In my years as a Protestant a topic of great passion was just how God reveals Himself to mankind. Sola scriptura, or the Bible alone, was my battle cry for many years. However, once I started reading the early church fathers, something hit me. These sound a lot like Catholic teachings. After further research I found that there was a piece of revelation that I had ignored, but it was one that answers many questions. The purpose of the article is to go over how God reveals himself and to answer some of the very questions that I had in my faith journey. This will be done with the aid of Dei Verbum, which was written at Vatican II.
What is divine revelation? Through the mercy of God, He has decided to make His will known by various means. This was necessary so that we can draw near to the Father, through the son, and with assistance of the Holy Spirit to participate in the divine nature (Dei Verbum, para 2). The pattern of revelation is contained in the deeds and works of God that match His words. God backed up his words and put into motion His plan for salvation history. Evidence of God is everywhere and evident in all areas of creation, and preserves all things. As a result, when Adam and Eve fell it was then that God set forth a plan for redemption instead of destroying creation and starting over. What great love God has for us!
He initiated this plan through Abraham and fulfilled His promise of making Abraham a great nation. After Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “He taught this nation, through Moses and the prophets, to recognize him as the only living and true God (Dei Verbum, para 3).” Through God’s work, He taught Israel to look for the messiah. As St. John the evangelist tells us “the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God sent his son to tell the people about God’s love and how He works. Through His son we are able to have life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Obedience in faith should be our only real response to this revelation. It is through this faith that we give of ourselves; we submit ourselves to God and enter into a relationship with Him. We love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for us. He paid a debt we did not owe because we owed a debt we could not pay. This is done only by the grace of God, and through the working of the Holy Spirit. Through the gifts of the Spirit, our understanding of this revelation grows stronger and is understood in a more profound way.
Through the revelation of God we see that God is manifested not only through sacred scripture, but also in nature. This is done through reason because man knows deep within his soul that there is something out there greater than himself. Though he may not know what it is it is ingrained in all of us to understand that it was not accidental. It is the teaching of the church that “these things themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, can, in the present condition of the human race, be known to all with ease, with firm certainty, and without the contamination of error (Dei Verbum, para 6).”
So far we have discussed a lot about sacred scripture. The Church has taught from the beginning that the scriptures are the word of God. As the word of God they are to be treated reverently and with the tradition of the church make up the full teaching of the Apostles. The church has gone through great trial to deliver the proper scriptures to us. According to the Council of Trent, there are forty six books that make up the Old Testament. These books include Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Our Protestant brethren do not acknowledge these books. All Christian churches are in agreement with the books of the New Testament which is twenty seven in number. We will now look deeper at the Old and New Testament which make up the written part of the tradition.
The Old Testament is a collection of writings that have narratives about the creation of the world, the fall, and prophecies about the messiah. In it we find a truth that becomes lost in some people’s minds. “In his great love God intended the salvation of the entire human race (Dei Verbum, para 14).” This was obviously plan B because our first parents fell from grace. However in preparation for the salvation of all he chose a small nation.
God entered into a covenant with Abraham and made a great nation that is as numerous as the stars in the sky. God revealed himself through words and deeds as the one true living God (Dei Verbum, para 14). God chose Israel as a type of pet project to show himself and to teach them by experience. In turn Israel would use this experience to teach other nations about God. The books of the Old Testament are vital to the revelation that God gave man. In the books we have life lessons and stories of hope that are still valid today.
Stories of hope and the patriarchs are great, but there is one theme that is overwhelming in the Old Testament. That theme is the coming of Christ. The prophecies starting in Genesis 3:15 all thru the rest of the prophets prepare the people for the Son of God. He was revealed in signs, little by little, to prepare the hearts and minds of the people. While some people find it very startling to see stories of violence these stories show the mercy of God. God had every right to terminate our existence, but the writings of the Old Testament show how merciful God is with humanity.
The Old Testament is a vital part of the liturgy of the church and should be a vital part of each individual’s biblical study. There is a tendency to only read the New Testament, because some mistakenly think that is the only part of scripture that discusses Christ. A closer look at the Old Testament shows that Christ is revealed throughout. The new is hidden in the old and the old is fulfilled in the new. There are several places where a working knowledge of the Old Testament helps explain things in the New Testament. A good example of this in the letter to the Hebrews which discusses what the Hebrew priests do.
The New Testament contains autobiographies of our Lord (Gospels), writings of apostolic origin, and an early history of our church. In these writings the saving power of God is manifested throughout. This Testament would be worthless without one thing, and that is Christ incarnated as the Word who dwelt among us. The Son of God humbled Himself, took on human form and established the kingdom of God on Earth. He revealed himself and the Father by performing various works and deeds to establish and show who He was. His work on earth culminated in giving himself as the propitiation for the sins of all mankind. When He ascended to Heaven He sent the Holy Spirit as a guide to teach the people through the ministry of the Apostles.
Christ alone has the words of eternal life; after all it was He that said He is the way, the truth, and the life. The twenty seven books of the New Testament bear witness to these things. From these twenty seven books the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John hold a special place for Christians. It is in them that we find the words and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning the church “has maintained the apostolic origin of the four gospels (Dei Verbum, para 18). Matthew being written by the tax collector, Mark being written by Mark but dictated by Saint Peter, Luke was written by Saint Luke who was a companion of Saint Paul, and John by Saint John also known as the disciple that Jesus loved.
The church has taught with absoluteness that the four gospels historically and faithfully pass on what “Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men and women, really did and taught for their salvation, until he was taken up (Dei Verbum, para 19).” After the Lord ascended into Heaven the Apostles spoke about what he did and said. The Apostles were now blessed with the Holy Spirit and fully understood everything that the Lord had told them.
Each of the Gospels is written in its own form and style. However it is important to note that the message of Christ in the Gospels is absolute, and the authentic message of Jesus was presented. When Christ presented the apostles with the Great Commission they had no intention of writing down what the Lord had taught them. Later on it became necessary to ensure that the truth about Jesus and His teachings were maintained within proper orthodoxy.
In addition to the Gospels we have other books in the New Testament, such as the writings of Saint Paul. These writings were also done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These writings involve things as proper Christian living, church order, and further clarification of the teachings of Christ. These writings are great and further establish just want the Lord meant in certain areas, and preach about the saving power of Christ through His death burial, and resurrection.
Looking back on salvation history we can clearly see the plan of God from the beginning. There is little doubt that our ancestors in faith, and the patriarchs of Israel went remember that God is always in control and knew that we could only handle small amounts of his revelation at one time. Just as we need to prepare our souls to receive Holy Communion the souls of our ancestors needed to be prepared for Christ to come.
This happens by God revealing himself in His creation, the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament, and finally through Christ Himself and the teaching of the Apostles. The gift of sacred scripture and the tradition handed on from the Apostles equips us to understand the revelation of God. This understanding should put us in a state of awe, and render us speechless and teary eyed. God has done great things for us. Now let us do great things for Him.