The Eschatological Structure of Salvation and Revelation
“Despite his extensive research into the history of biblical interpretation, de Lubac’s writings did not contain a general theory of revelation. His writings on revelation derive from his involvement in the Preparatory Theological Commission leading to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). A subcommission of the Preparatory Theological Commission, called ‘De fontibus Revelationis,’ had produced a preparatory schema entitled De fontibus Revelationis (On the sources of revelation). The working schema reflected classical positions taken as a development of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and in anti-Protestant literature. For Trent, the “source” of revelation is the gospel. However, the subsequent scholastic tradition treated Scripture and tradition as independent supernatural sources of knowledge of God in order to combat the Protestant principle of sola scriptura. Tradition, it was claimed, constituted the unwritten revelation handed down from the apostles, which supplemented Scripture, the written revelation. The Vatican I document, Dei Filius (1870), spoke of revelation as the supernatural knowledge of God, but did not identify Scripture and tradition as distinct sources. In the preparatory document, De fontibus Revelationis, Scripture and tradition are described as distinct ‘sources’. The document sought to ‘resolve’ open debates over the Catholic understanding of revelation, Scripture, and tradition in favor of a neoscholastic and anti-Modernist school. Evidently, de Lubac had very little sway as a theological expert on the Preparatory Commission.
During conciliar debate over De fontibus Revelationis, Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner provided widely distributed and influential criticisms of the schema. De fontibus Revelationis became so controversial that it took an act of John XXIII to push the discussion over the document to the side. The final document, ratified in 1965, bears little resemblance to its predecessor and testifies to a radical shift in perspective of thinking about revelation. Dei Verbum, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, prioritized the historicity of revelation and Christ as the center of revelation. It placed an emphasis on revelation as a personal encounter with God, not simply knowledge about God. Moreover, revelation is fully present in Christ, not in the biblical text.
It is unclear what role de Lubac himself played in resisting the draft schema. While he certainly influenced the formation of a new document, called the 1964 Schema, he never revealed the precise nature of his role in the formation of the document. De Lubac’s 1966 commentary on Dei Verbum, ‘La Revelation divine,’ is not only a commentary from a participant at Vatican II. It is also an attempt at influencing the reception of the document in the church. His commentary produces a radically historical understanding of revelation as the sensible or visible sacrament through which salvation occurs. According to de Lubac, salvation is already taking place through the revelation of the incarnate Word, but it is nonetheless only complete in a future consummation.
De Lubac’s understanding of revelation can be summarized by the following phrase: Dando revelat, et revelando dat (In giving God reveals, and in revealing God gives). Revelation is intimately bound to the gift of salvation. De Lubac explained that the Council’s intent is not to explicate the ‘doctrine on revelation,’ but rather the ‘proclamation of salvation itself,’ that is ‘revelation itself that is transmitted to us.’ The intimate union between the proclamation, that is revelation, and the salvation that it proclaims is made particularly clear in the prologue of Dei Verbum, which quotes 1 John 1:2-3: “We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ In 1 John, the proclamation is of the ‘eternal life’ who was with the Father and made manifest. The proclamation effects ecclesial fellowship and the fellowship with the Father and the Son, which constitute ‘eternal life.’
Following John, the entire first chapter of Dei Verbum attests to the ‘indissoluble union of revelation and salvation.’ De Lubac speaks of this union between revelation and salvation in two ways: first, revelation ‘contains’ salvation; second, salvation is the object or end of revelation. First, revelation communicates the very reality of salvation: “The announcement of salvation contains the salvation announced. The object revealed does not consist in notions, by themselves without vital efficacy, which would just barely have as their goal to make explicit a Christianity existing already in an ‘implicit’ state, or to name finally a reality until then ‘anonymous.'” De Lubac’s mention of an ‘anonymous salvation’ sounds like a criticism of Karl Rahner’s notion of ‘anonymous Christianity.’ However, it is more likely that de Lubac was criticizing an ‘intellectualist’ notion of revelation as the communication of a series of abstract truths. Catholic intellectualist theories of revelation tended to oppose ‘supernatural revelation’ – those truths beyond the capacity of the mind to attain by its own power – to ‘natural knowledge’ or ‘natural revelation’ – those truths about God that can be known by human reason alone. As a matter of course, intellectualist theories deemphasized the historical nature of revelation because history could not easily be categorized into ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural.’ If revelation consists primarily of ‘concepts,’ those concepts have no power to save. Their only function would be to bring us to explicit consciousness of the salvation already available implicitly or anonymously. De Lubac, therefore, implies that the intellectualist view of revelation espoused by some neoscholastics supports a view of salvation attributed to the Modernists and condemned by the neoscholastics themselves.
In contrast, de Lubac’s theology of revelation is radically historical. His ‘La Revelation divine’ emphasizes that revelation consists in events that can be seen, heard, and touched, namely the deeds and words of God. Because they are God’s actions in history, these deeds and words ‘contain’ the salvation that they announce. The second paragraph of Dei Verbum reads,
It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will [Scipsum revelare et notum facere sacramentum voluntatis suac] (cf. Eph. 1.9). His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature (cf. Eph. 2:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). By this revelation, then, the invisible God (cf. Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17), from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends (cf. Ex. 33:11; Jn. 15:14-15), and moves among them (cf. Bar 3:38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company. This economy of Revelation is realized by deeds and words [gestis verbisque], which are intrinsically bound up with each other. As a result, the works performed by God in the history of salvation, show forth and bear out the doctrine and realities [doctrinam et res] signified by the words; the words, for their part, proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they contain.”
Joseph S. Flipper, Between Apocalypse and Eschaton: History and Eternity in Henri de Lubac
Part III, The Eschatological Structure of De Lubac’s Thought, Fortress Press (May 1, 2015) pp. 220-224