Standing on the (written and unwritten) Word

As we have been discussing over the past few weeks, Almighty God has revealed Himself to us by a particular course of events. By words and deeds, which culminated in His personal appearance as a man, God has revealed the divine truth.

The truth that God is love, triune love. The truth that God conquers evil and brings good out of it. The truth that God wills the eternal salvation of every human being.

So the next thing we have to consider is this: God has spoken His Word in Christ. We want to stand on this Word of God, since it alone provides the foundation of truth. How do we do that? How do we stand on God’s Word?

Let’s start at the beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word of God, the truth of God, the solid foundation of everything—this can be nothing but God Himself. When God speaks His Word, He speaks Himself, His glory. He sings, and His song is Himself, the eternal song of unlimited awesomeness.

Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did He save the ark from the Flood? Why did the mysterious God of Abraham call Moses to liberate Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt? Why did God give the people a homeland, and establish a monarchy, and see to the construction of the Temple, and inspire the prophets to condemn sin and fill the people with hope?

Why did He do all the things which we read about in the Old Testament? He did it all to prepare the world for one precise situation.

Namely: Israel, two millennia ago: God made man, His chosen friends, and the heritage they all had as Jews. That was the situation when the conversation at Caesarea-Philippi took place, which we read in our gospel reading. It was the situation on the first Pentecost Sunday, when our Church began.

Was St. Peter standing on the Word of God when he said to Jesus, “You are the Christ?” Was Peter standing on the Word of God when he preached on the southern steps of the Temple, and 3,000 men believed, repented of their sins, and were baptized?

Of course the Apostles were standing on the Word when they preached. No one has ever stood on the Word more firmly than St. Peter did, when He declared the Christ and preached Him to Jew and Gentile.

But the New Testament had not even been written yet. There was no such thing as a “Bible” on the first Pentecost Sunday. Just the Church—with everything She knew about the Hebrew Scriptures, and everything She knew about a certain Galilean rabbi Who had fulfilled those Scriptures and ascended to heaven.

As of that day—the first Pentecost—everything we need to know about God had been revealed. What came next? The business of sharing the news with the whole world.

Now, could the Apostles write down everything they had learned from Christ? It would seem not. St. John testifies in his gospel that the world could not contain all the books that would be written. If it were simply a matter of writing things down, wouldn’t Christ have written it all down Himself? In fact, He seems to have refrained from writing anything down. He preferred to instruct by speech and by example. He gave His gifts to people who came into His physical presence.

Writing things down, though, is a good way to communicate across long distances. So some of the Apostles wrote letters about Christianity. And some decided to write down, or dictate, the things they had learned from Christ, the things they knew about Him.

All the little books the Apostles wrote or dictated refer extensively to the Old Testament. The Apostles could only explain the coming of the Messiah by the light of all that had happened to prepare the way for Him.

Of course, the Apostles did all this writing while they simultaneously preached, reached out to the poor, and celebrated the sacraments. In other words, the Apostles wrote the books of the New Testament as a part of their manifold labor to build up the Church.

One by one the Apostles died, most of them as martyrs. Then a turning point came. The Christians of the world realized that everyone who had personally encountered Christ while He was still on earth was now dead and gone. The time had come to collect and preserve all the apostolic testimony and to continue all the practices which the Apostles had instituted. The Church of Christ dedicated Herself to faithfulness, faithfulness to all that She had received from God, through Christ and His chosen Apostles.

As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:

The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books of the New Testament, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. …What was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life, and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes. (Dei Verbum 8)

More to come on this!

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