Catholic Theology of Revelation

Thomas

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Catholic theology of revelation is grappling in a new way with the classical problems: Is revelation a present event or a memory of the past? Is it given exclusively to the biblical peoples or generally to all men? Does it come through a structured community or immediately from God? Can it be expressed in definite formulas or only in myths and symbols?

These questions are not new, but there is a new realization that the alternatives should not be presented as a simple either/or. Many would hold that revelation is an event today precisely because it is a memory of the past, and even more, perhaps, a hope for the future; that it is available to all men just because it is given in Christ alone; that it comes immediately from God insofar as it becomes actual in the church of God; that the dogmas are valid because they can be interpreted within a context of myth and symbol. By overcoming its own internal dilemmas, Catholic theology of revelation may be expected to assist in healing the divisions among Christians – divisions often brought about by a narrow and possessive understanding of a mystery too rich for comprehension and of a love which cannot be known except as that which surpasses knowledge (cf. Eph. 3: 19).

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REVELATION
Karl Rahner SJ, a theological heavyweight, argued that man as a spiritual being is essentially open to the possibility of a divine revelation, and that such a revelation, if it occurs, must come to him in the form of a divine “word” given within history. He focuses on the two-fold character of revelation as an ineffable experience of God and as a determinate message, and distinguishes between a transcendent, non-thematic aspect, consisting of the elevation of man’s intellectual horizons by an interior enlightenment, and a predicamental, thematic aspect, having a definite content which can be expressed in words and other objective signs.

Rahner stresses the necessity that the interior, gracious self-disclosure of God should be correctly translated (my emphasis) into human language in order that the revelation may work itself out in man's conscious life and become an effective principle of his concrete behaviour. Incorrect formulation of revelation threatens the reality of the salvific encounter itself.

He also argues that “unthematic” or “transcendental” revelation can express itself in the extra-biblical religions, which consequently play an effective role in the mediation of revelation and salvation for peoples who have not yet entered into a sufficient historical encounter with Christianity to recognize it as the definitive and universally valid self-manifestation of God.

INSPIRATION
Pierre Benoit OP (following Lagrange) set forth a theory of biblical inspiration solidly grounded in Thomistic psychology. Whereas Rahner approaches inspiration in the light of salvation history, Benoit treats of the psychodynamic faculty of the person.

Luis Alonso Schökel, SJ shows, on the basis of continental European linguistic philosophy and modern literary criticism, a view of the word as a medium through which God enters into communion with man, enables him to develop a flexible and nuanced doctrine of biblical inerrancy, or, as he might prefer to say, of biblical truth. The truth of Scripture, on his view, is not a simple matter of correspondence between statements and objective realities; it is primarily a presence of God imparting grace through his word.

THE WORD
Hans Urs von Balthasar calls upon the contemporary Christian to experience “the abyss of silence from which springs the Word of God” – which paradoxically unveils the Father who is silent in it. In several volumes of essays he ponders the mystery of how Christ, as God's Word, inundates us with his presence and lures us to follow him in his self-abnegation.

Von Balthasar has set about constructing what he calls a “theological aesthetic,” which aims to show how the Infinite has emerged from its ineffable transcendence so as to shine forth historically in the lives of Jesus and the saints.

MIRACLES AND SIGNS

Louis Monden SJ develops a dogmatic theology of the miracle as a sign and symbol, a dramatized word whereby God communicates with man, and discusses the apologetic value of miracles as evidences supporting the case for Catholic Christianity. While acknowledging that the decision to believe cannot be coerced by the evidences, and that the discernment of miracles depends upon subjective factors such as prudence and good will, Monden shows that the argument from miracles can still be presented in a very impressive way.

