Revealed Religion Compensates for Our Epistemological Limitations

Revealed religion is necessary to man only because he is so limited in his cognition. All the truths of revealed religion would be evident, or apparent, or demonstrable to us had we but knowledge of all the relevant items.

We can’t see the future, e.g.; so, much of John’s Apocalypse – and other apocalyptic – respects futurities. It’s not that we cannot know that there must eventually be an eschaton by way of natural theology, but that because, being temporal, we cannot know the details of the eschaton except by way of revelation, so that we cannot properly shape our doctrines accordingly. And some of those historical details of the eschaton are crucially important.

Or again, our lights cannot penetrate the veil of the Firmament, to see what transpires in other worlds – particularly the world of Heaven. Outside of revelation, then, we can’t know that there is war in Heaven. At most we can apprehend that something is Not Quite Right with the created order, and conjecture about the reasons. Once we learn from revelation that there is war, lots of other doctrines fall into place logically. In the light of revealed religion, we can see why truths discoverable by natural theology are true.

To a mind competent enough, revealed theology would be a department of natural theology.

21 thoughts on “Revealed Religion Compensates for Our Epistemological Limitations

  1. It is an interesting point – but not really right. It is also a hostage to fortune in the sense that it raises the question of why God created Man with such limitations (when – at least according to mainstream Christian theology – he could have created him more cognitively competent).

    CS Lewis used to say that natural religion minus revelation was (the varieties of) paganism – and I think that is closer to it.

    On the whole, revelation is necessary to Christianity.

    But it could be argued (and I think I would agree) that all necessary revelation can be personal, individual and direct – and in *that* sense, it is a cognitive limitation that we are not (more) open to revelation… but we do need revelation, surely?

    • To your last paragraph: Oh, certainly, yes, we do need revelation. If we had not Fallen, perhaps we might not have needed it. But we did, so that natural theology as we practice it is really more like subnormal natural theology – taking the norm to be the predominant mode of understanding through the majority of the human experience – the *everlasting* human experience. Thus if we are to approach the normal sort of cognition to which man is intended and in principle capable, we need the assistance of revelation.

      And in any case – more on this in a moment – it seems clear to me that what we take to be the material of natural theology is in fact all revealed. We have mundane experiences, and we think about them and their implications for theology. That’s natural theology. But is it in fact really possible to have an experience of any sort that is not provided by omnipotence? If God is ultimate – that than which no greater can be conceived – then everything whatsoever originates in him, and reveals him. So *all* of Nature is revealed. *All* our experiences are of God (remembering that “of” is one way that English denotes the genitive relation).

      We could say that Creation *just is* a revelation. When God encloses the cosmos in the firmament, he is not hiding himself from what lives within it, but rather revealing himself. The Receptacle is not somewhere outside God. It is within him. For, the very notion of a location outside God is incoherent: God is ubiquitous; he is the very principle of location; for he is the map of everything; the firmament that we see whenever we look at anything is the mappamundi.

      What I was trying to get at in the post was that, reality being integral, all truths are implicit in each fact. To a mind capable of seeing them, any grain of sand would clearly manifest all the truths. And this includes all the truths about historical matters of fact, for these all exist first eternally and only second temporally; so that a mind capable of comprehending eternity would see the whole of cosmic history in seeing any part of it, by seeing through the lens of eternity. This very sort of sight is reported by the Merkavah mystics of their ascent to Heaven. If you are prehending God, you are prehending omniscience; if you partake God, you partake omniscience (another good reason to approach the altar rail in fear and trembling).

      One of the things we learn from revelation is that when God first created Man, they were friends. They hung out together in the Garden in the cool of the day. One of the implications that esoteric Judaism and Christianity have taken from this story is that in those days, Man partook God directly, and that one aspect of the Fall was a dyscatastrophic lapse of human vision. We may reasonably infer that when Adam was still in Eden, he saw all things in virtue of seeing his Father. And he didn’t have to work at it! He didn’t have to labor and travail at reasoning things out in the sweat of his brow, as we do now.

      What this means is that, in a sense, all of Adam’s prelapsarian knowledge was revealed. He knew everything from God; and from God, he knew everything. At that time, Adam’s natural theology *just was* revealed theology.

      I would argue that our natural theology even now is a department of revealed theology – to the extent that it is true, NB. Whatever truths we can puzzle out from Nature are numbered among the truths that are revealed in the Logos. For, Nature is a revelation of her Creator; so, doctrine of General Revelation; thus, Lewis’ suggestion about pagan thought; etc.

      The only other items in your comment to which I can respond with anything other than simple agreement are in your first paragraph. You write:

      … it raises the question of why God created Man with such limitations (when – at least according to mainstream Christian theology – he could have created him more cognitively competent).

      Same reason he created hedgehogs with prickles and eagles with wings: they are beautiful. Great Chain of Being, Principle of Plenitude, etc.: a perfectly good omnipotence would actualize all compossible goods.

      Then also, according to mainstream Christian theology – heck, according to revelation in Genesis – when Adam was created he was not cognitively impaired. He hung out with God in the Garden, and with no intermediation, no veil, no darksome glass. He looked right at the guy. Only after Adam had Fallen was there any cognitive hiding.

