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The importance of scientific distinctions in Theology

We have mentioned the distinction between Revelation and the Bible or Word of God. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his Memoirs 1927–1977, called Milestones, insists: “Revelation, which is to say, God’s approach to man, is always greater than what can be contained in human words, greater than the words of Scripture…. Scripture is the essential witness of revelation, but revelation is something alive, something greater and more: proper to it is the fact that it arrives and is perceived − otherwise it could not have become revelation…. Revelation has instruments; but is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated…. If revelation is more than Scripture, if it transcends Scripture . . . then . . . the historical-critical method cannot be the last word concerning revelation; rather, ‘the living organism of faith of all ages is then an intrinsic part of revelation. And what we call ‘tradition’ is precisely that part of revelation that goes above and beyond Scripture and cannot be comprehended within a code of formulas” (127).

Unfortunately, few theologians in the Continent and in the Vatican Council had Ratzinger’s background and the majority followed the trend derived from JR Geiselmann’s alleged discovery in the Acts of the Council of Trent. “The initial formulation suggested for the decree issued at that time had stated that revelation was contained ‘partially in Scripture and partially in tradition’. The definitive text, however, avoided this ‘partially/partially’, replacing it with an ‘and’: in other words, Scripture and tradition together communicate revelation to us.

From this, Geiselmann concluded that Trent had wanted to teach that there can be no distribution of the contents of faith into Scripture, on the one hand, and tradition, on the other, but rather that both Scripture and tradition, each on its own, contain the whole of revelation, hence that each is complete in itself…. There was talk of the ‘material completeness’ of the Bible in matters of faith. This catchword, which was immediately in everybody’s lips and was regarded as a great new realisation, just as quickly became detached from its point of departure in the interpretation of the Tridentine decree. . . . This new theory, in fact, meant that exegesis now had to become the highest authority in the Church; . . . all of this meant that faith had to retreat into the region of the indeterminate and continually changing that characterises historical or would-be historical hypothesis. . . . The Council, naturally, had to oppose a theory developed in this manner; but the catchword ‘material completeness’, with all its consequences, now remained in the Church’s public awareness much more firmly than the Council’s actual final document. The drama of the postconciliar era has been largely determined by this catchword and its logical consequences” (124-126).

The “material completeness” also embraces the late Protestant error of sola Scriptura and, together with the mistaken identification of Scripture and Revelation, makes possible the unlimited proliferation of new ‘Christian’ sects. Anybody can proclaim he has the true Revelation because he knows what the Bible says.

Furthermore, Ratzinger recalls: “Existentialism fell apart, and the Marxist revolution kindled the whole university with its fervor, shaking it to its very foundations. A few years before, one could still have expected the theological faculties to represent a bulwark against the Marxist temptation. Now the opposite was the case: they became its real ideological center. . . . The destruction of theology that was now occurring (through its politization as conceived by Marxist messianism) was incomparably more radical precisely because it took biblical hope as its basis but inverted it by keeping the religious ardor but eliminating God and replacing him with the political activity of man. Hope remains, but the party takes the place of God. . . . (Milestones, 137).

In South America, we suffered the Theology of Liberation, amply supported by the Communist Soviet Union and by the present Superior of the Jesuits.

The theologians of the 13th century were absolutely right. Scripture is not Revelation. Ratzinger offers a definitive argument: “you can have Scripture without having revelation. For revelation always and only becomes a reality where there is faith. The non-believer remains under the veil of which Paul speaks in the third chapter of II Corinthians. He can read Scripture and know what is in it, can even understand at a purely intellectual level, what is meant and how what is said hangs together−and yet he has not shared in the revelation. . . . Consequently, the person who receives it also is a part of the revelation to a certain degree, for without him it does not exist. You cannot put revelation in your pocket like a book you carry around with you. It is a living reality that requires a living person as the locus of its presence” (God’s Word, 52).

With these distinctions, we can avoid multiple theological derailments.