Catholic Apologetics



Reliable witnesses

Jesus didn't leave behind a single document he wrote himself.
He himself only gave his contemporaries oral lessons. And when He sent his apostles to convert people, He emphasized they should preach by word of mouth.
However, before long, the circumstances in the youthful churches the apostles and their helpers had founded necessitated that the most important items of Christian doctrine be written down in a concise document which should be directive for the Christian communities in questions of faith or moral life.
To meet this need, the apostles Paul, James, Peter, John and Judas wrote their epistles, and the evangelists Matthew, Marc, Luke and John each wrote a gospel that described the events in the life and teaching of the Saviour that most served the communities they were directed at.
Whereas the apostolic epistles intented to treat of some principal themes of Jesus' doctrine - and in exceptional cases to give directives for pastoral care - and so apparently were directed at a more restricted circle of readers, both the structure and the destination of the four gospels had to be broader. Each of them is a description of Jesus and emphasizes the harmony between the teacher and his doctrine. They all recall the impressive figure of Christ, who gives the Church he founded authority and life by the inspiring force of his words and deeds. Each gospel has its own main colour and its own nuances. But although the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and especially John exhibit the figure of Christ in their own atmosphere by their personal illumination and their original accent, we can see it's four times the same Person of the Saviour of mankind who is attracting and holding our attention.

It's clear nobody can rightfully deny the four Gospels have been written by the persons who of old have been said to be the writers.
It may not be easy to find in each gospel the character of the alleged writer, only looking at the style and the contents, but it's impossible to establish by these norms that the names of the authors must be erroneous.
Indeed, in the first gospel we can't deduce from its form or contents Matthew can't have written it.
The second makes us suspect Mark, Saint Peter's companion, wrote it.
The third apparently shows the author was Saint Paul's companion, the one who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles.
And the fourth doesn't leave any doubt it was the apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved, who composed this gospel.
However, the excerpts we found from the works of Papias, the writings of Irenaeus and of Clemens of Alexandria, and the Muratorian fragment, decisively demonstrate the authenticity of the four gospels.
These testimonies speak clearly. They are from the second century and their interest comes from the authority of men who knew the real history of Jesus' life and influence partly by their own experience and partly by a tradition that couldn't have been infected by legend yet.

Who are these men who in their gospels are telling us about the life and doctrine of Jesus?
Were they men who could describe us the real history of Jesus' public life?
And does their spiritual and moral behaviour offer us enough guaranties we can rely on their words?

All four lived in the century they wrote about.
Matthew and John were among Jesus' apostles, so they were eye witnesses. They were close companions of their beloved Master. They owed to Him the vocation they fulfilled and the ideals they strived after with their entire person and willingness to make sacrifices. They saw many of his miracles and were among the attentive listeners when He still was preaching in private or public about the truth and the will of his Father in heaven.
Mark and Luke didn't enjoy the privilege of so immediate a contact with their Teacher. But the first was a true companion and personal friend of Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. And Luke travelled together with Saint Paul through many cities to teach the new truth to the people. Both Luke and Mark knew many eye witnesses of Jesus, and we have no reason to suppose they composed their gospel by a method distinct from Paul's, who submitted the doctrine he preached to the judgment of them that knew the history of Jesus by their own perception.

The four Evangelists were honest and reliable men. They wanted to preach the truth and nothing but the truth.
Their words are sincere and plain, and this reveals they are true. They are never obtrusive nor affected.
The history they describe is mainly confined to Jesus' public activity. They don't dwell upon how it was in earlier days or how it could have been. This would have been interesting but not to the point. There is no place for fantastic stories about Jesus' private life, for which no significant reference to eye witnesses is possible. As opposed to the biblical apocrypha, they only give the facts that everybody could independently ascertain.
They don't avoid nor disguise truths that might be less flattering for the author. It seems they intended to ban from their thoughts and feelings all selfishness and boast. And yet they needed much courage to preach the cross in times when it was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.
Each of the four Gospels shows an atmosphere of unsuspecting sincerity, both in the form and in the contents.
For example, the accurate description of the political and social relations among the people of Palestina makes sure there is no deceit in the story about the Person of Jesus.
And the beginning of the gospel of Luke makes us rely on the words he is going to say in the rest of the gospel:
"Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us and handed down by eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately from the beginning, to write it down in good order for you, dear Theophilus, so you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received."

There are also several testimonies from heathens that defend the truth of the Gospels.
Of course, we can't expect to find among non-believers the same interest and understanding for the mystery of the origins of Christianity as among the devoted disciples of Jesus. But the heathen Plinius, who is governor of Bithynia in the first decade of the second century, asks the emperor Trajan what he should do with the new religion, 'which has fervent followers in all social classes and honours Christ as God'. And the historian Tacitus, who writes his annals in the same years as Plinius, informs us that the founder of the new religion, Christ, has been executed during the reign of emperor Tiberius and governor Pilate. However, the scornful downfall of the founder can't prevent Christianity to spread over the cities and countries. It has already become a 'multitudo ingens' - an enormous multitude. It apparently doesn't fear lack of appreciation nor torture, not even when people cruelly attack it, like the emperor Nero did. Another testimony, again from the same decade, comes from Suetonius, the high minister of emperor Hadrian. Apparently not knowing the difference between Jewish and Christian religion, he mentions the fact emperor Claudius banished the Jews 'who caused trouble under the guidance of a certain Chrestos'.
Among the Jewish witnesses, Flavius Josephus (who died in the year 100) is the most important. However, his words about Christ and the Christians don't convince us, because the passage where we find them must be an interpolation from later years. However, the expert CA Kneller SJ thinks tradition has the chapter about Christ 'ebenso gesichert wie nur irgend eines im Josephus'.
Flavius Josephus tells us about a wise man, if we can call him a man, who attracted many Jews and heathens by his miraculous works and wonderful doctrine.
In this passage, which, for certainty, we call disputable, Flavius Josephus is almost speaking as a faithful:
"He was the Christ. And when Pilate had him crucified because of the accusations done by our leaders, those who had been the first to love him didn't change their attitude. Because, after three days he appeared to them again alive, after God's prophets had predicted these miraculous events and a thousand other ones."

Notwithstanding, in antiquity nothing else has been written that we can so much rely on and is so real as the four Gospels. Indeed, these have been the sacred sources Christians take their religious knowledge from. Even the teachers of false doctrines used to refer to the Gospels as the documents that evidently have the most trustworthy value.

Matthew, Marc, Luke and John wrote the four Gospels. They knew the history of Jesus' life mostly from their own experience and from personal communications by eye witnesses.
Moreover, these four were reliable persons and not 'followers of cleverly devised stories'.

{{Criticism from non-believers never seriously endangered the historical reliability of the sacred story we read in the Gospels.

In antiquity, only fear of supernatural things, and not certainty of the idea people had falsified history, incited people like Celsus, Lucianus, Porphyrius and Julianus, to revolt against the assertion Christ did really exist in history.
Likewise, in modern times, the rationalists disputed the Gospels are authentic and reliable, not because of christological legends, but because they feared the concept of things supernatural.

Rationalism never could point at historical documents that clearly show Christianity built on lies. It starts from an arbitrary a-priori and thinks it can hide behind 'hypotheses'.
Hermann Reimarus has his 'hypothesis of conceit', Heinrich Paulus his 'hypothesis of natural explanation', David Friedrich Strausz his 'hypothesis of myth'. Ferdinand Christian Baur is defending a 'hypothesis of tendenz'; Bruno Bauer (with followers in our country like AD Loman and GA van den Bergh van Eysingha) devised a hypothesis that denies Christ did ever live; and we may call Albrecht Ritschl the founder of the school (with von Harnack, Weiszäcker, Bousset, Jülicher) that is known for its 'hypothesis of evolution'.

All these natural explanations of the sacred biblical story - or of the origins of Christianity - clearly start from the prejudice supernatural things can't exist so can't be historical facts.
Here the principles of a rationalistic conception of the world, and not the laws of historical research, are deciding upon the authenticity and reliability of the Gospels.}}

The written word and the spoken word

Whereas Protestantism in principle never cared much about Tradition as a source of divine revelation, and therefore from the beginning had difficulties with deciding which Books have been written with divine inspiration, the Catholic Church, following the example of the orthodox Fathers - orthodoxorum Patrum exempla secuta - always insisted Christian Tradition comes from God and is more than fallible human memory, and even more than the undisputable history of Christian faith throughout the centuries. The Church considers her unanymous and continuous Tradition as a divine source of Revelation, just like the holy Scriptures.
This consideration, which it maintains on a firm base, made it confident it could determine during the Council of Trent which of the scriptures of the Old and New Testament have been inspired by God and so can be called canonic.

{{Whereas the Catholic Church, in order to establish the canon, refers to the general tradition that maintained itself from the first practice of old-Christian exegesis until the Reformation, "schwebt im Protestantism der Kanon von Anfang in der Luft".

When the Protestants reject the eloquent external Tradition of the Church, calling it insufficient, and accept only internal criterions to determine which Scriptures belong to the Revelation, they unwillingly render the canon of the two Testaments to the arbitrariness of personal taste.

Luther says an apostolic book is divine if we see 'dasz es Christum treibe'. He thinks it must be the internal testimony of God's Spirit that gives the reader certainty.
However, we can easily do away with this criterion, which is too easily trying to convince.
Because Revelation nowhere mentions such a personal enlightenment. And moreover, it is an enigma why the authority of the same divine Spirit, which should reveal itself internally to anybody, makes some persons say a certain book belongs to the canon whereas other persons say it doesn't.

Many Protestants think a scripture must be canonic if it speaks in a characteristic divine way. They say only divine inspiration can be the reason why a book is sacred and teaches us things superhuman and makes us devout and makes us unanimously accept a doctrine.
However, these internal characteristics can't suffice, since some non-canonical scriptures have them too.
For instance, the scriptures of the apostolic Fathers are as elevated, holy, devout and unanimous as, say, Sant Paul's Letter to Philemon. And the book 'De Imitatione Christi' written by Thomas Hamerken a Kempis shows the most sincere and earnest devotion we can wish.}}

God is the author of those Scriptures of the Old and New Testament that the Catholic Church has included in its official canon; these have been written at the command of God and are inspired by God.
The Vatican Council gives the clearest proclamation of this Catholic dogma, saying the faithful have to believe God inspired the holy Scriptures or else must be excommunicated:
"If anybody should not accept that the Books of the holy Scriptures are holy and canonic both as a whole and in each of the parts enumerated by the holy Synod of Trent, or deny that God inspired them, let him be excommunicated".

Jesus himself affirmed God inspired the books of the Old Testament. The Saviour repeatedly referred to the old Scriptures, implying they have the highest authority, and He didn't make us doubt that all the prophets predicted was binding.
Jesus' disciples and their helpers, too, when they were propagating the Gospel, asked their hearers should notice the unmistakable value of the old Scriptures. Apollo shows Jesus is the Christ by reference to the Scriptures. Paul praises them who keep believing, because this way they show they know the Scriptures and realize Who taught them. This is clear, because Timotheus writes:
"God inspired all the Scriptures and they are useful for education, refutation, reproval and teaching what is just."
And Peter emphasizes the prophecy of the holy Scriptures didn't originate from the will of man but from the will of God:
"The will of a man never proclaimed a prophecy, but the holy Spirit urged people to speak in the name of God."

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the first Pentecost is pleading for the divine inspiration of the New Testament, because the Spirit communicated to them the charisma of divine trustfulness and invited the elected to glorify Jesus Christ.

However, the most important plea for the fact God inspired the Books of the New Testament - and hence the Old, too - is the conviction of the first Christians who by their written words and by the practice of their Christian religion showed they venerated the influence of the Spirit who reveals God's secrets by means of a human writer.
The Fathers preferred to call the holy Scriptures 'the word of God' or 'the word of the Holy Spirit'. They gave wonderful examples to explain the cooperation between the Spirit and the human writer. Most often they use the example of a musical instrument to demonstrate the influence of the sacred writers. For instance, the Fathers compare them to an instrument (Theophile of Antiochia), a flute (Athenagoras), a cither or a lyre (Pseudo-Justin).

Especially the apologetic works of justinus Martyr and Tertullian, but also nearly all preaches of the Fathers, make clear the canonical Bible was held in great respect from the first days of Christianity because of its divine character.
At the liturgical meetings people read aloud from the Scriptures, and they decided upon questions about the faith or the morality by reference to both the Christian Tradition and the holy Scriptures.
Among many others, Saint Augustine made clear he cared about canonicity:
"I learnt to venerate only the canonical Scriptures so much I believe the authors weren't mistaken anyhow."

