Article 9: Catechism of the Catholic Church series
Divine Pedagogy: Gradual Unfolding of Revelation
We are saturated daily by news reports of people involved in events marked by scandal and shame. College football fans in New Jersey recall the shame that Rutgers University alumni Ray Rice caused his team, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL, in September 2014, when he was arrested and subsequently indicted for aggravated assault after punching his then-fiancée in the face causing her to be knocked unconscious.
Then there was the Penn State University abuse scandal involving football coach Jerry Sandusky, who received a sentence of 30-60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys over a 15 year period.
Several weeks ago, we learned that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported that during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 he was aboard a helicopter hit by RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire and forced to land. The truth was that Williams’ helicopter showed up almost an hour after a rocket-propelled grenade had hit another helicopter.
Then there was the 2012 Benghazi scandal that the President’s administration blamed on a YouTube video when in fact it was the work of Islamic militants attacking the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens along with three other Americans.
Finally, the world will never forget the two presidential scandals including the 1995-1997 Clinton-Lewinsky affair and the 1972 Nixon Watergate scandal.
The predicament of all people involved in shameful, scandalous events, including the above-mentioned scandals, is reminiscent of the shame, in the persons of our first parents, that was brought to the image of God in whose likeness we are made. In the natural order of things, God created humanity out of love to represent him and to declare his glory. Our first parents betrayed God’s trust.
The first chapter of Genesis highlights the goodness of creation and God’s desire that human beings share in that goodness. God brings an orderly universe out of primordial chaos merely by uttering a word. In the literary structure of six days, the creation events in the first three days are event related to those in the second three.
The command to “be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28) was a command to be faithful stewards of all created things and to spread God’s glory as bearers of his likeness and his image (Genesis 1:26) to the ends of the earth. This is what our first parents forfeited.
As a result, we could have been doomed but “through an utterly free decision,” God revealed himself and gave himself to us (ccc. 50). God’s plan was to allow humanity to “become sharers in the divine nature” (ccc 51). This would happen over many centuries, as God gradually revealed his will that we should “have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit” (ccc 51).
The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) affirms this truth that through God’s revelation he chose to share with us “divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind” (DV, 6).
Paragraph 52 of the Catechism explains that God desires to make us capable: 1. of responding to him, 2. of knowing him and 3. of loving him, far beyond our own natural capacity. In order to accomplish this, a “specific divine pedagogy” was employed, namely God would communicate himself to humanity gradually, in stages, that would “culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ” (ccc 53).
Divine pedagogy is a concept that goes back to the early Church Fathers as a way to describe the gradual unfolding of divine revelation, especially in reference to the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
St. Irenaeus of Lyon (130-202), who is quoted in paragraph 53 of the Catechism, repeatedly speaks of this divine pedagogy: “The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom us to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in us, according to the Father’s pleasure.”
In 1979, then-Pope, now St. John Paul, in his Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis, affirmed the use of this divine prerogative when he stated: “Pedagogy of faith is not a question of transmitting human knowledge, even of the highest kind; it is a question of communicating God’s revelation in its entirety. Throughout sacred history, especially in the Gospel, God Himself used a pedagogy that must continue to be a model for the pedagogy of faith.” (Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, 58).
How fortunate we are to have this “divine pedagogy” as a model for teaching the components of our faith to others. The incredible resource of the Catechism, not only assists us in our own intellectual and spiritual development, but serves as a prominent book of the Church and for the Church to assist us in sharing our precious faith with others in a precise and elegant way.
As for those who have chosen unwisely to take a path marked by scandal and shame, the good news is that hope is never lost and God’s mercy abounds. Both “hope” and “mercy” can become new opportunities to live life to the fullest or they can be opportunities missed …
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities.
Faithful called to evangelize through sincere dialogue
Article 9: Catechism of the Catholic Church series