God as architect of the world,
folio I verso,
Bible Moralisée, Paris,
Executed between 1220-1230,
Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum
© Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna
Il Verbo si fece carne e visse tra noi
In principio era il Verbo:
e la Parola era con Dio
e il Verbo era Dio.
Era con Dio all'inizio.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
Venne un uomo, mandato da Dio.
Il suo nome era John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.
The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’
Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.
Reflection on the Gothic Illuminated Manuscript
The Gospel of today, which is the very beginning of the Gospel of John, starts with three words: ‘in the beginning’. The whole bible starts with the same three words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1). John is therefore firmly rooting his own writings in the Old Testament, emphasising that all beginnings trace back to God the Creator. But then John immediately moves towards positioning Jesus: ‘In the beginning was the Word'.
The noun for ‘Word’ in Greek is logos (Λόγος). The meaning of this noun is very wide-ranging from meaning ‘statement’, ‘assertion’, ‘message’ or a even ‘declaration’. However John gives a new, unique meaning to the word ‘logos’. He means that the logos is the independent personified expression of God the Creator. A lot has been written about John's use of logos here, and we are studying some of this here in seminary, but what it boils down to is that John is saying that Jesus bursting into our world, is the very expression of God Himself. Furthermore, Jesus IS God himself. John knew what he was doing when making such a bold statement indeed to begin his Gospel. Jesus is fully human and fully divine!
The image we are looking at is from a 13th century Gothic manuscript, the Bible Moralisée. These hand written and illustrated (illuminated) bibles are amongst the most important manuscripts. Our image is taken from such a medieval picture bible, called in general ‘biblia pauperum’. These ‘bibles for the poor’ (for people who couldn’t write or read) are heavily illustrated, and at the time, extremely expensive documents to produce. Our image of today, sits next to today’s Gospel reading, showing how God created the world. Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy/astrology, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars at the time. Refreshing to see that science then was considered as being fully part of the act of God’s creation; and not as is often the case today, science considered being opposed to religion. Medieval scholars considered that God had created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles. To seek these principles was therefore to seek and worship God!
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