VATICAN CITY, OCT. 31, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.
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1. “Truly with you God is hidden” (Isaiah 45:15). This verse, which introduces the hymn proposed for lauds on Friday of the first week of the Psalter, is taken from a meditation of the Deutero-Isaiah on the greatness of God manifested in creation and in history: a God who reveals himself, although remaining hidden in the impenetrability of his mystery. By definition, he is the “Deus absconditus.” No thought can encompass him. Man can only contemplate his presence, prostrating himself in adoration and praise, by discerning his imprint in the universe.
The historical background from which this meditation stems is that of the amazing deliverance that God wrought for his people, at the time of the Babylonian exile. Who would ever have thought that the exiled from Israel would be able to return to their homeland? Considering the power of Babylon, they could only have despaired. Yet, the great announcement, the surprise of God, then came, which vibrates in the words of the prophet: As at the time of the Exodus, God will intervene. And if he then broke the resistance of Pharaoh with tremendous punishments, he now chooses a king, Cyrus of Persia, to defeat the power of Babylon and restore liberty to Israel.
2. “Truly with you God is hidden, the God of Israel, the savior” (Isaiah 45:15). With these words, the prophet invites us to realize that God intervenes in history, even if it is not immediately apparent. It might be said that he is “behind the scenes.” He is the mysterious and invisible director who respects the liberty of his creatures, but at the same time holds the thread of the world´s events. The certainty of the providential action of God is a source of hope for the believer, who knows he can count on the constant presence of him, “maker of the earth who established it” (Isaiah 45:18).
In fact, the creative act is not an episode that is lost in the night of time, as if the world, after that beginning, should consider itself abandoned to itself. God constantly brings into being the creation that came from his hands. To acknowledge it is also to confess his uniqueness: “Was it not I, the Lord, besides whom there is no other God?” (Isaiah 45:21). By definition, God is the only One. Nothing can compare to him. Everything is subordinated to him. From here stems the repudiation of idolatry, for which the prophet pronounces severe words: “They are without knowledge who bear wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save” (Isaiah 45:20). How can one adore a product of man?
3. This debate might seem exaggerated to our sensibility today, as if aimed at the images themselves, without realizing that a symbolic value can be attributed to them, compatible with the spiritual adoration of the one God. Certainly, what is involved here is the wise divine pedagogy that, through the rigid discipline of exclusion of images, historically protected Israel from polytheistic contamination. The Church, basing itself on the face of God manifested in the incarnation of Christ, recognized in the Second Council of Nicaea (year 787) the possibility of using sacred images, so long as they are understood in their essentially relational values.
However, the importance of this prophetic warning remains in confronting all forms of idolatry, which are often not hidden in the improper use of images, but in the attitudes with which men and things are considered as absolute values, to the point of substituting God himself.
4. From the effusion of creation, the hymn takes us to the terrain of history, where Israel was able to experience so many times the beneficial and merciful power of God, his fidelity and his providence. In particular, the love of God for his people was manifested again in the deliverance from exile, and this occurred in such a revealing and surprising way, that the prophet calls as witnesses the “survivors of the nations” themselves. He invites them to debate, if they can: “Come and assemble, gather together, you fugitives from among the gentiles” (Isaiah 45:20). The prophet comes to the conclusion that the intervention of the God of Israel is indisputable.
Then a magnificent universal prospect emerges. God proclaims: “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22). So it becomes clear that the predilection with which God has chosen Israel as his people is not an act of exclusion but, rather, an act of love from which the whole of humanity is destined to benefit.
Thus, that “sacramental” concept of the history of salvation is already outlined in the Old Testament, which does not see in the special election of the children of Abraham, and later of the disciples of Christ in the Church, a privilege that “closes” and “excludes,” but the sign and instrument of a universal love.
5. The invitation to adoration and the offer of salvation is directed to all peoples: “To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). To read these words from a Christian perspective means to go in thought to the full revelation of the New Testament, which points out in Christ “the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9), so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Through this hymn, our morning praise expands to the dimensions of the universe, and also gives voice to all those who have not had the grace to know Christ. It is a praise that becomes “missionary,” driving us to go everywhere proclaiming that God has manifested himself in Jesus as the Savior of the world.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave this short summary in English.]
In our catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours we are considering the canticle of the Book of Isaiah which begins with the exclamation: “Truly you are a hidden God!” (Is 45:15). The canticle speaks of the mysterious grandeur of God who created the world and guides the course of human history. The Prophet invites Israel to see in God’s hidden presence and power a call to renewed faith and a summons to reject every form of idolatry. Israel’s return from the Exile is presented not only as a proof of God’s faithful love for his Chosen People, but also as a sign of his universal power and his love for all the peoples of the earth. This mystery of love continues and finds its fullest expression in the mystery of Christ and the Church. In the Liturgy we sing Isaiah’s canticle with gratitude for God’s love revealed in Christ, and we renew our commitment to proclaim that love to the ends of the earth.
I offer a warm welcome to the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. May your studies near the tombs of the Apostles deepen your love of the Lord and enrich your ministry to his people. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
[Original text: English; distributed by Vatican Press Office]