The English word 'revelation' is derived from the Latin 'revelare' which means 'to remove the veil'. The Latin is in turn a rendition of the Greek 'apokalypsis' that literally means an uncovering, a laying bare. The term revelation is not, strictly speaking, a religious term. It can be employed to denote any act of disclosure, of making known what was hitherto unknown or unseen. As such the idea of revelation belongs to the entire realm of human experience and is applicable to the whole field of human knowledge. The theological discussion of revelation as a distinctive and even unique source of knowledge is a fairly recent phenomenon, a response to the Enlightenment insistence that the only valid knowledge is that which conforms to the standards of modern empirical science. It is important to keep the broader understanding of the term in mind when one considers John Henry Newman's reflections on revelation. Newman was absolutely committed to the idea that the Christian religion contained truths that would not have been known had they not been disclosed by God in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he was also prepared to countenance the idea of God's universal self-disclosure, at least as a sort of (ongoing) preparation for the reception of the Gospel. It is here, in his reflections on what he called 'natural religion', that Newman's broad understanding of the notion of revelation comes into its own. And it is here, too, that we must begin if we are to fully appreciate Newman's presentation of the distinctiveness of specifically Christian revelation.
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