CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews) — It is a great privilege for me to stay for almost a decade now in this green seminary — the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro — where the silent presence of trees provides a scenic atmosphere that gives way to the non-stop symphony of natural music coming from the birds, crickets, and cicadas around us. This beautiful place constantly teaches me how to live in a community of creation sheltered by a common home.
As a theology teacher since 2011, I invite my students to make use of our seminary’s ecological giftedness for studying theology and deepening spirituality. I encourage them to be attentive to God’s revealing presence around us. We need to affirm that the Word of God cannot be contained only in the Holy Bible and the Sacred Tradition. The living God is also speaking to us in creation.
The Verbal Revelation of God
In the Vatican II documents, particularly Dei Verbum (DV), the Church teaches that God’s self-revelation and his plan of salvation “which started in the Old Testament, was completed and perfected in Christ Jesus,” who is “the Father’s one, perfect, unsurpassable Word.” The Word of God is Jesus Christ himself (see 2 Peter 1:19-21) who performed “many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book [the Bible]” (Jn 20:30; 21:25). Thus, the Bible does not contain the whole of the verbal divine revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Word of God is also contained in the Sacred Tradition, which is “the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity” (DV 9). Together, the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition make up “a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (DV 10). Thus, “they are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (DV 9) as they equally contain the verbal revelatory experience of God’s Word both in its written and oral forms.
The Non-verbal Revelation of God
It must be emphasized, however, that God’s Word is not expressed solely through verbal revelation. The Bible testifies that there is an ongoing wordless divine revelation in creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands. Day unto day pours forth speech; night unto night whispers knowledge. There is no speech, no words; their voice is not heard. A report goes forth through all the earth, their messages, to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:2-5).
The Bible also declares that the created realities reveal something of their Creator: “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen” (Wis 13:5). Along this line, St. Paul teaches that “We came to know the invisible nature” of God through “the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20).
The above-mentioned passages imply that the non-verbal divine self-revelation in creation complements the verbal revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Like the verbal revelation of God in the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition, God’s nonverbal self-revelation in creation equally requires our faith-response and should lead us to honor and glorify Him.
Our Knowledge of God from Creation
By contemplating the natural world, we can have certain knowledge of the existence of God as the ultimate source of perfection that we find in all created beings. By looking at the perfection of the created realities, we can “establish that there can be only one single Creator of all things, that all things outside Him must be created by Him alone.” In other words, even those who have not read the Holy Bible can have certain knowledge of the existence of God as Creator.
It is not purely human effort to know the self-revelation of God in creation. The Jesuit Spanish theologian, Luis F. Ladaria, insists that “it is the divine initiative which is at the basis of any possible knowledge of God through created things (cf. GS 15, 19).” Affirming Thomas Aquinas, he admits that “it is not possible to know the Trinity from creation alone” but, nevertheless, it must be affirmed that “this imperfectly known God is the one and triune God.”
Creation as the Primordial Divine Revelation
The early Church Fathers have consistently affirmed the existence of two “books”, the book of Nature and the book of Scriptures, through which God can be known. They contended that in order to understand fuller God’s revelation, these two books should be read together.
Between these two books, however, St. Augustine maintained the universality of knowing God through the book of Nature. In his words, “The pages of Scripture can only be read by those who know how to read and write, while everyone, even the illiterate, can read the book of the universe.” The God known through creation is the same God known through scriptures for it is the same God who makes himself known in both ways.
It is unfortunate that, despite the clear Christian teaching, the emphasis still tends to be concentrated practically on the verbal revelation of God in Jesus Christ, particularly in its written text. The written form of God’s self-revelation has taken precedence in our thinking. Consequently, God’s self-revelation in the natural world was less explored and even unduly ignored both in the areas of theology and spirituality.
The Gospel of Creation
The Chapter Two of the encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS) bears the title “The Gospel of Creation.” As this phrase implies, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only contained in writings of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Creation is a non-verbal expression of the gospel. In the words of Pope Francis, “Each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us.” Indeed, the entire material universe “speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us” (LS 84).
The Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ has an ecological significance for all created realities. Pope Francis affirms that “Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being…” (LS 221). In his Incarnation, Christ “has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation” (LS 235). Today, he is “alive in every creature in [his] risen glory” (LS 246).
If creation expresses the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we should be religiously offended and insulted when it is abused, desecrated, and dishonored. Its degraded quality — a dull and ugly state — is sacrilegious and blurs our vision of God’s beauty and goodness. In the words of T. Berry, “if a resplendent world gives us an exalted idea of God, a degraded world gives us a degraded idea of God.” The ongoing disfigurement of God’s creation due to ecological destruction must have contributed to our declining interest in divine revelation in the natural world.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching.]
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