Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Revelation: On the Occasion of Reading Robert Barron on St. Thomas

What is Revelation?

Word of God as Scripture

Word of God as Idea or Concept:  “And the Word was made flesh,” and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1, 14). We hear and read the verse, but it remains merely conceptual in us as a fact of this world. We accept it, but it remains veiled as part of the world. We believe it, but it is not yet mind-blowing as “revelation” in me where – as an act - “God shows himself.”[1]

I)                    The Rationalization of the Word of God as a Communication of Ideas:

“(F)or the Jews contemporary with the origins of Christianity, ‘Word of God’ meant something much more and something quite different from the way it is understood by the majority of modern Christians. Most of the time our theological manuals prefer to speak of ‘revelation’ rather than ‘Word of God.’ The Word of God seems to interest them only to the extent that it reveals certain truths inaccessible to human reason. These ‘truths’ themselves are conceived as separate doctrinal statements, and the Word of God finally is reduced to a collection of formulas. They are detached from it, moreover, so that they can be reorganized into a more logically satisfactory sequence, even to the point of retouching them or remodeling them to make them clearer and more precise. After that the only thing that remains of th divine Word seems to be sort of residuum, a kind of conjunctive material that of itself has no interest. Whether we realize if or not, the result is that the Word of God appears as a sort of nondescript hodgepodge from which the professional theologian extracts, like a mineral out of its matrix, small but precious bits of knowledge which it is his job to clarify and systematize. In this view the Word of God is no longer anything but an elementary, rough and confused presentation of more or less shrouded truth [me: conceptual]; the theologians’ task is to bring them out and to put them in order….”[2]

Word of God as Revelation: The Experience of a Person

II)                  Now, consider that revelation is the removal of a veil, as in re-vel-ation. Ratzinger commented that in the High Middle Ages, “’revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’’ [Me:  I.e., one must experience becoming Christ Himself]. Where there is not one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because not veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone[3] who apprehends it.”

Word of God  - “And the Word [Creator] was made flesh” - as “revelation” whereby the believer experiences a transformation into Christ by a response of self-gift, and the verse becomes “revelation.”  The “veil” is removed.

Robert Barron comments on a verse from St. Thomas: “for there is nothing greater than for God to become incarnate:” (S. Th. IIIa, q. 1, art.1). Barron comments: “It is the last comment that I find the most intriguing. Had God never become incarnate, human beings would never have developed an adequate sense of the greatness, the sheer transcendence, the unknowability of God. Prior to the Incarnation, Thomas implies, humans indeed worshiped and reverenced God, reflected on God philosophically, honored God in various ways. But they always fell short of seeing the true extent, the strangeness and uncanniness of God’s being. It is the shocking condescension of the Incarnation, God’s stooping low to join us as one of us, that ‘blows open’ the mind, introducing the human spirit for the first time to an adequate conception of God’s otherness and transcendence. What Thomas implies is this: only a reality that is not a being in the world, even the supreme being, could ever become a creature while at the same time remaining true to itself. The God who comes to join us in Jesus Christ must be a reality with a greater ‘stretch,’ a greater flexibility, a greater power of being than we could possibly have imagined. Whatever notion one might have had of God must be discarded in the presence of the incarnate Word; even the highest titles of praise fall short of the glory revealed in the face of Christ. That God  creates and governs the world, that God loves and nurtures the beings of the universe, even that God guides us to a life after death – all of that was, to varying degrees, accepted and believed prior to the Incarnation. But that God would become a creature while still remaining God, that God would take on all of the ‘weakness of his handiwork,’ feeling limitation, suffering, death itself, that was simply unimaginable before Jesus Christ. That was simply too ‘great’ to be hoped for, simply too ludicrous to be believed. In Paul’s terms, ‘a stumbling block for the Jews and a folly for the Gentiles.’ It is in this unheard of surprise, Thomas hints, that true revelation takes place, for it is only in this shock that we realize how marvelous God is and therefore what a transcendent destiny is open for us. “[4]

The Word of God  Creates. It is an “Action:” Before the Word, there is nothing. After the Word, things are.
“For the pious Jew… the divine Word at the end of all that we call the Old Testament, the divine Word signified an intensely living reality….

                “The first experience of the human word is that of someone else entering into our life. And the still fresh and in a certain sense already complete experience of the divine Word at the end of the old covenant, was that of an analogous intervention, but one that was still infinitely more griping and more vital” the intervention of Almighty God in the life of men…. It is not a discourse, but an action: the action whereby God intervenes as the master in our existence, ‘The lion has roared,’ says Amos, ‘who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?’[5](…)[6]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones – Memoirs 1927-1977” Ignatius (1977) 108.
[2] Louis Bouyer, “Eucharist,” UNDP (1968) 32-33.
[3] And that “someone” must be becoming “another Christ.” I.e, only God knows God; cf. Mt. 11, 27).
[4] R. Barron, “Thomas Aquinas, Spiritual Master, Crossroad (1996) 42-42.
[5] Amos, 3: 8.
[6] This conviction is so powerful in Israel, that “:even the ungodly… could not escape from it. The unfaithful kings torment the prophets to prophesy what pleases them or at least to keep silent because they are persuaded that the moment the divine Word makes itwself heard, even through the mouth of a simple shepherd like Amos, it goes traight toward its fulfilment.” 

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