Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Models of Revelation 5

We're still in Chapter 3, on the first model (revelation as doctrine). Remember Dulles's criteria of evaluation (see post #3):
1. Faithfulness to the Bible and Christian tradition
2. Internal coherence
3. Plausibility
4. Adequacy to experience
5. Practical fruitfulness – namely, “sustains moral effort, reinforces Christian commitment, and enhances the corporate life and mission of the Church” (p. 17)
6. Theoretical fruitfulness – humanly satisfying in the quest for religious understanding, and thus be of assistance for theology more broadly
7. Value for dialogue

Starting on p. 46, Dulles offers his evaluation of this model. First, its strengths: "The propositional model stands up well in terms of its faithfulness to tradition, its internal coherence, and its practical advantages..."

Faithfulness to Tradition: If revelation is in the form of doctrinal propositions, then these doctrinal propositions can be received immediately into Tradition, and preserved and passed on without having constantly to reinterpret and rephrase things. A good example of this would be Trinitarian and Christological formulae. Having been hashed out in finest detail once, and all the pieces and foundations of these formulae having been located in revealed Scripture, we don't need to redo any of that fight.

Internal Coherence: "Once the premises are granted, the whole theory follows with a certain inevitability. This, in turn, makes for a measure of theoretical fruitfulness. The propositional model provides firm doctrinal standards, so that the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of theological opinions can be measured..." (p. 46).

Practical advantages: A simple and useable theological method derives directly from this model. "Theology, then, has the task of systematizing the data of revelation, defending them against adversaries, and spelling out their logical implications." (p. 47). Even if one claims that theology may also do other things, these tasks are necessary as part of our response to revelation.

Moreover, "Among the more striking advantages of this model are its practical fruitfulness for the unity and growth of the Church." (p. 47). This would include loyalty to Scripture and Tradition, and clarity of and solidarity in identity and mission.

He then lists these weaknesses of this model:

"The Bible, in this approach, is viewed principally as a collection of propositions, each of which can be taken by itself as a divine assertion." (p. 48). And, "...every declarative sentence in the Bible, unless the contrary can be shown from the context, is to be taken as expressing a revealed truth." (p. 48-9). Both of these are true in a sense, but not absolutely. Some doctrines are revealed propositionally and immediately in Scripture (e.g., the sanctity of human life, in the Ten Commandments); some are revealed symbolically and must therefore be derived exegetically, which this model, as a pure type, does less well. Again, the quality of revealed truth in each sentence in Scripture must exist, unless we think that God can lie to us; but the nature of that truth is not identical from sentence to sentence. (This is sometimes referred to as the "four levels" of truth in Scripture.) These nuances are not contradicted by this model, but something must be added to the model to understand this in the way the Church asks us to.

Another weakness is adduced in the historicism of the day. If conciliar and magisterial statements of dogma are merely historical and not universal truths, then their foundation in Scripture may not be universal either. (You won't be surprised to know that I reject this sort of hyper-historicism root and branch, for very good epistemological reasons that are probably too complicated to deal with here.)

Another weakness is its "inadequacy to experience" (p. 50-1). It demands assent to explicit propositions and to past definitions, "irrespective of whether they actually illuminate the believer's own situation." (p. 51). To this it must be noted that this model, and its fruits, have certainly illuminated believers' situations, both in the past and in the present; and that the possibility of universal truth, as claimed, is not precluded by examples of weak or failed faith. To be fair, the other possibility needs to be considered objectively, also.

"Finally, it must be mentioned that the doctrinal understanding of revelation has not shown itself favorable to dialogue with other churches and religions." (p. 51). Again, this is true in one sense: if such doctrines are true, then their opposites cannot be, and those who adhere to the opposites are objectively in error. But, if one accepts that something in revelation is true, one can then pursue it in dialogue; while if one accepts that nothing is universally true in revelation, no dialogue is even possible.

Summary: On criteria # 1, 2, 5, and 6, this model is strong or very strong. On criteria # 4, this model is weak. On criteria # 3 and 7, this model gets mixed review, depending on other presuppositions. Dulles concludes with this final caveat: "In this chapter we have taken as a target a rather rigid form [what I called above a "pure type"] of the propositional model. In showing the shortcomings of this style of theology we should not be taken as implying that God's revelation is devoid of cognitive value or that the clear teachings of Scripture and the creeds are without grounds in revelation." (p. 52). To be revelation to us, at least some part of it must be graspable and expressible by our human intellects, in human language.

