Prophecy and Revelation
We have seen that prophecy as a phenomenon in the church never ceased. But as it is not merely possible to go from history to theology, concluding that a matter is soundly based in Christian theology, just because it exists in the church, we need to examine the notion of Christian prophecy to see whether it is theologically valid. Further, if theology agrees that the Christian system can hold such a phenomenon, it also needs to define its nature and function. Such an assessment of prophecy has no other starting point than the Christian concept of Revelation. This is why we in the following shall look at themes from revelation theology that are important to our subjects and which they conclusions they draw on the concept of prophecy. The investigation of Prophecy and Revelation builds on and forwards earlier research on the subject, published in my 1997 Prize Dissertation Profeti og Åbenbaring as well as my article Prophecy and Revelation: A Theological Survey on the Problem of Christian Prophecy (Studia Theologica (Scandinavian Journal of Theology). Vol 52, No. 2 (1998): 147-161).
The idea of Revelation has been seen from the beginning of Christian thinking from the concept of love. The one who loves a person, desires the other person’s openness; openness is required for two persons to communicate and ultimately be united in love. This is what lies in the German “Offenbaren,” to carry something openly. Revelation means not only knowledge of a person’s traits but is the entrance to an exchange of persons, of fellowship.
Augustine reflects profoundly on the relationship between revelation and love when discussing the theology of the Trinity. The foundation of the Christian idea of Revelation is that God is love and that love never can be love without someone towards that love can be directed. The dynamic bond between the three persons of the Trinitarian is love. This dynamism is not just an internal one between the three persons, but when the Trinity is seen as one a power that is directed to other creatures. The inner-Trinitarian love between the Trinity’s three persons cannot be separated from the One God’s desire to love others.
In the original relationship between God and man, God and Adam, there was unity, openness. There was no need for particular revelation between God and Adam but continuous openness. In the Fall this union is broken, and Adam has to hide from God which makes God conclude that he has sinned, asking him “What have you done?!” Sin and concealment are inseparable. The consequence of sin is that there is no more “Offen-bar-heit,” and this is the lot of fallen man—separation, the veil, the lack of openness and the lack of unity. This separation is portrayed in the account of the Fall by the expulsion of Paradise and by having the doors to the place of union obstructed and guarded by an angel.
Thomas of Aquinas expresses in his De ente et essentia the relationship between the creator and the fallen creature. De ente et essentia is a philosophic introduction to his monumental Summa theologiae. Compared with the Summa, the De enteet essentia is a work of few pages that however lays the foundation of his entire later authorship. According to the idea of the Analogia entis, an analogy will always remain between God and man. This analogy is based in man’s being created in God’s image, expressed primarily in man’s reason, the direct place of encounter between God and man. For Thomas and the entire scholastic tradition, reason is seen as the navel string between God and man, and yet reason in itself will never suffice to understand and know God. Even if the Analogia entis teaching expresses that there is and remains analogy between God and man it is also said—and this is the point—that the analogy exists side by side with an even greater difference. Man and God can meet but the meeting occurs with the fact that God never can be comprehended completely.
This continued analogy guarantees the possibility that God can lift the veil between God and man and communicate himself. Where there before the fall was continued openness, revelation is required in order for man to communicate with God. The continued analogy makes continued revelation possible—God’s love makes it necessary. The prophets are those that during the entire history of Israel guaranteed the continued openness and communication between God and man, and it would be possible to see prophets as those that safeguard union between God and his people. They are his tools through which he seeks to re-establish the broken unity. It is this revealing activity of God’s love that is continued in the vocation of the Christian prophets, so that Christian prophecy may come across as the most immediate expression of God’s revealing activity. It is so immediate, because it not only is a sign of God’s general revealing activity but in itself a type of experienced revelation. The prophet is convinced he does not speak his own words but forwards the words of the one who in reality has spoken. Thus, Christian prophecy is an expression of Revelation in a two-fold way: First, because God through them seeks to attain what is the goal of his activity, to lead man back to his union with God—Prophecy is revealing in its scope. Secondly, because prophecy is revealing in its form, as the prophet considers his experience as direct talk from God—Prophecy is revealing in its mode.
In order to arrive at a diversified apprehension of the complex category of Revelation we will in the following examine various models of Revelation. From there we shall be able to look at the ways of understanding Revelation, namely as a concept of experience and a concept of reflection.
