Monday, September 14, 2015

What To Do When History Breaks

We are juggling with three diverse texts, hoping to keep them all vertical: specifically, we've been reflecting on a ravaged 20th century while exploring Catholic theology in light of the wholeness of nature. Is there something that ties these three together -- these three being metaphysics, theology, and history? Or of which each is a reflection? Are they quasi-necessary reflections of one another?

Probably the latter. I would say that theology is concrete where metaphysics is abstract, or that theology is metaphysics concretized: the nonlocal Truth taking local form.

And history? That would be the God-man whirlpool (i.e., the mysterious transcendent Third Space inhabited by man) extended in time. Recall the timeless words of Professor Commentbox: The quest, thus, has no external 'object,' but is reality itself becoming luminous for its movement from the ineffable, through the Cosmos, to the ineffable.

Therefore, history itself -- the historical quest -- is a kind of concretization, for the one thing we can agree upon about the past is that it happened. Nor did it have to happen, so it is a movement from possibility to actuality, or again, abstract to concrete.

Obama, for example, famously promised those beautiful abstractions while delivering all these ugly concretions.

The past is what it is, as is the present. Only the future changes. Which of course changes what the past and present are "about," i.e., what they converge upon. To read the signs of the times is to see the cheesy future hidden in the creamy present -- or what events are converging upon if our craniorectal extraction should fail. (Think too of how the New Testament is "hidden" throughout the Old, such that everything old is made pneumagain.)

As with Friday's post, this one will careen forward in a quest for its own hidden unity. There are no guarantees except the quest for wholeness. In other words, same as it ever was.

Speaking of wholeness, Barron notes that the Bible "ought never to be read simply as a congeries" -- a collection -- of diverse texts from various sources (which it must be to the uninitiated). Rather, "the Bible is a symphonos, a sounding together of tones and melodies, under the direction of the supreme artist."

And importantly, part of the symphony involves man, because revelation is not the word of God per se, but obviously the word of God in the words of man. If it were literally the words of God it would be too hot to handle. "In authentic scriptural exegesis, the primary focus is on the manner in which God has used a human instrument to communicate his meaning."

Note also that since "God is the author of both the Bible and history itself, we shouldn't be surprised to find a whole set of figural or typological correspondences throughout the scriptural witness. We should expect that God will speak in a distinctive accent and according to certain characteristic patterns and rhythms."

Yes to the latter, although I would take issue with God as sole author of history. Rather, as with scripture, he must be the secret co-author or holy ghostwriter. Or, might we say of history: the acts of God in the acts of man, so to speak? In other words, God has a plan, but the plan must largely be executed via men who are free to ignore the plan. Is this not the whole drama of history, whether personal or collective?

Barron implies as much. He cites the early father Irenaeus, who wonders if God didn't allow our archetypal parents to fall "so that through the pain of sin they might come to a deeper life." In any event, "the rest of the biblical story" -- the adventure and quest -- "is the account of the process by which the Father, using his two hands, the Son and the Spirit, shaped the descendants of Adam and Eve back to friendship with God."

In this description there is no sense that God forces the history. Rather, he conditions it by shaping the people who respond to the shaping -- beginning with the shaping of Abraham followed by the shaping of Israel, to say nothing of the shaping of Mary and the apostles. It seems that the overall pattern is from part to whole to part -- right down to individual baptism into the body of Christ.

The culmination of this process would have to be the God-in-man of the logos incarnate: "Jesus is, in person, the recapitulation of time and history." He "draws all the strands of history and revelation together in himself, preserving and repeating them even as he brings them to fulfillment." Furthermore, "he draws all that was implicit and potential in Adam" -- man-as-such -- "to completion."

Now, that is concrete theology. But it is also abstract metaphysics, or at least can be abstracted so as to sound more plausible to modern ears. In other words, it can be expressed in the form of principles and possibilities in archetypal man -- at least so long as he remains engaged with the Object of transcendence, without whom man is nothing, precisely. Only God can show us what we are, in principle and in fact.

Grinding gears over to Bortoft -- just to make the quest more challenging -- we read of how "It is a superficial habit of mind to invent the past which fits the present" -- which reduces the past to an extrapolation or backward projection of the present.

