LH-III. The Patristic Understanding of History

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by Msgr. Eugene Kevane
©2003 The Miriam Press. All Rights Reserved

III. The Patristic Understanding of History

Thought about the fact and the meaning of this succession in time was an essential component of Catholic intellectual life from the beginning.1 In fact, the early Christian thinkers were keenly aware of their own participation in the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies; they actually saw the conversion of the Graeco-Roman world to God in the universal Church of Jesus Christ and experienced it personally.

St. Justin Martyr

“We will now offer proof,” writes St. Justin Martyr in the Second Century,” … regarding Him whom we call Christ…., not trusting mere assertions, but being of necessity persuaded by those who prophesied [of Him] before these things came to pass, for with our own eyes we behold things that have happened and are happening just as they were predicted…. There were, then, among the Jews certain men who were prophets of God, through whom the prophetic Spirit published beforehand things that were to come to pass, before ever they happened…. In these books, of the prophets then, we found Jesus our Christ foretold as coming, born of a virgin, growing up to a man’s estate, and healing every disease and every sickness, and raising the dead, and being hated, and unrecognized, and crucified, and dying, and rising again, and ascending into heaven, and being, and being called, the Son of God. We find it also predicted that certain persons should be sent by Him into every nation to publish these things, and that rather among the Gentiles [than among the Jews] men should believe in Him.”2

This is the experience of the Catholic Fact as it is in the process of being built into history. In further chapters of his First Apology Justin elaborates in detail upon the Hebrew prophecies, explaining that Moses predicted Christ (Gen. 49, 10), that Isaiah foretold the manner and place of His birth, that the prophets in general foresaw details of His life, His crucifixion and His life in heaven after death, and that His rejection by the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem had been foretold. “When the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass,” Justin continues, “He speaks in this way: ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations…’ (Is. 2, 3). And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war on our enemies, but also, that we may not lie or deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.”3

The fulfillment is really happening: the Gospel is being heralded out of Jerusalem. It is an event of contemporary history for Justin, who simply reports the manner of seeing and judging the course of events which was general among the early Christians.

Then he gives the characteristic Christian linear orientation toward the anticipated end of history. “Since, then, we prove that all things which have already happened had been predicted by the prophets before they came to pass, we must necessarily believe also that those things which are in like manner predicted, but are yet to come to pass, shall certainly happen…. For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonored and suffering man; but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also he shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived….”4 Justin proceeds to cite Ezechiel 37; Isaiah 45; 46; 63; 64; and Zechariah 12. “Though we could bring forward many other prophecies,” he concludes, “we forbear, judging these sufficient for the persuasion of those who have ears to hear and understand…. So many things as these…, when they are seen with the eye, are enough to produce conviction and belief….”5

Tertullian

Justin was a seminal thinker whose fundamental insights on the meaning and direction of universal history were developed by Irenaeus and the Greek Fathers, and by Tertullian, from whom they passed to the great Latins, especially Augustine.

“That which will teach us [regarding the divinity of the Sacred Scriptures] is right at hand,” writes Tertullian; “namely, the world, all time, all events. All that is now happening was foretold….”6

And he cites the troubles which were besetting the Roman Empire in his day, the same domestic social evils and foreign barbarian inroads which the pagans were attributing to the Christian refusal to worship the gods of Rome.

“Even while we experience these happenings,” he continues, “they are being read; while we recall them, they are being fulfilled. The actual fulfillment of the prophecy is, I dare say, sufficient indication of its inspired nature.”7

Tertullian proceeds to the Hebrew doctrine on the Coming One, and the fulfillment of it in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Then he takes up the second aspect of Hebrew prophecy, the apostolate to the nations which is to raise up a new Israel.

“The disciples, too, hearkening to the command of God, their Master, spread throughout the world, and, after enduring with constancy much suffering from the persecution of the Jews, finally, because of the savage cruelty of Nero, sowed the seed of Christian blood at Rome….”8

Tertullian then takes up the burning question of his day, whether Rome’s prosperity and greatness are being jeopardized by the Christian movement away from the worship of her pagan gods, toward the worship of Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. The pagan deities did not give Rome her Empire, Tertullian answers; it is a work of the Christian God who is the Lord of history, who has a providential control over the rise, the fall and the succession of earthly empires.

