The assignment: Write a three page paper responding to the following questions. How can the finite man Jesus be the fullness of divine revelation? How can the finite Roman Catholic Church transmit the fullness of divine revelation? Include reference to the way in which Dominus Iesus shows the interdependence of claims for the uniqueness of Christ and claims for the uniqueness of the Church.

Certain neo-modernist theologians of our day deny the complete character of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s revelation. Their argument is as follows: “Being finite, limited, and conditioned historically, linguistically, and culturally are part of what it means to be human. Jesus was fully human. Therefore, Jesus’ humanity must also be finite, limited and conditioned historically, linguistically, and culturally. One further step is required: since Jesus’ humanity is thus limited, it can only communicate a limited truth about God.”[1]

These theologians, who include John Macquarrie, Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., and Roger Haight, S.J., open the door to the grave error that the Christian revelation, being thus limited at its source, must be complemented by what other religions teach.

Johnson, a feminist, adds that Jesus’ maleness is a limitation, since God is neither male nor female.

The argument is a childish one, a monster of an ignoratio elenchi. For orthodox Christology does not claim that Jesus’ revelation is complete because the man, Jesus, is infinite. No, traditional theology teaches that the infinite God became man, completing his revelation to man in Jesus Christ.

Before developing this argument, I would like to point out that the term “fullness of divine revelation” can be misunderstood to mean that Christ revealed absolutely everything about God. This is obviously not true. Not even our Lady, enjoying the Beatific Vision as no other human person ever will, can have a complete knowledge of the Trinity. For, to have a complete comprehension of God is to be God. Besides this, if God had revealed all that our finite intellects can know in this life, there would be nothing reserved for heaven (thus contradicting I Cor. 2:9: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.”). God could have chosen to reveal more about Himself or to reveal less about Himself. That God revealed Himself at all was a gratuitous gift. These points being made, we must firmly hold that the Christian revelation, which is identical to the Catholic depositum fidei, is the totality of those supernaturally revealed truths God has freely willed to teach man.

This allows us to make a distinction: Jesus’ revelations are limited in terms of their contents (the are not an exhaustive revelation of God’s essence) and in terms of their modus (they were revealed in human language), but not in terms of their purpose (they reveal the complete truth God chose to reveal). A very important truth to add to this is that the revelations of Jesus admit of no complementary source of supernatural revelation (e.g., Talmudism, Islam, Buddism, etc.) aside from God’s revelations to the faithful of the old dispensation. It seems to me that these considerations, besides clarifying the verbiage of the question, go a long way in refuting the spurious liberal notions being considered, which are based on the notion of the “limitations” of the revelation in Christ.

Now I offer positive proofs for the fullness of Jesus Christ’s revelation. First, it is ex clara scriptura that the totality of what God has chosen to reveal to man was revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ’s teachings are the fullness of God’s supernatural revelation is the force of St. Paul’s utterance that “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance… sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high.”[2] The excellence of the New Law is that God himself “opening his mouth, taught them”[3] and subsequently promised and sent the Holy Ghost who would “teach … all truth.”[4] This same Holy Ghost, says the Teacher of the New Law, “shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine. Therefore I said, that he shall receive of mine, and shew it to you.[5]

The teaching of the Fathers, councils and creeds gives further clarity to this biblical doctrine.

Distinguishing the two natures in Christ clearly, the Christology that comes to us from the early councils and creeds posits an unmixed union of an infinite nature and a finite nature in one divine subject. Whereas the historical Christological heresies have mixed the two, or denied one or the other of these natures, Catholic theology distinguishes without dividing. “The creeds distinguish between the infinite character of the divine nature and the finite character of Jesus’ human nature, but they also affirm that through the finite human nature of Jesus, one comes to know the divine Person of the Word. The infinite is revealed through the finite because in the one unique instance of Jesus Christ the infinite is united with the finite in the one Person. … [T]he creeds affirm that when I come to know the man Jesus, I come to know the Person of the Word. There is no one else whom I can come to know in Jesus.[6]

The idea that Jesus’ revelation was incomplete is one of several errors forming a complexus of interdependent heretical opinions recently censured by the Holy See. In addition to the fullness and definitive character of divine revelation in Christ, the salvific unicity (uniqueness) of Jesus was upheld against the opinions which deny that He is the only Savior. Also condemned were notions which admitted a saving mission of the Logos independent of the Incarnation, and a sanctifying mission of the Holy Ghost independent of the economy of the Christian dispensation. An additional error, logically flowing from these, entails a variation of what Pope Gregory XVI condemned as Indifferentism, i.e., that one can be saved in a religion other than the true one.

