The Word Made Flesh
Imagine a children’s Bible where some of the stories are illustrated. Perhaps stories like Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood. Now imagine a Bible that contained a separate illustration for every few sentences. But it didn’t stop there. It also contained another text that interpreted the Bible text with more illustrations of that additional text. One book: thousands upon thousands of illustrations. It is kind of mind-blowing.
The image you are looking at is from one of those Bibles—a 13th-century Gothic manuscript called Bible Moralisée, or “moralized Bible.” More than one of these types of Bibles existed and as a group, they were known as “bibilia pauperum,” or “Bibles for the poor.” For the uneducated who couldn’t read or write, these heavily illustrated—and extremely expensive—documents helped teach them what was said in Scripture. They were how ordinary people became familiar with the Word.
This particular image sits next to the beginning of the Gospel of John—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being (John 1:1-3a).
This is an illustration of Jesus creating the world. Science, particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine in those days. Science didn’t oppose God’s creative act but was fully a part of it. Medieval scholars believed God created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles and to seek these principles was, therefore, to seek and worship God himself.
John’s gospel makes sure we know that Jesus was with God in the beginning as Creator. He calls Jesus the “Word,” which in Greek is “logos.” The meaning of this noun is wide-ranging, but many scholars suggest that John’s usage of the word means that Jesus is the independent personified expression of God. Jesus burst into our world as the very expression of God himself. I guess you could say Jesus is how ordinary people become familiar with God.
Think of it this way. If I were to meet someone but never spoke to them, I couldn’t say I really know them. Only by having a conversation—by exchanging words—would I ever be able to get to know who they are, where they’re from, what they do, etc.
Being Human connection: Words are how we get to know each other. When Jesus came as the Word; he came as a way for us to get to know God. All things that God is, Jesus is—but in a way we can understand and study and get to know. Could we say Jesus is God’s illustration of himself?
Featured print: God as architect of the world, folio I verso, Bible Moralisée, Paris, executed between 1220-1230; ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum. © Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna