Holloway on - The Lord of History
The affirmation of Jesus Christ as The Lord of History appears in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer: it is the canon of the History of Salvation and significantly recapitulates the very essentials of the greatest thinking of the Greek Fathers of the Church upon the meaning of Christ in the history of Man and in the work of Creation. This vision of God’s work within human society and history means that the Church and her institution is natural to Man and to the human order. It must also mean that the Eternal Sacrifice of her Cross and Eucharist, and the Episcope, the ‘pastoral care’ of her divine magisterium, dominates all human history in vocation if not in actual fact. The Church, as Christ the Saviour working upon all men in word, in life and in sacrament, is not accidental or incidental to the order of human history, but part of that order and the sign of the deepest meaning of human culture in time and for eternity.
The Church, as much as the State, is constitutional to the very order of man’s life and being; and Jesus Christ is the Lord of History because Christ is Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end (Revelation 21:6) in time and in eternity. This order of reality is true even though “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). In the brief Palm Sundays of history in which Christ is acclaimed as King, or in the Golgothas and Passiontides of history, through that life Christ ministers to men in sacrament, or ‘in voto sacramenti’ (in implicit desire of the provision of God). The Church is always the leaven in the mass of mankind. She is the ‘Opus Dei’ the work of God in His Christ. This theme is expressed by the division of human history itself into time “B.C.” and time “A.D.”
A Sign Set to be Contradicted
The Confession of Christ as the meaning of the upthrust of human history and the crown of its scientific and cultural progress is contradicted by the modern division of history into Ancient, Medieval, and Modern periods. We have Voltaire principally to thank for that, and it was the French Revolution that first in Europe tried to abolish time “A.D.” in favour of a new secularist calendar. In this new division of history a new meaning is imposed, and the role of Christ in human history is played down and finally played out. It is the pagan glories of the Ancient world that are extolled. The vices, the despair, the slavery and the ritual suicides are never dwelt upon. The ‘Modern’ period is presented as, through the Renaissance, the direct heir of Ancient Greece and Rome. That Christianity not only converted pagan Rome and her Emperor, but surviving the military collapse of Rome, reformed and forged anew the wild tribes of Europe into a new and Christian Roman Empire that lasted for at least one thousand years, is not ever mentioned. The ‘Medieval’ period is a long dark age of ignorance and bigotry, dominated by Religion, which produced nothing of cultural worth or significance.
It is not truth, and it is not history, but it is the presentation of the Christian phenomenon in history as most boys and girls get it in their education. In this view of history, a view as slanted and prejudiced as any ‘religious’ view, Religion as life in God is no longer the meaning of history, nor the driving force behind the ideals of the community. Religion is a private, personal, quite subjective matter, incidental and apart from the life of human society. Quickly, the very transcendence of God, His real existence apart from the Creation is denied or questioned. What we call “God” lives as immanent in man and in man’s experience of himself. Quite naturally the “will of God” is subject to the law of the individual conscience, because God, in so far as He exists, is made to the image and likeness of Man. In this perspective neither God, nor Christ as God Incarnate, is Lord of History. Man, whose ‘insights’ are the projection of the divine and the measure of the divine, is Lord of History.
The Mystery of Iniquity
For five hundred years we have lived, through all the cultural triumphs and glories of mankind, in an age of the increasing evolution of the Mystery of Iniquity - the military rebellion, so to speak, against the Lordship of Christ. It can be followed beyond the evolution of Deism into Humanism; it can be traced through Hegel and Nietzsche into the philosophy and social organisms of Nazism and Marxism. It seems to be coming to a supreme crisis in our own times. It is the organised and age-old strategy of Satan and of every spirit and human will that works against God and the purposes of God. The Mystery of Iniquity says St. Paul “works until now” (2 Thess 2:7), and he hints rather obscurely about something that holds it back until it be taken out of the way and the “man of sin” be revealed. Apparently the Fathers of the Church interpreted that which held back the final onslaught of the Gates of Hell as the conversion of the Roman Empire, and believed, most of them, that the Parousia, or Second Coming of Christ, would follow the final persecution, a persecution which would follow on from the fall of Christian Rome. But we just don’t know when the Parousia will be. Cardinal Newman can be found arguing that in the widest sense of ‘Christendom’ the Roman Empire had not passed away even in his times.
The New Learning and the Great Divide
It is possible to argue speculatively otherwise: that the ‘Millennium’ of St. John in the Apocalypse was the vision of the first span of ‘Christendom’ roughly from 500 to 1500 AD. Christ ruled with His saints and martyrs, and even His rule in the Church Pilgrim had some sort of unity in one faith, based upon Rome. After 1500 AD there comes the great divide, the descent with great power and fury, the showing of great signs in scientific knowledge and achievement, and the redundancy of God. Satan knows that “he has but a short time”. The Mystery of Iniquity dates from the time of the New Learning and climaxes in and through the rise of Protestantism and the great division of Western Christendom. The secularisation of life through the new wisdoms of science and the philosophy of science are part of the same one revolt from Christ as Lord of human life and history.
There was much in the New Learning of the early sixteenth century which called for assimilation within the theology and philosophy of the Church. But St. Thomas More even in his own day was warning of the danger to the unity of the Church and the integrity of her doctrine from false paths in the New Learning. The New Individualism which went with the New Learning, but which was already discernible in the Church in, say, William of Ockham and the Nominalist philosophy, begot that ‘private judgement’ in religion which is the core principle of Protestantism. The heart principle of the Reformation is the denial of Magisterium in the Church, the power to define doctrine of faith and morals with infallibility in the name of Christ. It is the power to define with objectivity and with inerrancy concerning what is asserted or condemned, which makes Christ the Lord of History.