We can't perfectly value the high significance of the holy Scripture if we underestimate the Tradition of the Church.
Therefore it's an error if we think the Catholic Church lowers the authority of the Bible by venerating the Tradition. The Holy Scripture and the Tradition are complementary. They both are sources of the Revelation and presuppose the holy Spirit inspires and causes them.
By Tradition as a source of divine Revelation the Council of Trent means:
"the divine truths, related to faith and morality, that have been handed down to us by the Apostles and their successors throughout the centuries - quasi per manus traditae - and originate from the words of Jesus or the inspiration of the holy Spirit.
Jesus wanted this Tradition.
The Teacher himself let us know the truths of Salvation with the words he spoke. He appointed the Apostles to be preachers and sent them to preach the new truth by word of mouth.
However, it was no rebellion against an order of the Master when some of his disciples briefly wrote down the revealed truths they most needed for their mission, because God's providence implies the written word that has been brought about to make people believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.
Whoever disputes the Tradition is reliable, saying the people of the Church devised it, has no right to say God wanted the holy Scripture, because only the Tradition says which books are canonical and so a part of God's Revelation.
The Catholic who accepts Jesus' words as a source of Revelation, and thus not only the holy Scripture but also the Tradition of the Church, has good reasons to do so, just as the Apostle Paul had good reasons to write to the people of Thessalonica:
Brothers, stand firm and stick to the traditions you learnt from our words or letters.

{{Protestant circles use to understand Catholic doctrine in such a way that the holy Tradition contains only the ex cathedra proclamations of the Church.
This is a serious misunderstanding, first conceived by Calvin, which almost all reformed theologians stubbornly maintained up to H Bavinck, AG Honig and GC Berkouwer.

However, Catholics carefully distinguish between the Revelation as the Word of God - with the holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church as its sources - and the authority of the Church as a Teacher that is necessary to unfold for the faithful the unique meaning of this Revelation.
They know all Revelation comes from Christ. But the individual who didn't meet Jesus personally can only indirectly contact the Revelation, which in history came to an end when the last Apostle, John, died, but is destined to give its contents to all people. The two sources of Revelation - Bible and Tradition, the written and spoken word - give us the occasion to make this indirect contact.

In fact, it's the personal views of the individual Protestants that determine which books they think must be canonical. They deny the Tradition of the Church has any dogmatic value, but we are convinced their 'historical criticism' is only a light-minded human judgment.
On the contrary, the Catholic knows we can't leave the election of canonic books and the interpretation of the Bible to the personal judgment of the faithful. He learnt from the words of Christ it's the Church who determines, with the help of the holy Spirit, the reach and sense of the things written under divine inspiration. He also knows it's the Church who distinguishes between the true holy Tradition and the profane human traditions. But the Church only explains the Scripture and the Revelation, and is not identical to one of them nor a authority who is the boss of them.

It's not difficult to imagine why the Protestants are opposed to the Tradition. Nobody can easily tolerate a truth that contradicts its dearest conviction.
However, when Bavinck refers to "the shortness of life, the deficiency of memory, the craftiness of the heart, and other dangers" to ward off the ghost of Tradition and to refuse it for being deceptive, this impresses the Catholic as little as when somebody would say the Catholic Church doesn't merit faith because it's only a human construction.
God clearly wanted both the Church and the Tradition.
For this reason it's sensible and necessary we Catholics only decide upon questions of faith and morality after consulting the Church, whose explanations we accept as decisive. This holds especially when we have to decide upon the question which books belong to the Scripture or upon the true sense of the Tradition, which by God's plan must be free of any blemish that unfaithfulness or craftiness could cast on them.

The Protestant doesn't accept the Tradition as an independent source of Revelation.
He might call it a 'Verdichtung und Schematisierung', as von Harnack does, or, even less friendly, 'a store of fairy tales', like Hommes, but this doesn't change the fact that even the most fervent Protestant can't entirely do without the Tradition. In spite of its own doctrine, Protestantism needs the Tradition. Its orthodox wing always maintained the decisions of the first three Councils, it thinks its confession formulas are very important, and a dogmatic manual like Bavinck's shows dogmatics aren't conceivable without the Tradition.

