What Kind of Beginning?

Christmas Tuesday

John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word.”

What kind of a beginning does Moses mean when he says in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth”? It is the beginning when the creatures began their existence. There had been previously no other beginning; for God did not begin to exist but is eternal. It follows, then, that the Word is eternal as well, since he did not begin in the beginning, but already was in the beginning, as John here says. He did not begin, but when all things began, he already was. And his existence did not begin but he was present when the existence of all things began. How carefully the evangelist speaks: He does not say: “In the beginning, the Word came into existence,” but says, “He was there” and did not first come into existence. He had a different origin of his existence than coming into existence or beginning. Additionally, John says, “In the beginning.” If the Word had been made before the world, as the Arians want it, he would not have existed in the beginning, but would have been the beginning itself. But now John’s words are firm and clear: “In the beginning was the Word,” and he was not the beginning. Where did John get such words? From Moses, as has been said, in Genesis 1:3: “God said, “Let there be light.”” From this verse follows manifestly what John writes, “In the beginning was the Word.” For when God spoke, a Word must have been there. Thus, since he spoke the Word in the beginning, when the creatures had their beginning, the Word already was in the beginning and did not have its beginning with the creatures. But why does he not say: “Before the beginning was the Word?” That would have been clearer than it appears now, as St. Paul often says, “before the creation of the world,” etc. Answer: Because being in the beginning is the same as being before the beginning since one evidently follows from the other. Moreover, St. John, as an evangelist, wanted to agree with Moses’s Scripture and open it up, thereby showing his foundation. This would have been less clear, if he had said, “Before the beginning.” For Moses does not say anything about what was before the beginning, but describes the Word in the beginning in order to describe all the more the creation made by means of the Word. For the same reason, the evangelist calls him a Word, although he could have called him Light, Life, or something else, as he does later on; for Moses writes about a Word. Thus, “having no beginning” and “being in the beginning” are the same as “being before the beginning.” But if the Word was supposed to be only in the beginning but not before the beginning, the Word would have had to have begun before the beginning. That would have been a contradiction, as then the beginning would not have been the beginning. This is why St. John puts it here masterfully, “In the beginning was the Word,” thereby indicating that the Word did not have a beginning and was, thus, necessarily before the beginning, that is, eternal.

St. Louis ed., 11:160-161.

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