Truths of faith and morals that are not formally revealed either explicitly or implicitly but that are necessary to guard and to explain the deposit of revealed truth. Although distinct from the truths of the revealed deposit, they are said to be "revealed" because they possess an objective connection with revealed truth. The magisterium determines the extent of the connection and indicates it by the solemnity with which it proposes the truth, e.g., by papal bull, or by the censure attached to its denial, e.g., excommunication.
Revelation is "virtual" because deduced from formally revealed truths of faith and morals by means of a naturally known proposition in virtue of some relationship of causality or fittingness: e.g., the Church, in order to guard the supernaturality of revelation, has defined that faith gives a different and higher knowledge of God than does natural science (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 3015). Also, a revealed proposition may be applied to a particular fact: e.g., Saint Peter has successors who possess supreme teaching authority in the Church, and Pius XII was such a successor with this authority.
The Church has traditionally taught, and consistently practiced doctrinal intervention in defining, truths of faith and morals that are not directly and formally revealed but that are necessary for the integrity of the Christian message. Especially does it condemn errors that imperil revealed truth, and it declares as true those facts and truths that are connected with the preserving and explaining of Christian dogma. Nicaea I (325) declared that a heretic could be the minister of valid Baptism (Enchiridion symbolorum 127), while Pius XII defined the matter and form for Holy Orders (Enchiridion symbolorum 3859). Many truths have been defined that do not pertain directly and immediately to the deposit of faith. They are propositions that express a concept not formally and immediately contained in the terms of a revealed proposition but that the Church expects its members to accept on divine faith. In this sense they are conceptually and propositionally distinct from the revealed deposit. This is possible because revelation contains mysteries that the intellect cannot fully comprehend. Since the time of the Apostles there has been no new public revelation; it is "closed," yet the revealed mysteries are "open" to a deeper understanding and avoidance of misunderstanding. Pius XII did not "reveal" anything by determining the matter and form of Orders, but he did determine for the future what part of the ceremony would essentially constitute the Sacrament.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the first to do so, distinguished a double object of faith (Summa theologiae 1a, 32.4; 2a2ae, 11.2.): one composed of truths directly and principally believed, e.g., articles of the Apostles' Creed, the other composed of truths indirectly and secondarily believed insofar as their denial would lead to a denial of a revealed truth, e.g., faith gives a higher knowledge of God than does natural science. Sixteenth-and seventeenth-century theologians such as D. Báñez, Gregory of Valencia, and J. de Lugo applied this distinction to the magisterium, later theologians adopted it, and ecclesiastical documents expressed it, e.g., Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX (Dec. 8, 1864). Present-day theologians distinguish formally revealed truth, i.e., directly and immediately revealed, from that which is virtually revealed, i.e., indirectly and mediately. Modern emphasis on development of dogma has necessitated a greater precision in terms to clarify the limits of formally revealed truth.
Divisions. Virtual revelation is divided according to its connection with revealed truth, a relationship of either necessity or fittingness.
Necessity. Certain truths or facts are connected to formal revelation by a relationship of absolute necessity insofar as they are needed to preserve its very sources, e.g., the determination of the canon of Scripture. Others are connected by moral necessity insofar as they are needed for the Church to attain its primary end of guarding and explaining the deposit of faith, e.g., the condemnation of J. Hus's error that neither Peter nor his successors are head of the Church (Enchiridion symbolorum 1207, 1210). It includes: the condemnation of statements directly or indirectly contrary to revealed truth, and contingent facts that happened after the close of revelation but that are necessary to guard or explain the truths of faith and morals as particular applications of a universal revealed proposition, e.g., Pius XII was truly Pope.
Fittingness. Other truths and facts are not directly connected to revelation, yet to reason illuminated by faith they appear connected with eminent fittingness, e.g., the theological conclusion that the human soul of Christ always enjoyed the beatific vision. The pope, using his full authority as head of the Church, may approve them as matters of faith, morals, or worship that are suitable for leading souls to the truth and holiness of God, or he may condemn propositions contrary to them. His authority guarantees infallible safety to these pronouncements, though not infallible truth. So Pius XII denounced the hypothesis of polygenism as applied to man's origin, since it is not apparent how it can be reconciled with the Church's teaching on original sin and hence cannot safely be held by Catholics (Enchiridion symbolorum 3897). This is the secondary teaching message of the Church, and the truths pertain more remotely to virtual revelation. They are accepted on ecclesiastical, or mediate, faith.
Some truths are even further removed from direct connection with the deposit of faith, e.g., various problems of the moral life of spouses, rights and obligations of workers and employers, peace among nations. In teaching such truths the pope may not intend to apply the full force of his prudential authority in a universal manner, and then such truths are not proposed infallibly nor are they a part of virtual revelation.
Opinions. Are the truths connected to formal revelation by a relationship of absolute necessity an intrinsic part of the revealed deposit or annexed to it from outside, i.e., are they really part of formal or of virtual revelation? The Church has irrevocably and infallibly declared the truth of these propositions and expects its members to accept them on faith. It has not declared that they are revealed but leaves it to the theologians to determine just how these truths may be connected to the revealed deposit. There are three principal opinions. (1) All truths that have been infallibly and irrevocably declared as true are, and always have been, a part of the formally revealed deposit, as the implicit is contained in the explicit. It suffices to analyze the extension of the subject or the comprehension of the predicate of the revealed proposition. Hence, all truths defined irrevocably and infallibly are an intrinsic part of the revealed deposit and demand divine faith, e.g., the necessity of confessing all mortal sins committed after Baptism; Vatican Council I was an ecumenical council (C. Vollert). (2) Truths infallibly and irrevocably declared by the Church may be a part of virtual revelation insofar as they have an intrinsic connection with the formally revealed deposit, but are conceptually distinct from it and are obtained by means of some other naturally known truth, e.g., Christ, as true God and true man, had two wills (Enchiridion symbolorum 500). It is accepted on divine faith and may be declared as revealed by the Church (F. Marín-Sola). This also applies to an individual under a universal revealed proposition, e.g., Christ died to save all men, therefore He died to save me (C. Journet, K. Rahner). (3) A third position differs from the second by expressing the connection between formal and virtual as one that is necessary for the proper preserving and explaining of revealed truth, rather than as an intrinsic one: e.g., determination of the canon of Scripture, determination of the matter and form of Orders, solemn canonization of saints. Nor may the Church declare such truths to be revealed, though it may and does oblige its members to accept them on divine, or theological, faith (L. Ciappi).
Conclusion. Virtual revelation is distinct from formal revelation. Both dogmatic facts and theological conclusions pertain to virtual revelation and may be defined as infallibly true on divine faith, infallibly safe to follow on ecclesiastical faith, or recommended as fitting.
See Also: revelation, theology of; doctrine, development of.
Bibliography: e. dublanchy, "Dogme," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 4.2:1639–47; "Église," ibid. 2199–2200. c. journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, v.1, tr. a. h. c. downes (New York 1955) 338–53. b. j. f. lonergan, Divinarum personarum conceptionem analogicam (Rome 1959) 28–51. f. marÍn-sola, L'Évolution homogène du dogme catholique, 2 v. (2d ed. Fribourg 1924) v.1. k. rahner, "The Development of Dogma," Theological Investigations, tr. c. ernst, v.1 (Baltimore 1961) 39–77. r. richard, "Rahner's Theory of Doctrinal Development," Catholic Theological Society of America. Proceedings, 18 (New York 1963) 157–89. c. vollert, "Doctrinal Development," ibid. 12 (1957) 45–74.
[a. e. green]
"Revelation, Virtual." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/revelation-virtual
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