If, as established in my two previous two essays*, the Logos has its roots in ancient pagan as well as ancient Hebraic thought, what does this mean for Christianity and its adoption of the term? Clearly, the most blatant manifestations of the Greco-Hebraic concept of the Logos—the eternal Word, the unending fire, thought, and imagination—appear in the various writings of St. John the Beloved and Revelator, in the first fourteen lines to his Gospel, in his first letter, and in his Apocalypse. It appears in other writings as well, however. At Mars Hill in Athens, St. Luke quotes St. Paul as quoting from and paraphrasing an ancient Stoic hymn: “In Him we move and live and have our being” (Acts 17). St. Paul uses the image repeatedly in his own writings. “To those who God has called, both Greeks and Jews, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God,” Paul wrote in his first letter to the Christians of Corinth. In his second, he proclaimed: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
It is in his letter to the Christian Colossians, though, that Paul really throws down the gauntlet, answering almost every longing of Greek philosophy. It is worth quoting at length.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
From the very beginnings of Greek philosophy, dating to at least 510 BC, in places such as Miletus, the early philosophers had been concerned with two fundamental questions. First, what “stuff”—earth, wind, water, or fire—made the universe? Second, why did that “stuff” break apart into us, and how can we bring all things back to right order and unity? In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul answers all of this, noting that Jesus is the primary stuff—earth, wind, water, fire, and everything else—by being not only the first born of all creation but by being present in the creation itself. His is both from the beginning and from before the beginning, for the beginning came through him.
Further, Jesus revealed himself as the touchstone and cornerstone and fountainhead of the entire universe not at his birth, or at his resurrection, but, stunningly, at his death. After all, He reconciled “to himself all things . . . making peace of the blood of his cross.” At that moment on a horrific Friday afternoon at the Place of Skulls, Jesus revealed himself to be the Christ, the messiah, the redeemer of all that is good and just and true and beautiful in this world. Thus, the Greeks who feared that man might forever be trapped in the cycles of decay—the breakdown of the primary matter, again whether earth, wind, water, or fire—need no longer worry. Jesus is not only the beginning, He is the Middle, and He is the End, taking all with him as the heavenly lamb leading his followers to the eternal banquet and the never-ending day of eternity.
It would be no exaggeration to state that all Christian humanism hangs on these few passages from the New Testament, while also acknowledging the roots and the Christian Logos in the pagan as well as the Hebraic pasts.
The historian Christopher Dawson credited Incarnational theology and philosophy as that which convinced him to convert to Catholicism. “Behind all this supernatural principle carries on its seminal activity and forms the embryonic life,” Dawson claimed, “which is destined eventually to absorb itself and remake the whole nature, mental and physical, with all its vital activities. Through Christ, the world came into being. Through Christ, the world experiences redemption. And, through Christ, all things will be reconciled. From these three Christian manifestations, the Holy Spirit flows into history, into the Church, into the sacraments, and, most especially, into the Saint, “the perfect manifestation of the supernatural life which exists in every individual Christian.”
In his magnificent and masterful End of the Modern World, Romano Guardini wrote:
The eternal exemplar of the world was the Logos; every part of the world was a manifestation of this inexhaustible source. Each distinct thing in being was both itself and a related part of a symbolic hierarchy which linked all things in a rich and diversified unity. The angels and saints in eternity, the stars in the heavens, the objects of nature, man and his soul, human society—in its many levels and all its functions—appeared as a harmony whose meaning was eternal. History too was fixed, even in the ebb and flow of its many epochs between the absolute beginning, Creation, and the final end, Judgment. The great act in this drama, the historic era, was linked with every other era; within each age every event had its own meaning and multiple relations.
A decade and a half later, Russell Kirk explained the meaning of the Logos in a similar vein as had Guardini.
To seek for truths in history . . . distinctly is not to indulge in dreamy visions of unborn ages, or to predict the inevitability of some political domination. Rather, the truths of history, the real meanings, are to be discovered in what history can teach us about the framework of the Logos, if you will: about the significance of human existence: about the splendor and the misery of our condition. In this inquiry, there must be joined with the historical discipline certain insights of philosophy and psychology. For historical consciousness necessarily is entwined with the mystery of personal consciousness.
Without the Incarnation, there could be no real equality and no real dignity among men. By the Incarnation, each one of us comes into the world as a unique, unrepeatable center of dignity and liberty, as John Paul II long ago preached. The idea of the Incarnation, however, had existed long before Christianity, and, thus, God used not just the Hebraic peoples but also the pagan peoples to prepare the world for the “fullness of time.” The ancient world, whatever unredeeming qualities it might have possessed, also carried with it eternal truth, no matter how distorted or misunderstood.
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The featured image is a plate from “The Book of Los” (1795) by William Blake (1757-1827), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.