Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Brief Theology of History, (or History as the Event of Love)

          The whole of history is salvation history. To look at the span of time with the eyes of Christian faith is to have a sense of the unfolding of God’s self-revelatory act in the reality of the cosmos.
Caldecott's work was close at hand while I was working on this one.
In considering the meaning of history, it is vital to begin first by articulating the way in which we ought to look at history. How are we to understand the causes of history? In a similar manner to Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1998 Erasmus Lecture in New York City in which he articulated the shortcomings of approaching scripture with an exclusively historical-critical methodology, we ought to also be wary of the shortcomings of exclusively employing the historical-critical method in regards to history. The common point in both fields is that, while positivist methods may have something to contribute, we should be careful not to begin our search for understanding with a self-limiting notion of cause and meaning. If we seek to know the whole of something we need to consider it in its totality and to consider as a whole. History must also be understood not just as a series of efficient or material causes, but must also be considered as having formal and even a final cause.
            If this approach strongly infers an Aristotelian bias, it might seem to imply that the Christian meaning of history is relegated to a dependence on Greek or Scholastic thought, and would therefore render itself incomprehensible for anything that is not pre-Modern. Yet as Jean Daniélou observes in “The Lord of History,” the early Church, particularly in the assertion of Ex Nihilo, was in direct conflict with the contemporary Greek thought of that period. For the Greeks, nothing was truly original while the Christian sense of history pivoted on the “absolute significance of individual events.”[1] It was not only the Greeks who were challenged by this radical reading of history. Even the wisdom of Solomon cried out, “meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless” and surmised that there was “nothing new under the sun.” The uniqueness of Christ as the son of Man and son of God was not even fully anticipated by the Hebrew people of covenantal promise.          
            The Hebrew history was not opposed to novelty; however the fixation was centered on destiny and later, in the prophets, this sense of destiny began to take on an eschatological element.  Historical events could be held up in faith as signposts of covenantal promise. But Christian history brought new meaning to these events beginning with the surprise of the Messiah as Incarnate God. Christ as creator, who knew creation from its inception before all history, was also a real and particular singularity in history. In this sense, Christ’s originality, changed particularity itself so that the each new “thing under the sun” was in fact, authentically new.  For the early Christians, the meaning of the Hebrew fathers and the prophets was immediately opened up to them on the road to Emmaus.[2] Christian history was revealed as history that progressed from beginning to beginning in a movement of types. The “Annunciation of Mary, belongs to a series of annunciations” in history, but it is the types as real standing events that brings intelligibility to their succession as a whole history.[3] Christ as a particularity, upheld particularity itself in a manner that presented the newness of each event as authentically new.
            If Christian history thwarts the constraints of ancient thought, it continues to do so in Modernity. The Church reads the time after the Resurrection in the context of the Ascension and the Pentecost and Christ’s commission to carry forward the progress of ecclesial mission “to the end of the Age.” Daniélou goes on to articulate that Christian progress ought not to be misconceived in Darwinian or Marxist terms. Here also, it is vital to move beyond a utilitarian sensibility of time and consider that history’s meaning, as both eschatological and teleological, is not only moving towards an end but is a history already having an end. The eschatological informs the meaning of the Hebrew past as well as the present course of Christian progress. “That which is beyond all progress is here and now in Christ” and in this sense we see Christ as transcending the span of the now and not yet.[4] Christ’s incarnate entrance into history is one of fulfillment and accomplishing of end. Yet, the reality of progress and fulfillment quickly raises the question of struggle and particularly, a seemingly prolonged struggle, as was noted even in the early Church by Origin who wrote of the earthly experience of believers “who do not seem to be resurrected or in heaven.”[5] Daniélou draws on the illustration of shadows and the sense of visual reflections in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and articulates that in the same sense that Mary’s real annunciation was foreshadowed by earlier Old Testament annunciations, we also move from shadow to shadow. Man is no longer in the shadow of the Law but is now moving under the supreme shadow of the reality in history of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The Church moves in this eschatological journey of progress, nourished and encouraged with the visible and real graces of sacramental gifts. Even with these graces, the Christian meaning of history would still seem to consist of a real tension in which, “not yet” seems to always be more evasive than the ever present “now.”
