This week in my Aquinas class we read excerpts from several of his commentaries. One of them was the prologue to his commentary on the Gospel of John, and his notes on John 1:1, which reads (in the ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
Initially, I dreaded the reading. The man wrote 67 points (several more than one paragraph long) on just 24 words, for goodness sake! But as I made my way through it, I started to realize how amazing it was and praise God for the treasure trove to be found in scripture. The man wrote 67 points on just 24 words, for goodness sake! 67 points; 24 words. Not every point is mind-blowing —not all of them are even interesting. Still. Sit back with me, and just think what kind of concentration and focus that would take.
When was the last time I sat down and wrote out even a paragraph of observation or interpretation or even reflection on just a few sentences, a paragraph, or even a chapter? But here is Aquinas poring over just these few words, seeking to understand what the author meant, and how God might have intended the church understand and use them. That’s commendable.
The portion I found myself particularly captivated by was his explanation of the word “with,” as in, “The Word was with God.” He spends points 43-52 on just this one word! And it’s beautiful. He uses just that one word to emphasize Jesus’s distinction from God as a separate entity, or in his words, “a consubstantiality in nature and distinction in person: consubstantiality inasmuch as a certain union is implied; but distinction, inasmuch as a certain otherness is signified…”
He also uses the word “with” to combat not one, not two, but four objections: 1) the objection that Jesus could not exist before all things, because before all things there was nothing, 2) that Christ could not proceed from the Father and still have existed with the Father before all things, 3) that Christ and the Father could not have co-existed before Christ proceeded from the Father, and 4) that if Christ was in the Father at the beginning, he could not be distinct from the Father.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of weight for just four letters to bear. But as Aquinas explains it, it doesn’t seem like a stretching of the text. At some point while I was reading, it stopped being important whether I resonated with or even followed what he was saying, I was just amazed to see the depth of scripture, and the magnitude of revelation contained in each and every word. What an amazing God, and what an amazing book, that even people as wise and prolific as Thomas Aquinas can barely scratch the surface of the treasures to be found in Scripture.
“Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”