Models of Revelation
In order to distil and contemplate different aspects of the concept of Revelation, it proves advantageous to specify these in different models. Such models shed light on different areas of the category of Revelation without them contradicting each other. Thus, Max Seckler in Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie presents three different models, each of which have dominated different historical periods, whereby he provides different aspects of Revelation but also of the historical development of the concept of revelations. In the same way, Avery Dulles in his somewhat later Models of Revelation presents five different models that in a number of points converge with Seckler’s three models. Based on Seckler’s and Dulles’ work, we shall in the following examine the models of Revelation that are of interest, investigating how they relate to the concept of prophecy. Seckler presents a historical overview of the development of the history of Revelation. Dulles’ approach, on the other hand, is not historical, and in fact his panorama back in history never reaches beyond 1900. Dulles looks at the models as different aspects of the category of Revelation, exemplified by the writings of various authors. After his presentation of the various models, his own contribution to the discussion is not to provide a sixth model but to provide a general key to evaluate the various models through his principle of “symbolic mediation” (Models 131 ff.).
The first model, the epiphanic model of Revelation, may rightly be designated as the Biblical model. The second one, the dogmatic or instructive (instruktionstheoretische) model, which root in Greek thought has dominated Catholic theology from the Middle Ages all the way to the Second Vatican Council. The third model sees Revelation as the self-communication (Selbstkommunikation) Gottes and is often called the personalistic model of Revelation. In Catholic theology it emerged around the Second Vatican Council, largely inspired by protestant theology where it since long has been the dominant model. The fourth model, the historical model of Revelation, shares many traits with the personalistic model and has been proposed in particular by Wolfhart Pannenberg. The fifth, dialectic model, has found most resonance in protestant thinking, where it has been proposed in particular by Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Emil Brunner. The sixth and last model we will contemplate is the ontological model which looks at Revelation as inner experience. It is important in particular in Orthodox thinking but also in the Catholic tradition, mainly in the area of mystical theology.
The different models designate tendencies. They have never been isolated from each other and interfere naturally. They have almost always existed simultaneously, making out different elements of the category of revelation; the individual models become problematic when they are isolated and proposed as all-encompassing realities, as this leaves out of sight other important aspects of Revelation.
This presentation of the different models of Revelation will form the background for the later presentation of prophecy since each approach to Revelation evaluates prophecy differently. Just as it during the presentation of the different models of Revelation is not the main goal to oppose differences in the understanding of Revelation, so the aim of the presentation of prophecy is not to present warring views of prophecy; rather the aim is to point to the different aspects that characterise the concept of prophecy. It would be easy radically to contrast the different models, but this would not serve the purpose of this work, which is to lead to a comprehensive understanding of prophecy based on a varied picture of Revelation.
The Epiphanic Understanding of Revelation
The epiphanic approach to Revelation is the one of the Bible. The Bible is not a revealed but an inspired book. The Bible is with the words of Max Seckler “das Grundbuch der Offenbarung im christlichen Sinn,” (Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 62) or with Avery Dulles the “Document of Revelation” (Models 193 ff.). It does not contain one systematised doctrine of Revelation, but is as, we saw, full of accounts of the most varied forms of divine self-disclosure; the Bible contains as Joseph Schumacher says “die verschiedensten Offenbarungsformen des Erscheinens, des Enthüllens, des Kundtuns und des Sprechen Gottes” (317). In spite of this manifold of Revelation experiences, Seckler is able to summarise Revelation in the Bible to be not the “Mitteilung von Wissen, sondern Zuwendung Gottes zum Menschen” (Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 62). Seckler does not consider this to rule out the cognitive aspect of Revelation, as Revelation also is about the deeds of God, but this is Revelation in a derived sense.
The expression apokaluyis (generally translated ”revelation”) figures in the New Testament but is not the Bible’s main denominator for the category of Revelation. This concept imbued the idea of Revelation with a predominant sense of disclosure of something otherwise hidden and unapproachable. According to Seckler, this is not the approach of the Bible, in which Revelation is not something unusual. God’s Revelation is not primarily something mystical, mythic, strange and distanced. There is affinity between God and the world in which he acts, and the people of God maintain a general “Erwartungshaltung und Erfahrungspraxis” for God’s self-disclosure, an expectance that God does intervene and make himself manifest in the human category. This is how it makes most sense to classify the many revelatory events in the Bible as God’s activity, manifestation, epiphany. By this, Revelation does not merely become a “Sichzeigen Gottes, ein Epiphanieereignis mythischer oder mystischer Prägung, sondern Kundgabe des im Wort ergehenden dialogischen Verhältnisses zwischen rettendem Gott und verlorenem Menschen” (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte 26). The concepts fanerwsis and epifaneia are Biblical key concepts. Both are revelatory terms that, however, designate more than his epiphany (1. Tim 3,16) and about his return (Col. 3,4; 1. Peter 5,4; 1. John. 2,28.) Designating Biblical Revelation as epiphanic does not equal epiphany and theophany. God acts in history, and it is his very activity that is epiphanic.