“Watch out, then,” Tertullian warns the pagan Romans, “lest the one who dispenses kingdoms…and who has made the world a unified system of times has ordained changes in the ruling powers during certain periods in the course of time; lest He under whom the race of men once lived before there were cities at all be the One who raises cities and destroys them.”9 “In our case,” he continues, “we pray for the welfare of the emperors to the eternal God, the true God, the living God….”10

“There is also another, even greater, obligation for us to pray for the emperors; yes, even for the continuance of the Empire in general and for Roman interests. We realize that the tremendous force which is hanging over the whole world, and the very end of the world with its threat of dreadful afflictions, is arrested for a time by the continued existence of the Roman Empire. This event we have no desire to experience, and, in praying that it may be deferred, we favor the continuance of Rome.”11

St. Augustine

St. Augustine, who in so many ways synthesizes the thought of the Early Church in his person and his work, describes most copiously and vividly this eye-witnessing and experience of the Catholic Fact. For him, it is nothing else than the metanoia, the conversion of the Roman Empire, the Graeco-Roman education and culture (and for him, this was effectively the whole of mankind) to God in the Catholic Church. He builds upon this Catholic Fact as something given in history, that understanding of history which has its abiding masterpiece in the City of God.

It is of course not possible here to do an extended study of Augustine from this point of view. Only the salient features of his thinking can be outlined, together with some indications for further research. Perhaps the best introduction to his personal view and experience of the Catholic Fact is his treatise on The True Religion, conceived among the Dialogues of Cassiciacum and written about three years after his own conversion, while still a laymen, for his friend and patron Romanianus.

Augustine sketches what a great metanoia it would be if the peoples were to “change their minds and seek the one God who alone is superior to our minds, and by whom clearly every soul and the whole world has been created.”12 Plato aspired to something like this, Augustine continues, but inefficaciously. “Some great and divine man” would have to intervene, “to persuade the peoples that such things were to be at least believed if they could not grasp them with the mind.”13

“Now this very thing has come to pass,” Augustine concludes. “It is celebrated in books and documents. From one particular region of the earth in which alone the one God was worshiped and where alone such a man could be born, chosen men were sent throughout the entire world…. Their sound teaching has been confirmed and they have left to posterity a world illumined.”14

It would be difficult to state more succinctly the perception of the Catholic Fact as a reality observed and experienced. It is the Catholic Church seen as a dynamic turning movement of the peoples that had been gathered into the Roman Empire. It is their “conversion to the one true God…. These things (the Gospel teachings) are read to the peoples throughout all the earth…as far afield as among barbarian nations…. All over the inhabited world…multitudes enter upon this way of life from every race….”15

Augustine is careful to distinguish between what we today call “philosophy” and “theology.” In his short treatise On Faith in Things Unseen, he introduces the Church as calling attention to her own presence and reality, fulfilling the Hebrew expectation of a New Testament embracing the Gentile peoples. This is something the unbeliever can see and know. “Truly, this you have not seen [namely, the events of the historical Jesus in Palestine], but you do see His Church.”16

“Those who were believers at that time in the land of Juda learned of the marvelous birth of Christ of a Virgin, learned of His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and being present there learned all His divine words and the deeds first-hand. These things you have not seen, and hence you refuse to believe them…. Therefore, direct your attention to and reflect upon the things which you behold, which are not narrated to you as of the past, nor foretold to you as of the future, but are clearly demonstrated to you as present. Now,…do you think it is either a little or no divine miracle that all mankind runs its course in the name of One Crucified? …You are seeing what was prophesied in Ps. 21 [that] all the ends of the earth…shall be converted to the Lord…and he shall have dominion over the nations.”17

The Conversion of the Roman Empire

The Catholic Fact, the historical reality of the Church as a sudden illumination visible in the whole world, in toto orbe terrarum, is the constant intellectual background for all the writings of Augustine. It recurs in his sermons, particularly in the Enarrationes in psalmos. It is the fundamental theme of the De civitate Dei, the treatise which seals the intellectual victory of Christian thinking within the Catholic Faith over the ancient pagan philosophy, education and culture.18

In Book III of his De doctrina christiana Augustine explains in detail his evaluation of this world-wide conversion taking place before the eyes of classical antiquity.19 Citing Ezechiel 36, 23-28, he concludes to the Catholic Fact which he is experiencing: “Now that this is a prophecy of the New Testament, to which pertain not only a remnant of that one nation…, but also the other nations which were promised to their fathers and our fathers; and that there is here a promise of that washing of regeneration which, as we see, is now imparted to all nations, no one who looks into the matter can doubt.”20

It remains to sketch briefly Augustine’s understanding of the meaning and direction of universal history, the result of his reflection upon these two Facts, the Hebrew and the Catholic.

In the first place, completing the work of Julius Africanus and Eusebius, Augustine brought historia and philosophia, distinct disciplines on the curriculum of the classical Liberal Arts, into a correlation which the fragmented pagan mind was unable to achieve. This becomes clear in his very concept of history with its openness to the Lord of history by means of the new philosophical recognition of the doctrine of creation.

