March 24, 2011

No New Revelation

When addressing controverted subjects, we are called to look back on the Scriptural text for guidance in dealing with things about which those texts are themselves silent. The issue is not, "What would they have said?" on a topic about which they did not speak; but rather, "What do we say based on what those texts say about other things, using natural reason and knowledge gained since their writing to interpret old texts for new principles."

This is not about any new revelation. As one important story from rabbinic history shows: Revelation is now closed, but interpretation is open -- even a voice from heaven, even from God, cannot contravene the findings of the living interpretative community because, "It [i.e., the Law] is not in heaven" -- that is, God has given the Scripture to the people of God and it is up to us to wrestle with it.

People may well disagree about the outcomes of the wrestling match. And the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not entirely out of place, but has to be asked by positing Jesus not of his time, but as he is with us in our time -- as I believe he is, in his church, through his Spirit, which is now engaged in addressing challenges he did not address in those earlier days. There is no new revelation, but there is always new understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Tim said...


I agree in broad strokes with the thrust of your post. With Reason to assist in interpretation, there is great and prescient insight to be gained from the Scriptures in rising to the challenges which face us today.

Where things become unsure for me is your statement that Revelation is now closed. I will freely admit that it is extraordinary and that such things don't happen to everyone. Still, to say that the Spirit cannot or even does not lead us to Truth in that manner seems...well, as if mankind is averting their collective eyes from a valid and ancient method of the Divine communicating with us.

To me, it would make sense to compare such revelations against Scripture and Tradition (and our own conscience and Reason) to ensure that the voice 'rings true'. If so, then give the insight due consideration.

Just a thought.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Tim. I'm perhaps taking "revelation" in a narrower sense than you. I'm following Hooker's concept that revelation is that which one could not come to by other means -- the proclamation of a reality that is not simply concordant with experience, but "revealed" and assented to as a matter of faith. That these things may well "ring true" to the faithful is indeed a sign of God's Spirit at work. But the point about revelation is that it is "new" -- not simply something that is congruent with past or present experience or reason -- indeed, as Hooker suggests, it is something that could not be derived from reason: which is why it had to be revealed.

My primary goal in this post, which came out of a discussion on the House of Bishop's list, is to counter the accusation of "new revelations" which are, to my mind, actually more like what you describe: ideas or theories (ways of seeing) or novel perceptions or interpretations that are concordant with the sacred data at hand, whether in Scripture or Tradition, or the Experience of the faithful.

Part of this also comes from the doctrine of sufficiency: all that was required for salvation has been revealed -- it may not yet have been fully understood! We are being led into Truth, but the Truth is there, revealed in Christ, as the classical theology would say.

Tim said...


Context is everything. :)

In regard to my initial comments regarding 'Revelation', I was drawing from Hooker as well. (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Preface, Ch.iii, 10).

Reading through our respective replies, I believe that you are correct in that I am working with a slightly broader definition than you. More strikingly, it appears that I have a different focus when it comes to Revelation vis a vis Reason.

For myself, it is not a matter of 'could not come through Reason', but rather 'does not come through Reason'; and fully recognizing that
there are things which can be (and, I would argue, are) shown through Revelation which are outside the individual's experience which are within the collective Christian mundane experience.

I think I understand a bit of the context your post is stemming from and, as you are attempting to address a particular I said, context is everything.

Speaking of context, I feel I should explain a bit of my own. A strong influence on my thought at present is what I see as the 'hijacking' of the Divine's job by ordered clergy (and some laity) in various faith structures.

Whether it being a priest saying that THEY perform the miracle of transubstantiation, laity judging people's righteousness or a bishop claiming sole right to ordain, I am increasingly viewing these things as assumption of prerogatives which rightly belong to the Divine, not to mortal men of any kind. Please pardon me if I come across a bit strong on this.

Most importantly? I wish to thank you for your posts and the opportunity for respectful, intelligent dialogue which makes me think and reflect.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Tim, for these further thoughts.

I suppose part of my concern is about revelation always coming "through" someone, and the fact that it implies reception and transmission as well.

And I am as you are suspicious of uppity clergy or laity who presume to think they function on their own, rather than as organs with a particular gift or faculty for the good of the whole organism.

I like to think that the priest cannot continue with the celebration without the people's affirmation of the final question in the sursum corda, nor can the bishop ordain without the consent of the people. Context, and relationship, is indeed everything. We are nothing without each other.

Anonymous said...

John 2007
I think Tobias' point is really in need of making especially in this regard: there is a definitive sense in which God has declared, shown, revealed himself as thus and so in Jesus so that we do live now in the era of interpretation, new discovery, and application. There is, I think, historical finality of a sort with Incarnation and Resurrection etc., that cannot and will not be repeated (which one reason I am suspect of the loose use of Incarnation, abounding everywhere, to refer to what we do, or to what God does when something gracious or transformative happens. But that is another rant by me . . . .)
Of course, God does new things. New things happen. God is involved with the world. But if one really grasps the idea of God stepping onto the world stage in Jesus, concretely, really, as a means of self-identification (unveiling, revealing) then everything looks different by this ligt.It is revelation and all else we see in the light of revelation.

Tim said...

I see where you are going in regard to Revelation, but my base-line assumption is that, as Revelation is an intensely personal experience, it is tailored by the Spirit for that person, not for the general weal. Put differently, if the Divine wishes to publicly reveal new Truth, He'd find a big wall to write on (or there's always the voice from the cloud/pillar of fire...that's a classic).

Regarding the clergy and laity statements, I was looking in the other direction. Without the action of the Divine, the sacraments are empty words.

That said, you raise an extremely valid point I had not previously considered. Almost all the sacraments have a strong social component. Augustine says that the people..the laity, if you will, is the Body of Christ. If the Body does not consent (actively or passively) with the actions of the priest or bishop, then things are pretty much done.

Once again, you have shown me a new way of looking at things. Thank you.



Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, John2007. Hooker and I would agree! The Incarnation, in Christ, of God, is THE Revelation. And Hooker's point is that especially for those of us who weren't there, that revelation is transmitted by the Scripture -- and it is not something we could discern through reason alone.

I also share your concern about an overuse of "incarnation" when what is meant is more like "reality."

Tim, thanks again. I guess the question is, "Does God still speak to individuals?" I think clearly the Spirit does, especially as we engage both with past revelation and the "reality" of what is actually happening. Still, I want to emphasize the communal aspect in which this is worked out via transmission and reception. As I once put it, God may well speak to a Simon Stylites, but prefers the assembly to the private audience. It is "when two or three are gathered in God's name" that the divine presence is most clearly discerned. And I see in that a connection to the sacramental: God "is" in the between -- the divine is present and revealed in the relationships of the organs of the body; The body is seen as a body because the organs are related and work together. This is the organic model for the church that I think has it right.