7 comments:

Tom said...

OK, first, I am till getting up to speed with this book. Not exactly "a quick read in the bathroom" is it? Excellent content and in need of significant digestion.

My comment that has stuck me backs up a bit from where David has started us. I would go back to page 45 under the summary where it is talking about the deposit of prophetic-apostolic revelation. It states "This deposit is held to consist, at least partly, of the canonical scriptures which, as a collection of inspired and inerrant propositions, are to be accepted with implicit faith" Isn't this really the guts of it in the end? In the end, all revelation is ACCEPTED WITH IMPLICIT FAITH. We will certainly read, analyze and discover many excellent (and probably poor) examples of different types of revelation. Specific to the propositional model, it appears to this very simple mind to all be reliant on our belief and faith in what was revealed to others and subsequently their teachings from it. I'm sure I'm missing something and hope to get some feedback.

dbrockhaus said...

i am still trying to understand any of this.
i keep wondering why i would use any of these "models" to dicern truth in scripture when we already have the catechism to keep our faith in truth.
in other words why try to re-invent the wheel? it rolls perfectly.

Deacon David said...

Tom, one of the questions that the Church first faced was, "What qualifies as revelation?" Gnostics and Manicheans invented all kinds of so-called revelations to justify their strange beliefs and practices. If any insight with spiritual overtones is a revelation, then what kind of mess is that?

The response to that question was the codification of the Canon of the New Testament (resting in part on the Canon of the OT, the Septuagint). On that basis, the statement, "All revelation is accepted with implicit faith," is self-evident. But only because revelation has now been adequately defined!

The modern world has once again thrown the definition of revelation in doubt or confusion, by constantly challenging every form of authority. Again, if there is no authority that is universal or transcendent over the human, then the statement, "All revelation is accepted with implicit faith" means "check your brain at the door." This is why main-stream media regular portray believing Christians as stupid, ignorant, or both.

I'll look at the particular passage tomorrow and see what his context is, and maybe add something more specific to this remark.

Deacon David said...

Dennis, your instincts are excellent. But, it is possible to push or be pushed a little deeper. Why does the Catechism say (and the Church believe) X instead of Y? Someone needs to be able to answer that question, wouldn't you agree? Especially when faced with the modern absolute rejection of any authority outside the individual will, finding a way to connect the Magisterium with "my free choice" is really critical to catechizing and evangelizing successfully.

Maybe it helps to think of it as tightening the spokes to keep the wheel in perfect round?

Tom said...

I couldn't agree with you more David. Very clear authority of what is revelation and what is not is essential. Our faith has grown and will continue to grow only under that authority. My point, at least in my mind, goes back further than that. What is the begining of our faith? Where did it begin historically? Was it with our first parents Adam and Eve? Was it with Noah, Abraham, Isaac? At each of these levels, more is revealed by God to man. The fulfillment of revelation is in the Incarnate Word which is Christ Himself. It appears that at each of the levels there was no authority to determine what was divinely revealed or not. It still came down to faith. I still believe that I am faced with the same decission. Only an added part is I am asked "do I believe the church has the authority to decide what is divinely revealed" and I must, at some point, give that assent of faith. I agree completely with everything that must then follow. It is necessary to have a ligitimate interpreter or there would be nothing but "opinion polls". Frankly, that has been one of the great tragedies since the reformation. Too many of us living with the idea that "if I think it, it must be so". I am ashamed I fell into the catagory all to often.

In the end, I guess for me it starts with the individual assent to the gift of faith given by God. I suppose that's the point I'm taking all too long to make.

Tom said...

On the drive home tonight, I was listening to Catholic Answers and the topic was reading sacred scripture and an interesting topic came up that I found relevant to our discussion on authenticating revelation. I have not heard this anywhere before and hope to get response. In essence, they were talking about Jesus being the authenticator of sacred scripture in a very unique way: he believed, taught and proclaimed the first 5 books of the old testament, the Torah. What greater authentication of revelation do we need than that that Christ believed it? I had never even thought of that before.

dbrockhaus said...

Can we consider, that our Creature, weaved into our being the desire to know him and are drawn to him. Faith is how we define that unexplainable magnetism.In a simple approach, if a duck could talk, could he explain why he is drawn to watar? Can we explain why we are drawn to God? i will continue to try to understand this book, but in the end i hope to discover that God is water and by his grace, he made me a duck.:-)