“When the past arrangements of men are recounted in historical narration,” he writes, “we must not consider history itself among those human institutions. For, things which have now passed away and cannot be revoked must be considered to be in the order of time, whose Creator and Administrator is God.”21

Secondly, there is this “order of time” to be considered in itself. The very concept expresses an openness to the God who is the Creator, and therefore the Lord of history. Hence it is a matter which introduces the very heart of the Judaeo-Christian understanding of universal history. This order is first visible to the eye of the intellect in the world-wide conversion of the peoples: when natural reason realizes that this fulfills the Hebrew Prophets, it dawns that there is an ordered succession in the very stuff of history, a movement in time from the Prophets to this Catholic Fact. Someone is doing something in history. His plan is visible in history. Hence He is the Lord of history.

“The things which were related concerning Christ and the Church,” Augustine writes, “have come to pass according to their preordained succession.”22 “In following this religion,” he tells Romanianus, “our chief concern is with the prophetic history of the dispensation of divine Providence in time — what God has done for the salvation of the human race, renewing and restoring it unto eternal life.”23

Here an intellectual well versed in the historia of the pagan culture recognizes the historical writings of the Hebrews as historia: the same in substance and intent, however different in literary mode and genre. Athens and Jerusalem are coming together.

The Ordered Succession

From this religious succession of the Testaments, Augustine, culminating the work of his Christian predecessors, turns to the civic, social and cultural succession which the pagan historia records, the sequence of the great Empires of antiquity. He finds the basis of correlation between the two successions in the Sacred Scriptures themselves. For the Lord of history exercises His rule over both sequences, and is almighty in His power to coordinate them. With Jerome and early Christian thinkers generally, Augustine recognizes Rome as the Fourth Empire foretold in the Book of Daniel, and thus comes to a fundamental insight regarding the meaning of the conversion of the peoples which he and his fellow-thinkers are experiencing. It is nothing else than the conversion of the Roman Empire itself to God in the Church. The Christian Rome of Peter and Paul is in the process of succeeding that other, earlier Rome, exercising a wider sway by the Catholic Faith than pagan Rome had been able to subdue with its marching legions. And this mighty fact, raised up high in universal history for all to se, is under the rule and administration of the Lord of history, who determines the order of times and of successions in the temporal order of the Empires.

This is the concept of the translatio imperii, the succession of the empires, which the Fathers of the Church derived from the Scriptures. Regarding the troubling dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel said:

“May the name of God be blessed forever and ever, since wisdom and power are his alone. His to control the procession of times and seasons, to make and unmake kings” (Dan. 2, 19-21).

Then came Daniel’s moment of truth before the pagan ruler:

“After you another kingdom will rise…, and then a third which will rule the whole world. There will be a fourth kingdom, hard as iron…. It will crush and break all the earlier kingdoms…. In the time of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed and shall not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms, and itself last for ever” (Dan. 2, 37-43).

“This fourth empire,” Jerome writes in his Commentary, “obviously pertains to the Romans…. And at the end of all these…, our Lord and Savior…, victorious over all these Empires, has become as a great mountain, and has filled the whole earth.”24

It is this concept which completes the Christian intellectual understanding of the meaning of the Catholic Fact. When Constantine recognized the Catholic Church and began to make it the official cult of the Empire, a process continuing unto completion in the later Fourth Century, the Second Coming seemed now indefinitely postponed.25 More superficial Catholic thinkers, including not a few prelates across the Fourth Century, accepted the conversion of Rome and the consequent Christianized condition of social laws and custom as the Kingdom or City of God on earth. Others, however, and Augustine above all, recognized the imperfect character of the social metanoia. When Alaric sacked Rome in A.C. 410, the pagans took new scandal at the imperial policy. The gods who made Rome great have been abandoned by the Christian conversion, they were saying bitterly, and the Christian God is demonstrably powerless to maintain the Roman power and glory.

From Christian Education to Christian Culture

Augustine recognized the critical character of the question, and his immense treatise on the City of God was the result. The conversion of the Roman Empire does indeed fulfill the Prophets: the Christians have succeeded, and the Roman Emperor is now a member of the Church. The political and social order has an opportunity to share in the Christian renewal. But he does not expect this political and social order to be or to become the final and perfect condition of mankind. There are two Cities, built by two loves, and they are intermingled in the present Sixth Age, despite the conversion of the Roman Empire, until the Second Coming.26

To grasp Augustine’s thought fully, the De doctrina christiana, his treatise on the Christianization of the classical paideia, must be correlated with the De civitate Dei.27

For the Christian Roman Empire, the Christian social order now ready to move forward into times Augustine could not foresee (although he knew their principles), the times of Charlemagne and Edward the Confessor and Innocent III and St. Louis of France, was dependent upon the new Christian paideia which was bringing pagan education and culture under the sway of Christ and passing it on as heritage of Christian humanism to the on-coming generations. The classical paideia itself was thus converted, to find for itself a new home and mode of action in the Catechumenate of the Catholic Church. It had begun to serve the mission of Jesus Christ, the Divine Teacher. All seven of its Arts function now within the Church and help to maintain this spiritualized Roman Empire, this new Christian culture, in being.

