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Jesus Christ, the eternal word of God the Father

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 2 September 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the preceding catechesis we paid particular attention to those statements in which Christ, speaking of himself, used the expression, "I Am." The context in which these words appear, especially in John's Gospel, encourages us to conclude that in using such a phrase, Jesus referred to the name by which the God of the Old Testament designated himself to Moses when God entrusted to Moses the mission to which he had been called: "I Am who I Am...tell the sons of Israel, 'I Am has sent me to you'" (Ex 3:14).

Jesus spoke of himself in a similar vein during the discussion concerning Abraham: "Before Abraham was, I Am" (Jn 8:58). This expression allows us to conclude that the Son of Man gave witness to his divine pre-existence, and this is not an isolated statement.

2. More than once Jesus spoke of the mystery of his person. The most synthetic of these comments about himself would seem to be, "I came from the Father and have come into the world and now I leave the world to go to the Father" (Jn 16:28). These words were addressed by Jesus to the apostles in his farewell discourse on the eve of the paschal events. These words clearly say that before he came into the world Christ "was" with the Father as a Son. They indicate, as a consequence, his pre-existence in God. Jesus unambiguously stated that his earthly existence cannot be separated from his pre-existence in God. Without that, his personal reality cannot be correctly understood.

3. There are numerous similar expressions. When Jesus referred to his coming into the world from the Father, his words usually denoted his divine pre-existence. This is especially clear in the Gospel of John. In the presence of Pilate Jesus stated: "I was born for this; I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). Perhaps it is not without significance that Pilate later asked him: "Where are you from?" (Jn 19:9). Earlier in the text we had read: "My testimony is still valid because I know where I came from and where I am going" (Jn 8:14). In that nocturnal conversation with Nicodemus, the question, "where are you from?" receives a special response: "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven" (Jn 3:13). This "coming down" from heaven, from the Father, indicates the divine pre-existence of Christ in relation to his "departure" as well: "What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?" Jesus asked in the context of the Eucharistic discourse in the neighborhood of Capernaum (cf. Jn 6:2).

4. The entire earthly existence of Jesus as Messiah originates from that "before" and is united with it as a fundamental dimension which testifies to the Son as "one" with the Father. In this context, how eloquent are the words of the priestly prayer in the upper room, "I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before the world began" (Jn 17:4-5).

Similarly, the Synoptic Gospels speak in many instances of the coming of the Son of Man for the salvation of the world (cf. e.g., Lk 19:10; Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28). Nevertheless, the texts noted by St. John speak unequivocally about the pre-existence of Christ.

5. The prologue of St. John's Gospel contains the most comprehensive synthesis of this truth. It can be affirmed that in the text the truth of the divine pre-existence of the Son of Man is given a more explicit delineation that, in a certain sense, is more definitive. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be; not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had its life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the darkness, a light that the darkness could not overpower" (Jn 1:1-5).

In these statements, the evangelist confirms that which Jesus declared about himself: "I came from the Father and have come into the world" (Jn 16:28), or when he prayed to his Father to glorify him with the glory that he had with him before the world began (cf. Jn 17:5). At the same time there is a strict correlation between the pre-existence of the Son in the Father with the revelation of the trinitarian mystery of God. The Son is the eternal Word, he is "God from God"; he is of the same substance of the Father (as is expressed by the Council of Nicaea in the creed). That council's formula reflects exactly the prologue of John. "The Word was with God and the Word was God." To acknowledge the pre-existence of Christ in the Father is tantamount to recognizing the divinity. Eternity appertains to the substance of the divinity, just as it likewise pertains to the substance of the Father. It is this that is referred to when discussing the eternal pre-existence in the Father.

6. In revealing the truth concerning the Word, the prologue of John constitutes the definitive complement of what the Old Testament had already said regarding wisdom. For example we read: "From eternity in the beginning he created me and for eternity I shall remain" (Sir 24:9); "My creator made me pitch my tent and he said to me, 'Pitch your tent in Jacob'" (Sir 24:8). The wisdom referred to in the Old Testament is a creature that at the same time has attributes that enthrone it above all creation. "Although alone she can do all; herself unchanging she makes all things new" (Wis 7:27).

