Niels Christian Hvidt


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Prophecy and Revelation. A Theological Survey on the Problem of Christian Prophecy

Prophecy! The word itself may cause unrest and make believers and theologians quiver with undefined expectations. One is easily led to think of fanatics who, in an ecstatic spirit, preach doom and gloom to people who are merely attracted by sensationalism. And yet the New Testament speaks of the ministry of the prophets naming them next after the apostles (1). Church-history attests that in crucial periods in the history of the Church, people with a prophetic vocation such as Saint Birgitta of Vadstena, Saint Catherine of Siena and Jeanne d’Arc, have stood up like the Old Testament prophets. The inspirations that such prophetic personalities have proclaimed to the world as Word of God have often been called private revelations, but for various reasons this term is inappropriate. The term prophetic revelations is to be preferred (2). Christian prophecy is present throughout the entire history of the Church and the charism of prophecy can be discerned to the present day (3). However, the topic of prophecy has never been of particular theological interest. As Rino Fisichella notes ‘confronting the subject of prophecy is rather like looking at wreckage after a shipwreck’ (4). The foundations which indeed exist in Scripture for a theology of prophecy have never been developed into a comprehensive theological synthesis (5). Three primary reasons may be given for this fact:

Firstly as Karl Rahner (6) and René Laurentin (7) both indicate, the relationship between the prophets and the authorities of the church has never been easy. Prophecy implies experiences that are supernatural and which are not easily accommodated within the rational structures of theology and within the ordinary life of the church.

Secondly, there is a serious methodological problem. Prophecy is a vast topic. An investigation of prophecy requires coping with several theological disciplines. Since a theology of Christian prophecy must be consistent with the picture of prophecy given by the New Testament, it must imply exegesis. It requires looking at the problem of inspiration and the transcendent basis of prophecy, whereby one enters the realm of mystical theology. It entails ecclesiology: What part does the prophet play in the life of the church, and what is the relationship between prophecy and institution? For an investigation into the preconditions and nature of prophecy it is necessary to turn to the theology of revelation, and here one enters the field of fundamental theology. Lastly, in order to contemplate the practical activity of the prophets a theology of prophecy must look at the history of the Church. In most systems of theology, there are rather strict boundaries between the different disciplines and these boundaries, which naturally raise obstacles for the unity of theology, also cause difficulty for the problem of prophecy.

Thirdly, the concept of revelation in Christian theology has raised problems for a theology of Christian prophecy. In the Middle Ages, the idea of revelation was very ambiguous and there was plenty of room for the fact of Christian prophecy. The term revelation itself could hint at both the incarnation of Christ as well as the ongoing activity of the Word of God throughout history. The Reformation, however, dealt a detrimental blow to prophecy. Especially the prophetic vocation of the laity was discredited. There was a tendency that religious impetus was limited to the borders of ecclesial activity. The notion of revelation as being a deposit of intellectual teaching dominated all the way to the end of the 19th century.

The situation changed at the turn of this century and particularly after Vatican II. There are two reasons for this change. Firstly the personalistic aspects of revelation were rediscovered. A good example of this rediscovery is found in the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who, as a young professor, worked extensively with the theology of revelation in the writings of Bonaventure (8). Even today the dynamic apprehension of revelation is found throughout the writings of the Cardinal (9). Secondly, the Second Vatican Council focused on the importance of the laity by stressing the prophetic and priestly vocation of every believer. These tendencies prepared the ground for a fruitful apprehension of prophecy, by pointing out the theological preconditions of Christian prophecy. They establish the negative boundaries of Christian prophecy. In spite of this change regarding the preconditions, however, a positive theology of prophecy has not been developed. In the following outline of the purpose, preconditions and phenomenology of prophecy, I aim at taking a first step, and nothing more than that, towards a theology of prophecy (10).

Different Models of Revelation

Throughout the history of theology, many different models of revelation have been dominant (11). Depending on different systems of theology and philosophy, revelation has been understood in ways that might appear to be in direct opposition to each other. In my opinion, however, these different models of revelation need not be seen in opposition to each other, but rather as complementary, portraying different aspects of the reality of revelation. Viewing revelation in the light of different models is like separating a beam of light in a prism, in which the different colours, making up the beam of light, can be viewed separately.

The model of revelation, predominately found in the Bible, has been called the epiphanic model of revelation (12). In this model, prophecy is a tool by which God reveals himself as the One-He-is. God, through prophecy, reminds the world of His existence and of the fact that he cares for his people. In the light of the epiphanic model, prophecy is edifying because the attention of the people of God is directed towards the living person of that same God, who reveals himself through the prophet.

