The Religious Sense

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Chapter 15: The Hypothesis of Revelation: Conditions for its Acceptability

Inevitably, man is sure to fall into idolatry by substituting something finite for the infinite that he longs for. He is so wearied by the constant search for the ultimate meaning of everything that he projects himself onto God. He claims to understand the Mystery, but by trying to take possession of the great unknown he ends up manipulating other people. "In this way, the human person mutilates himself, others, the things around him" (142).

Centuries before Christ there is written record of a longing for redemption. Plato's Phaedo tells of man's begging for a safe route to knowing the truth of reality and of ourselves. Every person will cry out for liberation from the shackles of oppression and ignorance if he is open to the whole of human experience. What emerges is the hypothesis of revelation.

As Giussani discussed in chapter 11, the world is a sign pointing towards a greater reality. Technically the world is revelation, but now we progress to revelation as a historical fact, rather than man's interpretation. "Revelation means a possibly real fact, an historical event, which the human person may or may not recognize. In fact, neither Judas nor the majority of those who saw it, recognized it" (143).

Here we are talking about God entering human history, not just as an incredible knowledge beyond our reason, but as "a presence within history that speaks as a friend, a father, a mother – Plato's Phaedo aspired to this kind of revelation" (143).

The hypothesis of revelation is first of all possible. Denial of this hypothesis is "the ultimate and extreme form of idolatry... because if God is the mystery how can one dictate to Him what He can and cannot do?" (144).

Secondly, the hypothesis is convenient, because it corresponds to the human heart's desire. Revelation from God does not extinguish man's freedom. On the contrary, revelation liberates man's will, which is tired and stressed from the story seas of idolatry, letting him finally climb onto solid ground.

Lastly, the hypothesis of revelation must satisfy two conditions. First, it must be comprehensible. Revelation that is not understandable through human experience is not revelation for us at all; "it is like ultrasound, as if it did not exist" (144). Secondly, it must not diminish the mystery, for "would it not be idolatry for God to be translated into comprehensible terms? [...] This truth that Christ has revealed does not diminish the Absolute. Rather it deepens the knowledge of the mystery" (144-145). Giussani says that by replacing the enigmatic word "mystery" with Father, we understand God as something comprehensible, something familiar to us. The Father gives me life, the Father guides me, the Father encourages me, the Father guards me. Yet we cannot claim to possess the mystery yet, but "the revealed term carries the mystery further within you, close to your flesh and bones, and you really feel it in a familiar way, as a son or daughter (145).

The religious sense is intrinsically connected to the hypothesis of revelation. It is a factual issue to which the human heart is naturally predisposed, and which "cannot be destroyed by any preconception or option" (145).

Giussani continues the topic of revelation and other ideas in the next book of his existential trilogy, At the Origin of the Christian Claim.

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