However, there is a close relationship with God’s general epiphanic activity and theophanies. This action at times may emerge concretely in theophanies, and especially in the Old Testament, theophanies are closely related to God’s activity, especially with the ancient prophets. Theophanies are also closely related to the New Testament, in which especially the Acts of the Apostles abounds with theophanies. The Christ-event changed the prophetic revelations so that the theophanies hereafter are replaced by christophanies. In line with Schumacher, Seckler summarises the Biblical concept of Revelation as being not only
ein Enthüllen oder Erschließen von Verborgenem, sondern ein schöpferisches Tun Gottes, das neu ist und reale Versöhnung und reales Heil stiftet; und [dieser Begriff] ist umfassend auf das ganze geschichtliche Sein und Tun Gottes anwendbar (Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 65).
God makes himself known as the one who is, rather than the one whose existence is obscure and hidden, and in his prophetic manifestations, more important than what he says is who he reveals himself to be, namely the Saviour. The most important is not what he says, but what he does. God’s Revelation understood as God’s activity with man emerges in the “Revelation” of God’s life (1. John 1,2), God’s love (1. Titus 3,4; 1. John 4,9), God’s grace (Tit. 2,11) and in particular in the Revelation of God’s son (1. Tim 3,16; Hebrews 9,26; 1. Peter 1,20; 1. John 3,5 & 3,8). “Der lebendige Gott bringt sich in seinem heiligen Sein als schöpferische, führende, richtende und erlösende Macht je und je als konkret gegenwärtige Wirklichkeit zur "Erscheinung" und zur “Erfahrung”(Seckler in Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 63). This is why divine Revelation and salvation in a certain sense are identical in the Biblical world. God acts in Revelation, and his activity always stems from his salvation, so that God’s action and salvation coincide.
As we shall see during the presentation of the concept of prophecy, this is the foremost goal of prophecy, namely being a divine tool in the fulfilment and realisation of God’s salvation in history. The task o the prophet is to guide on behalf of God, and this is why the prophet plays a primary role in the epiphanic model of Revelation.
Doctrinal Understanding of Revelation
Even if the biblical epiphanic understanding of Revelation continues to play a role throughout the history of Christian theology, Hellenistic and Gnostic thought soon managed to introduce the roots of a more intellectual or doctrinal understanding of Revelation.
According to Greek philosophy, man obtains true knowledge through the contemplation of the eternal ideas, an idea which is elucidated by Plato’s cave-image. In Plato’s cave man sits with the back to reality contemplating its shadows on the back wall of the cave, the images of the true reality outside the cave. As shown in the presentation of Augustine’s idea of vision, he produces a synthesis of the Biblical concept of Revelation and the Hellenistic theory of cognition. Augustine’s theory is, in reality, a Christian reinterpretation of the Hellenistic cognition theory. Christian thought thus knows great proximity between vision, revelation, and cognition, and this is why it cannot surprise that the Greek vision of the ideas was transferred to the Christian Revelation of the divine, conceived as divine insight into God’s truth, and this laid the ground for the doctrinal understanding of Revelation. Through Revelation, man participates in and attains knowledge of the truth. This view has Revelation as the goal of thought, and this changes the understanding not only of Revelation, but even of salvation deeply. Salvation appears to reason as the ultimately good, and Revelation can thus be gaudium de veritate, the joy of the truth. Man participates in God’s salvation because he through cognition partakes in the divine truth, whereby the knowledge or Revelation of truth not only becomes the vehicle of salvation, but goal and salvation in itself. Where salvation in the epiphanic model that which God did for and through man, salvation in the doctrinal approach is the fulfilment of the intellect and the joy of the truth. Such an understanding of dangerously limited, as it does not see salvation as the relation between God and his people, but as cognition.
The doctrinal understanding of Revelation becomes predominant in the Middle Ages where many theologians see faith as a supernatural gift that requires Revelation. Revelation is not only what is conferred through Scripture but a unified divine activity. Thus the Medieval thinkers designate Revelation not only as Scripture but understand the history of Revelation as one connected divine teaching process. Revelation is, in this understanding, “Ermöglichungsgrund wie auch der Gegenstand des christlichen Glaubens” (Seckler, Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 65); Revelation is both the dynamism in which faith has its root and the content of faith itself.
The ontological philosophy of cognition, predominant in Scholastic thinking, shines through in the understanding of Revelation so that it retains an ontological aspect, letting Revelation partly remain God’s Revelation of his being, not only his doctrine. In the Medieval approach, God gives both outer, instructive revelation and inner revelation in the enlightenment of grace. By this twofold form, man is introduced into the entire truth. The death of Thomas of Aquinas in this regard is emblematic for the complex scholastic understanding of Revelation. When he was dying his complaint was not that he had not finished the Summa but how futile everything is compared to the knowledge of God himself, and it was the conquest of this knowledge he in his last moments conferred to his disciples. Thus, the medieval understanding of Revelation is much more complex than the mere understanding of God’s true doctrine. With Seckler’s words, it remains “ein vieldimensionales Sprach- und Wahrheitsgeschehen” (Ibid.), secured by its strong ontological elements.
