Is Divine Revelation Still Ongoing?
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
There are at least two religious groups that teach the doctrine of progressive and ongoing revelation. These include the "Religious Society of Friends," or the "Quakers," and the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," or the "Mormons." Mormons believe that their president is a prophet who can receive insights from God. One such revelation was that polygamy should end, which happened to coincide with Utah's bid for statehood. Quakers hold that anybody present at a gathering has an equal likelihood of receiving a revelation. The concept of a "sacred deposit of faith" that is unchanging is alien to both of these denominations.
After the death of the final Apostle (Saint John) about the year 100 AD, public revelation came to an end. This signifies that no other articles of faith can be added to the depositum fidei, the "deposit of the faith." Pastor Aeternus, the dogmatic constitution of the First Vatican Council, informs us that,
“The Holy Ghost has not been promised to the successors of Peter that, under His revelation, they might make known a new doctrine, but in order that, with His assistance, they sacredly preserve and faithfully set forth the revelation transmitted by the Apostles, that is to say, the Deposit of the Faith.” [D.H. 3070]
This is made abundantly evident even in the recently published Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):
“The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [CCC 66, Dei Verbum 4; cf. 1 Tim 6:14; Titus 2:13.]
Pope St. Pius X rejected the liberal Protestant and Modernistic doctrine of the evolution of religion through “New Revelations.” Thus, he condemned the proposition that:
“The Revelation, which is the object of Catholic Faith, was not terminated with the Apostles.” D 2021.
This erroneous teaching rears its ugly head from time to time in the alleged private revelations of those persons claiming to have a special message from Christ. These instances must be slowly and carefully examined by the Church to determine authenticity. At no point, however, are the faithful obliged to accept such private revelations, as these cannot add to the Deposit of Faith, or create a new and better path to God that excels what Our Lady and the Apostles themselves received from the Lord. Therefore, Pope John Paul II stated:
“The Church has always taught and continues to proclaim that God's revelation was brought to completion in Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of that revelation, and that 'no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of Our Lord (Dei Verbum, 4).' The Church evaluates and judges private revelations by the criterion of conformity with that single public Revelation.” (Homily at Mass in Fatima, May 13, 1982.).
There is much room for error in private revelations, even when they are given to Saints. Canonization of a Saint does not at all guarantee the truth of alleged private revelations. St. Catherine of Siena seems to have claimed Our Lady appeared to her and denied the Immaculate Conception. Obviously it was a false apparition, as the statement made in the vision is contrary to the truths of the faith. Christ seemingly appeared to St. Teresa of Avila, but when she noticed there were no wounds on the hands, feet, or side, she realized it was Satan disguising himself as Jesus. “And no wonder: for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The teaching of Holy Scripture and Tradition is unmistakable: no new revelation will be made after Christ and the Apostles who proclaimed the message of Christ. Christ was the ultimate teacher of mankind (Mt. 23, 10: “One is your master, Christ”; cf. Mt. 28, 20) and the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law (Mt. 5, 17; 2, 21 et seq. It was the Apostles' responsibility to guard the faith that Christ had bequeathed to them (1 Timothy 6, 16; 6:20; 2 Timothy 1, 14; 2, 2; 3:14), for they recognized in Christ “the coming of the fullness of time” (Gal. 4,4).
Holy Mother Church clearly teaches that the “doctrine of faith which God revealed has not been handed down as a philosophic invention to the human mind to be perfected, but has been entrusted as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted.” (DS 1800). Therefore, the holy dogma of the Church must be perpetually retained, because that “which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding [can. 3].” (DS 1800).
Indignantly, the Fathers denied the heretics' claim to have new Revelations from the Holy Spirit or access to hidden doctrines. Against the Gnostics, both St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer III 1; IV 35, 8) and Tertullian (De praesc. 21) emphasize that the unadulterated truth of revelation is contained in the doctrine of the Apostles, which has been kept without change through the unbroken succession of bishops.
Let us proceed further in analyzing the Modernist and Catholic views on the evolution of doctrine. When Modernists argued that “the formulas which we call dogma must be subject to these vicissitudes” (i.e., “of varying human conditions”), one of the greatest Popes of the twentieth century, Pope Saint Pius X, strongly disagreed. This allows for the possibility of dogma's inherent progression. He referred to this as “an immense structure of sophisms which ruin and wreck all religion” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis).
Both the Americanist and modernist approaches to dogma were condemned by Pope Leo XIII because they were “progressivist” in nature, with the former saying that “certain topics of doctrine are passed over as of lesser importance, or are so softened that they do not retain the same sense as the Church has always held” (Testem Benevolentiae).
Before that, during Blessed Pius IX's reign, this was the teaching of Vatican I:
“For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated.”
“Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.”
“May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding” (Dei Filius, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith,” the last paragraph of which is from the Commonitorium of Saint Vincent of Lerins).
The authentic Catholic notion of doctrinal development is a homogeneous doctrinal development which retains the sense of all the ancient dogmas but adds to them greater clarity and understanding, as the Church has taught:
“Let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, grow and progress strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries; but let it be solely in its own genus, namely in the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding.” (DS 1800).