Revelation: Of the Eye, not the Event

“The False Legacy of Suarez” by John Montag, the second essay in Radical Orthodoxy, sets out to clarify some of the changes in theological language that have happened inside those traditions called “Thomism.” As the early modern era dawns, writes Montag, the medieval notion of revelation as something akin to light–something that illuminates for the sake of seeing what God has already created–gives way to a view of revelation as an event, a moment when God places intrusively something into “natural” creation that was not there before.

Of course, “nature” was something different for medievals as well. Thomas’s use of the term happens within a world in which every created thing has a nature. “Natural” is always an adjective for Thomas; there are no “natural” and “supernatural” realms. Instead, supernatural moments involve rising above one’s (postlapsarian) natural capabilities:

Within Thomas’s conception of creation-as-gifted, the “supernatural” refers to gifts which are beyond the nature of fallen humanity, and thus to “the human being whom one finds behaving generously, justly, truthfully. (And of course, it is only God to whom the term “supernatural” could never be applied: who graces God? Who elevates the nature of divinity?)” (45; quote from Nicholas Lash)

So, Montag argues, ontological/epistemological denials of the accessibility of “the supernatural” already assume two “realms” rather than two intensities of sight (as per Milbank) with which one might see the same Creation. Once again, late medieval philosophy turns out to have been quite influential in later, post-Kantian philosophy.

Speaking of which, I thought, five years ago, that Milbank was somewhat arbitrary tracing so much back to Duns Scotus. I thought thus until semester, when materialist after materialist cited Scotus’s break with Augustinian metaphysical traditions as the source of Enlightenment and later Marxist materialisms. As it turns out, Milbank must have read those dudes before I did. Go figure.

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