Home > Archives > 12 - 2006 > The abbreviated Word
from issue no. 12 - 2006

The abbreviated Word

The following passages are taken from Henri de Lubac, Esegesi medievale. I quattro sensi della Scrittura [Medieval exegesis. The four senses of Scripture] vol. III, Jaca Book, Milan 1996

by Henri de Lubac

Crib in the Basilica of Saint Paul without the Walls, Rome

Crib in the Basilica of Saint Paul without the Walls, Rome

In Jesus Christ, who was its purpose, the old Law found its prior unity. Century after century, everything in that Law converged on Him. It is He who, of the «totality of the Scriptures», already formed «the only Word of God». [...]

In Him, the «verba multa» (the many words) of the Biblical writers become for ever «Verbum unum» (the only Word). Without Him, instead, the bond is dissolved: the word of God is again reduced to fragments of «human words»; multiple words, not only numerous, but multiple in essence and without possible unity, because, as Hugh of Saint Victor states, «multi sunt sermones hominis, quia cor hominis non est unum» (numerous are the words of men, because the heart of man is not single). [...]

Behold, therefore, this single Word. Behold amongst us «who comes out of Sion», who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin. «Omnem Scripturae universitatem, omne verbum suum Deus in uteruo virginis coadunavit» (the whole of the Scriptures, their every word, God re-united in the womb of the Virgin). [...]

Behold now, total, unique, in its visible unity. Abbreviated Word, «concentrated» Word, not only in this prime sense that He who is in Himself immense and incomprehensible, He who is infinite in the bosom of the Father encloses Himself in the womb of the Virgin or reduces Himself to the proportions of a child in the stable of Bethlehem, as Saint Bernard and his sons were fond of speaking about, as M. Olier repeated in a hymn of the Office of the inner life of Mary, and, only yesterday, Father Teilhard de Chardin; but also and at the same time, in this sense, that the multiple content of the Scriptures scattered across the centuries of the awaiting comes entirely to pile up together so as to fulfil itself, that is unify, complete, illuminate and transcend itself in Him. Semel locutus est Deus (God pronounced one single word): God pronounces a single word, not only in Himself, in His eternity without vicissitudes, in the motionless act with which He generates the Word, as Saint Augustine recalled; but also, as Saint Ambrose already taught, in time and among men, in the act wherewith He sends His Word to dwell on our earth. «Semel locutus est Deus, quando locutus in Filio est» (God pronounced a single word, when He spoke in His Son): because it is He who gives the sense to all the words that heralded Him, everything is explained in Him and solely in Him: «Et audita sunt etiam illa quae ante audita non erant ab iis quibus locutus fuerat per prophetas» (and then were understood also all those words that had not been understood before by those to whom He had spoken through the prophets). [...]

Yes, the abbreviated Word, «most abbreviated», «brevissimum», but substantial par excellence. Word abbreviated, but greater than what He abbreviates. Unity of fullness. Concentration of light. The incarnation of the Word is equivalent to the opening of the Book, whose outward multiplicity now enables one to perceive the single «marrow», this marrow on which the faithful feed. So that with the fiat (may it be done) of Mary which answers the annunciation of the angel, the Word, up till then «only audible to the ears», has become «visible to the eyes, palpable to the hands, carryable on the shoulders». Even more: it has become «eatable». Nothing of the ancient truths, nothing of the ancient precepts has been lost, but everything has passed into a better state. All the Scriptures gather into the hands of Jesus like the eucharistic bread, and, carrying them, He carries Himself in His hands: «all the Bible in short, so that we make of it a single mouthful...». «On several occasions and under various forms» God had distributed to men, page by page, a written book, in which a single Word was hidden under numerous words: today He opens this book, to show them all these words re-united in the only Word. Filius incarnatus, Verbum incarnatum, Liber maximus (incarnate Son, incarnate Word, Book par excellence): the parchment of the Book is by now His flesh; what is written in it is His divinity. [...]

All the essence of Revelation is contained in the precept of love; in that single word, «all the Law and the Prophets». But this Gospel announced by Jesus, this word pronounced by Him, if it contains everything, it is because it is no other than Jesus himself. His work, His teaching, His Revelation: it is Him! The perfection that He teaches, is the perfection that He carries. Christus, plenitudo legis (Christ, fullness of the law). It is impossible to separate His message from His person, and it did not take long for those who tried to do so to be induced into betraying the message itself: person and message, finally, made just one single thing. Verbum abbreviatum, Verbum coadunatum: Word condensed, unified, made perfect! Word living and vivifying. Contrary to the laws of human language, which becomes clear by explaining it, it, from obscure, becomes manifest in presenting itself in its abbreviated form: Word first pronounced «in abscondito» (in hidden fashion), and now «manifestum in carne» (manifest in the flesh). Abbreviated Word, Word always ineffable in itself, and which nevertheless explains all! [...]

The two forms of the abbreviated and expanded Word are inseparable. The Book thus remains, but at the same time it passes wholesale into Jesus and the believer’s meditation consists in contemplating that passage. Mani and Muhammad wrote books. Jesus, instead, wrote nothing; Moses and the other prophets «wrote of Him». The relationship between the Book and its Person is therefore the opposite to the relationship that one sees elsewhere. Thus the evangelic Law is in no way a «lex scripta» (written law). Christianity, properly speaking, is in no way a «religion of the Book»: it is the religion of the Word – but not uniquely nor mainly of the Word in its written form. It is the religion of the Word, «not of a word written and mute, but of an incarnate and living Word». The Word of God now is here amongst us, «in such a way that one sees it and touches it»: «living and effective» Word, unique and personal, that unifies and sublimates all the words that bear witness to it. Christianity is not «the Biblical religion»: it is the religion of Jesus Christ.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português