Nominalism lost this ontology, and hence surfaced and realised all the dangers that had threatened scholastic thinking. In Nominalism the ontological and dynamic elements of Revelation are lost, whereby the salvific activity in God’s Revelation are lost of sight. The ontological elements in scholastic thinking that counterbalanced its intellectualising elements were lost in Nominalism. Here, all the dangers inherent to the scholastic approach to Revelation are brought to their unfortunate fulfilment. Nominalism broke ontology, and this meant that the dynamic elements of Revelation, understood as God’s saving activity are ignored. To the scholastics, Revelation could elucidate great mysteries while allowing them to remain mysteries. Nominalism to a certain extent simplified mysteries to secrets of reason that Revelation can uncover, while faith is limited to the acceptance of revealed true sentences. This is where the latent downsides of the doctrinal model of Revelation become evident: God reveals a supernatural doctrine and faith is the faithful adherence to its content. One of the major disadvantages of this model in its extreme form is the conscious distinction between Revelation and salvation history. God instructs man about salvation, and this is where the distinction between Revelation and salvation occurs. Revelation informs about salvation but is not salvation, just because Revelation is not God’s action but his divine information.
Emil Brunner, P. Althaus and others criticise this aspect of the doctrinal model, where Revelation becomes “ein Es,” a teaching. To Brunner, the danger with such an understanding, which he primarily finds present in Catholic thinking, is that Revelation may become a thing, which the church can employ to rule over the masses. Brunner’s criticism is interesting, as it points to an important danger which is relevant to prophecy: When Revelation becomes a doctrine that can be monopolised and ruled upon, the prophetic is driven out completely. There is no place for renewal, and prophecy and Revelation are in conflict, since prophecy seeks the living application of the truth and not the rigid conservation of its expression.
Even if Brunner’s criticism is a most adequate warning not to boil down Revelation to intellectual cognition, the question must be raised if the “Catholic” understanding of Revelation that he criticises truly is compatible with the Catholic position. Catholic Revelation theology is more complex that the caricature that Brunner portrays. In order to evaluate it in more detailed manner, we must turn to the two Vatican Councils that in different ways dealt with the issue.
Vatican I was the first Council that addressed the concept of Revelation. It did so, however, polemically in opposition the criticism of Revelation (Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie 12). Even if it is true that this Council tends to focus on the doctrinal aspects of Revelation, it must also be noted that it does not deal in a systematic and exhaustive way with the theme of Revelation as a whole since such a treatment first came at Vatican II. However, Vat I treated the themes that rationalism questioned, and the difficulty with this is that the discussion was done largely on the premises of rationalism as a reaction to its claims. Rationalism criticised the idea that Revelation was necessary for the full cognition of the truth, claiming the autonomy of reason.
Against rationalism’s claim to the autosufficiency of reason, the Council emphasises that God provides the knowledge it cannot obtain itself. Revelation is what God has revealed (divinitus revelata (DS 3011)). God’s activity, letting man share in the divine blessings (ad participanda scilicet bona divina (DS 3005)) as well as in the inner help of the Holy Spirit (DS 3009) or God’s helping grace (Dei aspirante et adiuvante gratia (DS 3008)), is not explicitly related to his Revelation or revealing activity. Revelation is, on the other hand, a means of obtaining knowledge (DS 3027) and source of knowledge. (DS 3005. 3015). Here, Revelation and information are synonymous. Revelation confers the doctrine of faith (fidei doctrina (DS 3020)), revealed doctrine (doctrinae revelatae (DS 3042)), or revealed truth (DS 3032) as well as ”divine truths” (DS 3015f., 3041). When the council has been used as an example of a doctrinal understanding of Revelation as in Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologi (21) it must be remembered that the council’s aim is not to provide a comprehensive and synthetic presentation of the Catholic understanding of Revelation but to respond to the challenges of rationalism on certain aspects of Revelation. It cannot be evaluated correctly without this in mind. The council seeks to reply to Rationalism’s rejection of revelation’s meaning for reason, and therefore, it mainly treated questions relating to this aspect of Revelation.
This becomes even clearer when taking a closer look at the documents itself. In spite of all formulations that call to mind the doctrinal understanding of Revelation, there are clear traits of a personalistic understanding of revelation: In God’s wisdom and love he has deigned to reveal himself and the eternal decrees of his will (se ipsum ac aeterna voluntatis suae decreta humano generi revelare (D.S. 3004)). Man’s answer to Revelation is not limited to reason’s acceptance of the revealed truths but implies the wills submission to the God who reveals himself (…plenum revelanti Deo intellectus et voluntatis obsequium fide praestare tenemur (D.S. 3008)). Thereby, revelation is not limited to intelligible cognition but comes across as a personal encounter between God and man.
