Gerald O’COLLINS, SJ, Revelation: Towards a Christian interpretation of God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ. New York: Oxford U. Press, 2016. Pp. 210. $27.99. ISBN 978-0-19-878420-3. Reviewed by Nathan KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618.
O’Collins once again gives us an in-depth look at a traditional theme. He describes revelation as both the primary self-revelation of Jesus as God and savior and the secondary revelation of something about God and human beings. Freely given in love and freely received in love God becomes more, rather than less, mysterious in this revelatory encounter. This dialogue both informs us about who we are and transforms us into who we are becoming: sons and daughters of God, made in God’s image, in imitation of Jesus. This divine self-revelation is, in its own way, sacrament-like because it is composed of both words and actions. The polymorphous nature of revelation leads O’Collins to then examine the means and mediators of revelation. He spreads a wide net in itemizing some of these: dreams, casting of lots, the cosmos (all of nature), the prophets, and unjust suffering are just a few of what may provide revelatory experiences to us human beings. Yet while revelation can and has happened in all these ways the question always remains: “So what?” How do I/we know revelation has happened in the past and does happen in the present? While reminding us that anyone’s current recognition of Jesus as God’s self-revelation depends upon and trust in intermediaries from Jesus’ time on earth, O’Collins argues for the view that this is an historical risk – we can never be 100% rationally sure that such a person existed. “…belief in the Trinity and the Incarnate Son of God which emerges from revelation remains deeply mysterious and paradoxical, but not logically incoherent or absurd.”
To say that Jesus’ past existence was real is not to say that the revelatory event associated with that existence is also in the past. After all Jesus is alive today in all the ways God was, and is, revelatory to us in the past. This is especially true in what O’Collins calls dependent revelation – that ongoing revelation dependent upon the past, foundational, revelation. Continuing from the past, to the present – and also continuing the emphasis upon the individual’s experience of this revelation, he sees the end of revelation in seeing God face to face. After tracing the path of revelation in human life, he provides chapters on the role of Tradition, biblical inspiration, scriptural truth, and the role of religions in general vis a vis revelation – all of which elaborate and deepen his approach to providing us with, as his title indicates, “A Christian Interpretation of God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ.”
This short summary does not come close to outlining all the information found in Revelation. There we find extensive scriptural references, quotes from the magisterium, in this instance Vatican II, important thinkers both within and outside Christianity: All a source of data for future thought. This is a densely argued book which provides anyone interested in understanding Christian revelation a clearly argued position as well as support for that position.
No reviewer should ever ask for an author to write another book than he has. However, in the spirit of dialogue, I wonder how O’Collins explanation of revelation would critique Process and Existentialist theology ; how his call to a life lived in the light of revelation would enhance the commitment of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians – and, of course, what they would say about this book. A discussion about revelation is, after all, a conversation about God’s saving presence and that presence is understood differently outside the classical theologies and religions. Looking to our future in this post-modern age certainly this conversation should take place - who knows what would be revealed?