The Protestant swears by his doctrine of sola Scriptura.
He doesn't want to hear about the dogmatic significance of the holy Tradition, nor about the infallibility of the authority of the Church as a Teacher. He refers to the personal assistance of the holy Spirit, saying it must give the individual reader of the Bible what it can't give the Church as a whole: infallibility in the explanation of the word he reads if he humbly and devoutly tries to understand it.
But there's no Protestant who can sufficiently explain the annoying phenomenon that almost everyone reads in the Bible whatever he wants to find in it.
The Swiss theologian Samuel Werenfels said something true in a well known epigram on the Bible:
"Hic liber est, in quo sua quaerit dogmata quisque,
Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua -
This is the book wherein everybody searches for his own dogmata,
And indeed everybody finds his own dogmata".

The Dutch reformed theologian NJ Hommes is speaking in the name of many when he writes in a reaction upon this epigram he's afraid it's still actual.
"We have no reason to be rejoiced by it, for it shows we need help when confronted with the Scripture and the Revelation. The history of theology teaches us the problem of the Scripture has become ever more serious after Werenfels. The Aufklärung, the greatest turning point in the spiritual history of Europe, brought it into a crisis from which Protestantism didn't recover ever since. Lessing wrote his Nathan der Weise in order to undermine every authority of faith. When he put his rhetorical question to Luther, asking who was to liberate us from the even less tolerable yoke of the book now that we had been liberated from the yoke of tradition, he was the spokesman of many people who wanted autonomy of thought against external authority.}}

Scripture and Tradition both find the right to exist in the state of salvation Christ founded. They are the two sources of divine Revelation and have equivalent origins. Both contain the truth of God, so they don't stand against each other, but side by side, and both represent the authority of God's will in equal measure.
Its evident we can't treat Scripture and Tradition alike, accepting one of them and neglecting the other.
The Scripture is more clearly defined and has richer contents than the Tradition if we should compare them as independent sources of Revelation. But this doesn't imply the Tradition is vaguely defined nor that it has poor contents. We may admit the most important deeds and words of Jesus have been written down in the Bible, so the collection of dogmata of the Tradition can't equal the richess of the Scripture. But we can easily reverse this comparison and notice most of the Scripture has come to us through the Tradition. Furthermore we have to listen to the words at the end of the Gospel of Saint John:
"Jesus did much more; if we would describe all of it, the whole world couldn't contain the books with the descriptions."
The Tradition explains the Scripture and completes it.
Beside the doctrine of Revelation, about which the Scripture sufficiently informs us, there's much the Bible indicates incompletely and incidentally, but the Tradition explains clearly.
Apart from that, there are many things that came to us through the Tradition alone: many revealed truths, ceremonial rites, like before all the canon of the Scripture, the inspiration by God, the immaculate conception of virgin Mary, baptism of children, guardian angels, purgatory, the seven sacraments, the sacramental rites, celebrating the Sunday instead of the Sabbath, etc.

The supernatural revelation

"After God formerly spoke to the Fathers through the prophets many times and in many ways, at the end of these days He spoke to us through his Son."
In this beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews are expressed, simple but understandable, the essential characteristics of the supernatural Revelation, which the Catholic believes and the Vatican Council teaches is a free deed of love by which God revealed himself and the eternal decisions of his will to mankind.
We have to distinguish this Revelation from the revelation Saint Paul speaks about in his epistle to the Romans, where he writes the gentiles too can know God by considering God's visible works in creation.
Whereas the natural revelation teaches us something about the existence and some properties of the first Cause "through the things that have been made", the supernatural revelation has been realized by a personal communication, the personal communication, of God to mankind.
This communication is supernatural both by its origins and its contents, because God's Spirit, which knows no secret, is speaking to us in Revelation, enlightening us to see the hope He gives to man, the riches of the glory He leaves to the saints, and the great power He helps the faithful with.

