Article 11: Catechism of the Catholic Church series
Paragraphs 65-67
Jesus: the Fullness of Revelation
Most faithful Methodists in the middle of the 19th century would have been familiar with the lyrics of hymns written by sacred music author Fanny Crosby. One of the favorite hymns among her many devotees was, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” I recall my paternal grandmother reciting the refrain by heart. I guess she felt that she was not intruding on my Catholic identity by introducing me to the lyrics of one of her favorite hymns. Besides, it was more about Jesus than about being a Methodist. The refrain is as follows: “Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.”
My grandmother must have known that the lyrics were reminiscent, not only of the historical life of Jesus born in Bethlehem, growing up in Nazareth and dying on Calvary, but also of the account of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus that St. Luke recounts. Recall that it was on that occasion that Jesus stood in their midst and recounted how every promise from the Old Testament was fulfilled in him. In a certain sense one might say that God revealed himself in kind of a fragmented way in the Old Testament until, in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), Christ came as the fullness of God’s revelation.
When we read the accounts of St. Luke, we become aware of the fact that Christ illuminates the Old Testament, the whole history of salvation, and shows the great unity between the two testaments. Jesus, in fact, explains that he is the fulfillment of every promise: “and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27). When the two disciples finally recognized their Lord they recalled: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk 24:32).
More than that, we read at the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel his explicit intention, as he writes to some person by the name of “Theophilus,” to record everything with absolute accuracy: “… I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Lk 1:1-4)
Making use of a formal, literary construction and vocabulary, the author of St. Luke’s Gospel writes a prologue in imitation of Greek writers and, in so doing, relates his story about Jesus in a fashion similar to the style of Greek and Roman literature.
St. Luke is not only interested in the words and deeds of Jesus, but also in the larger context of his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection as the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. As a second or third generation Christian, St. Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution to this developing tradition is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide Theophilus (a name meaning “friend of God,” literally) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received.
The Catechism reminds us that in having Jesus, the Son of God and Word of God made flesh, come to earth, God our Father “spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word — and he has no more to say … There will be no further Revelation” (ccc 65). The next paragraph continues by again explaining that there will be “no new public revelation” (ccc 66). Revelation is compete in Jesus Christ. This does not mean, however, that the apostles or anyone else understood everything fully about the faith once Jesus died and rose from the dead. Many things were not “completely explicit” and it would be up to future generations to gradually “grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.”
Other important points to consider when speaking about revelation is that we cannot accept so-called “revelations” that claim to exceed, be better than or somehow correct how God has revealed Jesus Christ to us. Most troubling are non-Christian religions or present-day sects that claim so-called new or more innovative “revelations.” This is the case with such groups as Mormons, who claim revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God. Jehovah Witnesses are another example of a group whose teachings are contrary to the faith of the Church. They claim that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are inferior to God the Father. Other groups are sometimes identified with the so-called New Age movement that include pagan religions like Wicca that venerates both a “triple goddess” associated with the moon, stars, and often the earth, and a “horned god” associated with the sun, forests and animals.
This leads to the question of private revelation, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church, such as the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes and Fatima or those of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in France or to St. Faustina in Poland. The Catechism is clear that it is not the role of such apparitions “to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history” (ccc 67).
Next time someone makes the request,”… tell me the story of Jesus,” you may feel compelled to sing aloud the refrain of the hymn written by Fanny Crosby. I recommend, however, that it is  best to stick with the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism. Both provide the best summary of our precious Catholic faith.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities.