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A General Introduction to
THE EXISTENCE OF REVELATION AND THE CRITERION
Any scientific treatise should first fix its subject and its limitations, before beginning to deal therewith. The first step, therefore, in this Introduction will be to delineate clearly the subject matter.
The existence of inspired writings is a fact warranted by the most convincing data. The tradition of the Jews, the approbation of Christ, the traditions of Christians, the sublimity of the writings, the verification of prophecies, and the universal belief of civilized mankind are alone natural motives of credibility which logically produce certainty. Moreover, those who are incorporated in the organized economy of the New Law have the living voice of the Holy Ghost, declaring through the Church: "And this supernatural revelation, according to the faith of the universal Church, declared in the Holy Tridentine Synod, is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions, which have come down to us." [Vat. Council, Cap. II, De Revelatione.]
There are those who deny the existence of inspired writings; but this mere denial, based upon arbitrary assertions, is no valid reason to doubt of the existence of that sacred deposit, whose marvelous nature and preservation are alone proofs of its supernatural character. Few are the higher truths that have not been attacked by those puny sophists, who fritter away their lives in creating systems, which a credulous unbelief readily embraces. Error is oft more specious than truth. Error loves the maxims of the vapid philosophy of the day. Error skims the surface; it is the easy acquisition of laborhating, thoughtless souls: the pearl of truth of purest ray serene
lies hiding in the caves of deepest ocean, only found by the patient toil, the calm thoughtfulness, and the unbiased mind of the honest truth-seeker.
Having once placed as a basic position that there exist divinely inspired writings, the next step is to determine how we may infallibly discern and know what is inspired and what is not. We must establish an adequate criterion, which can discriminate, from all other books, the products of the authorship of God.
Inspiration, in its formal concept, is a supernatural psychological fact, wrought in the mind of the inspired agent by the First Cause. We might define it, using the conciseness and precision of the Latin idiom: Illustratio mentis et motus efficax voluntatis a Deo, ad exprimendum infallibiliter sensum Dei, seu ad exprimenda ea omnia et sola quae Deus vult. Now it is plainly evident that a fact of such nature can be immediately known but to two beings, God and the person inspired. The action takes place in that inner theatre of action, impervious to our sense, and is as barred from our cognition as the thought in its fount, before it is externalized by sensible medium. Neither is it necessary that it should always be known to the person inspired. Caiphas, Jo. XI, 49–52, prophesied, not knowing that he did so. Card. Newman seems to incline to the belief that the writer of the 2d book of Maccabees was not conscious of his inspiration; and, also, he would extend this to the writer of Ecclesiasticus.* I believe, however, that the in
*"Nor is it de fide (for that alone with a view to Catholic Biblicists I am considering) that inspired men, at the time when they speak from inspiration, should always know that the Divine Spirit is visiting them.
The Psalms are inspired; but, when David in the outpouring of his deep › contrition, disburdened himself before his God in the words of the Miserere, could he, possibly, while uttering them, have been directly conscious that every word he uttered was not simply his, but another's? Did he not think that he was personally asking forgiveness and spiritual help?
Doubt again seems incompatible with a consciousness of being inspired. But Father Patrizi, while reconciling two Evangelists in a passage of their narratives, says, if I understand him rightly (ii. p. 405), that though we admit that there were some things about which inspired writers doubted, this does not imply that inspiration allowed them to state what is doubtful as certain, but only it did not hinder them from stating things with a doubt on their minds about them; but how can the All-knowing Spirit doubt ? or how can an inspired man doubt, if he is conscious of his inspiration?
And again, how can a man whose hand is guided by the Holy Spirit, and who knows it, make apologies for his style of writing, as if deficient in literary exactness and finish? If then the writer of Ecclesiasticus, at the very time that he wrote his Prologue, was not only inspired but conscious of his inspiration, how could he have entreated his readers to 'come with
spired writers, properly so called, were conscious of their inspiration.
In relation to the prophets, we may not doubt, since they solemnly assert in their books: "Thus saith the Lord." From all the writers of the New Law breathes forth a subtle authoritative voice, telling us that the Spirit of God is back of what they say. Let us then assume that the fact of inspiration is known to God its author, and to the agent in whom he has wrought this effect. How may this knowledge be commnnicated to us? This leads us to the consideration of the CRITERION OF INSPIRATION.
An examination of the issue will convince us that the testimony of the inspired agent, unsupported by the corroborative attestation of God, is not sufficient. In the first place, this means would be subject to hallucination, error, and fraud. Long would be the list of those who, from one or other of these motives, claimed inspiration from God. It would suffice to mention Mohammed and the founder of Mormonism, to specify the weakness of this criterion. But granted that the inspired agent did, in any case, so testify as to merit credence, the faith that these motives of credibility would produce would not be divine faith, which has for its formal motive the authority of God; but, at most, it would be only human faith; for the effect cannot be greater than the cause, and, as the cause of this credibility was not divine but human, the faith, its effect, would be no more than human faith. Now it is exacted that we believe in the Scriptures with a divine faith. Hence, granted that the testimony of the inspired writer might be trustworthy of itself, it could never produce more than human credibility, which is not sufficient to form a basis for absolute and divine faith. No creature can be trusted infinitely, but, when we are dealing with "God's epistle to his creature", absolute trust and
benevolence,' and to make excuse for his 'coming short in the composition of words'? Surely, if at the very time he wrote he had known it, he would, like other inspired men, have said, 'Thus saith the Lord,' or what was equivalent to it. (XIX Century for 1884.)
The same remark applies to the writer of the second book of Machabees, who ends his narrative by saying, 'If I have done well, it is what I desired, but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me.' What a contrast to St. Paul, who, speaking of his inspiration (1 Cor. vii. 40) and of his 'weakness and fear' (ibid ii. 4), does so in order to boast that his 'speech was, not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the Spirit and of power.' The historian of the Maccabees, would have surely adopted a like tone of 'glorying,' had he had at the time a like consciousness of his divine gift." (Ibid.)