholicism, p216.
 Catholicism, p215.
 Dei Verbum, 2.
 Verbum Domini, 29.
 E Holloway Perspectives in Theology, Vol. I, p31-32, Oxford 2005.