The truth about the Word contained in the prologue of John reconfirms, in a certain sense, the revelation concerning the wisdom evident in the Old Testament. At the same time it surpasses it in a definitive manner. The Word is not merely, "with God" but "is God." Coming into this world, the Word "came into his own domain," since "the world had its being through him" (cf. Jn 1:10-11). He came "unto his own," because "he is the true light that enlightens every man" (cf. Jn 1:9). The self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ consists in this coming into the world by the Word, who is the eternal Son.

7. "The Word was made flesh and he lived among us and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Let us repeat it once more—the prologue of John is the eternal echo of the words uttered by Jesus: "I have come from the Father and come into the world" (Jn 16:28). It also echoes his sentiments when he prayed to his eternal Father to glorify him with that glory he had before the creation of the world (cf. Jn 17:5). The evangelist is contemplating the Old Testament revelation concerning wisdom and simultaneously visualizes the entire paschal event—that departure through the cross and resurrection in which the truth about Christ, Son of Man and true God, is rendered crystal clear to those who were eyewitnesses of those events.

8. In strict relationship with the revelation of the Word, that is, with the divine pre-existence of Christ, one also finds confirmation of the truth about Emmanuel. This word - which literally signifies "God with us" - expresses a particular and personal presence of God in the world. Christ's "I Am" manifests exactly such a presence, as pre-announced by Isaiah (cf. 7:14), which the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt. 1:23) repeats following the prophet, and is confirmed in the prologue of John: "The Word was made flesh and came to dwell among us" (Jn 1:14). The language of the evangelists is indeed multiform but the truth expressed is identical. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus pronounces his "I am with you" in moments of special tension (such as Mt 14:17; Mk 6:50; Jn 6:20), when he calmed the tempest, as also in the perspective of the Church's apostolic mission: "Behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world" (Mt 28:20).

9. Christ's statement, "I have come from the Father and have come into the world" (Jn 16:28) contains a salvific and soteriological significance. All the evangelists manifest this phenomenon. The prologue of John expresses it in these words: "To all who did accept him (the Word), he gave power to become children of God," that is, the possibility of being generated by God (cf. Jn 1:12-13).

This is the central truth of all Christian soteriology that finds an organic unity with the revealed reality of the God-Man. God became man so that man could truly participate in the life of God so that, indeed, in a certain sense, he could become God. The Fathers of the Church had a clear consciousness of this fact. It is sufficient to recall St. Irenaeus who, in his exhortations to imitate Christ, the only sure teacher, declared: "Through the immense love he bore, he became what we are, thereby affording us the opportunity of becoming what he is" (cf. Adv. Haer., V. Praef. PG 7, 1120).

This truth opens up for us unlimited horizons among which we locate and pinpoint the concrete expression of our Christian life, in the light of faith in Christ, Son of God, the Word of the Father.

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Erinnerung an den Kern unseres christlichen Glaubens grüße ich alle Besucher aus deutschsprachigen Ländern und Gegenden; jedem einzelnen von euch gelten meine Aufmerksamkeit und meine besten Wünsche. Besonders der Gruppe von Missionaren von der Heiligen Familie wünsche ich einen guten Erfolg für ihre Arbeit an der reichen Missionsgeschichte ihrer Kongregation.

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Mein herzlicher Glückwunsch gilt dann den anwesenden Franziskanerinnen von Salzkotten, die ihr vierzigjähriges Ordensjubiläum auf den Spuren ihren Gründerin hier in Rom und des heiligeen Franziskus in Assisi begehen möchten.

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Unser aller dank darf ich dann den Kirchenchören aus der Diözese Würzburg bekunden für das Geschenk ihres Gesanges, an dem wir uns erfreuen konnten. Allen Pilgern, dieser Diözesanwallfahrt wünsche ich einen fruchtbaren Aufenthalt in Rom und eine sichere Heimkehr zu ihren Familien.

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Auch aus Österreich sind einige größere Gruppen unter uns: Ich nenne besonders die Pilgerfahrt der Katholischen Männerbewegung der Steiermark und die Jubiläumswallfahrt der Pfarrei Sankt Christoph in Wien. Mögen diese Tage an den Heiligen Stätten euren Glauben stärken und eure Liebe zur Kirche Christ vertiefen!

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Einen besonderen Glückwunsch  richte ich schließlich an die Jungen und Mädchen aus Südtirol, die einen Schülerwettbewerb des Südtiroler Landtages gewonnen haben und auf ihrer Romfahrt zusammen mit dem Präsidium des Landtages an dieser Audienz teilnehmen wollten.