In the combat of the rationalism’s objections, Vat. I remained within the framework of the relationship between reason and Revelation. Thereby the discussion remained largely within the framework of a doctrinal understanding of Revelation, and this was criticised. But this forced particular attention of one aspect of Revelation does not mean that Catholic theology rules out the other aspects of Revelation, and this is where many critics go wrong. Even if Vat I mainly dealt with the relationship between reason and Revelation, Revelation remained much more than intellectual cognition.
To Brunner’s criticism, it must be said that Catholic theology never proposed an exclusively doctrinal understanding of Revelation, and this is important in order rightly to assess prophecy’s place in the Catholic context. If Catholic theology proposed a purely doctrinal understanding of Revelation where Revelation and salvation were separated, there would not be much place for prophecy stemming from God’s salvific activity during history and hence has its foremost place in the historic model, even if it contains many doctrinal aspects. The fact that Catholic thinking maintains both aspects of Revelation means that prophecy has a peculiar position here. On one side, the doctrinal elements provide a general negative attitude towards prophecy that is rejected precisely with the rather doctrinal argument that prophets have no more to say after the full Revelation in Christ and therefore are unnecessary. However, the idea of a development of dogma, and the permanence of the historical understanding of Revelation, secures that prophecy does have place.
With regards to Vat I’s teaching of the handing down of Revelation in Tradition, the council confirms the fulfilment of Revelation with the last apostle after which Revelation only can be handed on. Again, these statements belong to the doctrinal approach to Revelation that is seen as a collected body of teaching, the Depositum Fidei. In this context, Tradition itself is named Revelation, which is interesting as this in theory leaves space for a role of prophets in serving Revelation. We shall return to this question later.
Prophets have always been known by their action, passionately calling the faithful to conversion and repentance. It is obvious that there are many doctrinal “instructions” in any prophetic call, since the prophet only can call the people of God away from a wrong way by portraying the right one. However, a radical doctrinal approach to Revelation leaves little space for prophecy, and one of the reasons to the gradual diminishment of prophecy’s role in the church may be the gradual shift from an epiphanic approach to Revelation towards a more propositional and doctrinal. Seckler believes this process to have started already in the first centuries after Christ, and that it was in this period that the prophetic vocation and form of the church was shifted for a more institutional form of Christianity.
Personalistic Understanding of Revelation
The personalistic model sees Revelation not only as God’s activity in history as in the historical model and even less as the mere disclosure of doctrine. God reveals himself. He reveals himself, not just because he has something to say but because his love spurns him to seek communication and union with man. The personalistic model hence can also be designated as one of communication and participation.1 According to the personalistic model of Revelation, God’s revealing activity results from his salvation will. Hence, there are many similarities between the epiphanic and personalistic models, since both focus on God’s action. The difference between the two is slight; according to the epiphanic model, Revelation is what God does while it according to the personalistic model is how God shows himself to be.
In the epiphanic model, Revelation was salvation in the sense that God manifests himself as the one who saves in his salvation activity; God reveals himself as saviour. The same could be said of the personalistic model with the difference, that salvation is not just what God does but that God himself is salvation. In the epiphanic model, faith is directed towards God who does great deeds, not the least in incarnation. In the personalistic model, faith is to a higher extent directed towards God himself with confidence not only in his deeds but in his own person. Salvation here is realised in a relationship of trust and dependence in the God who shows himself in Christ and gives himself to the world as salvation. In the personalistic model, Revelation and salvation are identical as God reveals himself as the God who himself is salvation, expressed ultimately in Christ’s death on the cross, securing union between the history of salvation and Revelation. We saw that Revelation according to a pure doctrinal approach is salvation to the extent in which man participates in the knowledge of revealed true doctrine—salvation coincides with knowledge of the truth. Here in the personalistic model, salvation is formed by God’s personal deed and giving of self. Salvation rests on Christ’s activity but is realised anew in the faith relationship between God and every believer.
The personalistic aspect of the category of Revelation has thrived in protestant theology. In the Catholic context it has been expressed in the most mature way by the Second Vatican constitution Dei Verbum. Several preparatory documents had preceded Dei Verbum; they were rejected as critics considered them too much of a repetition of Vatican I’s understanding of Revelation without complementing this enough. The council fathers wanted to provide a corrigendum to Catholic main stream theology that as mentioned sported a highly propositional approach to Revelation. A more nuanced and combined understanding had been reached, much under influence of evangelical theology, and many passages of Dei Verbum point towards a personalistic sides of Catholic Revelation theology; as Seckler writes, a consensus in understanding had been reached already at the World conferences for faith and church in Edinburg and Montreal (Handbuch 27).