The epiphanic aspects of prophecy are seen throughout the history of Christian prophecy, particularly in the spirituality of Mary a la Coque. In her time, the image of God had become that of a very stern and inaccessible Master. Fewer and fewer believers received Holy Communion, and the fear of God was in the minds of believers, more than his love and closeness. This was changed through the revelations of Mary Magdalene, which were based on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Through the activity, especially of the Jesuits, this devotion led to a renewed comprehension of the intimacy of Christ (13).

According to the instructive model, that has been predominant in the Catholic tradition from the middle ages right up to the Second Vatican Council, revelation primarily has to do with teaching. God reveals Himself in order to give his People instructions on what is the true doctrinal content of the Deposit of Faith. Prophecy thus conceived is a cognitive tool - a means of obtaining intellectual knowledge. The edifying character of prophecy in the light of this model lies in the fact that the Church, through prophecy, is edified in the knowledge of the Truth. In history there are many examples of the instructive aspects of prophecy. One famous example would be the revelations of the Virgin Mary to Catherine Labouré at Rue de Bac in Paris. She received revelations in which the immaculate conception of Mary played a very important role. Mary in the revelations of Catherine Labouré is presented as the virgin Mother of Jesus, who herself was conceived without the yoke of original sin. Volken and other theologians view the revelations of Catherine and the spreading of the medal as one of the most important reasons for the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, presented in 1854 (14).

In Lutheran theology the personalistic model of revelation has been predominant after the time of the Lutheran orthodoxy. In the Catholic tradition it was brought back in focus during the time until and after the Second Vatican Council. Here revelation is primarily viewed as the relationship between persons. Prophecy is thus an expression of God’s personal self-communication with the Church. In the light of the personalistic model prophecy is edifying because the Church, through the prophetic voice, is edified in a personal relationship between the Church and it"s Head. The personalistic aspects of prophecy can be viewed in the writings and spirituality of almost all recognised Christian prophets. The spirituality of the Christian prophets is always based on a personal relationship between the individual believer and the divine maker, between the Church and its head. The cry of the lamenting hurt God, brought forth, through the mouth of the prophet saying: ‘My people, what have I done to you? Why have you left me? Return to me...’ can be heard through the mouth of any Christian Prophet.

In the historical model, revelation is seen as a manifestation of God’s action in and throughout history. Through prophecy, God’s edifying and saving action is realised, whereby the Church is guided and renewed in the course of history. It is in the context of the historical model of revelation that Karl Rahner’s famous definition of prophecy is placed. According to Rahner, prophecy is, in its nature, a divine imperative in a particular historical context. God, through prophecy, shows the Church where to go in a specific period of history. One good example of such emanation of prophecy could be the fourteenth century, which was one of great confusion in the Church. The popes were residing in the pomp of Avignon, far away from the problems in Rome, still the centre of the Church, which caused real danger for its unity. At one point, there were three popes at the same time. To this day, it is being discussed, which of these was the one and only legitimate pope. Several prophetic figures, especially Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, stood forth in the name of God in order to rebuke the popes for compromising in fundamental principles regarding the unity of the Church.

Prophecy and Time

There has been a tendency, in the history of the understanding of prophecy, to view it primarily as a foretelling of future events (15). The notion of prophecy as the foretelling of the future was so predominant in the Middle Ages that Birgitta of Vadstena, one of the most important Christian prophetic figures (16) never would dare to speak of herself as a prophet. She only had very few revelations dealing with future events (17). The idea of prophecy as being the foretelling of the future is also present in popular language. One often hears words like ‘He was a real prophet! He predicted that this or that party would win the elections. It was a real prophetic statement!’

Christian prophecy, however, has little to do with the mere prediction of future events. Its energy is never thrust towards the future. It always aims at the present. Were this not so, prophecy could not be edifying to the Church at the time of the prophet. The word prophecy itself seems to come from the Greek profiemh which does not comprehend the meaning foretelling. It means to proclaim the word of God: to speak forth (18).

It is true that prophecy often looks at the future. It also looks at the past and sometimes its time-focus is on events at the present time. But regardless of whether a given prophecy deals with something pertaining to the past, to the present or to the future, it is always of relevance to the present. In this way, prophecy - regardless of the time that is the focus or scene of a given prophecy - can be edifying.

At times, prophecy looks back in time. The prophet may look on former mighty works of God, and thus edify the People of God in its admiration of the Lord. The Old Testament Prophets looked back on the mighty works of God when he led Israel out of Egypt. Jesus, the supreme Christian Prophet, looked back on words of Isaiah regarding the anointing of the Lord, and explained it in the light of His coming on Earth. The Christian Prophets themselves usually look back on the work and life of Christ in order to praise the salvific actions of divine charity. Prophets like Birgitta of Sweden and many with her, encourage believers to contemplate the passion of Christ as a means to enter into communion with his love.

