REVELATION: GOD’S INVITATION TO LIFE WITH HIM
In a previous parent post we attempted in broad brush strokes to describe the environment in Vatican II that almost demanded a rethinking of the traditional view of revelation in the Roman Catholic Church(RCC). The material is taken from Richard Gaillardetz’ book on Authority in the Church written to elaborate on the seismic changes that the council recognized as taking place between the church and its faithful. At the end of the book’s Introduction Gaillardetz makes it clear that a new view of revelation underlies the framework for changes in understanding authority on the part of both the believer and church. He elaborates on how this can be detected in Scripture and how it influences the Magisterium and the sense of the he faithful in the RCC.
In effect the council restores to the laity an operative ministry that existed in the early history of the “People of God” expressed as prophecy, open to all, laymen and hierarchy, called to that charism. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 attests to the ministry of prophecy and the Nicene Creed, a relatively late document reads “…the Holy Spirit who spoke through the prophets.” Gaillardetz notes: “For centuries Catholicism had been inclined to identify the prophetic office of the Church with the pope and bishops. Yet the council also asserted the role of all the faithful in the prophetic ministry of the Church:
“The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office: it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips confessing his name…”(LG #12).
What God wants of all can by extension through the spirit and thinking of the council fathers, be communicated to all God’s “people,” to all created humankind. The significance of this development lies in untying the complete control of God’s relationship with created humankind from the millennial-old hierarchical power structure that over time had come to presume itself to exercise an infallible authority over truth and “absolute, unhindered supremacy over the members’ spiritual lives” as so forcefully expressed in Vatican I.
A corollary of this momentous change is based on St.Thomas Aquinas’ profound but common sense maxim that “whatever is received in the mind of any human person has to be understood in accordance with the mindset of the knower.” Thus any manifestations of God to men can only be understood though the medium of the symbols existing in the time and culture of the manifestation. To realize an analysis of God’s communication requires, therefore, a reconstruction of the period in terms of cultural symbols and language. In perhaps clearer words it is impossible to understand God’s side of a relationship except through understanding the mindset of the person God created for the relationship.
At a distance in time and/or place it is not always an easy task to gather the data for analysis of imprecise terms like symbols with the required sensitivity when the purpose deals with understanding a divine communication. Discernment is required and an acceptance by the People of God, as stated in the same paragraph #12 above: “The whole body of the faithful who have received an anointing which comes from the holy one cannot be mistaken in belief.” Witness the opposition on the part of a small minority at the Vatican Council itself to the well understood, accepted and needed changes of the great majority with solid spiritual reasoning. Opposition came mostly from the Vatican bureaucracy itself, untrained and the losers among the stakeholders of reform. They were opposed to almost any reform not because they would be losers from an analytic institutional point of view but they were unable to see through ingrained culture-bound traditions that long before had lost their legitimacy.
Gaillardetz highlights the council’s return to Scripture for recovering a long lost vision of God’s communication with humankind, especially so in the Gospel of St. John. He employs very concrete terms to express the meaning intended by the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation expressing it: “…as nothing less than God’s self-gift to humankind in love….God’s personal self-disclosure, comes to humankind in history in the form of an address. As such it is an ‘eventing’ of God….to speak of God’s word was to speak of God’s effective action in history.” (p 3).
He quotes Isa 55: ‘Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth: It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will achieving the end for which I sent it.’” (p 4).
“The communication of God’s Word to humankind in Jesus is God’s definitive gift of itself to the world….we are given a share in the very life of God.” (1 John 1:1-4). Gaillardetz refers to the distinction made in the council between “…a body of information about God rather than a living encounter with God….Divine revelation is presented as a divine invitation into relationship. This is why, the council says, revelation is summed up in the person of Jesus Christ.” He quotes a sentence from Dei Verbum “’By this revelation, then, the invisible God from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends and lives among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company’ (DV #2).’”(p 5).
Driven by a pastoral zeal the council thus interpreted revelation. It consist of what God had spoken throughout history to mankind by both communication through creation and the actual giving its life to all men in the Word, Jesus Christ. Revelation is to be understood as a manifestation of an ongoing relationship between God and all men in history. In our spiritual journey the better we know how THE UNKNOWN OTHER relates to us and what God expects of us, for example, more a father than a judge, the more genuine and loving our response can be. And our relationship with God at the end of the day is the bottom line of our spiritual life.