Unlike Vatican I, Vatican II’s Dei Verbum is not a polemic manifest but rather a manifestation of an ecumenical understanding of Revelation. It is thus interesting to see the coherence between the World conferences and Vatican II. The council combines and secures the different aspects of Revelation which according to Dulles (Models 204) secure that the understanding of Revelation no more provides an obstruction to unity. One of the few protestants who have criticised Dei Verbum is Karl Barth, who considers the remaining confirmations of relationship between Revelation and its expression as “ein Schwächenanfall” of the Council (Ad limina Apostolorum 52). The two Vatican Councils do not contrast each other, as they are simply written on the basis of different ambitions. Vatican I presented the doctrine of Revelation in contrast with rationalism and presented only those aspects of Revelation that had become “endangered species.” The council did not intend to present an all-inclusive and complete theory of Revelation. This was different with Vatican II’s Dei Verbum that is the first Catholic comprehensive treatment of Revelation theology.
Revelation as History
The presentation of the three earlier models provided a view of the development of the concept of Revelation. As we saw, both the epiphanic and the personalistic models featured an understanding of Revelation where God acts in a special way during history. The epiphanic model highlights God’s action more than the personalistic emphasises on God’s communication his very self. Since much has been said above about the historical aspects of Revelation, we will here look only at some aspects of the historical understanding of Revelation that are of particular importance to our subject of prophecy. G. Ernest Wright, author of many books on Old Testament theology, summarises his view of the historical understanding of Revelation by saying, “We know God is like this, because it is what we infer from what he has done” (68)—the Bible testifies to Revelation not because it says what God has said but because it shows what God has done. Oscar Cullmann proposes a historical understanding of Revelation that focuses on salvation history, where God’s revealing work is grounded in his universal salvation will. The prophets play an important role as they are the ones that interpret God’s action so that it clearly comes across to the people of God as salvation (90). Thus, Cullmann speaks of Revelation in an equivocal way, designating partly God’s activity, partly the enlightenment He confers to the prophet to let him perceive and present a given historical event as disclosure of God’s revealing activity. Prophecy has its great importance in being the direct revealing action of God’s indirect revealing activity that only can be seen as Revelation through the prophet’s intervention. In this way, Cullmann says, the Bible is no pure book of history but rather “revealed prophecy concerning history” (98). If Revelation was only God’s general presence in history, then there would be no need for prophecy, but Cullmann does more than safeguarding prophecy’s importance, as he sees the prophet as the one who in a particular piece of history reveals God’s action in history at large. Hence, both Wright and Cullmann’s theology are clearly marked by a double understanding of Revelation history, partly as God’s action in history at large, partly in the prophet’s prophetic interpretation of history.
In his Revelation as History, Wolfhart Pannenberg opposes this bipartite understanding of Revelation. He believes that God’s salvation, eminently fulfilled in incarnation, does not apply to a particular part of history but is part of history and hence important for universal history. Revelation is not to be found in a particular area of history but rather in the sum of history as such. He therefore disagrees with Cullmann’s thesis that Revelation needs interpretation to appear exactly as Revelation. Avery Dulles summarises his idea in the following way: "According to Pannenberg the events are self-interpreting: they bear their meaning intrinsically in themselves, and have no need to be elucidated by a supplementary prophetic disclosure. When the events »are taken seriously for what they are« he writes, »and in the historical context to which they belong, then they speak their own language, the language of facts«" (Models 59, ref. to Pannenberg, Revelation 135-139). Revelation never occurs directly such as through theophanies or prophetic revelations. This is why classical Prophecy has no place or function in Pannenberg’s system, simply because he does not allow particular revelations to occupy a particular role with regards to revelation—all Revelation occurs indirectly through history at large. Even God’s self-Revelation in Holy Scripture is always indirect. God is revealed through his activity in history, not through revealed words.
This does not mean, that all that happens in universal history is an expression of God’s action. If this were the case, the Holocaust would have revealed God as an evil God. Pannenberg does not want to universalise the entire history as God’s action but only emphasise that the scene of God’s action is the one and universal history in which his action often would be to stop events that are evil. Even if prophecy still may have a place in Pannenberg’s system namely as the particular realisation of God’s action, it remains a covered type of prophecy, since Revelation according to Pannenberg never is direct, and this contradicts the understanding of prophecy that this thesis presents, namely as God’s explicitly direct intervention in history.