Very often prophets look at the present. The prophets often portray and mourn over the sins of the people of God, thus revealing their sins, which the people might no longer even be fully aware of. It may also point to dangerous challenges of new periods, for instance the threats of Communism, as in the messages of Fatima.

At times, prophecy does look at the future. Here the view of the prophet may imply warnings of chastisement. One can rightly ask what the foretelling of future catastrophes has to do with the edification of the Church. It does not appear very uplifting to be told that the world is heading towards disaster, as has been part of the message of many prophetic revelations. Here, it may be worth while, once again, to focus on Birgitta of Sweden. When she proclaimed warnings of future chastisements, it was always with the sole goal of bringing the Church to conversion through the warning. The warning of the future disaster is never a message of unconditional punishment on behalf of God. It should rather be viewed as the portrait of a natural relationship between apostasy and its effects. The disaster will be the result of what happens, when man follows evil ways, which are not in accordance with the divine will. Thus, even the foretelling of future catastrophes may be viewed as an expression of divine providence, since the Church through the prophet is warned of the natural effect of its apostasy. The future depicted, however, is not only that of threat. Prophets always looked at the future as the realm of fulfilled promises. Almost all prophets have focused on the coming of the reign of Christ. I see this as another aspect of the edifying character of prophecy. The focus on the coming of Christ has a pshychological function. It may have the effect that the people of God are led, not so much to think of the glory of the present world, but rather to invest in the Kingdom to come.

Criticism and Encouragement. Fisichella’s Theory

Prophecy has often been sharp in its portrayal and criticism of established Christendom. Prophets have never been afraid to speak out against those elements in the Church, which they conceived as being not in accordance with the will of God. But, too often, prophecy has been viewed as mere criticism, mere condemnation. The role of the prophet is not only to criticise. One even more important function is to edify the Church through encouragement and words of love. Words of criticism and words of comfort are two inseparable aspects of the edifying principles of prophecy.

Often in Lutheran theology as well as in certain modern Catholic theological activity, as for instance liberation theology, prophecy and the institution of the Church are placed in opposing camps. There are two dangers involved. First, it tends to miss the prophetic nature of the Church, forgetting the unity between Christ, the Head, and the Church, the Body. Secondly, it tends to place prophecy apart from the life of the Church. As a result we leave the scene of Christian prophecy, since Christian prophecy emanates from the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church and the unifying principle between its members. It is always a service by one member of the Church on behalf of other members of the Church. Christian prophecy thus conceived is the Church in action at the service of the Church.

An alternative view is that prophecy never can contain any harsh words. One exponent of this view is Rino Fisichella. Old Testament and New Testament prophecy must be two very different entities (19). The Old Testament prophets could be very harsh, due to the division between God and man. With Christ, everything is new and the relationship between God and man is restored. The prophet of the New Testament speaks as one inspired by the Spirit of the risen Christ, and in the kingdom of the Spirit of Christ there exists but salvation and grace. If Christ sometimes spoke words of condemnation, it was because his crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred. After these events, the Spirit of Christ speaks only words of encouragement (20). These considerations lead Fisichella to the following conclusion: ‘In NT prophecy, any kind of fear, judgement, and condemnation has completely disappeared‘ (21).

This approach, based on certain theological premises, presents an interesting view on the core of prophecy. Prophecy emanates from the Spirit of Christ and there must be continuity between the new reality of grace, attained in Christ, and the message of the prophet. On the other hand, it raises a series of new problems: This view of prophecy does not correspond to the spirituality and activity of the majority of known Christian prophets. With few exceptions such as Julian of Norwich (22), all prophetic messages, presented by personalities like Birgitta of Vadstena, Catherine of Siena, Jeanne d’Arc and Faustina Kowalska, contain many examples of the seriousness of God’s warnings, given the apostasy of his creatures (23). Most theologians engaged in the spirituality of Christian prophecy have underlined this (24).

There are other problems to consider. We have characterised prophecy as being the edification of the community. To remove the seriousness of the warnings of the Head of the Church is to remove one of the primary edifying pedagogical tools of prophecy. If someone is sitting on a trolley leading to an abyss what would be most edifying for this person – to tell him he is all right or to warn him of the danger?

