POSSIBILITY OF DIVINE REVELATION
Why Supernatural Revelation is Possible
Supernatural revelation, or divine revelation, is possible if there is nothing to prevent it (a) on the part of God, (b) on the part of man, or (c) on the part of the truth revealed.
There is nothing to prevent revelation on the part of God. First, because God is almighty and capable of communicating whatever truth He wants to reveal to man. Second, because the revelation of truth to man is not against God’s infinite majesty and dignity. Some people have the silly opinion that it is unbecoming for God to be making revelations to a mere creature. On the contrary, the revelation of divine truth speaks of God’s great kindness and benevolence, just as it is most praiseworthy of a wise teacher to be teaching the most ignorant and backward pupil.
There is also nothing to prevent revelation on the part of man, because it is quite normal for man to learn truth from others than through his own personal discovery. Can there be a better teacher for man to learn theological truths than God Himself, who possesses infinite knowledge, wisdom and authority? Sure, man has only a limited capacity for learning. But this does not mean that he cannot receive supernatural truths at all. It only means that he cannot have an exhaustive knowledge of the boundless truth that is revealed to him.
There is also nothing to prevent revelation on the part of the truth revealed, because truth, like goodness, is of its nature communicable, that means, it can be passed on from teacher to pupil, from the learned to the ignorant.
Why the Revelation of Essentially Supernatural Truth is Possible
An essentially supernatural truth, such as the mystery of the Blessed Trinity or the mystery of the Incarnation, is, by definition, one that is beyond the normal capacity of a human being to reach without the aid of revelation. An essentially supernatural truth is not a truth that cannot be known at all, but one that a human being cannot arrive at just by natural reasoning alone. And, because an essentially supernatural truth cannot be arrived at by natural reasoning alone, it has to be revealed to him in order to be known.
An essentially supernatural truth is not against reason. However, it is above reason and, therefore, is fittingly called a “mystery,” a theological mystery. Now, the divine revelation of theological mysteries is possible if (a) such mysteries in fact exist, and (b) there is nothing incongruous about such truths being revealed to man.
That theological mysteries exist, or that there are realities above the human reason to grasp, is clear enough. If there are mysteries even in the physical world (“mysteries of science”), how can we presume that there would be no mysteries about divine realities that are outside the reach of our senses and reasoning powers? Is not God infinite, and therefore boundless in being and in truth? If the human mind is finite and limited in its ability to discover hidden truths, and God is infinite in Being, then it is logical to think that there are realities about God that would be above the human mind to discover on its own.
Also, there is nothing incongruous about essentially supernatural truths being revealed to man. Rationalists and naturalist philosophers claim that essentially supernatural truths, or so-called mysteries of faith, are unsuitable objects for our intellect to grasp, and therefore unfitting for God to reveal. However, this is not true because the human intellect is made for knowing truth, and truth is the formal object of the human intellect. The only thing that is really against reason is falsity, or things that contain a logical inconsistency or internal contradiction. But theological mysteries, although above the natural ability of reason to discover, are neither false nor logically inconsistent, which means that they are neither against reason nor contrary to reason. Therefore, they are not unsuitable, but fitting objects for God to reveal in a supernatural revelation.
The Possibility of Divine Revelation was affirmed by Vatican I
The First Vatican Council, or Vatican Council I, decreed that the possibility of divine revelation is a dogma of the Catholic Faith: “If anyone shall have said that it is not possible nor expedient that through divine revelation man be taught about God and the worship to be given to Him: let him be anathema.” (Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, #1807). The Council made this decree to oppose the folly of those who deny a priori the the possibility of any supernatural revelation simply on the ground that it involves the miraculous or the supernatural. It is, therefore, directed mainly against the rationalists and the naturalists.
Rationalists base their rejection of supernatural revelation on the idea that nothing should be believed that cannot be proved by reason. The problem is that this idea that everything knowable can be proved by reason, is itself an unproved proposition. How do they know that there is nothing else to know beyond the limits of reason? As Shakespeare assures us through the mouth of Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 1, Scene 5 toward the end).
Naturalists deny supernatural revelation because it involves the supernatural or the miraculous. They claim that miracles do not happen, and that everything results from natural principles or has a natural explanation. They speak as though they knew that God does not and will not intervene in nature. But this idea itself is just a big assumption; it is an act of faith in the impossibility of the supernatural, and does not itself result from natural principles. Why, indeed, would miracles be impossible? Nature and Nature's laws are only God's creation. Therefore, there is nothing in nature that necessitates God to always obey its laws.
As a result of their denial of anything supernatural or miraculous, both rationalists and naturalists are forced to present ridiculous theories in their desperate attempt to explain away many of the miracles and supernatural facts recorded in Holy Scripture. For example, they dismiss the miracle at Cana, where Christ changed water into wine, as a wedding prank. They claim that the healing miracles attributed to Christ were performed on people who were not really sick, but just misdiagnosed. They say that at the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish, Christ hypnotized five thousand people into believing that they were fed with bread and fish. These unfounded claims are ludicrous and are more the result of prejudice against Christianity than sound scholarship.
At Mount Horeb God appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush that wasn't burnt. Then He revealed Himself to him saying: "I AM WHO AM" (Ex 3:14).
Moses and the Burning Bush
A painting by Sebastien Bourdon (1616-1671)
Image source link: Commons.Wikimedia.org
"Those who reject theological mysteries simply because they are above the power of reason to discover will do well to reflect on these words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Just as, therefore, it would be the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 3, #4.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
A Painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)
Photographed by Amuley, CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Image / license link: commons.wikimedia.org