Images of

We saw in Ch. 1 how Irenaeus opposed the errors of Marcion, who rejected the Creator God of the OT as a mere 'demiurge' and cruel deity, not to be identified with the 'Father' of Jesus Christ. Against such aberrations Irenaeus championed the Jewish scriptures and their doctrine of God. Eventually the fourth-century Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was to target Marcionite error with its confession of 'one God, Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth'. The Jewish Creator God (and Lord of history) is identical with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before moving to the NT doctrine of God, let us recall some significant ideas and images that Catholics (and other Christians) draw from the OT.

Their religious experience led the Israelites to develop an image of God that combined in a remarkable way majestic transcendence and loving closeness. Although initially associated partly with sanctuaries and other such places, YHWH was experienced as going beyond the limits of space. The God of the patriarchs not only encountered them in Haran, Canaan, and Egypt, but also transcended the usual national boundaries—bringing

Israel on its exodus 'from the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir' (Amos 9: 7). Unlike the gods of other oriental nations, Israel's deity was not identified in space as the sun or another heavenly body. The sun, the moon, and the stars belonged among the things created by God (Gen. 1: 14-18). YHWH also went beyond the limits of time. Other Middle Eastern gods issued from chaos and various myths proclaimed their birth. Israel's God, however, was known to be simply and always there, 'the first and the last' (Isa. 44: 6), the God who 'in the beginning created the heavens and the earth' (Gen. 1: 1). The Israelites admitted neither a theogony nor an ageing process for their God.

The divine holiness expresses the awesome and mysterious 'otherness' of God experienced by the Israelites. In particular, they refrained from pronouncing the personal name YHWH believed to have been revealed to Moses (Exod. 3: 13-15). In place of this tetragrammaton (word of four letters), they said 'Adonai (Lord)' when the scriptures introduced the sacred name. The Greek translation (Septuagint) of the OT showed a similar reverence by rendering YHWH as 'Kyrios (Lord)'. About 6,800 times the OT names God as 'Lord', but neither in the sense of lording it over his people nor of being coldly distant from them.

Besides knowing God to be 'apart' and 'beyond', the Israelites knew God to be 'near', with them, and even 'within' them. Moses put the question to the people: 'what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord (Adonai) our God is whenever we call to him?' (Deut. 4: 7). Psalm 139 witnessed to the way God is everywhere and with everyone, knowing the psalmist's every deed and thought and being with him from the moment of conception. In The Hound of Heaven, a poem cherished by generations of Catholics and other Christians, Francis Thompson (1859-1907) translated into modern terms this psalm's sense of God being always closely present to every person. Jeremiah spoke of 'a new covenant", which would be written by God on human hearts and that would enable everyone to know God (Jer. 31: 31-4). Ezekiel announced that, when God's own 'spirit' had been put within them (Ezek. 37: 14; 36: 26-7), the people would know that God had spoken and acted.

Gender language also reflected a striking blend of 'otherness' and 'closeness' in the image Israel had drawn from its experience of God. On the one hand, YHWH is utterly beyond the sexual activities typically attributed to ancient deities. The sense that God is literally neither male nor female and transcends any creaturely representations stood behind the

OT prohibition of visible divine images made of stone, metal, or wood. The prophet Hosea witnessed to this sense of divine transcendence when God spoke through him: 'I am God and no man, the Holy One in your midst' (Hos. 11: 9). But, on the other hand, Hosea and other prophets used vivid verbal images in talking of God as a husband who revealed a wounded but tender love when his people acted like a harlot. God wished to enjoy a second honeymoon that would repeat the desert experience when the people were first liberated from Egypt: 'I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her' (Hos. 2: 14).

Along with their language of God as 'lover/husband', the OT authors witnessed to what they knew of a divine tenderness that even goes beyond that of human mothers (e.g. Isa. 49: 15; Sir. 4: 10). On occasions they also named or addressed God as 'Father' and consistently as a tender, caring Father. This talk of YHWH as Father was doubtless kept to a minimum by the other verbal image of God as Husband to the people (e.g. Isa. 54: 4—8; Jer. 2: 2; Ezek. 16: 1—63). Another obvious reason for the OT rarely applying to God the metaphor of Father was that such usage might easily suggest the 'natural', procreative activity attributed to Baal, Asherah, and other gods and goddesses of the Near East. Far from being that kind of biological or physical parent, YHWH did not even have a consort. The divine fatherhood (and the Israelites' corresponding filial status) was understood to result from the free divine choice and activity in the history of salvation. It was above all the deliverance from Egypt that made them God's sons and daughters (e.g. Hos. 11: 1). No other OT writer excelled Hosea in portraying the loving, parental care of God towards his chosen but rebellious children: 'It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms.. .I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift children to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them' (Hos. 11: 3—4).

The name of God as 'Father', although occurring in a variety of historical, prophetic, and sapiential texts, turns up barely more than twenty times in the entire OT. The name will come into its own with the fullness of revelation through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, along with the birth of the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. So too will three personifications of the divine creative, revealing, and saving activity to be found in the OT: Wisdom, Word, and Spirit.

