An “epiphany”, at least in the religious sense of the word, means “a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity, either in the form of a personal appearance, or by some deed of power…”. Liturgically speaking, the feast of the Epiphany (the “Twelfth Day of Christmas”) is the oldest feast of the season, and was celebrated in the Christian east at least a century before the feast of the Nativity. And it should be noted that, in the Eastern Christian tradition, Epiphany commemorates not just the story of the Magi journeying to Bethlehem to see the Christ child, but the announcement of Jesus’ divine sonship at the time of his baptism, and the story of his miracle-working power at the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee – all of these seen as epiphanies or “theophanies” of his hidden or invisible divinity.
I think that nowadays this notion of the revelation of a “hidden” God, is especially relevant. It would seem that with the demise of atheistic communism, a new band of secular humanists have taken up the cause of eliminating God with renewed gusto. Especially since 9/11, we are now being repeatedly told that the very idea of God is a plague on the human race and religion in any form (all this despite the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights) must be, as speedily as possible, eradicated from human consciousness.
However, when one begins to read, as I have, some of these attacks more carefully, some interesting twists and turns of thinking begin to emerge. It seems that it is not the philosophical idea of a “first cause”, or “uncaused cause”, or a “prime mover” of the universe that so much disturbs these writers, but the idea that this cause or mover is in any sense a “person.” Instead, some of these critics are quite ready to credit the Universe itself (despite any solid scientific evidence – at least so far) with these same divine qualities, provided that such “a superior Reason” as Einstein described it, is itself unconscious and incapable of having any goals or purposes or making any decisions. The idea that “God” is simply, to paraphrase the present pope, the word that believers use to describe “that mystery of being that is at the heart of the universe” seems to have entirely escaped them.
Admittedly, human beings have always been inclined think of natural forces (the sun, the moon, the wind, etc.) as gods, giving them human-like traits, while even believers in a single God have all too often gone even further, ascribing to God less than admirable human characteristics – so much so that some early Christians (the Marcionites) wanted to dump the Old Testament and its picture of God entirely. But the Church, more understanding (and forgiving) of how human consciousness only progresses by slow stages, did not let that happen. Instead, building on Jesus’s own human experience and understanding of God as a loving father (“Abba”), his first followers quickly reached the conclusion that it was Jesus who embodied God’s own Word (John 1:14) or God’s revelation of himself, or, again, that he is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In fact, to go even a bit further, I would suggest that in Jesus we are looking at the human “face” or “mask” of God – keeping in mind that these two words are the original meanings of the Greek and Latin that we usually translate into that rather problematic word, “person”.
While I doubt that this understanding of Christ as the epiphany of the unknown Being or Mystery that lies at the heart of our existence will satisfy everyone, I hope that at least it be of some help to those who have learned enough to know that beyond what we think we can know or see of God in Christ, we are only speculating or at best guessing.
R W Kropf 12/27/2010 Epiphany.doc 10-12-27.html