The Word of God and the People of God

In all of Church History, people have experienced the One God whom we worship in and through Jesus Christ. These experiences can help other Christians, and can even be highly beneficial to all the faithful. However, these revelations are not universal, and are not to be imposed on others as necessary to the faith.

In today’s Christianity, there is an identity crisis plaguing all forms of Christian spirituality so that many of the churches have essentially forgotten the deposit of faith in their consideration of what makes Christianity specifically Christian.

What I mean is, Christians are turning everywhere but the deposit of faith for revelation and insist of revolution instead of renewal, often unknowingly insist on rebellion instead of remembering the Fathers of our faith. Some turn to reaction instead of refining, some are caught in the endless present through culture wars and forget the deeper and more enduring aspects of the faith that are a constant source of guidance and renewal.

Especially among Protestants, private revelations run wild. They change the faith, they alter the form and content of Christianity from generation to generation. Word-faith, full-gospel, and other movements which bear the name Charismatic are often shaped by private revelations. What can truly help unite the Churches and set them on a single path, united despite differences is a common realm of experience. In fact, Tradition is simply the records of a commonly regarded and Authoritative Experience.

Pope Benedict XVI offers this meditation from Verbum Domini under the paragraph called “The Eschatological Dimension of the Word of God”:

[Private Revelation] can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered but its use is not obligatory.

Discernment is something that we all need when encountering the Word of God through the people of God. It is incumbent upon us to learn how to take upon ourselves the voice and mind of the Church. Hope, Faith and Love are to be essential criteria of how we are to understand and hold to private revelations. The virtues they inculcate and the general charity which they inspire are essential elements of how we relate to revelations that are non-essential to faith. Pope Benedict XVI offers us a criterion:

In any event, [the validity of private revelations] must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation.

There we have it. Discernment is a matter of virtue, of charity and Christ-likeness in all things.

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2 thoughts on “The Word of God and the People of God

  1. The identity crisis you talk about is interesting. From your perspective, what do you think its a result of?

    Are you saying that the emergence of Charismatic movements and a focus on personal revelation are a reaction to this identity crisis? It makes sense, but I don’t really have experience with those facets of Christianity, so it would be interesting to hear you expand on that. Also, if so, how does this affect your view of Charismatic and Evangelical Catholic movements, especially considering how they’ve flourished since John Paul II? Are they a reaction to the same sort of crisis?

    I think its interesting to look at our Church’s history as containing cycles of crisis -> reaction -> revival -> stagnation -> crisis. We can look at the Reformation as a kind of case study for this. You could cast the church as having stagnated, or become complacent with the social order. Then you have the crisis of early reformers, the immediate reaction of the heirarchy, and then the revival period. What’s interesting is that the revival contained a lot of mystical personal revelation. St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, St. Terese of Avila’s Interior Castle, St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits, etc.

    What you’ve said about tradition reminds me of some of Chesterton’s arguments. If I remember right, he talked about tradition as an extension of democracy. He said that tradition was like giving a vote to the dead.

    I’d like to add just one more thing related to this. One thing that has never really sat well with me with Evangelical and Charismatic forms of Protestantism (apologies if i’m confusing terms here) is how much a preachers personality can be tied to worship. One of the many benefits of having a Eucharist-centered Mass is that it ensures that Jesus is the focus, and no matter how big a priest’s personality, it can never eclipse Christ’s true presence.

    Sorry for the rather scattered thoughts. Also, I may not have been commenting recently, but that’s just because I haven’t had much to say, I’ve still been reading!

    Peace,
    -Mike

    • Hey Mike, I think that the identity crisis I describe, has many factors. Among them I would list:

      1. The loss of Dogmatic imagination on all levels of the Church

      2. The continued proliferation of Enlightenment individualism

      3. The rise of private revelation over the deposit of faith in all Christian denominations, though this seems to be minimal among Catholics.

      In response to your questions on evangelical and Charismatic movements: I think that evangelical movements are often the victims of this identity crisis due to lack of dogmatic imagination. They have often lost the ways to think in and with the Christian story. Their setting for Chrisitan faith is stripped down. The shape of many evangelical churches is an iconoclasm against history.

      There is a new movement returning to dogma among evangelical intellectuals but Catholics would do well to assist in this process through humility and not falling away from the deposit of faith.

      I am interested by your cyclical view of Church History and in a sense you’re right. The counter-reformation is full of personal piety, but again their experience was drawn from the deposit of faith. The protestant reformation is full of personal revelation juxtaposed againt the church’s deposit of faith.

      I am a huge Chesterton fan and I had his argument in mind. I remain convinced that he said it best.

      To address your one more thing: Many Charismatics are evangelical, not all evangelicals are Charismatic. Charismatic here relates to the nature of religious experience more than personality type, though they are often inseparable.

      The one thing that stuck with me through the mass was the importance of worship and Christ rather than anything else. Mass is not about what I receive it is about what God receives from me and in turn reflects His gifts to me through the mass. The emphasis is often solely on God. It is wonderful.

      Thanks for the comment, I love your thoughts.

      Merry Christmas,
      Eli

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