If any one stands in a room behind a gauze curtain he perceives all those who are passing in the street, and they see him not. But if he makes himself known by speaking, the passers-by are able to recognize him. Such is our relation to God; He sees us, but conceals Himself from our eyes. Yet He has in many ways made Himself known to men; to Abraham, to Moses in the burning bush, to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, etc.
1. God has in His mercy in the course of ages often revealed Himself to men (Heb. i. 1-2).
God has often communicated to men a knowledge of His perfections, His decrees, and His holy will. Such revelation is called supernatural, as opposed to the natural revelation of Himself that He makes through the external world.
2. God’s revelation to man is generally made in the following way: He speaks to individuals and orders them to communicate to their fellow-men the revelation made to them.
Thus God spoke to Abraham, Noe, and Moses. He sent Noe to preach to sinful men before the Flood, He sent Moses to the Israelites when they were oppressed by Pharao. Sometimes God spoke to a number of men who were assembled together, as when He gave the law to the people on Mount Sinai, or when Our Lord was baptized by St. John and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, a voice being heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Sometimes God revealed Himself through angels, as for in stance to Tobias through the archangel Raphael. When God spoke to men, He took the visible form of a man or of an angel, or He spoke from a cloud (as on Sinai), or from a burning bush, as He did to Moses, or amid a bright light from heaven, as to St. Paul, or in the whispering of the wind, as He did to Elias, or by some interior illumination (Deut. ii. 6-8). Those to whom God revealed Himself, and who had to bear witness before others to the divine message, were called messengers from God, and often received from Him the power of working miracles and of prophecy, in proof of their divine mission. (Cf. the miracles of Moses before Pharao, of Elias, the apostles, etc.)
3. Those who were specially entrusted with the communication to men of the divine revelation were the following: the patriarchs, the prophets, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Heb. i. 1), and His apostles.
Revelation is to mankind in general what education is to individual men. Revelation corresponds to the needs of the successive stages of human development, to the infancy, childhood, and youth of mankind. The patriarchs, who had more of the nature of children, needed less in the way of precepts, and God dealt with them in more familiar fashion; the people of Israel, in whom, as in the season of youth, self-will and sensuality were strong, had to be trained by strict laws and constant correction; but when mankind had arrived at the period of manhood, then God sent His Son and introduced the law of love (1 Cor. xiii. 11; Gal. iii. 24). Of all those who declared to men the divine revelation, the Son of God was pre-eminently the true witness. He says of Himself, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear testimony to the truth” (John xviii. 37). He was of all witnesses the best, because He alone had seen God (John i. 18). The apostles also had to declare to men the divine revelation. They had to bear witness of what they had seen, and above all of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts x. 39). With the revelation given through Christ and His apostles, the revelation that was given for the instruction of all mankind was concluded.
4. Even since the death of Our Lord and His apostles God has often revealed Himself to men; yet these subsequent revelations are no continuation of the earlier revelation on which our faith rests.
Instances of these subsequent revelations are the appearances of Our Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary, and of Our Lady at Lourdes. Such revelations must not be too lightly credited, as men are liable to be deceived; yet they must not be rejected without examination. Many of the saints have had such revelations, i.e., St. Francis of Assisi, to whom Our Lord appeared upon the cross, and St. Anthony of Padua, in whose arms the Child Jesus deigned to rest. These private revelations were more especially given to those who were striving after perfection, in order to encourage them to greater perfection still. Yet God sometimes revealed Himself to wicked men, i.e., to Baltassar in the handwriting on the wall (Dan. v. 5, seq.). Hence a private revelation given to any one is not necessarily a mark of holiness. These revelations, moreover, were no further continuation of the revelation intended for the instruction of the whole of mankind, which ended with the death of the last of the apostles; they are rather a confirmation of truths already revealed. Thus Our Lady, when she appeared at Lourdes, proclaimed herself the “Immaculate Conception,” so confirming the dogma which Pius IX had defined four years previously, and the countless miracles and cures that have taken place there have established the truth of the apparition. Yet it is always possible that the malice of the devil may introduce deceptions into private revelations. No one is therefore bound to give to them a firmer belief (even though they have in general been approved by the Church), than he would give to the assertions of an honest and trustworthy man.
5. Revelation was necessary because, in consequence of original sin, man without revelation has never had a correct knowledge of God and of His will; and also because it was necessary that man should be prepared for the coming of the Redeemer.
The three Wise Men would never have found Christ if He had not revealed Himself to them by means of a star; so mankind would have lived far off from God, and would never have attained to a true knowledge of Him, if He had not revealed Himself to them. As the eye needs light to see things of sense, so human reason, which is the eye of the soul, needs revelation to perceive things divine (St. Augustine). Original sin and the indulgence of the senses had so dimmed human reason that it could no longer recognize God in His works (Wisd. ix. 16). This is proved by the history of paganism. The heathen worshipped countless deities, idols, beasts, and wicked men, and his worship was often immoral and horrible, as in the human sacrifices offered by him. The gods were often the patrons of vice. The greatest men among the heathens approved practices forbidden by the natural law. Thus Cicero approved of suicide, Plato of the exposing to death those children who were weak or deformed. Their theories when good were at variance with their practice. Socrates denounced polytheism, but before his death told his disciples to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius. Many of the best of the heathens recognized and lamented their ignorance of God. Besides, without a previous revelation the Saviour would have been neither known nor honored as He ought to have been known and honored; it was fitting that He should be announced beforehand, like a king coming to take possession of his kingdom. We ought indeed to be grateful to God that He has given us the light of revelation, just as a blind man is grateful to the physician who has restored his sight. Yet how many there are who willfully shut their eyes to the light of revelation even now!
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This article, II. DIVINE REVELATION is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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