Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Gospel truth as "reality"

The following is my translation of Bengt Hägglund's third implication the patristic understanding of the rule-of-truth for dogmatic theology. Click on the following for a summary of its nature for the early church; its significance and content for Irenaeus. Go here for the first implication this has, and here for the second.

The fact that the rule of faith relates to the facts of salvation history sheds new light on doctrinal theology. When one characterises the Christian proclamation as “truth,” this means, among other things, that one understands the the object of this proclamation as “reality,” in contrast to that which is only an appearance or human invention, only idea or a construct of the imagination. The “reality” which is meant here is the content of the revelation, that which the Bible presents as the deeds of God in creation and in the history of Israel, as the words and work of Christ.

In this context “truth” certainly doesn't just mean “reality” in the sense of that which actually happened (von dem tatsächlich Geschehenen), but also that which is true knowledge of God and doctrine which is salvific. But the former meaning does seem to be the fundamental one. It can be seen in places where another, more general sense of the expression is found. This is especially the case with Irenaeus, where talk of a regula veritatis and even of the truth of Christian proclamation at all is directed against the Gnostics, who also present their own doctrines as a “Gospel of truth.”

“Truth” in the theological sense is that which brings salvation and life. It is the knowledge of God which the true God has revealed to humanity. From this perspective we can understand in what sense Christ himself is characterised as the truth. He brings the true knowledge of God and in him, in his name, is salvation and life. But he is also “the truth”—and this connects with what we have just said—because he brings the “reality” of the revelation with himself. He teaches us, in contrast to all idols, to recognise the only true God. Compared to the antetypes of the old Covenant, he presents in himself, in his person, the reality (Col 2.17). He is “the truth” as the God who has revealed himself in the flesh, i.e. in actual human form. Consequently, the relation to “reality,” “actual event,” always plays an important role in the characterisation of Christian doctrine as “truth.”

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