Humanism in religion
It does not matter how much the Bible is said to be inspired. If the interpretation is left to the minds and consciences of men, then the mind of Man is the final arbiter, and the final result, across four hundred years of research, argument, criticism and corrosive human doubt, is going to be Humanism in religion, the loss of all objective certainty and truth. If the Church has the power to define doctrine, then the written word which was the living Magisterium of Christ before the evangelists wrote it, before Paul dictated it, still lives on in the living word of a teaching power which is guaranteed by the living, working, intervening Divinity of Christ. Once this goes, all else goes with it. It is a cardinal principle of all forms of Protestantism that there does not exist within the Church any objective, constitutional power to define doctrine infallibly as of the mind of Christ. If this power does not exist on earth, Jesus Christ does not live and teach among men with the fulness of power and light that He exercised two thousand years ago. Against new knowledge, as men gain new wisdoms from science and new power in the universe, there is no Lordship of Christ over all the ages, unless His voice can speak with as much authority affirming and defining now, and a thousand years from now, as it did in the market towns of Galilee, in the Temple at Jerusalem, and along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.
The ‘New Learning’ pushed on far, much beyond the confines of the literature, art and music of the Renaissance. It became swallowed up and identified with the progress of the sciences, both abstract and mathematical and empirical and technical. So much is this true that the total separation of faith and religion from life and culture became a cardinal principle of a new outlook, now called The Philosophy of Science, the doctrine of which is that nothing is valid in society, in community law, or in educational principle, unless it belongs to the experimental order and can be proven by the senses. Anything else, however important some may consider it to be, belongs to the individual and the individual judgment. It does not belong to the culture as taught, or to the values of a civilisation as imparted. It is not unanimous, or morally unanimous, and therefore it is not history.
Is Ecumenism Apocalyptic?
The Books of Wisdom of the Old Testament give us many an insight into the manner in which the devout, orthodox Jew had incorporated the best of Greek wisdom into the line that led to Christ. In the New Testament St. John boldly proclaims Christ, in language originally Greek but with a meaning uniquely new, as The Word who was in the beginning, the Word who was with God, and the Word that was God. St. Paul not only speaks to the Athenians in their own idiom and ethos, but also in many of his epistles, notably to the Colossians and Ephesians, he speaks of the meaning of Christ as the foundation stone of all creation and as the primary meaning of all creation, in a manner which combines the revelation made to the Jew, with the great, but imperfect natural wisdom of the pagan world. We have to do something similar now. There is in this age of science, besides the error, a vast amount of misdirected truth awaiting synthesis within the authentic thought in philosophy and in theology of the Catholic Church. This assimilation and synthesis must be done again, and it can be done again. When the certainty of God’s existence is vindicated anew, using the full majesty and sweep of modern knowledge, then the path to the Divine Revelation made to man, the Incarnation for us of God in Christ, the Redemption through His Cross and Resurrection, becomes the foundation of human history.
The True Ecumenism
The message of all this for the Churches, and specifically for the ecumenical movement, must be that now, as in long ages past, God acts, is acting, and will act to give to His own People - to all that look for Him and love Him - the deeper knowledge, vision, hope and faith to surmount the crisis of this age and to revitalize their communion with Him. As it was in the days of the prophets of Israel, so it must be now. We are living through a period of crisis for the Church, and in every high peak of challenge and need, God provides with a new answer, a new call.
The Second Vatican Council, in insisting in the document on Ecumenism that there can be no change or concession within the Church Catholic in matters of doctrine of faith and morals, has equivalently informed us in the name of the Holy Spirit, that it is the will of God to give to His Church and to His people who “seek Him with a sincere heart” just such new knowledge, new vision, and new unity. There is no point in the Decree otherwise. It must mean, however, something dramatic also for the non-Catholic Churches -: the setting aside of that which is at the intellectual and spiritual heart of the division between us: the denial of the Living Magisterium of Christ. If there is no infallibility on earth in doctrine, then there is no useful or objective Divinity in Jesus Christ. The implication is that a new vision of the meaning of Christ in the history of creation can be and must be deduced from the heart of the Faith, and the perspectives pastoral and doctrinal of the last Vatican Council.
It will also imply that initiatives in Ecumenism of minimising doctrinal meanings and differences are on the wrong lines and are hindering the meaning of the Holy Spirit in asking Ecumenism of the Church. We are seeking reunion without ever facing up to the supreme matter of decision: is there, or is there not, an infallible word of Divine Teaching on earth in the name of Christ? It is central to the doctrine of the Catholic Church that there is. In such case, Ecumenism, which has finally stalled upon that very point of Authority in the Church, means that God is trying to show us all - Catholics and non-Catholic Christians - that it is through this very concept of Magisterium that we will all come to see a new meaning in His work and role in creation and history as Lord of All Things, Lord of the Church, and Lord of all human history. We are not meant to find ‘reunion all round’ by denying, forgetting, pretending, minimizing and clouding the content of faith and morals by ambiguous formulas which can mean all things differently to all men. The reality is much greater, more thrilling, and more humbling to us all. In that very fact we can be sure it is God’s way. Any other way leads to Man as the Lord of history and the arbiter of truth. But Christ is the Lord of history, and the word of the Word Incarnate is a clear word and a certain word. There is no Lordship in the word ambiguous. There is a new fulness of truth to be found for the crisis of our times, and God has not failed to visit His People.
This is an edited version of the Editorial in the November/December 1980 of FAITH magazineThis is an edited version of the Editorial in the November/December 1980 of FAITH magazine