The Light of the Word: A Comparative Study of the Phenomenon of Revelation

Author: 
Carpenter, David Wesley
Year: 
1987

     The primary goal of the . . . study is to seek a provisional answer to the following question: how might we best understand revelation as a concrete historical phenomenon, when viewed from a comparative perspective. . . . The method employed . . . is . . . historical and comparative. Two figures, Bhartrhari, the fifth century Indian grammarian, and St. Bonaventure, the thirteenth century Franciscan theologian, are examined independently and in some detail, against the background of the historical development of their respective traditions, classical Brahmanism and medieval Christianity. In each case the attempt is made to discern the character of revelation as it actually appears historically in these two traditions and in the thought and experience of Bhartrhari and Bonaventure in particular. Once these two historical studies have been completed the results are compared in the attempt to discern the fundamental similarities and differences that characterize the phenomenon of revelation in each case, and to understand their significance. I . . . argue that we can discern a common structure in these two instances -- albeit amidst many important differences -- and that this structure, far from representing an ahistorical essence, or an ineffable experience of revelation 'behind' the historical particulars, will in fact serve to underline the profoundly historical and dialectical character of revelation as a concrete phenomenon."
     It remains to say something about the outline of the study . . . The dissertation as a whole is divided into three parts, the first dealing with Bhartrhari, the second with Bonaventure, and the third with their comparison. Part One consists of four chapters. The first deals with the origin and early development of Vedic revelation, as well as with the Buddhist rejection of its authority. Chapter 2 investigates the continued development of the Vedic language of revelation up to the time of Bhartrhari in the fifth century, and then locates him historically within his century and intellectually within the Paninian tradition of grammar. In Chapter 3 we turn to Bhartrhari's theory of Vedic revelation, both in its origin and in its traditional continuation in the Brahmanical tradition. Chapter 4 then looks more closely at Bhartrhari's view of the language of revelation and the manner of its reception by the individual. This chapter then concludes with a brief attempt to assess the significance of Bhartrhari's ideas within their historical context.
     Part Two, devoted to St. Bonaventure, consists of five chapters. In Chapter 5 we examine the background, origin, and early development of Christian revelation, focusing in particular on the development of the language of revelation in preaching, prophecy, and scripture. In Chapter 6 we survey the continued development of this language during the middle ages, up to Bonaventure's own time. In . . . Chapter 7 we look at the metaphysical side of Bonaventure's theory of revelation, and in Chapter 8 at its historical side. Then, in Chapter 9, the final chapter of Part Two, we focus in on Bonaventure's theory of the language of revelation, and on his own involvement with it.
     The final Part, Part Three, consists of two chapters. In the first the findings of the first two parts are compared, important similarities and differences are pin-pointed, and some conclusions are reached concerning their significance. The second and final chapter constitutes a general conclusion for the dissertation as a whole, and includes some general reflections on its possible significance both for the history of religions discipline and for Christian theology.

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