The word "revelation"

Interesting concept. Linguistically it means transfer of information from someone to someone else. The question is “how” does the transfer happen? Obviously via some information transmitting medium. Words, pictures, etc… The question is “what was the medium for divine revelations”? And why should anyone accept that a “revelation” occurred, when she was not the target of the transmission of the information? Moreover, why should anyone accept someone else’s claim that a “revelation” happened?

Let’s discuss.

The medium for transmission was, and still is, the Holy Spirit. Usually, someone knows the revelation of the past is true because it rings true with them.

The Church refers to “public revelation”, the most important of which is the advent of Christ involving all He said and did -as that pertains to the “knowledge of God”, our Christian faith IOW- and to “private revelations”, which are those experiences granted to individuals for God’s purposes and at His sole discretion. We’re not forced to believe in either (it’s impossible to make anyone believe something that, in fact, they do not believe), and we require grace/the aid of the Holy Spirit in order to truly embrace either as truth, but only those truths revealed publicly for the sake of our salvation as proclaimed by the Church are binding on Catholics. And private revelations are always false to the extent that they contradict in any way the public revelation once and for all delivered to us some two millennia ago. Having said that, however, many private revelations given to individuals down through the centuries offer a great deal of encouragement, inspiration, clarification, etc to the rest of us.

In one sense, it’s much more banal than interesting. With regard to religious revelation, this would fall under the more general source for knowledge that we call “testimony.” Epistemologists have enjoyed something of a renaissance of this division of knowing in recent years. The first such text I came across was CAJ Coady’s Testimony: a Philosophical Study. Robert Audi and others later incorporated testimony itself into their general texts on epistemology as being a stand-alone source and ground of knowledge (along with perception, introspection, reason, etc). That is to say, all humans everywhere for all time have held, what you might call, testimonially-grounded beliefs. When a person stops to consider the widespread nature of testimony, it quickly becomes evident that it is a placeholder for the majority of our beliefs (or at least of the beliefs that we would consider important).

From history to foreign affairs to local news to science to religion to medicine to what your spouse did at work that day—all of this knowledge comes to you via testimony. Someone who is presumably in a position to know, tells you so.

So beliefs that are sourced and justified by testimony are commonplace. What might be interesting is the question of trust/justification. When you ask yourself whether person X is in a proper position to know that Y (Y being the thing that person X just told you). That’s an interesting question. But normally, our standards for assigning trust/justification are fairly low, unless we’ve assigned great importance to the beliefs in question.

It’s also interesting that according to the testimony of some who’ve received private revelations, an “intellectual vision” is to receive knowledge without benefit of words, concepts, images, or anything associated with the five physical senses-with any normal means of knowing something IOW. The experience consists of knowledge simply received: before you didn’t know it, now you do.

This is ineffable because we have no way of relating to it based on normal experience. To “see” God, as in the Beatific Vision, is probably such an experience. It’s to know Him, immediately, and such knowledge is necessarily a gift, beyond our means to obtain naturally.

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