Article 15: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Jesus Christ – The Unique Word of Sacred Scripture
By Father John G. Hillier
Many have heard the famous comment attributed to Saint Jerome which says, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” According to this way of thinking, serious study and reflection on all the Sacred Scriptures is a necessity, and not an option. Why? Because every page of the holy Bible shows some evidence of Christ’s presence, according to Saint Jerome.
The Catechism echoes this sentiment in its heading to paragraphs 101-104, “Christ is the unique Word of Sacred Scripture.” Although we have heard some variation of this before, it has too often fallen on deaf ears. In fact, it is as if there is nothing earth-shattering in stating this truth, which serves as the heading for this section of the Catechism introducing us to the theme of Sacred Scripture. Why? Because when we place our hands on the bookshelf to retrieve the holy Bible (or go on Amazon to purchase a copy of the Bible), it is as if this book is simply one among many that we select.
Yet, things are not always as they appear. It is not the case, for example, that the holy Bible is one book among many. The truth is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, written by human beings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
What is equally true is that Christ, the one unique Word of Sacred Scripture, is in some way present on every page of the Old and New Testaments. Although there are many words written throughout the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, “the one unique Word of sacred Scripture is Christ.”
Allow me to offer the following analogy: Just as God takes on human flesh so as to express Himself as a human being, God likewise speaks in human words so as to express Himself through the written words of the Sacred Scriptures.
This ought to help clarify why the Church venerates “the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body” (ccc 103) and encourages us to do likewise. The Church constantly wants to offer to the faithful “the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body” (ccc 103).
The reason that the Church finds her “nourishment and her strength” in Sacred Scripture is due to the fact that she welcomes it as “the Word of God” and “not as a human word.” Throughout the 73 books of the Bible, God the Father, while remaining in heaven, engages in a unique communication with us humans. Identifying us as His children, He lovingly meets us and speaks to us.
Article 102 of the Catechism tells us that “through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.” That one utterance is, of course, Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.
Curiously, we can also speak of Sacred Scripture as being human and divine. The learned saint and scholar, St. Thomas Aquinas, talks about the Sacred Scriptures in his famous work, “Summa Theologica,” and explains how the Bible is both divine and human. He explains: “It is divine in the sublimity, holiness, truth and efficacy conferred on the thoughts and phraseology of the human authors by the action of the Holy Spirit. It is human in the limits and even imperfections allowed to remain by the divine action in the minds and language of its instruments.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Prophetia).
“The Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength,” the Catechism tells us, “through the inspired word of Sacred Scripture” (ccc 104). Why? Because “she welcomes it not as a human word, but as what it really is, the word of God” (ccc 104). As the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, teaches: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” (DV 21). Imagine that! Each time we read the holy Bible or listen to the reader proclaim the Sacred Scriptures at Mass, it is as if God Our Father, the Creator of the universe, is speaking to us, His children, “in human words” (ccc 101). Yet, no matter what sacred text is being shared, “God speaks only one single Word,” according to the Catechism, and “that one utterance is, of course, Jesus Christ” (ccc 102). How is this possible?
The Catechism explains by stating the truth that Christ “was in the beginning God with God” (ccc 102) and was, therefore, “not subject to time,” to use the words of Saint Augustine. To say it another way, we can refer to the text from the opening prologue of St. John’s Gospel which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). It is the preexistence of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, prior to “being made flesh and dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14), that helps us understand more precisely what the Catechism is teaching here.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities.