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The Church and Divine Revelation
Knowing God Through Scripture, the Monuments of Tradition and the Magisterium
After the union of sanctifying grace between God and humanity was broken by the original sin of Adam and Eve, the truth of God has been obscured from our apprehension. In his infinite love, God desired to be reunited with us and to disclose to us his divine nature, and so throughout history, God has chosen to reveal himself to us in various ways. His self-revelation begins fundamentally with Creation, through which God uses sacramental signs to give hints of the divine mysteries they signify. God reveals himself in this way because, even before we are opened to his fuller revelation by grace, he wishes us to know him through the natural powers he gave to us: “By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works.” In this way, we are able to know self-evident first principles, as well as other philosophical truths that can be known through pure reason, which can lead us, even without God’s direct revelation, to a knowledge of his existence. These philosophical truths can function as both a preparation and a support to the higher truths of revelation that are beyond our natural human powers.
Man's faculties make him capable of coming to a knowledge of the existence of a personal God. But for man to be able to enter into real intimacy with him, God willed both to reveal himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith. (CCC 35)
Salvation history, God’s mission to reunite himself with fallen humanity through his self-revelation, thus begins immediately after the Fall. Progressively, through the age of the Hebrew patriarchs, God revealed more of himself, using the familial bond of covenants to draw his faithful into greater union with him through sanctification and a deeper insight into his divine life.
After the patriarchs, God formed Israel as his people by freeing them from slavery in Egypt. He established with them the covenant of Mount Sinai and, through Moses, gave them his law so that they would recognize him and serve him as the one living and true God, the provident Father and just judge, and so that they would look for the promised Savior. (CCC 62)
Until the time of the prophets, God’s revelation was transmitted orally, through the tradition of the Hebrew people; however, upon their return to Israel from exile, under the leadership of the prophets they began transcribing what God had taught them into writing, in order to better preserve their sacred tradition. Thus began the Holy Scriptures as the written form of Tradition.
By the time of the first century AD, after centuries of messianic prophecies by which God promised his people a Savior who would come to save them from sin and death and establish an everlasting covenant - the Kingdom of God - the Son of God himself became flesh as Jesus Christ.
In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature.
Jesus is the Word of God, the singular self-comprehension and the Wisdom of the Triune Godhead, and so in his divine Person united to his human nature, Jesus contains the complete promise of God’s self-revelation. “Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one.” (CCC 65) Through his teachings, and most of all by his Crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus initiated the long-awaited New Covenant, the fulfillment of the expectations of the Hebrew people.
As with the Old Testament and the ancient Hebrews, the Gospel was first given to the Church orally, through Tradition and the Sacraments of the New Covenant. The apostles whom Jesus called to his service and gave the power to preserve and interpret revelation, both from the Old and New Covenants, handed on the Gospel to those initiated into the Church via the Holy Sacraments.
This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.
“Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”, who protected the sacred writers from error on matters that were pertinent to salvation, including faith and morals as well as relevant facts of salvation history. While God is the Author of Scripture, he used human beings to be his sacred writers, expressing his revelation through their humanity. “But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, ‘handing over’ to them ‘the authority to teach in their own place.’”
Throughout the history of the Church, God has given his people two aids for discerning the monuments of Tradition (including the Sacraments, the Church Fathers, Councils and Doctors, the sensus fidelium and artistic expressions), namely the Magisterium and experience. By the infallible and authoritative guidance of the Magisterium, the faithful can be protected from errors in their understanding of revelation and can also gain greater insights into its truths by the teachings which the Magisterium promulgates, particularly the principles for interpreting Scripture as a whole book and in its various senses within the context of Tradition. Similarly, the experience of the Christian faithful, those who remain in communion with the Church, helps to provide a deeper insight and appreciation for revelation, as well as spiritual practices and devotions that assist in the cultivation of holiness and living a virtuous life of faith as a witness to those outside the Church. With these aids, revelation can be more perfectly actualized in every Christian and the evangelical commission of Christ to bring the Gospel to the whole world can be fulfilled.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 50, at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, www.scborromeo.org.
 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei verbum (18 November 1965), §2.
 Dei verbum, §7.
 Dei verbum, §11.
 Dei verbum, §7.