NORTH AMERICAN AUTHORS

Leslie Dewart, The Future of Belief, was unquestionably the most discussed Catholic theological work of the past year, although by no means the most widely acclaimed. In an utterly radical manner, Dewart argues that Christianity must be de-hellenized and de-ontologized in order to align itself with the experience of contemporary man. Revelation, in his view, must no longer be regarded as a message or a doctrine. It is an event that happens today, through God's present self-communication. Revelation was complete in the first century in the sense that the "new and eternal covenant" was established in Christ; but within the age of the incarnation, God's self-revelation, and the dogmas by which the human consciousness expresses it, continue to evolve. It they did not, Dewart argues, revelation would no longer be a reality, but simply a memory of the past. The Christian, from a standpoint within faith, experiences God as present, but not as an empirical fact. “It is always possible to look at the same facts and to find nothing but the absence of God”

The believing Christian must always conceptualize his experience, but he does not have to accept concepts formulated in the past, such as the scholastic notion of God as a supernatural Being. What is essential is that he should experience God as an expansive force impelling him to give and to serve.

Brother Gabriel Moran, F.S.C., has pointed out that the question whether all revelation is contained in the Bible cannot be answered until one has dealt with the prior questions of what revelation is and how any revelation is contained in the Bible. Following the general direction of contemporary European phenomenology, Moran holds that revelation is essentially "a personal union in knowledge between God and a participating subject in the revelational history of a community". Putting the accent on personal encounter, he tends toward a somewhat actualistic position, and evaluates the historical and doctrinal aspects of revelation almost entirely in terms of their power to contribute to a present existential communion with God. Having reached its unsurpassable fullness in the consciousness of the risen Christ, revelation continues to be given in the history of the church and of the world.

“The distinctive character of Judaic-Christian revelation is that God has left us no revelation,” Moran states. The Christian, therefore, should renounce the effort to deliver any message, whether dogmatic or biblical. “Other religions demand that men accept this or that thing. Christianity only invites men to accept themselves and their own freedom in a community with God.”

Moran's position is actually more nuanced than these isolated sentences would seem to suggest. He protests quite rightly against any tendency to look upon revelation as something in man's possession or at his disposal. He insists that our knowledge of God, especially within faith, is slippery and elusive. “God reveals and conceals himself in the naming of every truth. In the incarnation, God does not become obvious and comprehensible but, on the contrary, more paradoxical than ever before.”

While Moran's views seem at first sight incompatible with Rahner's evaluation of dogma as "thematized truth," the gulf is not so wide as one might think. Rahner maintains that dogma lives off mystery, the thematic off the unthematic. For him as for Moran, revelation does not adequately consist of the formulas and professions of faith that have won approval in the community. Indeed, the formulas are not revelation at all unless they are seen against the horizons of a spirit which is tending into the unfathomable mystery we call God.

Thomas
 
Fabulous post Thomas! So much here to ponder. I need to disect and think about this. I really like this:
The believing Christian must always conceptualize his experience, but he does not have to accept concepts formulated in the past, such as the scholastic notion of God as a supernatural Being. What is essential is that he should experience God as an expansive force impelling him to give and to serve.

I want to ask you about this:
Leslie Dewart, The Future of Belief, was unquestionably the most discussed Catholic theological work of the past year, although by no means the most widely acclaimed. In an utterly radical manner, Dewart argues that Christianity must be de-hellenized and de-ontologized in order to align itself with the experience of contemporary man. Revelation, in his view, must no longer be regarded as a message or a doctrine.

Could you expand on this, Thomas?

Chris
 
Hi Chris -

This is one of a series of posts on modern Catholic theology I hope to post to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is far from the view many hold of a society stuck firmly in the past. I should have put the link from which I drew this data, although there is little further explanation available there.

As I understand it, Dewart sees 'experience' - humans experience, as reflexive - different from experience as animals experience, without that capacity for reflection.

Animals experience what they experience.

Humans experience what they feel/think about what they experience.

Therefore the philosophical human needs to be conscious of how his thinking is shaped, and how that shapes his experience.

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Catholic theology is in continuous change, sometimes slow and sometimes rapid, but always an evolving dialogue with the cultural 'moment' - but what society reacts against is the Catholic refusal to accept the latest or current moment as a good or necessary thing. The function of theology is to express the meaning of religious experience, including the experience of "revelation," within each new cultural-historical situation and in the categories which that situation creates, but, that does not mean the church is obliged to accept the cultural norm as absolutely the case ... faith can never be explained by post-modern philosophy as anything other than superstition ... what annoys culture about religion is that religion says "I don't buy it' of the cultural message, and usually for good reason.