Bevor ich euch nun verlasse und zu den Besuchergruppen andere Länder und Sprachen in die Audienzhalle hinübergehe, möchte ich euch alle meines Gebetes versichern und euch mit meinem Segen dem mächtigen Schutz Gottes, unseres barmherzigen aters, anempfehlen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

chers amis de langue française, en vous invitant à reconnaître dans le Christ le Verbe éternel, le Fils de Dieu, notre Sauveur, je vous encourage à approfondir votre expérience chrétienne, votre prière, votre témoignage évangélique, votre partage fraternel de l’amour qu'il nous donne. A tous, j’adresse mes vœux cordiaux et je prie le Seigneur de vous bénir.

Ai pellegrini e ai visitatori di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the group of young people from India who 1 have been participating in an international meeting at Taizé. I am also happy to greet the members of the International Women’s Movement of the GRAAL from Tanzania and Uganda.

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My cordiale greeting goes to a group of Anglicans and Presbyterians from Ireland. May your visit to this City made holy by the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul strengthen you in the faith of the Apostles and renew you in the work for Christian unity.

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I am very pleased to welcome to Rome the new seminarians 1 of the North American College. Dear young men: You have a special place in my thoughts and prayers, and I look to you with confidence. Your lives hold great promise for the future of the Church in the United States. May you remain always faithful, to the Lord who calls you to the challenging but immensely rewarding life of service to the Church. God bless you all. And upon all the visitors and pilgrims from English-speaking countries I invoke God’s blessings of peace and joy.

Ai numerosi fedeli giunti dalla Spagna e da diversi Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Con este mensaje, queridos peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, deseo daros mi más cordial bienvenida a este encuentro.

Pido a Dios, por intercesión de la Santísima Virgen María, en este Año Mariano, que vuestra venida a Roma, centro de la catolicidad, os confirme en vuestra fe en Jesús, nuestro Salvador, y os dé fuerzas para dar testimonio de ella en el mundo mediante la caridad, el amor, el servicio a los hermanos más necesitados.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de España y de los diversos países de América Latina, imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Serdecznie pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z archidiecezji gnieźnieńskiej; z Chełma koło Bochni, diecezja tarnowska; chór Liceum Ogólnokształcąscego w Knurowie; Schola Cantorum wracające z festiwalu w Arezzo; prócz tego grupę grotołazów z Dąbbrowy Górniczej oraz uczestników grup turystycznych PKS, Orbisu, Turysty i członków Towarzystwa Italia-Polonia z Warszawy . . . Niech Bóg błogosławi wszystkim uczestnikom dzisiejszej audiencji, a dla tych, którzy wracają z Arezzo z nagrodami, serdeczne gratulacje.

Ai giovani

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana e in particolare al gruppo dei ciclisti lodigiani venuti a Roma in bicicletta. Saluto poi tutti i giovani qui presenti specialmente gli studenti, ai quali desidero oggi dirigere una parola di incoraggiamento a riprendere con entusiasmo l’impegno del lavoro scolastico, dopo le vacanze estive. Il periodo dedicato allo studio è un tempo prezioso e unico per la formazione dell’intelligenza, della volontà e del cuore. Approfittatene con la vostra consueta generosità, e il Signore vi benedirà in abbondanza.

Agli ammalati

Il mio affettuoso benvenuto giunga anche a voi, Fratelli ammalati, qui venuti per dare in pubblico una testimonianza del valore della sofferenza ai fini della salvezza indicata dal Vangelo. L’offerta del dolore a Gesù ha, infatti, il valore di un’attività missionaria, perché vi permette di aiutare la Chiesa nella sua difficile e alta missione di diffondere nelle menti e nei cuori la verità e la vita di Cristo Salvatore. Vi ringrazio per questa partecipazione e vi benedico di cuore.

Agli sposi novelli

Infine, una parola di saluto a voi, sposi novelli, che, in questi primi giorni di vita in comune, sentite il bisogno d’invocare dal Signore la forza di camminare insieme per realizzare l’ideale della famiglia cristiana, nella condivisione delle speranze, delle preoccupazioni e dei dolori. Il matrimonio, santificato nel nome di Cristo, vissuto secondo la sua legge è, nonostante i sacrifici, sorgente feconda e inesauribile di gioia. Il Signore vi benedica largamente.

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