But in reality, each past-present was pregnant with possibilities, such that it is almost impossible to put ourselves there in its infinitude. In other words, we reduce history to a kind of line, when it is more like a rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory) in hyperdimensional phase space. And if we weren't lured by God -- the nonlocal attractor -- history would break down completely.

As it has on numerous occasions, most infamously in that recent ravaged century Conquest writes about. Seriously, why was it so ravaged?

Conquest writes of how one of the attractions of collectivism is "an economy without sin." In Marxism it boils down to "a society without capitalists," while for Nazism it was a world without inferior races. Either way, it starts with a crude denial of the archetypal history that shapes all men.

God lures history, while orthodox Marxism reduces it to a mechanical clash of economic classes. But the clash-machine didn't work as predicted, so history had to be forced from above (the opposite of God's soft-sell approach):

"Lenin saw that history was not behaving in accordance with Marxist theory, so he decided to force it to do so by subjective effort..." For the leftist, history has been a very bad boy, and must be punished! You in particular are grounded, mister, until the arrival of utopia!

This pathological and dysfunctional attitude -- get this -- "still affects the mental atmosphere even in circles that repudiate it at a conscious level."


julie said...

"the Bible is a symphonos, a sounding together of tones and melodies, under the direction of the supreme artist."

Yes, what a beautiful way to put it!

In other words, we reduce history to a kind of line, when it is more like a rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory) in hyperdimensional phase space. And if we weren't lured by God -- the nonlocal attractor -- history would break down completely.

Just as we see happening in Europe right now. Germany may finally have begun to come to its senses, but probably already too little, too late. Anyway, so long as they have faith in nothing, how can they stand against those who fervently believe in the cult of death?

maineman said...

Maybe you imply this, but it seems to me that God doesn't only attract but also arises, at least some of the time, specifically in response to evil. When Satan had set up shop in Mexico (and the priests were performing the exact opposite of the liturgy of the Eucharist, at 15 seconds a pop, sometimes 24 hours a day for days on end), the Spanish shut them down, with the help of smallpox and other diseases (They gave us syphilis in return.), in one of the true miracles of history. Then, at exactly the same time that Catholicism was losing Britain, post-Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexico was converted, en mass, at an unheard of clip.

As to Europe, I think we are seeing another of those broad strokes of history. The Roman Empire fell away, having distributed Christianity throughout Europe and leaving Christendom behind, and this then led to the faith being exported globally. Now, the job of Europe seems to be done, and it is falling away, as did Rome. The future of the church is in Asia, Africa, South America. (Where that leaves us, on this side of the pond, is an interesting question.)

But, as Gerard said in an article in First Things a few years back, we turn out not to be Christian enough. He said, if I recall correctly, that the dramatic lesson of the last century is that the Apocalypse has already begun. Which would seem to mean that the spread of apostasy and evil has reached the point that another big-time intervention, maybe THE big time intervention, is already underway.

(Hey, it's getting harder to prove I'm not a robot.)

ted said...

Bob, for some reason I can't see a couple of your Amazon wheels anymore. That's my reading queue gone away :).

julie said...

Ted - the Amazon wheels are run by Javascript. Some devices, particularly iPads and iPhones, won't run them. Also, if your browser settings have any kind of AdBlock or anti-Java program, they won't show. I use Adblock, and also something that blocks Flash, but have OneCosmos listed as an exception so I can see the wheels and widgets.

Gagdad Bob said...

Some of the older ones went away because of a change at amazon. I need to redo them in a new format. But the current reading list should be there.

Kurt said...

Speaking of the Bible as symphony...every year I work my way through the Bible reading from the Old Testament and the New Testaments at the same time. One day I read in Isaiah 35 about something the Lord was going to do in the future:
"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those that walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it...only the redeemed will walk there,and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Isaiah 35:8-10)

And then I turned to the New Testament where I was in the Gospel of John and read this:
"Jesus answered, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:5)

It was just so powerful to read, just by chance (?) those two passages on the same day, to see what God intended for our redemption and then to know that He had made it so in the Person of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ,the Way of Holiness.

That is the blessed symphony that is the Bible and that is why I read it through every year...

julie said...

What a beautiful juxtaposition! Thanks for sharing it, Kurt.

ted said...

Thanks Julie.