Vatican I's rejection of 'modernism' towards the end of the 19th century seems remarkably prescient in some eyes - as we're still in pursuit of that chimera called 'progress' which promised to set us all free.

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'Theology' is the authentic formulation, within a social and historical context, of the datum of Revelation, those eternal and absolute truths which the Catholic holds to be founded in Scripture and Tradition. Theology seeks to say the same thing in a new way - not, however, to pander to the culture's hunger for novelty and invention, but to address the permanent and primordial questions that man needs to address in every age.

Dewart argues that the normative forms of Christian theology presuppose the Greek definitions of both " reality" and "truth." This is true, my Course Director offered "Catholicism has a two-fold heritage - Salvation History in the Hebrew Tradition, and philosophical reflection in the Greek." I would argue that most post-reformation denominations gave up philosophical reflection and stuck to materialism and dogma.

Plato laid the foundations for the Fathers of the early church, and Aristotle was simply 'The Master' in the mind of that giant of scholasticism, St Thomas Aquinas.

The modern world however has seen the progressive dehellenization of western thought. This led eventually, according to Dewart, to a dead end in the thought of the Enlightenment, in depicting the mind as trapped in its own solipsistic circle where it seeks in vain for grounds on which to affirm the existence of realities beyond itself.

'Dewart looks towards a post- or meta-metaphysical age in which Christianity renounces the metaphysical notion of God in favor of a metametaphysical concept of deity. This, of course, is hinted at but not worked out ... God is "the reality beyond being" - although the idea of 'beyond-being' is not, in my mind, post-hellenic, and in fact has been on the lips of theologians for centuries.

"Religious experience ... does not reveal a transcendent being: what it reveals is that being exists in the presence of a reality which transcends it. This approach means "that God is not a being; it means that he may be found in being, but only as other-than-being; it means that he may be found only as present to being and as manifesting himself in the reality of being". Faith is "the transcendent, future-tensional, truth-orientational, projective dimension of experience".'

Quite how and why an abandonment of Greek philosophy is required, however, demands further research on my part. My view of 'contemporary man' is someone still paddling away up a narrowing creek ... but that's me.

"Revelation, in his view, must no longer be regarded as a message or a doctrine."

Unfortunately I'm trying to find out what it should be regarded as - although I can, I think, see some notion of revelation as 'not a message from a big being to a little being' but something far more dynamic.

The prologue of Dei Verbum, the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation, quotes St John "We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us." - Two questions - how does the apostle see 'life' and, how do we view that 'life' outside the contingent aspects of the Incarnation - especially when the 'lfe' in question refers not only to the Incarnate Word but also to us?

DV goes on to say "In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9)" – this says that God can be known objectively (Himself), and also subjectively (His will) - the 'hidden purpose' of which cannot be an object, nor is it an object, but a knowing - a knowing albeit 'through a glass and darkly' - it's worth recalling that a glass in the days of St Paul was polished metal - you didn't see through it, you saw a reflection in it ...

... where some astounding theological speculation has, and is still, going on, in in the area of 'inspiration', and quite what that is, and how it works ... the RC church is not longer saying flatly that 'God is the author of Scripture' or that 'all Scripture is true' - but that God inspired men to write/compose scripture, and Scripture carries within it truth 'with no admixture of error', that is in its formal aspect Scripture is Truth, whilst in its material aspect there can be error ... staggering stuff.

... but sorry Chris, I'm starting to ramble ...

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Theology Today - Vol 27, No. 1 - April 1970 - BOOK REVIEW - The Foundations of Belief

Thomas
 
Thank you for some interesting posts Thomas. :)

Is this like...the river is always the same river even though the water is constantly changing?

Or something like that? :)

luna
 
Thank you for some interesting posts Thomas. :)

Is this like...the river is always the same river even though the water is constantly changing?

Or something like that? :)

luna

More like water is always water, even though the riverbed might change. ;)
 
Hi Thomas!

Thank you for your excellent post! I'm sorry that I left my end hanging, but I've been wrapped up in the recent political goings on, and I haven't been feeling well to boot.

