When Does The Person Begin?

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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

In the beginning

The Priestly account says: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters' (Gn 1: 1-2).  Thus there is what one might call a divine pause: a moment of the beginning.  This could be described as a theocentric414 account of creation.  It is an account in which the act of God the Creator is established through, as it were, the solemn repetition of the act of creation.

The Yahwist account says: 'In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens ...' (Gn 2: 4)., and the description continues with what was not there before the creation of man, with what was there at the creation of man and with what came after the creation of man.  In other words, this second account is almost anthropocentric415: it describes the event of the creation in relation to the creation of man.

The first thing that I want to observe is that the first sentence of the Priestly account and the first statement of the Yahwist account are equivalent in their difference.  However, the difference between them is nevertheless significant.  The Priestly account speaks of a beginning and indeed says: "In the beginning"; and while this is but one word, it suggests a style of conceptual precision in contrast to the style of descriptive precision of the Yahwist's opening words: "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens."

It is to the Priestly account of creation to which I now turn.  This is for the two reasons to which I have referred: this account has dwelt on the first moment of creation and it has done so with what I have called conceptual precision.

The precision of "In the beginning" is continued in the first part of the next sentence where the author says: "The earth was without form and void."  This remarkable combination of terms at once asserts the existence of something and denies any development of it.  This is because if one considers another biblical use of the term form (cf. Ps 139: 16), one can see that 'form' signifies 'development in time.'  Therefore the earth exists at the first moment of its existence: the moment before the development which characteristically unfolds through time.  In a similar way one can see that 'void' signifies a type of space that is empty (cf. 2 Chron 18: 9 and 1 K 22: 10).  In other words, the author has composed his assertion of what exists out of a series of denials concerning the usual properties of existence: what exists does not extend in space; and what exists has not unfolded through time.  And to these two 'negations' are added a third, namely that of "darkness", such that although the 'face of the deep' exists, it exists in darkness: it cannot be seen.

This second sentence of the first chapter of Genesis then comes to an end with the phrase: 'and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.'  Now because of this last phrase we are left with more than a conceptual account of the first moment of the existence of the 'earth.'  We are left with the impression that God made 'the heavens and the earth' to exist in the presence of God.  For while what God has made is undeveloped, non-extensive and invisible, it is nevertheless 'the Spirit of God' which moves over the 'face of the waters.'  In other words, the coming to be of creation is at the same time creation's coming to be in the presence of the Creator.

Finally, just as one part of Scripture illuminates another, so the Old Testament is renewed, as it were, in the New Testament.  Thus the whole theological investigation of the beginning takes on a new meaning with the first and second sentences of the Gospel of St. 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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made' (Jn 1: 1-2).

Thus one has to conclude that the mystery of creation is ultimately the act of the God who progressively reveals Himself to be the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.  In other words, while it is possible for philosophy to conclude to the existence of God the first cause, it transcends what can be known by philosophy to conclude to the existence of the Blessed Trinity.  Furthermore, and this is what really constitutes the point to which this exposition tends and at which it terminates: if God is love (1 Jn 4: 7), then the acts of God are acts of love.  And so the theological investigation is in the end a complementarily different investigation to all the others: it is the investigation of love.

The difference necessary to dialogue

In conclusion of this discussion I hope to have shown that the disciplines of physical science, philosophy and theology are complementary to one another, while each has its own 'way' of investigation.  But if it is the same God who made reason and faith, then the results of reason and the conclusions of faith can only assist one another in the perception of the 'acts' of the Three Persons in One God.  The corollary of this is that each discipline must acquire the discipline by which it both defines its own proper object and at the same time respects that of the others.  This would excite discovery and not diminish it, just as a dialogue develops out of a difference that is irreducible, such as the difference between a man and a woman: a difference which purdures and constitutes the permanent basis of the dialogue of friendship and of marriage.

414 Cf. OUMW, Man's Awareness of Being a Person, General Audience of October 24, 1979, art 2, page 52.    Back
415 Ibid.    Back

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