Dulles continues in Chapter 4 with his second model: “Revelation as History.”
A word of preface here. One of the features of the model mind-set is the increasing tendency, since the late 18th c., to “historicize” everything. This means that people see everything only, or at least mostly, in terms of a process over time. This view connects closely with the model of evolution, and goes a long way to explain why we now tend to see everything, not merely biology, in terms of that theory.
In a positive sense, this historicizing can keep us from making the mistake of thinking that people at time A had the same assumptions or attitudes about stuff as people at time B. It has made us more aware of the diversity of human experience.
But in a negative sense, historicizing has also undermined any confidence in a fundamental stability to stuff. It denies more or less strongly that anything is permanently real: thus, no unifying human nature, no unchanging moral law, etc.
Since everything else was subjected to historicizing in the 19th c., it’s not surprising that revelation also was.
Dulles notes from the first that there is an historical element in the first model of Revelation as dogma. That model implies that revelation occurs in history, for where else would it occur? It notes that revelation must also be handed down through history (“Traditio”). And it includes some events, such as Exodus and the life of Christ, in the category of Revelation. “Still, the propositional model is not in the fullest sense historical, for it denies that the events of sacred history are by themselves revelation…” (53).
The defining notion of this model is that “revelation occurs primarily through deeds, rather than words, and that its primary content is the series of events by which God has manifested himself in the past” (53).
Dulles identifies three forms of this model, and gives examples of theologians who follow each.
The first form he calls “Revelation as Event.” “God, inasmuch as he is personal, cannot be adequately revealed through nature, but only through persons – that is to say, through actors on the stage of human history. The historical persons and events are the source of any truths which the mind may derive from them. Creeds and doctrines depend upon the prior events of revelation from which they are derived.” (54). The events, in other words, offer a self-evident interpretation. For this version of this model, there are some immediate problems:
• If words do not reveal, there are no revealed truths in dogmatic form. At the extreme, all dogma is changeable, if our interpretation of the events of sacred history changes.
• The Bible, strictly speaking, is not revealed, and therefore cannot be held to be inerrant.
• What becomes the ground for interpreting the events of sacred history? At the extreme, is there even such a thing as Tradition?
• “If we cannot trust the biblical interpretation, what resources do we have for asserting [even] the fact that God was active in this history?” (56).
The second form he calls “Revelation as Salvation History.” The Protestant Oscar Cullmann and the Catholic Jean Danielou represent this version of the model quite well. Cullmann responds to some of the problems of the first version of this model by distinguishing among event, prophetic interpretation, and recapitulation. [So for example, the meaning of the event, “the crossing of the Red Sea,” is made clear through the centuries by accumulating layers of interpretation of liturgy and law and prophecy, culminating in the baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the institution of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Church.] The key difference from the first version of the model is that here, the events cannot interpret themselves. So there must be some kind of meaning-carrying Tradition to serve as the interpretive key. The Catholic scholar Danielou follows much the same path, but manages to include in the accumulating layers of meaning in Tradition a defense of Patristic typology. Something very significant for the reality of the Church comes from this, but of course this is a Catholic point, which Cullmann does not fully agree with.
The principle objection to this second version is that it still posits two kinds of history taking place together: one objective and human, one sacred and meaningful only to those who have faith. The third version, which Dulles calls “Revelation as History,” takes on this objection. One of its principle supporters was Pannenberg. “Revelation, he holds, is not to be found in a special segment of history, but rather in universal history…” (59). In other words, every event, no matter what its context, or how mundane or celebrated, how public or private it is, can serve to reveal something of God in an objective way. [NB, this is tied in to the mid-20th c. defense of historicizing which tries to make history into a social science, rather than a liberal art.] “Hence no special illumination is needed for their meaning to be understood. It suffices that people be able to use their reason… Faith, therefore, does not precede the recognition of revelation…” (59). In order to hold this position, one must claim that events reveal God only indirectly, never directly, which denies the possibility of theophanies, word-revelations [“I am who am.”], and miracles.
This throws one immediately back to the question of interpretation. This version can only hang its claim to objective, universal interpretation on the Resurrection. This becomes the interpretative key to the whole of Revelation, the most fundamental meaning of any and every other event in human history.
Question: Can you think of examples of this model which you have encountered?