Sunday, November 05, 2017

Symbols and Revelation


In Models of Revelation, Avery Cardinal Dulles presented five models (descriptions) of revelation that seem to be in conflict: (1) propositions about God (including the statements in the Bible), (2) God’s deeds and the prophets' insights about these events, which are recorded in the Bible, (3) an inner and immediate experience of communion with God, (4) a dialectical presence in which God speaks to a believer who better understands his true powerlessness, and (5) a new perspective or higher level of consciousness that leads to activity to transform the world. 

Dulles gave a definition inspired by all five models: 

Revelation is God’s free action whereby he communicates saving truth to created minds, especially through Jesus Christ as accepted by the apostolic Church and attested by the Bible and by the continuing community of believers.
Dulles then proposed an approach based on the power of symbols, which are divine signs that suggest more meanings than they clearly state and have properties in common with revelation: they are engaging, transforming, influential, and insightful.

I would synthesize his ideas as follows: First, in the past, God revealed Himself in deeds and events and through the life, death, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.  God’s people have perceived (and continue to perceive) these events as symbols, and the propositions (doctrines) of the Church (in the Bible and Tradition) state truths that interpret and explain these symbols (in a limited way), but the symbols also express things that propositions cannot.  Second, a person may have an inner experience of God, but this must be through symbols that provide a way for the person to articulate the experience.  Third, through God's grace, with or without an inner experience, any Christian, by knowing about God’s deeds and agreeing to the Church’s doctrines, can hear God speaking to him (through these symbols) and better understand who God is.  Moreover, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe,” (Ephesians 1:18-19) the Christian will have a new perspective on his vocation and the meaning of his life, which will yield a higher consciousness that results in serving God and transforming the world by loving his neighbor.

References cited:  
Avery Cardinal Dulles, Models of Revelation, Orbis Books, 1992.

Thomas G. Guarino, “Why Avery Dulles Matters,” First Things, May 2009.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Revelation and the Word of God



Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, explains the importance of divine revelation and its relationship with sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Tradition.  The document was written "so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love" (Preface).

Jesus Christ "perfected revelation by fulfilling it" through his life, death, and resurrection.  He commissioned the Apostles to preach what he taught them.  Consequently, "by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances" they "handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit."  The Apostles and others "under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" fulfilled this commission by writing down "the message of salvation." Their writings became the New Testament.  The four Gospels "faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven."  In the other books of the New Testament, "those matters which concern Christ the Lord are confirmed, His true teaching is more and more fully stated, the saving power of the divine work of Christ is preached, the story is told of the beginnings of the Church and its marvelous growth, and its glorious fulfillment is foretold."

Thus, reading the Bible is an important part of the Christian life:
in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. (Chapter 6)