Three Qualities of Revelation

Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation understands revelation to be essentially 'sacramental', in the sense of coming through something that is done (e.g. the immersion in water or the pouring of water in baptism) and something that is said (e.g. the formula 'I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'). Like the sacraments the divine self-revelation occurs through an interplay of deeds and words: for instance, through the words of the prophets illuminating and explaining the events or deeds of Israel's history.

The sacramental view of revelation taken by Dei Verbum also involves acknowledging its salvific character. The self-revelation of God changes and even transforms human beings who hear the divine word and let themselves be opened to recognize God's self-manifestation in their history. The OT prophets, in particular, appreciated that the divine words, so far from being merely informative statements, powerfully bring about results. God's word is like rain that causes germination, 'giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater' (Isa. 55: 10). One appreciates then how and why the opening chapter of Dei Verbum uses the history of revelation and salvation history interchangeably; God's revelatory and salvific activity may be distinguishable but are never separable. They belong together as the two sides of the same divine reality: God's loving self-communication. When Christ 'completes and perfects' the divine self-manifestation, he reveals that 'God is with us to liberate us from the darkness of sin and death and raise us up to eternal life' (Dei Verbum, 4). In language highlighted by John's Gospel, Christ is the saving 'Life' of the world precisely because he is the revealing 'Light' of the world, and vice versa. This interplay of the light and life we receive from Christ was expressed well over a thousand years ago by Christians in the Eastern Mediterranean; they carved on the tombs of their beloved dead two Greek words together: 'phos (light)' and ' %oe (life)'. Phos ran down the inscription and intersected in the letter 'omega' with %oe which ran across. The central position of omega brings Christ to mind, inasmuch as he shares the divine title of being the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which apply to Christ as the beginning and the end of all things (Rev 22: 13).

Vatican II presents revelation not only as God's sacramental and salvific self-revelation but also as utterly Christ-centred. In his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and co-sending (with God the Father) of the Holy Spirit, Christ forms the climax of the divine self-revelation (Dei Verbum, 4, 17). In the words of John's Gospel: 'the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son.No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known' (John 1: 14, 18). Christ is simultaneously the Revealer (or, with the Holy Spirit, the primary agent of divine self-revelation), the Revelation (or the visible, incarnate process' of divine self-revelation), and, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the primary content' of revelation.

In one sense the whole Christ-event was and remains the fullness and completion of divine revelation. Having spoken and acted through the visible presence of his incarnate Son (and the mission of the Spirit), God had and has nothing greater to say, nothing more to reveal, and no other agent of revelation who could be compared with, let alone match, Christ. In that sense the historical revelation through Christ is full, unparalleled, and unsurpassable in principle; to use the language of the Letter to the Hebrews, this saving revelation has happened 'once and for all' (Heb. 7: 27; 9: 12; 10: 10). God can and will call up subordinate mediators of revelation, but they can and will never be like Christ either in kind or degree. His divine identity puts him qualitatively beyond any possible 'rival' in the work of revelation (and salvation).

But in another sense, we do not yet enjoy the fullness and completion of revelation. The final vision of God is still to come. As St John puts it, 'Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we know is this: when he [God] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is' (1 John 3: 2). As we wait in hope for this complete, saving revelation, we see and know 'dimly' and not yet fully. Looking forward to the fullness of God's self-manifestation that will complete our redemption, St Paul writes: 'Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood' (1 Cor. 13: 12). It is at their peril that Christian believers fail to follow the lead of John and Paul and acknowledge that in one very significant sense we do not yet have the fullness or completion of the divine revelation, that 'glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ' (Dei Verbum, 4) still to come. The 'not yet' of this future manifestation qualifies the revelation 'already' achieved through Christ and the Holy Spirit. In his 1998 encyclical letter Fides et Ratio ('Faith and Reason') Pope John Paul II quoted St Paul in support of his statement about 'that fullness of truth which will appear with the final revelation of God' (no. 2). This fullness of truth and revelation will come only in the future.

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