Dialectic Understanding of Revelation
Dialectic theology has many representatives of which Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Emil Brunner are the most important. They often have contradicting opinions and motifs but may nevertheless be treated under one. For dialectic theology, Revelation mainly consists in man’s meeting with the living God. Revelation is realised there where the Word of God is preached and received exactly as Word of God. This does not comprehend an ontologically synchronised meeting in time and nature between God and man, as God is considered as the totally different from man, whereby Revelation occurs in spite of the infinite distance between God and man. According to Barth, Revelation in the Bible means “the self-unveiling, imparted to men, of the God who by nature cannot be unveiled to men... It is the Deus revelatus, who is the Deus absconditus...” (Church Dogmatics 320). The platform on which this meeting takes place is faith that again is considered an integral part of Revelation itself. It is from this perspective that Barth can say that faith and Revelation are correlatives (Ibid. 317).
All the three authors agree that the Bible and church evangelisation never in themselves are Revelation but that they can become God’s Word and Revelation to the extent that God chooses to talk through his chosen testimonials. To Brunner, the Bible furthermore becomes Word of God in that moment of Revelation in which I become contemporary with Christ (see Jewett 135).
Revelation always occurs in spite of the odds through human faith. Kierkegaard's influence in particular on Barth shines through, in particular in his strong emphasis that Revelation always contains a leap of faith. Revelation that as mentioned never is immediate and never follows from a convergence between God and man only can occur through faith, which by Kierkegaard is discussed in the question whether the disciple that was contemporary with Christ has any advantage to disciples of all later ages. To Kierkegaard, the answer is no, since the first disciples had to decide and make a leap of faith just like all later disciples have to do if they truly wish to be disciples.
This understanding of faith lies far away from the mystical understanding of faith and rules out the direct ontological and charismatic meeting between God and man that is a precondition for the classical understanding of prophecy, and prophecy understood as the preaching of a mystical experience of God’s address finds little room within the borders of this understanding of Revelation. This is, however, much the case in the notion of Revelation as Inner Experience, which we shall examine in the following.
Revelation as Inner Experience
All the Christian traditions that highlight God’s continued presence and activity in the world in some way or another connect Revelation with the immediate experience of God. This applies in particular to the Orthodox Church to which Revelation is fully realised when the individual believer grasps its content, ultimately God himself, through grace. The purpose of theology is not to dissect and map the content of Revelation as an object of human reason—theology is according to Vladimir Lossky “a new mode of thought where thought does not include, does not seize, but finds itself included and seized…” (14). In the West, the concept of Revelation as inner experience found several important exponents in 20 Century liberal theologians, especially Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Ritschl, and Wilhelm Herrmann. To Herrmann, for example, Revelation consist more than anything else in the inner fellowship with God that has been awoken by the Image (Bild) of Jesus in the New Testament. Christ may be the image of God but Revelation is not in itself that image but the relationship with God that is nourished by that image. The Swedish Lutheran Nathan Söderblom was another exponent of such thought as he saw the great advantage of creating a more respectful platform for the meeting with believers of other faiths. Söderblom believed that all religions provide the basis for an authentic meeting with the divine. Divisions thrive where Revelation is equalled with doctrine, and this is why Söderblom preferred the notion of Revelation as inner experience to any other Revelation concept as it fitted with his pan-Christian engagement.
Evelyn Underhill is another example of an author who heralds the experiential aspects of Revelation rather than its propositional:
So we may say that the particular mental image which the mystic forms of his objective, the traditional theology he accepts, is not essential… We cannot honestly say that there is any wide difference between the Brahman, Sufi, or Christian mystic at their best (4).
Where some theologians thus have preferred to isolate revelation’s experiential from other aspects, others have willed to incorporate them into comprehensive theologies. One example is Karl Rahner to whom Revelation has an authoritative and binding expression that he calls “predicative Revelation,” but at the same time always is in need for that which he in his system calls “transcendental Revelation.” Rahner links the idea of Revelation closely to the works of grace in the life of the individual, and enlightening grace and Revelation actually are correlatives. Similar ideas are found in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Offenbarung und Überlieferung 40 ff.), Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. Furthermore, ecumenical documents such as those of the conferences in Montreal and Edinburgh have the same differentiated approach to revelation—here Revelation is conceived as God’s activity that through the Holy Spirit gives life to the Body of Christ, the church. (Edinburgh n. 19,20. Montreal n. 42).
The pure version of this model that opposes Revelation as experience to Revelation as expression of truth as in the works of Herrmann leaves little space for prophecy. Prophecy is powerfully linked with experiences of the word of God but only fulfils its purpose in the prophetic admonition to implement this word. It does, however, fit well into systems of thought like Rahner’s and Ratzinger’s that combine the experiential approaches to Revelation with the historical.