Whereas the natural revelation gives us some knowledge of God as the Creator and Conservator and Cause of all that exists and happens outside of Him, this Revelation speaks to mankind in an immediate way we can't understand and teaches us something about his inner Essence and the hidden decisions of his will.
However, this Revelation can't be perfect, either, even though it reveals to our minds and hearts more truths than through the revelation of the visible nature. It doesn't give us complete knowledge of the essence of God. It does give us more insight in the actual object of the mind and we could not acquire this independently. But it doesn't add to the natural power of our minds a higher supernatural light that would make it able to see the things unveiled and intuitively and directly, without imperfect images. The knowledge about God we learn from the supernatural Revelation isn't free from the restrictions of the mirror and the enigma Saint Paul speaks about; it is still a knowledge by analogy, like our natural knowledge about God. It doesn't free us from our natural way of knowing, nor does it liberate our minds from the conditions of its natural existence.
Although the supernatural Revelation is a completion of the natural revelation, it is asking for an even higher completion, which will only be possible in an other life. There we will fully enjoy the beatifying beholding of God, if we only use in our passing lives the holy power God gives to us:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

The supernatural Revelation received its complete and definite crown in Christ.
He is the only Master and Teacher, who gave us the freedom of the children of God, the only Way that leads us to the Father, the only Door through which we can enter into the house of God.
He is the whole Truth that gave us its fruits. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
He is the fulfilment of the promises of all times, and He brought together all there is in heaven and on earth.
He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, and his essential union with the Father makes him the Foundation of all that exists. Therefore "nobody is allowed to lay an other foundation than the one that has been laid, and that is Jesus".
The supernatural Revelation is God's free gift of love: a grace.
But among all God's gifts of love it has its own character, which distinguishes it from all other graces, because as a revelation (unveiling) it comes to meet the feeble human mind and communicates to it new and unknown truths.
We can call each grace a sanctifying influence of God on man, but we must remember each grace is distinct from other graces by the special function it has in a man's life. It would be erroneous to identify the sanctifying grace and the actual grace. Likewise, we can't represent the whole life of grace in such a way that we wouldn't distinguish between the special grace of supernatural Revelation and the daily grace with which God interferes in the activity of a man's will, like when a sinner returns to the Lord.
We may call the Revelation of the Word a touch of God, like a certain kind of Protestant theology does, but we can't understand this vague phrase as a mere contact with the Spirit we can't say anything reasonable about. This touch of God must be more than a grasp with which God captivates our feelings. Although indeed God's Revelation is extending itself deeply into a man's life through the faith, because the whole sanctified life depends on the Revelation of the Word, we emphasize the wrong thing if we say the essence of supernatural Revelation is that it gives certainty to a man's heart, because such a certainty is lacking contours and has no object of its own, so it remains fugitive and without foundation. Whenever God speaks to man, He wants to say something. He gives our minds wider horizonts and makes the revealed reality more visible. By God's supernatural Revelation we receive above all a knowledge of the things of God that's more than natural knowledge.
This way we don't deny Revelation wants to influence all our deeds.
Of course, the knowledge of good evokes love in the will and this way it makes the person more perfect. The Revelation is the base of supernatural life, without restrictions; it sanctifies the vitality of man and society. However, in itself it's not the crown of our sanctification, but only the first foundation, because as a teaching of God it calls other graces upon us that make our wills, rather than our minds, stronger and more capable.

{{The concept of Revelation is very diverse in the distinct Protestant denominations.
Even Bavinck couldn't mention any unanimous opinion about it. When the reformed dogmatist wished to sum up his ideas about the concept, he found it necessary to conclude with a series of questions involving some twenty distinct opinions:
"There is no unanimous opinion about the essence of the concept of Revelation ... If the Revelation has a supernatural character, is it by the way it came to us or only in the originality of its contents (Schleiermacher)? What distinguishes such a supernatural Revelation from the revelation in nature and history and above all from the religious and poetical and heroic inspiration we also find outside of Christianity, which many people related to Christian Revelation (like Hamann, Herder, Jacobi, Schleiermacher)? Furthermore, where can we find this supernatural Revelation? Can we find it in the pagan religions, too, or only in Israel, or only in the person of Christ (Schleiermacher, Ritschl)? How far can we extend the concept of Revelation beyond Christ? Should should we include the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and its influence on rebirth and conversion (Kaftan, Frank)? Is Revelation knowledge that enlightens the mind (Hegel, Biedermann, Scholten)? Or is it something mystical and ethical, and an emotion that excites our feelings and strengthens our will (Schleiermacher, Lipsius, Sabatier, Opzoomer, the ethical theologians)? Is the most important thing in Revelation an external and objective manifestation, either in nature (Scholten, Haeckel), or in history (Hegel, Schelling, Troeltsch), or in both (Rothe)? Or is its center the subject, God who reveals himself in the emotions of the mind, in reason, or in conscience (Biedermann, Lipsius, Sabatier)?"

