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In the years preceding the Protestant Reformation, the early humanist scholar, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, was deeply engaged in a project of translation that would be published just one year before Luther drew up his famous ninety-five theses and nailed them to the door of the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg. Following a fundamental tenet of the humanist movement, Erasmus had undertaken a systematic examination and new Latin translation of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The translation was destined to update and replace the more than one thousand year-old Vulgate of St. Jerome. Arriving at the Gospel of John, Erasmus made an unconventional but telling translation of the opening words of John’s first chapter. Instead of the conventional translation of John’s Greek into the Latin—In principio erat Verbum, Erasmus translated instead—In principio erat Sermo.3 John’s gospel, according to Erasmus, thus opens not with, “In the beginning was the Word,” but rather, “In the beginning was the Conversation.” The shift is subtle, yet it modifies centuries of traditional assumptions and consequent theology. As this essay will demonstrate, it has profound implications, not only for the creation and the process of the very “coming into being” of the world, but also for prayer.
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