The Mutual Complementarity of the Models of Revelation
As already mentioned, the different aspects of Revelation never appear isolated from each other. The father s of the church and medieval theologians all the way to the Tridentine Council applied the term Revelation to many different realities. As mentioned above, Karl Rahner and several other modern theologians look at the category of Revelation in a verified way, allowing different simultaneous models. Rahner’s distinction between the predicative Revelation as the authoritative expression of truth and the transcendent Revelation as its dynamic continuation in the church point to different realities that are not directly correlative but at the same time inseparable aspects of the Revelation category. Different theologians such as Joseph Schumacher have criticised this use of terminology that they believe to create confusion, but the opposite opinion could be easily defended. Confusion is bound to come if realities pertaining to the category of Revelation are named differently, and it is not possible to separate the different aspects of God’s revealing activity of introducing creation into the life of God. Revelation’s different aspects are as rays that have been filtered through a prism but that contain the same light as its origin. It is not possible to isolate different aspects without harassing the category of Revelation. If one, for instance, isolates the intelligible aspects of Revelation and considers Revelation only as doctrine, without keeping in mind its dynamic continuation in the life of the church, then faith which object Revelation is, truly becomes the “Es-Glaube” of Emil Brunner’s criticism. Conversely, if one sees Revelation only as inner experience and leaves no space to any normative expression, then Revelation becomes arbitrary, relative, and non-verifiable.
Keeping the different aspects together under one perspective is essential not only to the category of Revelation but also to the complete and valid understanding of prophecy.
Spinoza and Prophecy—No to Revelation, Yes to Prophecy
As prophecy can be assessed only on the background of Revelation, the denial of Revelation normally leads to the denial of prophecy. Not so with Spinoza to whom things look differently as he criticises the idea of Revelation but not the idea of prophecy.
Spinoza rejects the idea of a teaching as being divinely revealed. True doctrine can never be handed down as revealed truth. True knowledge of God is intuitive contemplation, taking part in God himself, as the spirit of man shares in the love with which God loves himself. Spinoza calls this event of truth and life deriving from God as “intellectual revelation,” and it is in itself divine. Such a revelation occurs where sense is employed in the right way, clear and resting in itself. Such a revelation is not received through tradition and this is where Spinoza strongly criticises church authorities that according to his view use the inherited notion of the truth of revelation as a means of power. Because of this power battle combined with man’s limited capacity for understanding, revelation becomes the extreme opposite to sense and nature, and this is what Spinoza criticises, wishing to change things with his intuitive understanding of Revelation. Even if Spinoza allows prophecy as a particular means of guidance, it is obvious that this understanding leaves little space for the traditional understanding of revelation that holds the disclosure of insight otherwise inaccessible to man. Spinoza places revelation within the borders of human reason.
Conversely, Spinoza leaves plenty of room for prophecy. Spinoza conceives prophecy as God giving guidance by supernatural means. Revealed prophecy has a pedagogical function, as God gives guidance by means of revelation. This is where revelation and prophecy are identical to Spinoza. Revelation in this sense as prophecy does not serve cognition but the implementation of right moral conduct. Prophecy helps man to live right and this is its pedagogic function. In this particular understanding of revelation as prophecy it does make sense to see prophecy as the disclosure of hidden realities, introducing man to knowledge of the right conduct in the present moment, and this prophetic “spiritual guidance” may occur even through visions. But from a strictly cognitive point of view, this form of prophecy does not introduce man to God’s eternal truths. These are obtained only by reason.
Spinoza’s distinction is interesting as it, as we shall see later on, remind of what Thomas of Aquinas and many other theologians with him consider to be the true prophecy of the church. To Thomas, the purpose of prophecy is not to disclose dogmatic truths, at least not add anything to the Deposit of Faith. Revelation is concluded with the Last Apostle and prophecy adds nothing. But this does not mean that prophecy has no importance, as its real purpose is to lead the church through history. Hence, Spinoza and Thomas can be said to share a common view of prophecy as divine guidance. The difference between the two views lies in the understanding of divine cognition. Even though man to Thomas is able to discern important aspects of God’s truth, God through revelation must add what human reason alone fails to grasp. For instance, man can realise through reason that God exists, but Revelation is needed to know that he is Trinitarian. It is this element of divine cognition beyond the limits of human reason that Spinoza does not accept, as he assigns all cognition of God to the realms of reason. To Thomas, man obtains authoritative knowledge of truth through the attainment of the Deposit of faith, that the church presents in Scripture and Tradition. To Spinoza, on the other hand, there is no authority outside man. Thomas and Spinoza’s thoughts remind of each other by their common affirmation that prophecy adds nothing to what already is given in revelation—they just mean something very different with Revelation. To Thomas, the Christian prophet can say nothing more than the Deposit of Faith; to Spinoza, prophecy can only call to the implementation of God’s truth known through reason. Revelation is understood differently, prophecy in the same way.
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