The Protestant concept of Revelation is as diverse in our country as everywhere else.
The reformed mostly maintained the definition of Revelation given by Abraham Kuyper: "Revelation is the act of God by which He teaches people something about His essence or thought or will". They usually distinguish between the general revelation that comes to all people, wherein there still are reminiscences of the original revelation to Adam and Eve, and the special Revelation by the Word, that makes the things of God understandable for the elected who are standing in the light of the Gospel.
Among the Dutch Reformed, the orthodox consider the special Revelation an external manifestation of God, who this way says something about Himself to people.
However, outside of this right wing of the Dutch Reformed Church, the ethical and modernist groups have so weakened the once important reformed concept of Revelation that its human aspects made the aspect of God in it disappear.

Ethical theologians like WM Gunning and J Riemens still admit Revelation comes from Israel, but they say it must follow the natural revelation in such a way that both form one revelation, whereas the orthodox think they must be separate revelations. In general, the ethicals consider the Revelation an inspiration rather than an address. They emphasize the inspiration by God's Spirit and don't speak much about an external manifestation of visible facts of Salvation. For example, PJ Muller preferably refers to the natural religious feelings and the innate conscience that makes people accessible to the supernatural Revelation. JJP Valeton, a left wing figure, even emphasizes this natural accessibility so much that the supernatural revelation would be almost impossible without the natural revelation.

The concept of revelation of modernist theologians shows the rationalistic influence of Hegel through Cornelis W Opzoomer and Johannes H Scholten.
They almost identify the Revelation with religious conscience and don't distinguish between the natural and supernatural revelation.
We clearly see this when a moderate liberal like HJ Heering speaks about Christ during a meeting of modernist theologians, opposing onesided orthodox explanations of the Word:
"We, too, acknowledge nobody can lay a foundation distinct from Jesus Christ. This makes us decide which words of the Scripture 'Christum treiben' (Luther) and which don't. However, many of our orthodox colleagues don't see this is a problem. They think their faith is based on the whole Scripture and there's only one figure of Christ, which is their own figure. However, we are aware there's a synoptical figure of Christ, another figure in the gospel of Saint John, another one with Saint Paul, yet another one in the Apocalypse, etc. Even though Saint Paul says the Christ of Revelation 'isn't divided', and the scriptures of the New Testament speak in various ways about the One, yet each Christian has his own vision on the faith, influenced by his own critical judgment.

Now Heering is still a right-wing modernist, so a liberal who doesn't want to entirely cut the relation between Christian articles of faith and their contents. In his book about faith and revelation he rejects subjectivism and defends a concept of revelation wherein we can't see it without a transcendental divine Reality that's both above the world and above human conscience.

Left wing modernists like Scholten consider Revelation 'a development of our soul's view'. They think they have to abandon God's revelation in history and accept 'a revelation in the mind and the heart of each faithful'. Whoever takes this point of view, denies the objective Revelation has any value and must fall into extreme subjectivism.

An example is the doctrine of reveation of S Hoekstra and LWE Rauwenhoff. These liberal theologians are clearly related to Schleiermacher, and more directly to Auguste Sabatier et Nicolaj Berdiajew, whose philosophical and religious works about religion and about Christianity gave them the material for a religious symbolism that's identical to religious subjectivism. They think Revelation is only inside people. They don't look at the objective acts of God who reveals Himself, but only at the subjective experience of God's Spirit.
AH Haentjens and JL Snethlage, too, see Revelation in a subjective way. Their view is as onesided as the view of Hoekstra and Rauwenhoff, although it stems less clearly from symbolic considerations.
Haentjens says Revelation is the same thing as God being everywhere and invading the conscience of all people. Because of its dynamical character, it can express itself in some people better than in other, but it stays essentially the same. This resembles Snethlage's theory of Revelation, which distinguishes between the mystery of Revelation and those realities in our existence we can better feel and understand. Revelation is not an enemy of these other realities, and is even closely related to them, but as an experience it's different: it is a primitive mystery, springing from the unfathomable primitive base of our existence.