The function of theology is to express the meaning of religious experience, including the experience of "revelation," within each new cultural-historical situation and in the categories which that situation creates, but, that does not mean the church is obliged to accept the cultural norm as absolutely the case ...

'Theology' is the authentic formulation, within a social and historical context, of the datum of Revelation, those eternal and absolute truths which the Catholic holds to be founded in Scripture and Tradition. Theology seeks to say the same thing in a new way - not, however, to pander to the culture's hunger for novelty and invention, but to address the permanent and primordial questions that man needs to address in every age.
I understand and accept this.

Plato laid the foundations for the Fathers of the early church, and Aristotle was simply 'The Master' in the mind of that giant of scholasticism, St Thomas Aquinas.

The modern world however has seen the progressive dehellenization of western thought. This led eventually, according to Dewart, to a dead end in the thought of the Enlightenment, in depicting the mind as trapped in its own solipsistic circle where it seeks in vain for grounds on which to affirm the existence of realities beyond itself.

He's talking about Descartes, I get that. It seems to me that Dewart is implying that hellenistic thought degenerated toward humanism until it arrived at the dead end in the "enlightenment", rather than evolving beyond, and leaving behind the Platonic and Aristotellian philosphy on which it was founded. So what remains is the anachronistic shell of Greek philosphy, which should have been shed like dead skin long ago. We're left with a false dichotomy between rationalism and the corpse of hellenist philosophy. Is that anywhere close to how you see it?

'Dewart looks towards a post- or meta-metaphysical age in which Christianity renounces the metaphysical notion of God in favor of a metametaphysical concept of deity. This, of course, is hinted at but not worked out ... God is "the reality beyond being" - although the idea of 'beyond-being' is not, in my mind, post-hellenic, and in fact has been on the lips of theologians for centuries.

"Religious experience ... does not reveal a transcendent being: what it reveals is that being exists in the presence of a reality which transcends it. This approach means "that God is not a being; it means that he may be found in being, but only as other-than-being; it means that he may be found only as present to being and as manifesting himself in the reality of being". Faith is "the transcendent, future-tensional, truth-orientational, projective dimension of experience".'
This is exactly where I'm at in my philosophical mind. I thought I was an atheist because I reject God as a "being." But the reason is that I can't conceive of limiting God to any anthropomorphic mental construct. You know, I keep thinking of the kabbalistic model. Above Kether there are the Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur. Which implies that even beyond these three inconceivable, imaginary levels, there exists God. I don't mind using a more approachable model to contemplate the Divine, but I refuse to put a cap on what IT is of itself. Unfortunately for me, that makes it nearly impossible for me to explain some of my deeper thoughts on the subject, and results in me sounding like I don't believe in anything. I just don't believe in the ultimate value limits and labels. Maybe Dewart and others has the same problem.

... where some astounding theological speculation has, and is still, going on, in in the area of 'inspiration', and quite what that is, and how it works ... the RC church is not longer saying flatly that 'God is the author of Scripture' or that 'all Scripture is true' - but that God inspired men to write/compose scripture, and Scripture carries within it truth 'with no admixture of error', that is in its formal aspect Scripture is Truth, whilst in its material aspect there can be error ... staggering stuff.
This is where I'm evolving to as well. The revelation is constant, but we're not Greeks or ancient Hebrews, therefore, if we can't receive the revelation as it is proposed for our time we're stuck in a moldy, moribund anachronism.

Chris
 
well, I thought the revelation, john divine's one, was a revelation given to his in a dream... in my opinion, the revelation is not a future prophesy, or an old legend, and I feel that to understand the revelation, one has to look at the period of history the John lived in, and go from there... maybe u intellectuals are talking about some other revelation? enlighten me, if so, pls
 
Hi Francis -

Yes, I am talking of Scripture as a whole as Revelation, rather than of a specific book or revelation therein.

and I feel that to understand the revelation, one has to look at the period of history the John lived in, and go from there...