Although it reworked some older material, the Book of Proverbs seems to date from the late sixth or early fifth century BC. As a personification of

God's activity, Lady Wisdom fills the first nine chapters, setting before her hearers a choice: either folly and disaster or fear of God and life. Her role in creation is developed in the famous description of her primordial relationship to God: 'The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth.. .I was beside him like a master worker^ (Prov. 8: 22—4, 30). Proverbs 9: 1—6 depicts Wisdom as building her house and inviting the simple to join her feast of food and wine that symbolize the doctrine and virtue that come from God. Lady Wisdom's house and banquet would provide language for the NT and post-NT interpretation of Jesus, divine Wisdom in person. The most extensive treatment of Wisdom comes in a book originally written in Hebrew ¿.180 BC, Sirach. Here Wisdom proclaims her divine origin: 'I came forth from the mouth of the Most High' (Sir. 24: 3). She 'holds sway over all the earth, and over every people and nation' (Sir. 24: 6). By divine choice Wisdom dwells in Israel and finds her home in Jerusalem. But such a choice does not mean that Wisdom is absent elsewhere in the world; rather she is present to the whole human race. The Book of Wisdom, probably written shortly before Jesus' birth and hence the last of the OT books, describes Lady Wisdom lyrically as a beautiful reflection or emanation of God's glory (Wis. 7: 25—8: 1). The unity between Wisdom and God reaches a climax when YHWH's saving deeds in the people's deliverance from captivity in Egypt are attributed to her (Wis. 10: 15—18). The identification between God and Wisdom becomes closer than ever.75

By expressly identifying Jesus with the divine Wisdom, as did St Paul (1 Cor 1: 24), Justin Martyr, and many other writers of the early centuries, Christians made a decisive leap in taking this personification to be a distinct divine person. Like Lady Wisdom, the Son of God was acknowledged to be active in the creation and conservation of the universe (e.g. 1 Cor. 8: 6; Col. 1: 16—17; Heb. 1: 1—2). The first Christians knew that Jesus had brought them, through his death and resurrection, the new creation of

On Wisdom see R. E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1990). Many scholars have rightly seen Wisdom themes (taken e.g. from Sirach 24) in John's Gospel, particularly in the Prologue and in ch. 6. Without denying the presence of those themes, we want to note, however, that John did not start 'In the beginning was Wisdom ...', does not confess Wisdom became flesh and dwelt amongst us', and, in fact, never uses the term Wisdom'.

graced life, the historical culmination of God's redemptive activity for human beings and their world. As agent of this new creation, the incarnate Son of God must also be, so they recognized, the divine agent for the original creation of all things. Likewise, being the central protagonist of salvation history, he was also seen to be active in the unfolding of that history prior to the incarnation (e.g. 1 Cor. 10: 4; John 12: 4).

The Logos or Word of God converged with Wisdom as another OT divine personification that foreshadowed the distinct existence of a second person in God. Like Lady Wisdom, the Word was understood to be with God and powerfully creative from the beginning (Gen. 1: 1—2: 4; Isa. 55: 10—11). The psalms, in particular, celebrated the creative and conserving Word of God (e.g. Ps. 33: 8-9). Sirach appreciated how the divine Word operates to conserve creation: by God's Word 'all things hold together' (Sir. 43: 26)—language that will be applied to Christ by Colossians 1: 17.

'Spirit shows up frequently (nearly 400 times) in the OT as a third way of articulating the creative, revelatory, and redemptive activity of God. When dealing with the divine 'spirit' (Hebrew ruah; Greekpneuma), the OT highlighted its power as wind, as the breath of life, and as the divine inspiration that comes upon prophets. At creation 'the spirit' of God hovered over the surface of the water (Gen. 1: 2). Occasionally the prophetic books tell of prophets being empowered to speak God's word (e.g. Isa. 61: 1; Ezek. 2: 1-2). Such examples of the 'spirit' empowering human beings to speak God's word indicate how in pre-Christian Judaism 'spirit', 'word', and 'wisdom' were almost synonymous ways of speaking of God's manifest and powerful activity in the world. The psalms use 'spirit' (or 'breath'), 'word', and 'wisdom' as equivalent parallels: 'By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth' (Ps. 33: 6). The work of creation can be expressed in terms of God's 'word' or in terms of the divine 'spirit', as Judith's thanksgiving to God also illustrates: 'Let all your creatures serve you, for you spoke, and they were made. You sent forth your spirit, and they were created' (Judith 16: 14). 'Spirit' likewise parallels 'wisdom' (e.g. Wis. 9: 17), even to the point of their being identified (e.g. Isa. 11: 2). In short, like 'wisdom' and 'word', the divine 'spirit' was a third way of articulating and even personifying God's activity in and revelation to the world.

The NT and post-NT Christian language for the one God, now acknowledged to be tripersonal, flowed from the Jewish scriptures. The doctrine of the Trinity was deeply Jewish in its origins. Of course, the

Jewish, monotheistic faith and its language were deeply modified in the light of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection (together with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit). Nevertheless, naming God as 'Father', 'Son' (Word and Wisdom), and 'Spirit' found its roots in the OT. There 'wisdom', 'word', and 'spirit' (or 'holy spirit'—only in Ps. 51: 13 and three other passages) functioned, frequently synonymously, to acknowledge God's nearness to the world and to the chosen people—a nearness that did not, however, compromise the divine transcendence or that holy otherness that sets God beyond all other beings.

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