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On Revealing God to Man

Note: We’ve probably crossed the halfway point now and I want to thank all of our generous donors, especially those of you who just made monthly commitments yesterday. Our friend and sometime contributor Fr. Dwight Longenecker has written a column for another publication (click on it in the left-hand column) arguing that you should give more: not (primarily) so the poor will have more, or that – God forbid – so that you can feel better about yourself, but for the sake of your salvation. Jesus Himself argued that. We can’t speak to this question with religious authority. And should resist the temptation to go on about that anyway. Enough said. Except to add that, for us, half way isn’t all the way, so consider supporting TCT today– Robert Royal

A stanza of an anonymous Hymn in the English Breviary (Friday, 8th Week) reads as follows: “Spoken by the Word incarnate, / God of God, ere time began, / Light of Light, to earth descending, / Man, revealing God to man.” I put the italics in the last line. It seemed so true in its paradox. It recalls St. John Paul II’s refrain in Redemptor Hominis. We learn what man is through Christ’s revelation to us of what we, in our completion, really are.

We surely might wonder: “Who does this God think that He is revealing to us men what it means to be a man?” Is it not an insult to human dignity to imply that man cannot figure out what he is by himself? The answer, I suppose, is, as the Incarnation indicates, that God, Himself become man, reveals what man is to men. They did not figure this out by themselves, as Aquinas said. The truth about man is that he is created for something that is not just human. Homo proprie non humanus sed superhumanus est, so Aquinas put it in his De Caritate.

But if this “He” is God, He cannot be man, right? At first sight, that appears to be logically correct, even if we did not believe God existed. Still could God be man without ceasing to be God at the same time? That He could is the implied conclusion hashed out in the early Church Councils. Civilization sometimes, more than we think, depends on understanding and upholding fine distinctions.

Who is it that says that this He is man? Evidently, it is “the Word incarnate.” The Word, the Son, is “begotten” not “made.” The Word is Light “to earth descending.” The Logos, the Word, is meant to be intelligible. But isn’t this just backward – this man revealing God to men? Perhaps it is the only way they would listen.

Evidently, at some point, God tired of explaining Himself to men through nature and its causes, through the Hebrew prophets, or through the Holy Spirit ranging the vast world. A different approach served to focus the attention of this human race on what each of its members needs to know if they choose to become what God created them to be.

Christ in the Suburbs by Georges Rouault, c. 1920 [Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan]
Christ in the Suburbs by Georges Rouault, c. 1920 [Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan]

In the end, a man has to want and choose to be what he really is created to be. If God should “force” him to accept what is offered to him, he would not be free. He would not be a man. In this sense, God Himself is at an impasse. He could not contradict the dignity of His own creature whom He made “a little less than the angels,” as the Eighth Psalm put it.

Judging from the results, after a couple thousand years, this divine intervention did not seem to work very well. Much of the human race has not heard of, let alone accepted, this Incarnation of the Word as the explanation of reality and of human life. That not-hearing or not knowing may be due to the fact that we underestimate the forces who do not want it to be known.

David Warren said someplace that, if God had wanted all men to believe, it would have happened by now. The fact that it has not happened would not necessarily mean that God’s intention that each person be saved was not and is not still the divine intention. The possibility of rejecting God is a living reality in every existing human life.

In lieu of man, in the form of the Word Incarnate, revealing God to man, we have today man denying any logos in or outside of the cosmos that reveals man to man. Is there any intelligibility in this latter “humanistic” explanation of man to man apart from God? Humanism, in its intellectual origins, was often predicated on a denial that man was a certain kind of being whose good was found in his freely carrying out the tendencies of his given nature.

It is by now rather clear that if we set out to put into being a purely “human” view of what man is, it will turn out, on examination, to be a systematic, step-by-step denial of each of the natural standards of what it is to be man. This denial will be enforced by custom and public power; it will be vaunted by intellectual professionals and media.

The begetting processes will be denied. The division of the sexes will be denied. Freedom of speech will be denied. Everything less than absolute control by the state will be denied. Our normal relations with one another will be denied. All of these denials will be called “good.” They are what we “want.” The dire social consequences of such choices against our given nature, and they are many, will be blamed on what the Incarnate Word revealed about Himself, about man. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Romans: “Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.” The Word, true man, reveals God to man.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019)

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019)

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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