All Streams Lead to Christ
Certainly, the Word of revelation did not simply fall from heaven in the person of Christ; the single, rushing torrent was fed, as it were, by many already existing streams; there is a period of preparation, a kind of crescendo up to the full volume of the divine voice in the world: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:1–2).
But today, presented with a single river, we see in these streams nothing other than the river’s tributaries, rushing headlong to meet it and merging completely, in the fullness of time, with the unique Word which says everything. It is impossible to listen to any individual word of God without hearing the Son who is the Word.
Moreover, it is futile to leaf through the writings of the Old and New Covenants in the hope of coming across truths of one kind or another, unless we are prepared to be exposed to a direct encounter with him, with this personal, utterly free Word which makes sovereign claims upon us: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39–40; 46–47).
He gathers up all the words of God scattered throughout the world and concentrates them in himself, the intense focus of revelation. “Through whom also he created the world,” says Paul, indicating that he is not thinking only of the “many and various” words of the Old Covenant: there are also the words strewn throughout creation, stammered and whispered; the words of nature, in macrocosm and microcosm; the words uttered by the flowers and the animals; words of overpowering beauty and of debilitating terror; the words of human existence, in their confusing, myriad forms, laden with both promise and disappointment: all these belong to the one, eternal, living Word who became man for our sakes.
They are totally and utterly his possession, and so they are at his disposal, to be understood exclusively in his interpretation. All these words can only be heard and understood under his guidance; none of them can exist as an independent word, sundered from him, let alone be used in opposition to the unique Word: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
In history’s headwaters, it was possible to travel to meet him, the great river, on different streams. It was possible for the hearers to accept the “many and various” words of promise in so open and believing a manner that they were borne along toward the approaching unity. Now that the Son has appeared, the believer must apprehend the multiplicity from the standpoint of the unity. He must continually return to the center, to be sent thence to the periphery of history and nature with all its babel of languages. It is at the center that he learns what is decisive, namely, the truth about his life, what God wants and expects of him, what he should strive for and what he should avoid in the service of the divine Word. Thus he must become a hearer of the word.
Hans Ur von Balthasar is the most significant Catholic theologian of the 20th century. This excerpt is from his book Prayer, and is reprinted with permission of the publisher, Ignatius Press.
- Editors’ Note
- How Infinitely Big Is God?
Perhaps smaller than a fraction of a fraction. /
- Tiny Creatures of Great Worth
Bacteria: there are trillions of them. And many are on our side. /
Which is to say, rejoice! /
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