That's the Catholic stand, too. The Revelation of St John was written to encourage a community that was entering a time of trial - one of the intermittent persecutions the early communities suffered - and as such over half its verses are directly drawn from Old Testament works, notably Daniel, which were likewise written to give heart to the community in their sufferings.

The modernist interpretation of the Book of Revelations is, therefore, making too much of the symbolism, interpreting it to suit its own time. In a way this is understandable, and even acceptable, and if the Christian draws strength from its faith in their own trials, then the author is vindicated. But to say that 'this' refers precisely to 'that' - that the author was writing about future events which are taking place now, is to miss the point. In that sense the book is offered to all peoples in all times, to draw strength to face the world.

Hope that helps,

Thomas
 
Hi Chris -

This is where I'm evolving to as well. The revelation is constant, but we're not Greeks or ancient Hebrews, therefore, if we can't receive the revelation as it is proposed for our time we're stuck in a moldy, moribund anachronism.

Careful, friend, you'll end up Catholic.

Vatican II is an inspired response to the stultifying post-enlightenment scholasticism that marked the theology of the 19/20th century, and out of it came the Ressourcement movement in Europe, a 'return to the source'.

This was not a traditionalist/conservative attempt to turn back the clock, but quite the opposite, to escape the moribund state of post-enlightenment thinking by revitalising at the springs from with the Fathers drank.

Aside: I have spoken to philosophers who were at college in the 60's and earlier, who speak of the dreadfully dry 'dead-letter' methodology as they attempted to wrangle with a philosophy in denial of God. Von Balthasar, that giant of theologians, used to sit through such lectures, head clasped in his hands, which all assumed was a state of intent listening to the lecturer. In fact he's smuggled Greeks texts into the lecture room, and like a schoolboy reading a comic, was ploughing through the Greek Fathers!

We're left with a false dichotomy between rationalism and the corpse of hellenist philosophy. Is that anywhere close to how you see it?

Yes, but perhaps we differ in method? I lay the falsehood squarely at rationalism's door for its insistance that its methodology is the only viable treatment of philosophy.

I don't think Plato or Aristotle have had their day, there's life in those old dogs yet! What is needed is a proper synthesis of our philosophical heritage and modern scientific method. That's where a lot of Catholic Theology (as well as secular philosophy) is today, rather than the assumption that Dewart is saying we should dump it wholesale.

This approach means "that God is not a being; it means that he may be found in being, but only as other-than-being; it means that he may be found only as present to being and as manifesting himself in the reality of being".

This is where, as a 'Christian Platonist' to whom the idea of 'beyond-being' is not contra to historical philosophy, nor to the Christian mystcian tradition. I see no dichotomy between Dewartian(?) theology and Christianised Hellenic philosophy (but I have not read all of Dewart).

I think if we were to both meditate on our understanding of that phrase, we'd get a lot of mileage out of it, and more alike than unalike, too.

I'm currently deep in the study of OT Scripture. Catholics are, traditionally, very bad at bible study – "The Protestants have the Bible, we have the Church" – but this is a real eye-opener for me. The Vatican II notions of 'revelation' 'inspiration' and 'author' of Scripture are very nuanced and quite profound. A phrase I am struck with currently is that Scripture is the 'self-expression of the faith community' in which God has Revealed Himself as intervening in the affairs of human history, as human history is a journey to understand God stripped of every 'graven image'.

No doubt we'd get stuck on semantics here, but in defence I'd say that not every man can invest his faith, his will and his being in what he perceives as an abstract concept - theological discussions with my mum always reach that point when it all becomes too abstract for her, and consequently less tangible, less real – and God speaks to all men, not an aesthetic few. For me it was different. I found it so much easier to assent to the transcendentals of philosophy, to metaphysics and ontology, than to the notion of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild...'

Not to get sidetracked, however - we're essentially talking apophatic and cataphatic theology – and both are contained harmoniously within orthodoxy.

To paraphrase something I read recently of God "Do you believe that I, who created the eye, who laid out the panorama of the heavens, cannot see? That I, who put language upon the tongues of men, cannot then converse with them? That I, who created the child that reaches out to its mother's smile, cannot feel?"

Then again, you could read that and think, 'oh, you silly, sentimental old sausage!'