The Preconditions of Prophecy. Prophecy and the End of Revelation with the Last Apostle

Theology has an argument that has frequently been used against the occurrence of Christian prophecy, namely that revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. The maxim of the apostolic end of revelation has been interpreted in different ways that might doubt it had to do with the same theological problem. There has been great confusion and lack of clarity on the matter, which can be exemplified by the fact that in the same theological work, in the first volume of Mysterium Salutis, one finds two opposite interpretations of the same dogma (25).

In relation to prophecy, the maxim has nevertheless been used with one meaning: when Christ is the full and final revelation of God in history, how then can there still be a need for Christian prophecy? Before answering this question one must turn to the underlying assumptions of the theological mind, which raises it. For at the root of this question lies an apprehension of revelation, which comes very close to the instructive model of revelation, according to which God only reveals himself to instruct the Church.

In order better to understand the idea of the apostolic end of revelation, it is necessary to separate revelation into its material and its formal aspects. This separation solves many problems. >From the material point of view, Christ is the full divine self-revelation, where God communicates himself to the world as man. No prophetic revelation can ever say anything more complete about God, than what God in Christ has said about God. But this full revelation in Christ would have no meaning in history, were it not for the formal aspects of revelation. Revelation must have a formal side - it must have an expression. Before revelation is given expression, it cannot be transmitted, nor communicated and thus cannot be received in the life of faith. Belief in revelation presupposes the formal expression of revelation.

No matter how one views Scripture and Tradition and their mutual relationship it is clear that the formal aspects of revelation are realised in both entities. Even if there are still problems to be solved concerning the relationship of Scripture and Tradition, it appears most fruitful to view Scripture as the norm and criterion of what can be said and namely of what can not be said about revelation. The reality of the Word on the other hand, even though it is presented in Scripture, is historically actualised in the Tradition. In Tradition the message of Scripture becomes reality anew in every period of time. In this regard Tradition clearly encompasses a prophetic element. It is in the frame of this general prophetic dimension of Tradition that the specific prophetic revelations play a part in actualising the Deposit of Faith.

Prophecy as the Actualisation of Revelation

Proceeding from these fundamental considerations to the historical-phenomenological aspects of prophecy, it is surprising to discover how many examples in history support these considerations. The classical prophetic messages have had enormous impact on the itinerary of the Church in history and thus played a very important part in the actualisation of revelation.

None of the classical dogmatic works include the prophetic revelations in the actualisation of revelation in Tradition and this is truly very surprising and disturbing. For the prophetic revelations prove to have played a major part in the actualisation of revelation and the development of Christian doctrine. In spite of this silence of the dogmatic works, one must conclude that prophecy and the prophetic revelations are an inseparable part of Tradition. Prophecy and the prophetic revelations belong to Tradition, in spite of the fact that they are often forced to play a rather counterbalancing role in the development of Tradition.

Regarding the preconditions of Christian prophecy one must therefore say that prophecy - in its material aspects – can never establish anything new regarding the revelation in Christ, and further that it can never say anything that goes against Scripture. On the other hand - in its formal aspects – prophecy and the prophetic revelations can truly have vast importance for the realisation of revelation in history. The innermost being of prophecy thus conceived is an ever-inspired actualisation of revelation, adjusted to every particular time in history.

According to the personalistic and historical understanding of revelation, it makes no sense to speak of an end of revelation, unless one accepts a deistic basis. Christ will, as the head of the Church, continue to guide it through history.

The Status of Prophecy in Theology

The reformation meant a terrible chock for the Catholic Church. After the reformation everything was done in order to limit the insight into the truth of revelation to those parts of the Church, where control could be exercised on new doctrines. This meant that Prophecy and the Prophetic revelations were removed entirely from the circle of revelation. One of the classical examples of a theological system, in which prophecy has been moved to the periphery, is that of Melchior Cano"s De locis theologiae of 1563, considered as "the premier methodological treatise of modern Catholic theology" (26) and for centuries a normative work. Cano’s work was detrimental to the relationship between theology and prophecy.

Cano traced out a hierarchical system of different theological loci. These loci make out the sources for the Church’s knowledge of the truth. For instance Scripture is placed in the primary locus. Art is placed in one of the last loci. One could now ask, where the prophetic revelations would be found in Cano"s system, and it would be expected that they would be placed somewhere in between. This, however, is not the case. The prophetic revelations appear in none of the theological loci, not even in the additional loci. They are placed outside the theological loci in the so-called non-loci theologiae and by this lose all relevance to theology. They no longer function as criteria for discerning the truth.

