Revelation and the Moral

We can approach our first problem by way of some standard definitions of revelation. The Council of Trent defined the content of the Gospel as the saving truth and moral discipline which Jesus promulgated and which is contained in the Holy Scriptures. The Vatican Council declared that God may be known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things but that it pleased God in his wisdom and bounty to reveal himself and the eternal decrees of his will by another and supernatural...

God Reveals Himself

Our attempt to achieve clarity about what we mean by revelation in the Christian community has proceeded by progressive stages from the definition of the standpoint to the description of the historic context and thence to that illuminated section of the latter whence light streams on obscurer portions. When we speak of revelation we mean that something has happened to us in our history which conditions all our thinking and that through this happening we are enabled to apprehend what we are,...

Interpretation through Revelation

By revelation in our history, then, we mean that special occasion which provides us with an image by means of which all the occasions of personal and common life become intelligible. What concerns us at this point is not the fact that the revelatory moment shines by its own light and is intelligible in itself but rather that it illuminates other events and enables us to understand them. Whatever else revelation means it does mean an event in our history which brings rationality and wholeness...

Imagination and Reason

When Christians speak of revelation they point to history not as this can be known by external observers but as it is remembered by participating selves. Yet revelation does not simply mean inner history as a whole nor any arbitrarily chosen part of it. There are many obscure elements in remembered history which are neither intelligible in themselves nor illuminative of other elements. Among these none are more obscure than the fateful facts of personal and communal self-conscious existence. We...

History as Lived and as Seen

We may be helped toward a solution of the problem of history and faith by reflection upon the fact that the history to which we point when we speak of revelation is not the succession of events which an uninterested spectator can see from the outside but our own history. It is one thing to perceive from a safe distance the occurrences in a stranger's life and quite a different thing to ponder the path of one's own destiny, to deal with the why and whence and whither of one's own existence. Of a...

Historical Relativism and Revelation

No other influence has affected twentieth century thought more deeply than the discovery of spatial and temporal relativity. The understanding that the spatio-temporal point of view of an observer enters into his knowledge of reality, so that no universal knowledge of things as they are in themselves is possible, so that all knowledge is conditioned by the standpoint of the knower, plays the same r le in our thinking that the idealistic discoveries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries...

Progressive Revelation

A revelation which furnishes the practical reason with a starting point for the interpretation of past, present and future history is subject to progressive validation. The more apparent it becomes that the past can be understood, recovered and integrated by means of a reasoning starting with revelation, the more contemporary experience is enlightened and response to new situations aptly guided by this imagination of the heart, the more a prophecy based on this truth is fulfilled, the surer our...

By H Richard Niebuhr

Richard Niebuhr, for many years Sterling Professor of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, was one of mid-century's most respected teachers and writers. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York, 1954. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock. In this classic, Dr. Niebuhr makes an eloquent plea for the full realization of a personal God and His existence as revealed to humankind. He examines the relationship between the relative and the...

Religious Relativism and Revelation

Another and more ancient dilemma forces modern theology to begin with revelation. Briefly stated it is this, that one can speak and think significantly about God only from the point of view of faith in him. Knowledge of this second limitation of theological reason doubtless goes very far back into Christian and Jewish history, but we need remind ourselves only of the more recent recognitions of its actuality and of the way in which theological self-criticism has enforced the conviction in...

Revelation and Confessional Theology

Beginnings are important but the way pursued is no less important. Theology finds itself forced to begin in historic faith because there is no other starting point for its endeavor. Yet deflections from the straight line that leads from the point of view of a common faith to the object of that faith are as common in theologies of revelation as in any other types of religious thought. The major cause of such aberrations is doubtless the same one which was responsible for the departure from the...

Preface

A Preface can serve a useful function if it makes the reading of a book easier by directing initial attention to salient problems and ideas and by placing the author and his work in their existential setting. The general problem of this essay, indicated by the title, is involved and complex. Among the subsidiary questions which it raises are those about the relations of the relative and the absolute in history, about the connections between scientific or objective and religious history, and the...

Relations of internal and External History

Though we may be persuaded that there is a valid distinction between history as lived and history as observed by the external spectator though we may recognize a relative validity in either type while noting the close relation of faith and the life of selves to the practical knowledge of our destiny yet questions about the relations of the two types of history are bound to arise in our minds. When we have understood that revelation must be looked for in the events that have happened to us,...