Addressing these and other related opinions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the declaration, Dominus Iesus. On the question of the fullness of Christ’s revelation, the declaration asserts: “the words, deeds, and entire historical event of Jesus, though limited as human realities, have nevertheless the divine Person of the Incarnate Word, ‘true God and true man’ as their subject. For this reason, they possess in themselves the definitiveness and completeness of the revelation of God’s salvific ways, even if the depth of the divine mystery in itself remains transcendent and inexhaustible. The truth about God is not abolished or reduced because it is spoken in human language; rather, it is unique, full, and complete, because he who speaks and acts is the Incarnate Son of God. Thus, faith requires us to profess that the Word made flesh, in his entire mystery, who moves from incarnation to glorification, is the source, participated but real, as well as the fulfilment of every salvific revelation of God to humanity, and that the Holy Spirit, who is Christ’s Spirit, will teach this ‘entire truth’ (Jn 16:13) to the Apostles and, through them, to the whole Church.”[7]

As in the earlier passage from Dr. Dauphinais, here we see that it is the Incarnation, the Word’s being made flesh, that forms the basis of the uniqueness and completeness of Jesus’ teaching and saving work.

After describing certain modern errors, including one which sees Our Lord as “a particular, finite, historical figure, who reveals the divine not in an exclusive way, but in a way complementary with other revelatory and salvific figures,” the declaration says that “These theses are in profound conflict with the Christian faith. The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and he alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father.” It goes on to cite several scriptural passages with affirm the unique dignity of the incarnate Logos, the last of which is from St. Paul: “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, on earth and in the heavens, making peace by the blood of his Cross” (Col 1:19-20).[8]

The scope of Dominus Iesus goes beyond the domain of Christ’s uniqueness in the sphere of revelation. It also speaks of his “salvific universality.” In other words, Christ is not only the unique teacher of divine revelation for all men, the Master who teaches on the Mount and on the Cross; he is also the unique savior of all who are saved. The declaration neatly summarizes both aspects (“revelatory” and “salvific”), contrasting the orthodox position with the heretical sophisms under consideration: “Not infrequently it is proposed that theology should avoid the use of terms like ‘unicity’, ‘universality’, and ‘absoluteness’, which give the impression of excessive emphasis on the significance and value of the salvific event of Jesus Christ in relation to other religions. In reality, however, such language is simply being faithful to revelation, since it represents a development of the sources of the faith themselves. From the beginning, the community of believers has recognized in Jesus a salvific value such that he alone, as Son of God made man, crucified and risen, by the mission received from the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bestows revelation (cf. Mt 11:27) and divine life (cf. Jn 1:12; 5:25-26; 17:2) to all humanity and to every person.”[9]

In reply to the second of the two questions, in summary fashion, we say that the Church is the recipient and the authentic dispenser of Jesus’ teachings, and of the grace of the Holy Ghost which she distributes chiefly in her sacraments. If the completeness and definitive character of Jesus’ revelation is based on the fact that He is a divine Person in whom we come to know God, then the definitive character of the Church’s teachings are based on the fact that this same Jesus is the head of the Church who unites the Church to himself most intimately, communicating to her His truth and sanctity, giving her that infallibility she needs to carry out her mission to teach all nations.

Because the Church is a “perfect society,” that is, a society with all the means at its disposal to achieve its end, she passes on the complete revelation of Jesus Christ in its integrity. She is “the pillar and ground of the truth”[10] whom her divine Founder charged to preach the same saving truth he preached, with his authority: “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.”[11] And: “Amen, amen I say to you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.”[12] Not only that, but the Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ, which is vivified by the Holy Ghost and administers Christ’s sacraments to sanctify the faithful: “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.”[13]

Christ’s completeness and uniqueness as teacher and savior are mirrored in the Church, which forms one body, one supernatural organism, with him.

These points are summarized in Dominus Iesus: “The Lord Jesus, the only Saviour, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. Indeed, Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27), which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18). And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”. This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9).”[14]

Finally, Dominus Iesus cites Dignitatis Humanae “treating the question of the true religion”: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people. Thus, he said to the Apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28: 19-20). Especially in those things that concern God and his Church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it.”[15]

Our Lord said to His Father, “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”[16] Such knowledge, a loving knowledge of intimacy, is found only in the Church, the “Whole Christ.” For this reason, there is no salvation outside the Church.

Bibliography:

Aquinas, Thomas, St., Summa Theologiae, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition: Kevin Knight, 2003. Online, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/summa.

Dauphinais, Michael, and Levering, Matthew, Knowing the Love of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.

Kereszty, Roch A., O. Cist., Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Chrisology. Staten Island: The Society of St. Paul, 2003.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration “Dominus Iesus” On the Unicity and Salvific Efficacy of Jesus Christ and the Church. Online, available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html.


[1] Class notes: “Lesson 10: Christ as the Full Revelation of God,” http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c03710.htm.

[2] Heb 1:1-3.

[3] Mat. 5:3.

[4] Jn. 16:13.

[5] Jn 16:14-15 (emphasis mine).

[6] Class Notes, ibid. (emphasis mine).

[7] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration “Dominus Iesus” On the Unicity and Salvific Efficacy of Jesus Christ and the Church. Online, available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html., 6 (emphasis mine).

[8] Ibid., 10 (emphasis in original).

[9] Ibid., 15 (emphasis mine).

[10] 1 Tim 3:15.

[11] Jn. 20:21.

[12] Jn. 13:20.

[13] I Cor 4:1.

[14] Dominus Iesus, 16 (emphasis mine).

[15] Ibid., 23.

[16] John 17:3.

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