This, however, had not been the position of theology before Cano. Prophecy in the ancient Church and throughout the entire Middle Ages served as an important criterion in discerning the content of revelation. It was very much a locus theologiae. Important theological figures such as Bonaventure and Thomas of Aquinas used prophetic revelations as evidence of certain explanations of Scripture, when a certain passage of Scripture could be understood in different ways. They both used the messages of known prophetic mystics to settle theological disputes about the Spirit’s procession from the Father and from the Son, about the veneration of religious pictures (27) and in particular about the theology of the sacraments. The sacrament of confirmation constituted a serious problem, given its fragile basis in Scripture (28).

Another important theologian who links prophecy closely to the life of theology is Jean Gerson. He maintains that the Church, at times wanted by God after the death of the last apostle, may come through prophetic revelations to further knowledge of the content of revelation. Truths that have been revealed through prophetic revelations are not in the periphery of theology. These ‘veritates specialiter aliquibus revelatae’ must be adhered to in an act of true faith (29). These ideas have been resurrected by modern Catholic theologians such as L. Volken (30) and Karl Rahner (31).

Vatican II has had interesting new implications for the problem of Christian prophecy. The Council focused on the importance of the prophetic vocation of every member of the Church. By pointing to the fact that every believer has an individual charism, the Council can be described as the great council of the laity.

Given these implications of the Council it is necessary to query a theology which serves as a foundation for the denunciation of the possibility of God’s prophetic action through frail human instruments. Historically it is possible to draw a direct line from prophetic revelations to almost all dogmas, officially promulgated as belonging to the Deposit of Faith. It is difficult to understand how it is possible that prophetic revelations mostly are denied any possible influence on the Church"s understanding of the content of revelation. How can this be, when history proves the opposite?

The Priest and the Prophet. A Phenomenology of Prophecy

If prophecy is defined as the edification of the Church, another question arises. What is the difference between the priest and the prophet– between the minister of the Church and the bearer of the prophetic message? The institution has a prophetic vocation always to actualise the Deposit of Faith. Every priest is called upon to actualise the Deposit of Faith. Any serious believer is active in actualising the Gospel. If this is so, then what is the characteristic of prophecy? If there is no difference, does it make any sense to maintain the idea of a specific Christian prophecy?

A positive characteristic of prophecy is needed. There seem to be several points which clarify it.

The Cairological Character of Prophecy

One important feature of prophecy is its cairological relevance. Prophecy is always a word for the kairos – for the specific time of the prophet. The prophet never speaks words that are irrelevant to his or her contemporaries. Theologians also occupy themselves with the things pertaining to the times, but are often confronted with problems that have several possible solutions. As Rahner points out, it is often impossible for the theologian on the basis of mere theological and deductive thought to arrive at the right choice. The prophet, however, has the gift to discern which option is desired by God. The prophetic revelations are „according to their nature an imperative on how Christendom should act in a particular historical situation. They do not constitute any new assertions, but rather a new command. In their assertions they really only say, what always has been known from faith and theology. And yet they are not superfluous or simply a heavenly Repetitionskurs of the Official Revelation For the question of what in a specific historical situation truly is the will of God cannot be inferred only from the general principles of dogma and ethics, not even through an analysis of the present situation (32)."

The Mode of Prophecy

The revelation in Christ is actualised in history in many different ways. Prophecy is distinguished from all the others by the mode, through which this actualisation takes place. Prophecy is characterised by the special feature that it is not only in essence conceived as the actualisation of revelation, but that the prophetic action itself is a direct revelation of God. Prophecy is revelation both in essence and in form.

The prophetic message emerges not from the discursive and intellectual activity but from the mystical experience of the prophet in his or her contact with God. It mostly implies visions, locutions, auditions, dreams and other means of communication with the divine. The prophetic message is conceived as the result of a disclosure of the God, who is normally hidden. It constitutes a source of knowledge that is not accessible to most believers in the Church. This, perhaps, is the feature of prophecy that more than any other makes out the characteristic of prophecy.

Prophecy as Charism

By this, however, we are still not dealing with the notion of charism in the strict sense of the word. Many people who pray speak about experiences, which they conceive somehow to be supernatural. These experiences can be described as graces or gifts of prayer, and they may be of benefit to the person, who receives them. However, we are not speaking of charisms before these graces are put at the service of the community. Following the teaching of Paul in the letter to the Corinthians, speaking in tongues for instance may be edifying to the person, who benefits from the grace, but prophecy is to be preferred, because it builds up the whole of the community. This means, that prophecy is marked by the mystical grace and by the application of this grace in the community. Mystical experiences become charisms, when they are intelligible and when they are brought forth for the benefit of the Church.

