– Rev José Mario O Mandía
We have seen how we can know God using our reason. God shows or reveals himself to us through the things he has created, much like a painter communicates his thoughts and feelings through his works of art. Thus the term “natural revelation.” Nonetheless, we cannot know much more because of the limitations of our knowledge. It is possible to know that a painter exists when we see his painting. Through his work, it is also possible to know the painter’s interests or inclinations through his work, but there are still many things that we can know about him as a person if we speak to him directly. This is what “supernatural revelation” means.
The fact of supernatural revelation is succinctly explained to us in the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-4). “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Supernatural Revelation is a locutio Dei (“God’s speech or discourse”) to men. This is the greatest claim that both Jews and Christians can make: God has spoken to us! As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he has spoken first through the prophets. Both Jews and Christians accept this truth (see Bite-Size Theology 4).
The same letter also tells us, however, that God has spoken to us “by a Son,” the Lord Jesus Christ. God has spoken to us in person! This is what Christians believe. It is a great privilege. It also entails great responsibility.
“In giving us his Son, his only and definitive Word, God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word, and he has no more to say.” (Saint John of the Cross)
We have seen earlier (Bite-Size Theology 3) that religion is the set of (1) truths (about God, man and the world) and (2) precepts (how man should behave towards God, other men and the world), and (3) rites (how God blesses man and how man worships God).
The religion that Jesus founded far surpasses other religions founded by ordinary humans because (1) Jesus Christ not only teaches us the truth. He is the Truth. Through Him, we get to know the full truth about God, man and the world. (2) Moreover, unlike other moral teachers, he not only shows us the way. He is the Way. (3) Unlike other priests (the priests of the Old Testament or other religions), he does not only give divine life. He is the Life, he Himself is God’s blessing, because He is true God. Furthermore, because He is true man, he can offer to God the perfect sacrifice in favor of men.
Is supernatural revelation really necessary? Of what use is it?
As far as God is concerned, he does not have any need to tell us about himself. God subsists perfectly in himself and does not need anything or anyone else. But out of his great mercy, he has decided to let us his creatures know about him.
If God didn’t do this, man would only have a very vague and confused knowledge of God. Pope Pius XII, in the encyclical Humani generis, reiterates St Thomas Aquinas’ position (see Summa Theologiae, part I, question 1, article 1) that we need supernatural revelation to know not only supernatural truths but also those truths that our mind can discover by itself, “so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all men with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.”