Recently, Karle Barth's remarkable doctrine of Revelation came into vogue, especially among the orthodox.
In his dialectical theology, Barth exaggerated the typical Protestant opinions about the insurmountable distance between God and worthless man and about the immediate contact between God and the faithful, so some of his colleagues passionately praised him and others passionately blamed him.
In the Netherlands, professor Th L Haitjema, among many others, has engaged in the defence of Barth's concept of Revelation. He promotes the 'actual Revelation', and wants to communicate to his fellow faithful that Protestants can't speak about a continuation of Christ's Revelation:
"Since we confess Jesus Christ is God's only Revelation, so we acknowledge that the facts of Salvation are unique, the communities of the Church can't say the Revelation is going on."
God's Revelation doesn't stream through the centuries, as if the faithful could pick it up during normal human history, because the things of God are too much elevated and transcendent, and man is too finite and sinful. Man can't be the subject of anything divine, not even of faith. God's Spirit touches man whenever God descends to him. The Spirit justifies man by the sparks of illumination that give him faith. Whereas the Revelation of the Word has been unique in history, the illumination by the Spirit keeps repeating itself. God's Spirit doesn't formally say the Scripture is true, but it enlightens the distinct pieces of contents of the Scripture for each reader of the bible.

Catholics rejoice in the fact that dialectical theology is trying to save Protestantism from flat subjectivism by saying God's Word comes from God and not from human conscience. But they don't forget that the Bartians devaluate and underestimate the own capability of us, reasonable creatures.
Protestant critics, too, have seen that Bart's new theology is weakening the reformed position, because it alienates theology from faith. For Barth and his followers think faith is such that God believes in people and people only have to be moved.
Here we see a grotesque exaggeration of Luther's theology of the Cross and Calvin's doctrine of God's Majesty.
So it's no wonder G van der Leeuw and many others call Barthianism foolish because it's 'a perversion of the best theories of faith'.}}

Catholic Religion has a firm base.
Its base is not some perishable material, like gold or silver, straw or rush. It didn't spring from the hands of people, nor from the plans of human minds. Its only base is Jesus Christ.
Almost two thousand years have passed since the eternal Word came into the world to be a Mediator between God and man and to restore with his example and preaching and sacrifice what seemed lost beyond recovery.
The prophets of the Old Testament predicted his coming, and the Apostles and their disciples have made the great works of his life known to us both in writing and by word of mouth. And we know their testimony is true.

Whoever believes in the Word, doesn't yield to the fallible authority of a man nor adhere to truths human mind can independently decide upon but aren't important for his happiness. He believes in the reality of God's hidden Essence and has God's wisdom at his side, which shows its presence repeatedly and explicitly in the work of the Son. Saint Thomas Aquinas says it this way:
"Although human reason can't completely know the truths that are beyond it, yet it makes itself more perfect when it believes in them in some way. That's why it says in the Bible: 'I revealed to you very much that's beyond human senses' (Ecclesiasticus III, 25), and 'Nobody knows the things of God, apart from God's Spirit. ... God revealed it to us by his Spirit.' (I Cor II, 10-11).
People who believe in such a truth human reason can't experience, don't do so lightmindedly, as if they follow cleverly devised stories, as Saint Peter says in his second Epistle (I, 16).
Indeed, the wisdom of God, who knows everything thoroughly, condescended to reveal its own secrets to all people. It shows its presence and proves with suitable arguments the doctrine is true and the inspiration is real, whenever, to confirm things beyond natural intellect, it exhibits visible works that are elevated above the power of nature, like the miraculous healing of some people that could not speak, the raising of dead people, the miraculous influence on celestial bodies, and, even more miraculous, the inspiration of human mind that gives feeble-minded and childish people a sudden wisdom and eloquence, because they are full of the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The Revelation Christ brought to us, decides upon the fate of people.
It invites all to be citizens of God's Kingdom, indicates the only door that gives entrance to the only true sheepcot, and receives from the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the fruitfulness it needs to give new life: the life of a man who is saved and sanctified.

Christ did not say: ‘Go and preach nonsense to the world’ to his first gathering, but gave them the true foundation: that, and only that, was on their lips: so that they made the Gospels lance and shield in their fight to light the faith. (Dante, Paradise XXIX, 109-114)