Two Types of Authority

Max Weber in his sociological research on different types of authority has pointed out two types that are relevant to the problem of prophecy and its relationship to the institution, namely charismatic and institutional authority. Geert Hallbäck (33) has shown – partly by referring to the research of Max Weber – that the emergence of the New Testament can be seen as a necessary response to a change of authority in the ancient Church. In the beginning the community was edified and inspired by the words of the prophets. Their authority was that of a vertical, charismatic type. With the decline of the early community-prophets (34) a gap in authority came about which required the emergence of a new type of authority. This new type was the horizontal type – the historical, institutional one.

However, the charismatic type of authority – in spite of the decline after the early decades – never died out in the life of the Church. Prophecy to the end of the second century remained "ein Stand in der Kirche" (Harnack) (35) and the prophets of the Church to this day are the carriers of the heavenly, vertical authority. They are the expression of the immediate revealing and renewing activity of God in the Church. According to Rahner one of the main-reasons for the poor position of prophecy is that of jealousy on behalf of the institution – the horizontal authority only with difficulty is able to compete with the vertical one (36). To sum up the authority of prophecy it may be enough to point to a very simple fact: The faithful who believe in the authentic experience and mission of a prophet, view the prophetic words as originating not from the mind of the prophet but from God himself. Any believer, genuinely seeking the Truth, would prefer the direct teaching of God to that of a human being. And this is the key to the power of prophecy.

The Priest and the Prophet on the Arena of the Word

The vocation of the Christian prophet is to actualise the riches of revelation and thereby build up the community. However, the people of the community contemplating the arena from which the edifying word is preached, are faced with a problem. For the prophet is not alone. The priest occupies the same arena as the prophet. The people at first may have a hard time discerning who is who, for there is not much difference in the message both proclaim.

And yet after a while some differences become evident. The priest, in running out of edifying words to preach, would have to go behind stage and look in the books of Tradition. He would have to discern which words were most appropriate to the present needs of the people. Sometimes he would take his time, uncertain in his response since there might be several equally good alternatives. The prophet, however, would become engrossed in prayer and then – after a moment of contemplation – reach out in the air as if to grasp a flash of divine inspiration. Thereafter the prophet would preach to the people.

The priest upon entering the stage would see the community fascinated by the words of the prophet. Overcome by jealousy he would order the prophet to leave the scene. By inheritance the priest had the last word in the arena. From then on the words of the prophet would be heard only in the desert.