Thomas
 
Thomas,

Thank you for your kind reply!

I don't think Plato or Aristotle have had their day, there's life in those old dogs yet! What is needed is a proper synthesis of our philosophical heritage and modern scientific method. That's where a lot of Catholic Theology (as well as secular philosophy) is today, rather than the assumption that Dewart is saying we should dump it wholesale.

Good, because that's what I was getting a little confused about. And I agree entirely! I think the key is to rediscover and embrace our western philosophical heritage. I don't discount the value of eastern thought, but I think the current push toward universal syncretism has the effect of muddying the waters. The result isn't clarity, but a gooey casserole of half cooked elements stripped of their essential nutritional value.

Careful, friend, you'll end up Catholic.

Haaaaaaaa! Maybe I'm already a Catholic and just didn't know it! If you knew how steeped in anti-catholic Protestant fundamentalism my religious background is you'd be cackling too!:)

Thanks again! I read your Elements of Catholic Theology thread OP. Also excellent stuff! Gives me a whole new perspective on the viability of Christian thought that I didn't know existed.

Chris
 
I think the key is to rediscover and embrace our western philosophical heritage.
Pope Benedict bangs on about that all the time, orthodoxy feels that post-modern relativism is a betrayal of that heritage.

( ... that's what he was talking about for over 90 minutes to a university audience when the BBC stripped a 500-year-old comment out of his entire speech, and posted it to every Moslem news agency they could ... so much for 'balanced reporting' ... in fact the Board of the BBC has been obliged to admit an anti-Christian tendency operating within the BBC. I used to think my Catholic friends were being somewhat over-dramatic when complaining about the media ... )

I don't discount the value of eastern thought, but I think the current push toward universal syncretism has the effect of muddying the waters. The result isn't clarity, but a gooey casserole of half cooked elements stripped of their essential nutritional value.
Absolutely. In fact after our last exchange, I was thinking of posting something along the line of philosophy-epistemology-hermeneutic - how a text has to be read in the light of all three, and interpreting one text by another, whilst ignoring the underlying epistemology/hermeneutic, usually results in something that looks superficially profound, but is actually based on nothing of any real meaning.

Like those who insist that Meister Eckhart is a 'Zen Christian' - this is the man was going round Europe reforming spiritual houses that had got a bit slack in their theology. His works are drawn from lectures to Dominican philosophy students, so they're somewhat 'out there' - but that does not mean for a minute he did not uphold the basic tenets of the Creed, he just assumed that a Dominican monk ought to have the basics under his belt.

Comparison - that's another kettle. And we Catholics acknowledge the authentic truth present in other spiritualities, although to balance that out, we do refer to them as 'natural religions' and our own as 'supernatural religion'.

Anyone fancy comparing the 'negative theology' of Plotinus to the 'negative theology' of Dionysius the Areopagite?

Haaaaaaaa! Maybe I'm already a Catholic and just didn't know it!

You and everyone else!!!

Seriously, not that I'm trying to convert you or anything, but the trick is to find a source that 'speaks my language' - he/they open up the faith of the rest, I think. That's my experience, anyway.

Have you heard of Bernard Lonergan? He was a Canadian Jesuit Philosopher (d. 1984), we touched on his stuff (in philosophy, without a lifetime, that's about as best as one can manage) - it's fundamental to the Catholic philosophical response to Post-Modernism.

BTW - most of the course books on OT and Biblical scholarship are by Protestant authors. Your guys really went to town! Ours got cold feet and kept their heads down!

I shall keep posting these theological snippets as they come along. The intention was to show that Catholic thought hasn't had its head in the sand for the last few hundred years ... like the current view of the trace of Platonism in Aquinas, long declared by many a dyed-in-the-wool Aristotelian!
In the Summa he quotes Dionysius the Areopagite and Augustine often - both Platonists. And the Catechism quotes Augustine more than any other after Scripture itself!

BTW Dei Verbum, the Catholic Constitutional Document on Revelation, is a real work of art, and almost fifty years after it was written it's being said that theologians have yet to get to grips with the implications...

Thomas
 
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