Seeds of the Word

Seeds of the Word—translated from the Greek spermatikos logos (σπερματικός λόγος)—is the title and subject of this short film which introduces viewers to the titular concept and the artist’s own search for such “seeds” in various biblical and pre-Christian pagan wisdom literatures. Spanning seven sources (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, the Book of Wisdom, the Analects, the Tao Te Ching, and Euthydemus) and sharing forty findings (twelve of which are presented in the film), viewers are given to notice the remarkably Christian character of each excerpt, wholly in spite of the diversity of their origins. 

The meaning of the film is thus: that true fortune is wisdom, all wisdom is from God, and God, by His grace and mercy, gives a measure of it to everyone, in every place and at all times, according to their capacity. The fullness of wisdom, however, is to be found in the Christian faith alone, by which all traditions can be measured. And ultimately, all wisdom leads to salvation and is embodied by the Savior, for “Christ is the power and the wisdom of God” (2 Cor. 1:24) “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

This enigma was understood by St. Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist born in Rome around the time the Evangelist John wrote his Gospel (c. 100). A professional Hellenic philosopher, St. Justin was converted to Christ after encountering the simple faith of an old believer; this believer convinced him that the testimony of the prophets was superior to the reasoning of philosophers. Justin henceforth dedicated his life to the teaching of Christianity as the “true philosophy.” But instead of rejecting everything he knew before, he Christianized it, professing before the Emperor of Rome and everyone with ears to hear the true philosophy and the very theme of this film: that seeds of the Word—i.e. the Word of God, Jesus Christ—may be found both within and outside of the Christian tradition. (For this, the great saint was beheaded.) An excerpt from St. Justin’s address to the Roman Senate, called Second Apology (c. 150), exposits this theme:

 “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians…  For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them. For the seed and imitation imparted according to capacity is one thing, and quite another is the thing itself, of which there is the participation and imitation according to the grace which is from Him.”

The following slide presents a picture of a large, pyramidal pile of fortune cookies; it is one of innumerable iterations of a famous artwork by Felix Gonzales-Torres titled Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner), 1990. It must be mentioned that this film is a “parody” of the Gonzales-Torres piece (for legal reasons), albeit in good faith, as it is also a “parody” of fortune cookies in general. The image is helpful for connecting the idea of fortune with wisdom and the trite and mundane with the essential and divine. While the pyramid presents a heavenward orientation, the triangular shape alludes to the trinity, and its enormous size (comprising approximately 10,000 cookies) symbolizes the ubiquity, universality, and unity of the seeds of the Word. As the Son of Man subverts our earthly expectations and literal understandings with heavenly realities and spiritual knowledge, so this film attempts to imitate the Savior by using “low art” as a vehicle for exalted truth.

Then the first of the “fortunes”—from Plato’s dialogue Euthydemus—is presented to establish the theme of true fortune as wisdom.

When wisdom is present, he with whom it is present has no need of good fortune.

The remaining eleven alternate between biblical and pagan sources. To those of us who accept the Christian faith, biblical proverbs need no justification, for St. Paul affirms their “God-breathed” nature (2 Tim. 3:16). But what about wisdom from non-biblical sources? If all wisdom is from God (Prov. 2:6), can we affirm that even pagan sayings can be God-breathed? When Lao Tzu teaches his followers to “Repay injury with kindness” (1:49), is this not the same as Christ’s teaching his flock to “love your enemies” (Mt. 5:44)? When Confucius said, “All that the Master teaches amounts to nothing more than dutifulness tempered by understanding” (1:08), could he not have been speaking of the Good Shepherd Himself? Seeds of the Word invites viewers to think of all true wisdom in this way—as the firstfruits of the world’s traditions—beginning with these.