  1. 1. Cor. 11, v. 26 & 29. The scope of the present article is the problem of prophecy in the life of the Church. For a discussion of prophecy in the New Testament see the article "profhthV "in Theologisches Wörterbuch des Neuen Testaments, vol. VI as well as the book of D. Hill, New Testament Prophecy, Atlanta 1979.
  2. Revelations like those of Birgitta of Vadstena, of Lourdes and of Fatima are mostly placed in the category of private revelations. The term was created on the background of the Deposit of Faith, also known as the revelatio publico - the official revelation, meaning the full and normative revelation of God in Christ. It is the object of the Christian Faith, extended in time through the ministry of the Church. The revelations after Christ and the apostles are not normative in the same sense as the official revelation, and this is how the term private revelation came about, as distinct from the official revelation. It is however a very problematic and unsatisfying term that has been criticised by Karl Rahner (Visionen und Prophezeihungen, Freiburg 1958 p. 18), by René Laurentin (art. "Statut des apparitions" in Vraie et fausses apparitions dans l"Église, ed. P. Lethielleux, Paris 1976, p. 163) and L. Volken ("Um die theologische Bedeutung der Privatoffenbarungen. Zu einem Buch von Karl Rahner", in Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, vol. 6, 1959, p. 431). The term private revelation provides a distinction between the revelatio pubblico and all other revealing manifestations of God. It does not, however, have anything to do with the identity of Christian prophecy. Prophecy is never something private. As noted, according to Paul, prophecy aims at the edification of the Church. It always is directed at a group of people, mostly at the whole Church, never at the prophet alone. A possible solution might be to use the term particular revelations. This was used at the council of Trent: ‘Nam, nisi ex speciali revelatione, sciri non potest, quos Deus sibi elegerit’ (D.S. 1540, furthermore D.S. 1566). For various reasons it seems most fruitful to use the term prophetic revelations. Historically true revelations have always aimed at the edification of the Church. In this they correspond to the nature of prophecy
  3. Today - it seems - the prophetic voice is manifested more than ever before. Since the big Marian revelations of the last century, beginning with La Salette, Lourdes and Rue de Bac in France and Fatima in Portugal, Marian apparitions, mostly to children, have become more and more frequent. The Catholic authorities have, only recently, recognised Banneu and Beaurain in Belgium. In the sixties the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to four girls in Garabandal in Spain. In Medjugorie, Bosnia-Herzegovina, she has since the summer 1984 reportedly been appearing to six children. Twenty million believers have visited Medjugorie. The messages of the Greek-orthodox mystic, Vassula Rydén, constitute another interesting example of contemporary Christian prophecy. Vassula Rydén is reported to receive messages from Jesus and Mary since 1986. These messages were first published in 1991 with the title "True Life in God" and only five years later translated and published in 30 languages.
  4. Rino Fisichella "Prophecy" in Dictionary of fundamental theology, ed. René Latourelle & Rino Fisichella, N.Y. 1994, p. 788.
  5. Es hat sich eigentlich nie eine orthodoxe Theologie ihrer [der Propheten] angenommen: ob es auch in der nachapostolischen Kirche Propheten gebe, wie ihr Geist erkannt und unterschieden werde, welche ihre Funktion sie in der Kirche haben, welches ihr Verhältnis zum hierarchischen Amt der Kirche sei, welche Bedeutung ihre Sendung habe für die Geschichte der Kirche in ihrem inneren und äußeren Leben.’ Rahner, Karl, Visionen und Prophezeihungen, Freiburg 1958, p. 22. Rahner, Karl, Visionen und Prophezeiungen, Freiburg 1958, p. 21.
  6. Karl Rahner, Visionen und Prophezeiungen, Freiburg 1958, p. 21.
  7. René Laurentin, "Statut des apparitions" in Vraie et fausses apparitions dans l"Église, ed. P. Lethielleux, Paris 1976, p. 186.
  8. Joseph Ratzinger, Die Geschichtstheologie des hl. Bonaventura, München 1959; J. Ratzinger, "Bespr. zu W. Schachten, Intellectus Verbi, Die Erkenntnis im Mitvollzug des Wortes nach Bonaventura", Freiburg/München 1973, ThRv 71, 1975, 328-331; J. Ratzinger, "Offenbarung – Schrift – Ûberlieferung, Ein Text des hl. Bonaventura" TThZ 67, 1958, p. 13-27.
  9. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Guardare Christo – Christus schauen" in Deutsche Tagespost Nr. 31, Dienstag 11. März, 1997.
  10. The present article is a summary of some of the key-problems, discussed in my unpublished masters-thesis Prophecy and Revelation. Other issues are: the discernent of spirits and the problem of the false prophecy; the status of prophecy in the life of the Church; the tension between prophetic and contemplative spirituality; Christian prophecy in an ecumenical perspective.
  11. The investigation on the different models of revelation is based primarily on the contributions of Avery Dulles in his Models of revelation, New York, 1983 as well as Max Seckler and Michael Kesslers Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie, band 2, Freiburg im Breisgau 1985, p. 29 ff.
  12. Max Seckler, Handbuch der Fundamentaltheologie, Band 2, Freiburg im Breisgau 1985, p. 60-67
  13. Seckler’s ascription of a model to the Bible is problematic. Apart from this fact the model reminds very much of the personalistic model.
