Henry Chadwick on Hard and Soft Forms of Revelation

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I loved this little taxonomy of the way in which different parts of the Church understand the nature of revelation which in turn shapes their relation to history and tradition:

"For conservative minds … revelation is doctrine formulated as far as possible in clear-cut propositional statement grounded either in an inerrantly inspired Bible, inerrantly interpreted by men of the Spirit who show themselves to be so by their assertion of biblical inerrancy, or in an unfailing organ of teaching authority, a magisterium … whose rulings through the centuries can be conveniently gathered in a canonist's handbook, and whose verdicts are really all one needs to know."

"A less hard concept of revelation would speak of scripture and the consensus of the faithful, expressed through the formative councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon, the definitions of which 'witness' to a divine self-disclosure in Christ for the redemption of humanity. … It remains a presupposition that a criterion of truth in the Church is consonance with scripture and ancient tradition or at least an absence of evident dissonance."

"An altogether softer evaluation of revelation would see it as a divinely inspired, immanent enhancement of the natural consciousness of the Christian community, enabling it to cut free from the shackles of the past and from the habits of religious convention. Thereby the Church is an agency of creative independence, whether by charismatic renewal or by jettisoning the ways of the past. The criterion of fidelity to the historical foundations of the faith, and to the formative decisions of the age when Christianity was, so to speak, deciding to be Christianity in the ordinarily recognizable form, becomes hardly more than marginal. The crucial test is that Christians should not be ludicrously at loggerheads with the self-evident assumptions of their secular contemporaries who, after all, are also God's creation living in God's world and are likely to have things to teach those who allow their faith to shut them into a cultural ghetto."

Chadwick, Henry. "Making and Remaking in the Ministry of the Church." in The Making and Remaking of Christian Doctrine: Essays in Honour of Maurice Wiles. Edited by Sarah Coakley and David Pailin. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993. pp.23-24.

Readers of this blog probably get a good idea of which of these three mini-portraits best summarizes my own view.