Lots of pages were written about the meaning of the Greek word Logos (Λόγος) and I do not plan to add anything here. Christian translators decided to use the basic meaning: Word. That makes a lot of sense because it connects Logos to the words that God used to create everything that is. But Logos means a lot more than that.
The sages of ancient Greece did not have the benefit of the Torah. They were no different from the other peoples of antiquity in that they explained everything through myths until some of them began doing some hard thinking five or six hundred years before the birth of Christ. A handful of them found out about Logos and began to complete the concept from the traces left in the natural world.
“For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity . . . ” (Romans 1:20, DOUAY-RHEIMS)
Many decades ago, when I was a mere child, I read Indro Montanelli’s Storia dei Greci (History of the Greeks.) The famous Italian journalist was not exactly a Toynbee or a Gibbon but he could write in his own delightful way about the great men of antiquity as if they were still alive. From that book I learned to love history. The modest volume was the first glimpse I had (at 11 years old) of the profound mystery of the Greeks. Six decades later, the fascination endures thanks to Montanelli’s luminous pen.
St. Augustine thought Plato was perhaps, inspired. I can’t confirm that intuition but after doing a fair amount of reading of the history of Greek thought, I am quite convinced that the divine breadth must have influenced at least one or two generations of Greek thinkers. Plutarch thought along the same lines and presented us with a collection of biographies of many classic Greek sages. The works of some of them were lost but we have some idea of their influence through Plutarch’s meticulous catalog. Those Greeks were –of all the nations of antiquity– the only ones who could figure out there was Logos. Their perspicuity was rewarded richly when the Christian faith was firmly established among the Greeks by the apostles of Logos-Christ who used the Greek of the first century to seed the Graeco-Roman world with the Gospel.
I believe the ancient Greeks were first to think about the world around them in abstract terms. They were the first to imagine a pure logical order, a superior realm of pure reason. Later they bequeathed the concepts of truth, law, and order to the Romans. The great poet Horace was inspired to write: “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit in agresti Latio.” That is: “The conquered Greece conquered the barbarian conqueror and brought the arts into rugged Latium.” Through the unsophisticated Romans we inherited the Greek logical sense of the world.
The ancient sages stumbled upon the concept of Logos (Acts 17:23, Romans 1:20) and their idea was passed through the Romans to the whole Western World. But along those Greek ideas something new entered the intellectual world of the first century. One of the original disciples of Christ, (the last to hear the beating of His Sacred Heart during the Last Supper) showed us how the intuition of the Greeks and the revelation given to the Hebrews were going to grow as a wonderful marriage of faith and reason. Athens, Rome, and then Jerusalem, entered into the mix of ideas giving birth to a new world.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shined in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlightened every man that came into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bore witness of him, and cried out, saying: This was he of whom I spoke: He that shall come after me, is preferred before me: because he was before me. And of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. (John 1:1-18, DOUAY-RHEIMS)
True light visits mankind
Who among the pagan poets or philosophers could have imagined that the Light that sparked the creation of the Universe was not merely a natural force but a Being who once in human history would become a man, would incarnate and be the human representation of that original impulse. Who could imagine Someone who would redirect our history and bring it back from the darkness of the Fall into the light of Redemption? Neither the great mythmakers nor the most powerful intellects of the ancient world could get that far. Their idea of history was the endless parade of armies and generals, mighty kings and conquerors playing the destinies that their gods imagined for them. But one mystic and prophet among the Jews had announced the arrival of Logos. Light was to come one day and visit the world of man:
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim, but in the future He will honor the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1-2)
The prophetic message of Isaiah was confirmed by one of the apostles of that mysterious Light Incarnated:
“That it might be fulfilled which was said by Isaias the prophet: ‘Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up.’ From that time Jesus began to preach . . .” (Matthew 4:14-17)
Like an eagle flying
The Fathers of the Church always saw the four living creatures of the Apocalypse of John as the Four Evangelists. The Eagle with six wings filled with eyes is an apt representation of John the Divine. He was called that way because the eagle is a creature that sees the world like God sees it, from the heights that man cannot naturally reach. Eagles also have very sharp vision and can detect their prey from way above the ground. The eagle-like creature of Revelation magnifies both qualities: it has six wings, all of them filled with eyes and can fly all the way to the throne of God.
Mark, Matthew, and Luke tell the story of Christ’s birth and associate it with light. All the Evangelists declare that Jesus is the Son of God:
“And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them . . . ” (Luke 2:8-9)
But only John introduces the reader to the divine filiation of Christ in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In the introduction to his Gospel, John mentions light but the landscape is far removed from Bethlehem of Judea.
“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:3-5)
Logos is God but is also with God. God is the I AM but is (indescribably) the OTHER. Self and Otherness are in the same Divine Being.
The big question
The center of Christian revelation is the identity of the Christ. In Matthew 16:13 we hear Christ Himself calling attention to this most important question:
“And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13, DOUAY-RHEIMS)
Jesus had to ask the question in that occasion. We know the disciples wondered “Who is this man?” many times amazed as they were at the miracles performed by their Master but their minds could not formulate the question that their hearts could so easily propose. As for the Greeks, it took them centuries to figure out the idea of Logos from their astute observation of the natural world. Never, not even in their wildest imaginations they could fathom that Logos could have been incarnated. Formulating that question seemed impossible for the human mind.
John answers the question but his answer generated the questions of thousands of theologians yet unborn: Logos was with God, facing God, oriented towards God, is God, was with God in the beginning, was life, was light; in short, Logos was divine. The depth of John’s introduction is unfathomable.
The nearness of God
From Monsignor José Ignacio Munilla I learned that Origen affirmed that one has to fulfill two conditions to correctly receive the Gospel of John. The first is to recline one’s head on Christ’s chest to hear the murmur of the Sacred Heart, (John 13:25) the second is to receive Mary in our home. (John 19:27)
John reveals that the Logos was oriented towards God, in the beginning Logos was with God. Logos is God, not “a god” but God. The reference to the words of Genesis is fraught with meaning. Logos is God facing God and from the depths of His will before time, before even the smallest thing of Creation existed, God generously wills the existence of Creation in Christ. When we read the first lines of Genesis (we have seen this in previous posts) we find those unexpected two letters aleph-tav (alpha and omega in Greek, please see Revelation 1:4-8) That is the signature of Logos who is about to create everything.
The words of Saint Paul come to mind:
Giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins; Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:11-17, DOUAY-RHEIMS)
Material creation is for Logos, in Logos. Those are precisely the words that Saint Paul directed to the Athenian Greeks of his time: “For in him we live, and move, and are; as some also of your own poets said: For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28 see also Acts 17:16-33) This we declare to believe in the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
Plato was right in guessing that the Topos Uranos contained the archetypes of all that exists but only through revelation we learned there was also an archetype of archetypes, Someone for whom all things were made, Who made all things, and from whose mind all things came to be. Logos is the model, the archetype of all creation. That includes us and if we are included, that means that in the will of God we have existed for all eternity but Christ is the firstborn of all Creation.
In the next post: To reveal the Father – God is the essence of freedom