In the beginning was the Tao (道)

太初有道,與天主偕。道即天主。

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum.

John 1:1

I’m very amazed that the Chinese translation for logos/verbum (The Word) is Tao (道).

According to Lao Tzu (老子):

有物混成,先天地生。寂兮寥兮,獨立不改,周行而不殆,可以為天下母。吾不知其名,字之曰道,強為之名曰大。大曰逝,逝曰遠,遠曰反。故道大,天大,地大,王亦大。域中有四大,而王居其一焉。人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。

There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things. I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Dao (the Way or Course). Making an effort (further) to give it a name I call it The Great. Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore the Dao is great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also great. In the universe there are four that are great, and the (sage) king is one of them. Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Dao. The law of the Dao is its being what it is.

Lao Tzu (老子), Tao Te Ching (道德經), n.25. Translation by James Legge (1891).

The first Christians that undertook the task of translating the Scripture into Chinese (one of them, being John Wu) saw this parallel between Taoist philosophy (not the religion) and Christianity.

This reminds me a lot of the account in Acts 17:16-34, where there was an altar dedicated to “The Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). (Some scholars believe that it was Socrates himself who built that altar)

Like the men of Athens, the Chinese understood there was some supernatural being that was the First Cause, the Prime Mover, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. To which they call the Tao (道). As they had not received Divine Revelation, the Tao (道) was perceived as an impersonal being.

But what the Taoist philosophers had sought to understand and communicate with – the Tao (道) – is The Word, The Logos – The Second Person of the Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings to mind a quote from the Second Vatican Council:

Whatever good or truth is found amongst them (the unbaptised) is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.

Lumen Gentium, n.16

And just above that line:

Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.

Lumen Gentium, n.16

In the beginning was the Tao (道)…