Saturday, April 26, 2008

Faith and Divine Revelation (CCC 74-184)

Catechism Class Nine

Previously, we highlighted the major events of Salvation History -- how, after the creation and subsequent fall of man, God put into action His plan for reconciling fallen man back to Himself. Starting with a series of revelations and covenants, God progressively prepared mankind for the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the culmination of salvation history. By Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Logos entered into time and human history, consubstantial with the "I am," and the way, the truth, and the life, man is able to obtain salvation and, once again, be fully united to God. It is Jesus, the Christ, who has established the Church -- one, holy, catholic, and apostolic -- as His bride, and it is He who has given us the sacraments.

We know these things by faith, revelation assisted by right reason. Now, some in the world insist that faith and reason are incompatible. But properly understood, faith helps reason to discover itself and its openness to transcendence. As Pope Benedict points out, faith and reason are not contraries; they both belong to the desire for truth, and it is precisely because of this common root that they are compatible and need one another. The search for truth never starts from zero, but always presupposes a trust in knowledge, ideas and data which we cannot always control by ourselves. Faith implies reason and perfects it, and reason, illuminated by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and of spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing when it is open to the contents of revealed faith.

The existence of God is knowable by reason, but for most of us, our reason is defective and impaired by the influences of the world and by sin. Most cannot hear God because they are too busy listening to the world, and they allow this cacophony of sound to drown out the Lord’s voice. Most cannot see God on their own because they have blinders on and because they try to see God with the eyes of their head, demanding scientific proof before they will believe. (And most of us wouldn't recognize or appreciate scientific evidence of God even if it smacked us right between the eyes, especially since we do not know who it is we are looking for.)

But God is seen with the eyes of the heart, not the head. Usually when you insist upon understanding and agreement before you will consider believing, you will never find it. That is, if put yourself before the truth, then you will never find it -- the truth will always be behind you. But if you are open to truth and to Truth, as with St. Augustine, you will find that belief leads to understanding, which in turn, leads to greater belief.

Since the Fall, it has been harder and harder for mankind to perceive and know God. Thus, to make things easy for us, to help us to come to know Him, God has revealed Himself to us, as well as His will of Love and Truth. He has also revealed to us the truth of who and what we are as human persons.

Of course, the most complete revelation of God is the person of Jesus Christ – God Himself. Other personal revelations include speaking to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus appearing to Saul on the road to Damascus.

Most times, however, when we refer to “Divine Revelation,” we mean “the word of God.” This includes not only the written Sacred Scriptures that make up the Bible, but the Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium, which are all closely united with each other. Each in its own way contributes to the salvation of souls under the action of the Holy Spirit.

In this usage, Tradition means the living transmission of the word of God with and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, including preaching, witnessing, worship, and institutions. This oral tradition of spreading the Good News existed prior to the New Testament being reduced to writing, and throughout history, the word has been transmitted orally.

Indeed, it was by an act of Tradition that the canon of the Bible was determined. The scriptures themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised to send. During Jesus' ministry, the Apostles often failed to fully grasp or understand what Jesus was teaching them. After Pentecost, however, the action of the Holy Spirit allowed the Apostles to recall with fidelity and understanding the events and teachings of the Gospel. They and the rest of the scriptures therefore teach without error those truths which are necessary for salvation.

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