  14. L. Volken, Les révelations dans l"Église, Mulhouse, 1961, p. 254. Furthermore Auguste Saudreau, L"état mystique, sa nature - ses phases et les faits extraordinaires de la vie sprirtuelle, 2. edition, Paris 1921, p. 219ff.
  15. The most famous example of this notion of prophecy is found in the classical tractates ‘De revelatione’. This is the best known definition: prophecy is ‘certa predictio futuri eventus qui ex principiis naturalibus praesciri non potest’. See C. Pesch, Compendium Theologiae dogmaticae, I: De Legato divino, Freiburg, 1913, p. 54.
  16. Johannes Lindblom in his book Profetismen i Israel, Uppsala 1934, used Birgitta of Vadstena as a typical example of a Christian prophet, resembling the prophets of the Old Testament.
  17. See Anders Piltz"s article "Inspiratio, vision, profetia", in Heliga Birgitta, Budskabet och förebilden, Föredrag vid jubileumssymposiet i Vadstena 3 - 7 oktober 1991, ed. Alf Härdelin and Mereth Lindgren, Västervik 1993, p. 68. Anders Piltz refers to Birgittas "Sermo Angelicus 9", p. 6-20 in Birger Bergh, Birgittakonkordans, Stockholm, 1990.
  18. See the article "profhthV "by G. Friedrich and others in Theologisches Wörterbuch des Neuen Testaments, vol. VI.
  19. Rino Fisichella, "Prophecy" in Dictionary of fundamental theology, ed. René Latourelle & Rino Fisichella, N.Y. 1994, p. 788; See furthermore of the same author "La Révélation et sa crédibilité", 1989, Bellarmin/Cerf and the chapter "La profezia come segno della credibilità della revelazione", in the book Gesù Rivelatore, Casale Monferrato, 1988, p. 208-226.
  20. "Prophecy" in Dictionary of fundamental theology, ed. Réne Latourelle & Rino Fisichella, N.Y. 1994, p. 795ff.
  21. Ibid.
  22. In the revelations of Julian one finds no words of threat or warning. Julian was very close to being condemned because she held that God could never be angry. "Prophecy" in Dictionary of fundamental theology, ed. Réne Latourelle & Rino Fisichella, N.Y. 1994, p. 795.
  23. Especially enlightening regarding this aspect of prophecy is Ingvar Fogelqvist’s doctoral thesis, Apostasy and Reform in the revelations of St. Birgitta, Stockholm 1993.
  24. See the collection of articles resulting from the symposium held in Rome in connection with the 500-year anniversary of Saint Birgitta under the title ‘Santa Birgittaa, profeta dei nostri tempi’. In fact another Catholic Theologian, P. Mariotti in his article "Contestation prophétique" in Dictionaire de la vie Chrétienne, p. 188-196 holds that it is very difficult to say much about the fact of Christian prophecy, except that it is always related to contestation – prophecy is always both the subject and the object of contestation.
  25. Feiner and a number of other Catholic theologeans hold that the teaching must be interpreted in the sense that the apostles would not receive any ‘new’ revelations after Christ’s resurrection, but that the Holy Spirit gave only to them a special light, which made them able to perceive in a ‘new’ way, what Christ had meant. The thought is that ‘diese nachfolgende Geist-offenbarung der Substanz der im Christusereignis selbst geschehenen Offenbarung untergeordnet ist und ihrer Erfassung und Entfaltung dient’. Johannes Feiner in Mysterium Salutis, p. 527. This should be contrasted with Heinrich Fries, who wishes to underline the difference between the apostles and all subsequent Christians: Heinrich Fries, "Offenbarung als Erfüllung", in Mysterium Salutis p. 228. The apostles themselves stand ‘innerhalb des Offenbarungsvorgangs’ and are ‘selber Offenbarungsempfänger und Offenbarungszeuge und so mit Christus dem Uranfang und Ursprung einer Überlieferung, deren Träger und Zeugen erst die werden, die nach dem Apostel kommen.’
  26. Jared Wicks, "Loci Theologici", Dictionary of fundamental theology, ed. René Latourelle & Rino Fisichella, N.Y. 1994, p. 604-607.
  27. J. Schumacher, Der apostolische Abschluß der Offenbarung Gottes, Freiburg 1979, p. 102. Thomas of Aquinas, S.Th. III q. 25 a. 3 ad 4; Bonaventura, III Sent. dist. 9 a 1 q. 2 ad 6.
  28. Thomas of Aquinas, S.Th. I q. 36 a. 2 ad 1; IV Sent. Dist. 7a. 1 q. 1 ad 1; Bonaventura, IV Sent. dist. 7 a. 1 q. 1 ad 1; STh. III q. 64. 64 a. 2 ad 2; Duns Scotus, Opus Oxoniense IV dist. 7 q 1 n. 3.
  29. Johannes Schumacher, Der apostolische Abschluß der Offenbarung Gottes, Freiburg 1979, p. 101. Schumacher refers to J. Finkenzeller, Offenbarung und Theologie nach der Lehre des Johannes duns Scotut, p. 70; P. de Vooght, Les sources de la doctrine chrétienne d"après les théologiens du XIVe siècle et début du XVe avec le texte integral des XII premières questions de la Summa inédite de Gérard de Bologna , Paris 1954, p. 214.
  30. L. Volken, Les révélations dans l"Église, Mulhouse 1961, p. 219ff. Furthermore "Um die theologische Bedeutung der Privatoffenbarungen. Zu einem Buch von Karl Rahner", in Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, vol. 6, 1959, p. 431-39.
  31. Karl Rahner, "Les Révélations privées. Quelques remarques théologiques", RAM, vol. 25, 1949, p. 506-514.
  32. Karl Rahner , Visionen und Prophezeihungen, Freiburg 1958, p. 27. Personal translation.
  33. Geert Hallbäck, Nordisk Nytestamentligt Nyhedsbrev, nr. 2, August 1995, p. 58-67.
  34. For the problem of the decline of prophecy in the ancient church see: A. Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums I, p. 336-337; furthermore H. Krafts artikel "Vom Ende der urchristlichen Prophetie", in K. Kertelge, Prophetic Vocation in the New Testament and Today, Leiden 1977, p. 172.
  35. A. Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums I, p. 336.
  36. Karl Rahner, Visionen und Prophezeiungen, Freiburg 1958, p. 21.


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