Friday, December 7, 2012

He “Dwells in Unapproachable Light”

God has a plan for us, and we have a desire for God. We can know that God exists by reason alone. We can even talk about Him.

And yet. . . . As Paul wrote to Timothy (pictured), God “dwells in unapproachable light” (Tim 6:16). So we come to the place in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) where we confront the realization that if we are going to know God intimately, it will only be because He reveals Himself to us.

As Cardinal Schönborn says in his useful summaries, Living the Catechism, if man is left alone to seek God without revelation, the result is “a groping that often goes astray and thus leads to false gods.”

In his guide to the Catechism, Catholic Christianity, Peter Kreeft notes that man is finite, fallible, and selfish. As a result, “a worm can know us more adequately than we can know God.” 

How God reveals himself, how He “comes to meet” us, is the subject of the next chapter in the CCC—and of my next few posts.

[This is one in a continuing series about the CCC. Today’s post covers paragraphs 50–53 and 68-69, and the accompanying question in the Compendium, What does God reveal to man?]

Whereas in the post two days ago we were thrown back to 1950 and the encyclical Humani Generis, this new question of how God reveals himself puts us squarely in 1965, at the end of the Vatican Council, reading the core Council document Dei Verbum

The Compendium has a short, beautiful answer to its own question:

God in his goodness and wisdom reveals himself. With deeds and words, he reveals himself and his plan of loving goodness which he decreed from all eternity in Christ. According to this plan, all people by the grace of the Holy Spirit are to share in the divine life as adopted “sons” in the only begotten Son of God.

God’s plan is one of “loving goodness.” The corresponding paragraphs in the CCC and especially the referenced paragraph 2 of Dei Verbum tell a fuller story. Here is DV 2

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.
There are phrases here that I would not want to live without. Like God speaking to us “as friends,” “out of the abundance of His love.” Like God taking me and you “into fellowship with Himself.”

I was in ninth grade when the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum was “promulgated” by His Holiness Pope Paul VI in November 1965, and I was still 43 years away from becoming a Catholic. I attended Episcopal Church, where I served faithfully as an acolyte (altar boy). I had no idea that there might be a possible controversy in this question, covered by Dei Verbum, about the nature of divine revelation and how it is handed on.

Only years later would I understand that Protestants (including us Episcopalians) didn’t buy the whole ball of Catholic wax. We took Scripture, God’s word, as the sole repository of revelation. We didn’t look as Catholics do at God’s deeds, particularly at what is known as salvation history, God’s “plan of revelation.” Schönborn explains this plan simply: “God at first revealed the Word only gradually. He wanted to make allowances for our weakness. Thus he bent down to us like a father to his children.”

Nor did we Protestants accept that the Holy Spirit guides the one universal Church established on the foundation of Peter and the Apostles; how the tradition and teaching authority of the Church are needed to understand God’s word; how, as DV puts it, “deeds and words [have] an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.”

All of which strikes me as beautiful today. And intellectually satisfying.

The question for tomorrow is, What are the first stages of God’s revelation?

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