Monday, January 18, 2010

Divine Revelation: Introduction

The word ‘revelation’ comes from the verb reveal from the Latin revēlāre ‘to unveil’ what is hidden. God has not allowed his presence to remain hidden. It was his eternal desire to reveal himself and his plan of salvation to us.
St. John notes, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:18). The constant desire of the Old Testament saints was to “see the face of God.”[1] Although God chose to reveal himself through both words and deeds to the people he chose for himself, our finite ability to comprehend God leaves this knowledge in a state of mystery. We can only know God by analogy. God is like the very best loving father, he is like a young groom in love with his bride. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God has communicated his truth and holiness to us by means of a wonderful “condescension” of the Eternal Wisdom.[2] God has adapted his speech to our needs so that we can know Him. As the Fathers of Second Vatican Council note: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men” (Dei Verbum, 13).
We can also seek to know God through creation, especially in the human person which is a reflection of the image of God. The apostle Paul notes, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what has been made. As a result, they have not excuse.” (Romans 1:20). God as creator leaves his mark on his creatures and through this mark we can learn something of God’s existence. God’s revelation through creation is called natural revelation (CCC 27-49, DV 3). We hold as a matter of faith that it is possible to know God through this type of revelation.[3]
Although God does reveal things about himself through his creation he has also directly revealed himself through words and deeds in history. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our record of this activity is found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. To distinguish this activity from natural revelation we call this special revelation. The ultimate fulfillment of the desire to see God’s face occurs in the Incarnation. As Christ tells his disciples, “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).
God has chosen to reveal himself gradually in what has been called the ‘Divine pedagogy’.[4] In the Old Testament God begins to announce prophetically the coming of Christ, Our Redeemer and the messianic kingdom. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that initially this revelation is “imperfect and ephemeral” (Dei Verbum 15). It was matched to the ability of the People of God to understand. Gradually God guided his People to a fuller understanding of himself added by the action of the Holy Spirit.
We can now behold the face of God in Christ. Christ who knows the Father as the Only Begotten Son reveals the Father to us and allows us to join in his own prayer and communion with the Father. The fullest revelation of God’s love for us is seen in the Jesus death (John 15:13) which is anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and re-presented in each Eucharistic celebration (CCC 1366).

[1] On this theme see Pope Benedict XVI’s essay, “The face of Christ in Sacred Scripture” in Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), On the Way to Jesus Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004) p. 13-31.
[2] St John Chrysostom, In Gen, 3,8 (Hom. 17:1): PG 53:134, ‘Attemperatio’; Gr. synkatábasis.
[3] Vatican Council I, DS 3004, 3026.
[4] CCC 53, n. 5.

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