Monday, December 25, 2017


John 1:4:

“What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.”

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

—from the Douay-Rheims.

“In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum.”

—from the Vulgate.

“εν αυτω ζωη ην και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων.”

—from the Greek.

The precarious word here is “en” which, like a lot of Greek prepositions (and for that matter, English and Latin ones) is slippery in meaning.  It could stand for in, by, or with—and probably a lot of other things I don’t know about.  Jerome, obviously, chose to translate it “in.”  I suspect the USCCB translation is relying on the other meanings, especially “by”.  “By him was life” sounds very much like a clumsy or idiomatic way of saying “By his power, life came to be” (or, as the official translation says with more circumlocution, “What came to be through him was life”)—and this is especially true in the context of the preceding verse, where “He” is described as responsible for the making of all things.  So—with apologies once again to Jerome—“in him was life” is kind of weak sauce by comparison.

Why is this interesting?

Well, what does it mean to say that the Word of God, Who Is God—now incarnate as Jesus Christ—made life?  (Think for a moment about the curiosity that is life on the merely biological level, of its inexplicability; think too of the thing that we mean when we say “Now that’s really living life.”  This “life” is Divine in origin.  Explains quite a bit, doesn’t it?)

And further, what does it mean to say that the life that God created is “the light of men”?  (Light is that by which we see; it is also that by which we live, physically—not just because our sun happens to be hot and light coincidentally, but also because E=mcc and so forth.  That by which we live is also that by which we see; that by which we see how to live.  Is it too much to find in this line the seeds of the notion of natural law?)

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