      You write:

      It is an interesting point – but not really right.

      In what respect is it not really right?

      • I think that Jesus Christ is the ‘thing’ that requires revelation – I’m not sure exactly why, but I think this was an integral aspect of the incarnation.

      • Kristor…

        Is there not one living man able to articulate reality more perfectly than all other living men? Is such a man not objectively supreme to all other men despite his fallen nature?

      • Excellent, Thordaddy, yes. A terrific point. True by definition.

        The Jews have long taught that at any time there are at least thirty six hidden tsaddikim – righteous men – saints – and that when their number falls below thirty six, the world will end.

        I would however quibble and say rather that these men are objectively superior, than that they are objectively supreme. It might be, for example, that none of the available tsaddikim are suitable for rule. In that case, a man who was not so virtuous as they along the dimension of understanding reality might be their just temporal ruler – might be supreme.

      • Lovely discussion. I hate to bring up the Society of Jesus (especially during the Latins’ current travails), but Rahner appears to have understood revelation “from below.” The world is God’s self-disclosure. Who would have thought that a Jesuit would reveal kinship between Heidegger and Bonaventure? What a wonderful world it is!

        Mr. Charlton brings up an important consideration (about God’s culpability in man’s limitations) that he himself answered, in a way, a few months ago (“Why doesn’t God reveal himself and convince me by some really impressive miracle?” I think of Charlton’s essay as an elaboration of the ending of the Lord’s parable, “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Not even considering the much merited consequences of the fall, we cannot attribute man’s ignorance and rejection of God to his limitations. The truth continually smacks us in the face — occasionally quite violently, and yet we persist in our willful blindness and refuse to see it. The condition has all the marks of insanity and yet is quite common to contemporary Western man. Bonkers, we are! Utterly mad!

      • … we cannot attribute man’s ignorance and rejection of God to his limitations.

        We can’t attribute them to God’s limitations, I take you to mean. Romans 1:20-25.

      • I would say that Christ is, empirically-speaking, The Perfect Man, i.e., He who wills all right. Worldly Perfection. Falsification of “universal equality.” Explicit proof that man is not confined to an “infinite regress” nor restrained by any limitation in his desire for Perfection. But most importantly, what Christ DOES NOT represent is inspiration for self-annihilation.

      • Kristor…

        I would say that there is an indestructible link between a desire to grasp reality absolutely and perfect self-rule. So he whose desire for grasping reality just is less than yours cannot then due to his lesser state of apparent self-rule be designated “supreme” to he who desires Supremacy with greater faith and fervor. Such a state of affairs practically destroys God-ordained free will.

      • [Christ is] explicit proof that man is not confined to an “infinite regress,” nor restrained by any limitation in his desire for Perfection.

        Yes. There is no upper limit on human participation of God; no maximum of theosis.

        I think you are right about that link between desire for God and self-rule (although not about its indestructibility – I destroy it in myself every day). Yet few saints are kings. Few saints are suited to the royal office. Most are not warriors, or men of the world. Superior to earthly kings they may be in the hierarchy of Heaven. But rarely are they superior to kings here below at what is needed for kingship.

        So Providence rarely crowns them with gold; more often does he crown them with thorns of one sort or another.

  2. Pingback: Revealed Religion Compensates for Our Epistemological Limitations | Reaction Times

  3. Perhaps a tangential question, but any insights on why there are so many fallen angels, in light of their superior access to what we see as revelation?

    What I mean is, how could a higher being rebel against God, if he could understand His truths so clearly?

  4. As a practicing Christian, I continually find myself in a certain conflict with certain parts of the modern American Evangelical movement’s constant pronouncements of exclusive understanding of the Bible’s passages of prophecy. In addition of their insistence of their theology being the only true Christian faith. I find this as dangerous when one side rails against the other about free speech. One side tells the other they are the oppressed. One reason ancient religions, especially Christianity, became stronger and developed a rich heritage based in these debates. Sometimes the conflicts went beyond just writing and speaking, but ideas opposed to each other being debated help keep the faith I follow from becoming an echo chamber. By extension, the seeds of theocracy can easily sprout from this dangerous ground. Bottom line for me is that to many revelations by anyone or anything claiming to have an answer for everything can impede our true path to actual revelations.

  5. All the truths of revealed religion would be evident, or apparent, or demonstrable to us had we but knowledge of all the relevant items.

    Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest of natural theologians, strongly disagreed.

    • NB: “… had we but knowledge of all the relevant items.” But we *don’t* have that knowledge naturally. We naturally have knowledge of only some of the relevant items. Hence there is for us a distinction between natural and revealed religion, noticed by Aquinas – and by the sentence from the original post which we have both just quoted.

      For God – and perhaps for angels – there would be no difference between natural and revealed theology. Not so, for us. But then too, even the knowledge we gain by the light of our natural reason is knowledge of a sort of revelation: for, pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua, dominus deus Sabaoth:

      The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands; Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge.

      – Psalm 19:1-2.

      • We have knowledge of Perfection. “It” is the “operating paradigm.” You know Perfect Kristor even before you know Kristor.

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