The Holy Bible is the Normative Icon of Christ

The Holy Bible is the Normative Icon of Christ April 29, 2010

The way many people read the Holy Bible is through the erroneous assumption that what is recorded within it, as it is understood in its simplest, most literal fashion, is how God intended the Holy Bible to be read. While it is easy to see the kinds of questions one can bring to this view, (what books are meant to be in the Holy Bible? do these books suggest this kind of interpretation? do we acknowledge this only for the originals, or does the rule also work when the Holy Bible is translated? et. al.), the Catholic understanding has always been more complex: the Bible, as a whole, is indeed the inspired Word of God, but this is because it is seen as the primary icon of Christ. It is to be read, therefore, in the way one reads an icon; and its status as word of God is because it is an iconographic derivation based upon the revelation of God’s truth through Christ.

An icon is symbolic, and it tells a story in symbolic form. What you see in its depiction does not resemble realistic art; it is, rather, written under its own symbolic rules. If you don’t understand them, you will not understand the icon. Its symbolic form leads it to appear unrealistic. To look at it as one would look at a realistic piece of art, looking for it to follow the dictates of such realism, will lead one to conclude that the icon is a poor piece of art. But the problem is that the demand upon the icon is what is truly unrealistic, for it expects art to imitate reality instead of depict it. In a similar way, we must understand that the Holy Bible, as an icon of Christ, is to be understood, not under the rules of positivistic science and its ideas of history, but under the aesthetic context which led it to be put together.

But as the Holy Bible is the central icon of Christ, we must not understand it as the only means we get to him. As the Word of God is the logos of all logoi, everything, in their own logos, reflects the Logos. In this way, everything, as being a logos of the Logos, can be seen as a book of God. This, for example, is how St Anthony the Great came to possess a great understanding about God. He did not own a Holy Bible, but he was able to get to know God, the author of nature, through nature:

A certain member of what was then considered the circle of the wise once approached the just Anthony and asked him: “How do you ever manage to carry on, Father, deprived as you are of the consolation of books?” His reply: “My book, sir philosopher, is the nature of created things, and it is always at hand when I wish to read the words of God.”[1]

While nature, if properly understood, can reveal something about God to us, we must also acknowledge that it requires much hermeneutic work from us to achieve such an end. There is much in nature, if improperly understood, that could lead us astray. What are we to make of the sheer brutality by which many animals survive? Is this what nature is about, the way God wants things to be? Are we really to fight one another to survive? If we do not think so when we encounter it in nature, why do we then believe it is the case when we open up the Holy Bible?

The key to reading nature is the same key to the reading the text of the Holy Bible: it is Jesus Christ. He is the final and only complete revelation of God the Father. All truths derive from him. The brutality of the world finds its place in him because he took it upon himself in his passion. But just as the passion ended, so must the brutality come to an end. The resurrected Christ brings to us the restoration of all things in him. He is the eschaton who has become immanent. In him, brutality is overwhelmed. It is under the mantle of the resurrection that the aesthetic icon of Christ, the Holy Bible, makes sense. Outside of the resurrection, outside of the immanent eschaton, the world and the Bible make no sense. Outside of the resurrection there is sheer brutality. To read the world in such brutality alone is the ultimate denial of Christ.


[1] Evagrius Ponticus, “The Praktikos” in The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer. trans. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 39.

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