Epiphany: God’s Marvelous (contra)Diction

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany which, in our Latin Rite liturgy, celebrates the coming of the Magi from the East to honor the newborn King whose birth is signaled by the rising of a “new” star in the heavens. Pope Benedict once pointed out that while in the ancient astrological worldview the stars, emblems of Fate, determined human destiny, in St. Matthew’s Gospel it is the Child-King who guides the star. This, he said, “implies that the entire cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state.”

St. John’s Gospel makes the same cosmological point about this Child in the first three verses of his Prologue:

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.

St. John continues his Prologue by telling us that the same creator-Word, through whom the starry cosmos sprang into being, came in time to abide in this same cosmos:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. — John 1:14

I always loved the fact that Greek word John uses, that is often rendered as “dwelt among us,” eskēnōsen, literally means “tented” among us. So marvelously intimate, nomadic and, well, human. Appropriate for a descendant of Abraham the “dweller in tents” (cf Hebrews 11:9), for a desert God who sojourned with Israel in a tent (cf Numbers 9:17), and for a God who makes His own the name עִמָּנוּאֵל, Imanu’el, “God-with-us.” Pope Benedict, again, sheds light for us on this elegant truth by introducing us to a striking image used by second century Father of the Church, St. Irenaeus:

Here too there is a very beautiful central idea of St Irenaeus: We must get used to perceiving God. God is generally remote from our lives, from our ideas, from our actions. He has come to us and we must accustom ourselves to being with God. And Irenaeus dares boldly to say that God must also accustom himself to being with us and within us. And that God should perhaps accompany us at Christmas, should accustom us to God, just as God should accustom himself to us, to our poverty and frailty. Hence the coming of the Lord can have no other purpose than to teach us to see and love events, the world, and all that surrounds us with God’s own eyes. The Word-become-a-Child helps us to understand God’s way of acting so that we will be able to let ourselves be transformed increasingly by his goodness and his infinite mercy.


As I reflected on what it might mean for God to see the world through a child’s eyes, one thing immediately came to mind as I thought about my own children: their ability to forgive and forget the sins and stupidities of adults and to trust again. Then, as I prayed that over, a story of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque sprang into my memory. After receiving a number of vision of Christ, she told her confessor about them. In a prudence typical of that ages past, he suspected the visions were delusions and so gave her some discerning questions to ask the Vision in order to determine its source. When she recounted all of Christ’s replies, he was still not convinced. He told her to go back and ask, “What sins did I confess yesterday?” She did as he asked, but returned to the confessor confused. “What did he say?” the confessor asked. She replied, “He told me he did not know your sins. He has forgotten.”

I not only find this story beautiful to the extreme, but also theologically wild. Omniscience hemmed in! How? Why? The All-Knowing places the “All” of His knowledge in service to the unsurpassable splendor of His supreme attribute of love-healing-evil, i.e. mercy. Can a forgetting omniscient God suffer such inner contradictions? Again, Pope Benedict XVI (in a quote worthy of my overuse of it):

God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

For God, knowledge without love is the real contradiction.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Cor. 8:1

What an epiphany! What a God we meet in Jesus! Wild, tenting, with-us, and who loves to know us. I feel the same way about Him.

“Epiphany,” Giotto di Bondone, 1295 – 1337, taken from allart.biz

6 comments on “Epiphany: God’s Marvelous (contra)Diction

  1. Kathy says:

    Omniscience hemmed in. Beautiful. Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

  2. Jennifer Eileen says:

    What a beautiful and powerful insight from St. Iranaeus and Pope Benedict. Thank you for sharing and reflecting so eloquently on this feast. It is a great gift that you are giving all of your readers to let us ponder these great things through the fllter of your encyclopedic reflections! Blessings to you and yours.

  3. marble says:

    Thank you for your return this Christmas season. I have so appreciated your writings, illuminating the various feast and saint days that make up this time. I had fallen into seeing Christmas Day as the end of the season instead of the beginning….

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