            As noted above, even King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, struggles to hold on to the promise made to the sons of Abraham and cling to God’s goodness, power and providence in times of turmoil. This tension is real but it is vital once again to insist on a sense of origin as not being tethered to a positivist placement of an event arranged along a linear course marked by “X.” Neither is the Christian origin a mere metaphor. We would not want to rationalize away the reality that the course of Christian progress can only be to do as Christ directed and “take up one’s cross.” The cross is pivotal to the original Christian event.  In his essay, “Risen Time” José Granodos articulates the sense in which origin is best understood as an inaugural event that is continually present across all of history. It is Easter, as the new origin of history, in which Christ, as fully man and fully God, opens up a new beginning for history as the reality of incarnation. At Easter, history becomes the place in which God pours out his dramatic self-revelation by opening up “the core of the divine essense” in Christ’s “eternal preexistence.”[6] Through this demonstration of love of the Father for the son in history, history becomes the realization for man of the eternal outpouring of God as communion of divine persons.  “Original” takes on an entirely new meaning in Christ’s demonstration of his own eternal nature. In his incarnation as man, yet one who is begotten and not made, the origin of history becomes an eternal moment extending across the past, present and future. Emmanuel Lévinas’ observes that the “resurrection is the principle event of time” and this observation is enhanced with Granados’ illustration of resurrection as the cornerstone of history and the manner in which a cornerstone is placed not within the beginning but the center.  “All the forces of the arch converge towards the center.”[7] Because the fatherhood of God is shown to be eternal in the Son as truly divine and eternal, God’s fatherhood is also eternal, reaching across the span of history. “At Easter the history of the world comes into it’s meaning because it is included in the dynamism of love between Father and Son that constitutes God’s deepest mystery.”[8] The original meaning of the whole of history and all of history is love.
Solomon’s anguish is not in vain because his role, particularly his role as overseer in the construction of the temple, as well as the role of all in Israel’s line, is vital for the bringing forward in time as well as the interpretation of Easter.  In this we can say with complete confidence that it could never be the case that Solomon is a mere pawn who is only to be utilized in the construct of an image in the course of deterministic events, which might easily as well be considered as orchestrated by “the fates.” Rather, in a real and vital way, Solomon as a particular man in his particular place in history is a participant in the revelation of Christ. The son’s path to the father is man. Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man reveals Himself as one who is coming from and going to the Father. The origin and the destiny of man is Fatherly love.  
            The Son revealed as eternally Son also reveals the Father as eternally Father. With this revelation comes an affirmation of the eternal goodness of God emanating not only in one particular moment of history, but across all of history.[9] Instead of a history in which all is meaningless, the incarnation now brings a fulfillment to meaning itself. It is not simply that there is a world of particular but separate extrinsic meanings. Even the truth of things as things, (their facticity), bears witness to a cohesion of truth across the span of reality. As God enters into history, this span of true events is shown to be not only true, but also good. The resurrection is the affirmation that God is both good and that He is omnipotent.[10] In the incarnation of Christ who is God and man, we encounter this expansive meaning as not merely a concept but a concrete reality.    
            If the unfolding of history is the self-revelation of God as community of persons, this is a communion that spans across the whole of history. In history, God as one who loves the Son totally, gives even his Fatherhood as something to be shared with the Son. This Fatherhood is given totally as the Son “reveals the fullness of fatherhood in his ability to become the source of life without having to recede.”[11] Christ has given Himself totally to the Father, who gives Himself totally to the Son and the Spirit proceeds in this Trinitarian act of gift as fruit. History as the landscape of God’s generosity also opens a sense of the nature of time unfolding in a movement towards the future as further emanation of gift.
            In fact we can see fruitfulness as rising in the heart of the Church as she bears witness to deepening sense of Trinitarian love. As Christianity moves across the past two millennia Scholasticism has taken up the Greek notions of act and potency and articulated the sense in which God is pure act (actus purus). D.L. Schindler describes how the notion of actus purus is enriched “by expanding it, from within a Trinitarian perspective, to include passivity.”[12] The divine son has shown us that the pure act of God does not preclude receptivity. Time as changing bears the mark of potency and passivity but God has entered into “finite time…in order to provide an image of his infinite time.”[13] Trinitarian act as giving and receiving is one that is fruitful and creative. The future is a future in which the Spirit as revealer is also the Spirit of fruitfulness. Implicit in the incarnation is the real manner in which creation has been literally impregnated by the Spirit with the Fruit who is God. The Church as Bride is one who also participates in history in a receptivity that is intrinsic to act and acting out in time of God’s love. There is still the sense of now and not yet as the Church looks forward to the second coming of Christ in the culmination of History. But the witness of history is that this waiting is a time of bringing forth fruit as the Spirit and the Bride say come.




[1] Daniélou, Jean, “The Lord of History” (London: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, 1958). p.4
[2] “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27
[3] Daniélou p.5
[4] Daniélou p.7
[5] Daniélou p.8
[6] Granados, José, “Risen Time: Easter as the Source of History.” Communio 37 (2010) p.9
[7] Ibid.24
[8] Ibid.10
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid 13
[11] Ibid 32
[12] Schindler. D.L. “Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology and Liberal Culture”, Time in Eternity, Eternity in Time: On the Contemplative-Active Life. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1996) p.226
[13] Ibid. 227

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