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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2020

Chapter 4 - Word



The medium in which the tension between abundance and lack is expressed in its fundamental form is the word. Here materiality and meaning come together; hence the juxtaposition, already present in classical rhetoric, between the splendour and the weight of words (Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, 7.3.2f.). In the religious context, the divine word is at the origin of all that is: in the first account of the Creation in Genesis, the world is essentially created in the word, and the psalmist similarly states that the heavens were founded through and on the word of God (“Verbo domini caeli firmati sunt”; Ps. 32:6). For educated readers in the Middle Ages, the beginning of Genesis merged with the beginning of the fourth Gospel, which links the Creation by means of the divine word with the involvement of divine Logos in this Creation. Here the rendering of the Greek word logos with the Latin word verbum had major consequences. It opened up new possibilities both for the description of inner-trinitarian processes and communicative events and for the construction of analogies between the divine and the human. The sentence in principio erat verbum, understood in Christological terms, implies on the one hand that man is involved in the very beginning of Creation, in the sense of an ontological mediation— further underlined by the statement that the word has taken up residence “in us” (“Et verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis”; John 1:14). On the other hand, in the sense of an epistemological mediation, this beginning as the “word” is connected with dimensions of articulation, transmission, and mediality. Augustine is therefore able to ask provocatively, in one of his sermons: in what language did God speak? For what listeners?

At another point, at the beginning of a series of lectures about the Gospel according to John (407– 18), the same Augustine understands the creative power of the word as one that mediates between the speaking God and the “made creature” (“inter dicentem deum et factam creaturam”), without causing the categorical difference between divine and human word to disappear.

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