Another term for this spiritualized and converted Roman Empire is simply Christendom, denoting by its suffix the sway or kingship of Christ over hearts, minds, social law, popular custom, and over the political order as King of the kings. The Catholic Fact grows mightily after the times of the Fathers who experienced its beginning, and it stands high on the human scene as a luminous landmark on the ordered succession of largest human social entities which the Prophets foresaw.28

The seventh Art, philosophy, is now “Christian Philosophy.” Does it have a branch called “Philosophy of History,” which understands this order and succession in time? Is this the discipline, exactly, which projects the intellectual life of the Early Church to the coming generations of the Christian Era? This question remains to be analyzed. But before it can be done, attention must be given to a new and quite different understanding of meaningful succession in history. And then men will face an agonizing question. Is this new and different concept perhaps what the philosophy of history sees?


  1. 33. For a comprehensive presentation of the evidence for this statement, cf. L.G. Patterson, God and History in Early Christian Thought (London: Black, 1967); also Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944); and Olof Gigon, op. cit. Whether or in what sense this Christian thinking is “philosophy of history” is a question still to be considered in the present study. 

  2. 34. The First Apology of Justin, cc. XXX-XXXI; in M. Dods (transl.), The Writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras (Edinburgh; Clark, 1867), pp. 32-33. 

  3. 35. Ibid., c. XXXIX; p. 40. 

  4. 36. Ibid., c. LII; pp. 50-51 

  5. 37. Ibid., c. LIII; pp. 52-53. Justin Martyr is remarkable for his balanced and comprehensive contact with Graeco-Roman culture in both of the disciplines, historia and philosophia, on the program of the paideia. The Greek Fathers were more one-sided, making contact chiefly with philosophia. Patterson in the work already cited is noteworthy for his positive evaluation of the Latin Fathers, for their characteristically sharper insight into historia, and especially for their ability to correlate it with philosophia. Augustine’s De civitate Dei is the abiding masterpiece which illustrates this point — a point which indicates the original fountainhead of the branch of philosophy known since Voltaire as the Philosophy of History. 

  6. 38. Tertullian, Apology, c. XX; in Arbesman-Daly-Quain (transl.), Tertullian: Apologetical Works (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1950), p. 60. 

  7. 39. Ibid. Tertullian uses Justin’s argument for the Christian vision of the end of history: “In consequence of all this, it is safe for us to trust in the future, also, which we may consider already proved, since it has been predicted as well as events which each day are being proved true. The same voices give it utterance; the same literature records it; the same spirit animates it. All time is one to prophecy which foretells the future.” Ibid. 

  8. 40. Ibid., c. XXI (25); p. 66. 

  9. 41. Ibid., c. XXVI (1); p. 81. 

  10. 42. Ibid., c. XXX (1); p. 85. 

  11. 43. Ibid., c. XXXII (1); p. 88. The “obstacle” or “hindrance” in 2 Thess. 2, 7, which is holding off the end of the world and providing time for the world-mission, was taken by Tertullian, and by the Fathers perhaps generally, to refer to the Roman Empire, which under Providence was to last until the end is at hand. Cf. Tertullian, Ad Scapulum II: “As long as the world shall last,…so long the Roman Empire will last.” From the Patristic Age this view of things passed into the common thought of the Christian people, witnessed for example by the Roman proverb: “As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the world will fall.” Cf. Migne, P.L. 95, 543. Cf. L.G. Patterson, op. cit., p. 61: “Tertullian…accepts the view that Rome is the last of the world empires — a view which Christians had always shared with Rome itself, albeit on somewhat different grounds….” John Henry Newman held the same view throughout the Nineteenth Century: cf. Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects (London: Longman, Green, 1899), p. 0: “…It is not clear that the Roman Empire is gone. Far from it: the Roman Empire in the view of prophecy, remains even to this day… ‘that which withholdeth’ still exists.” Also ibid., p. 81: “It is difficult to say whether the Roman Empire is gone or not; in one sense it is gone, for it is divided into kingdoms; in another sense, it is not, for the date cannot be assigned at which it came to an end, and much might be said in various ways to show that it may be considered still existing, though in a mutilated and decayed state.” Thus Newman. What he says is significant for the analysis conducted by an authentic and open philosophy of history, and will be pertinent to considerations below in the value judgment upon Modernity as apostasy from God. 

  12. 44. De vera religione 2 (2); J. H. S. Burleigh (Transl.) St. Augustine: Of True Religion (Chicago: Regnery, 1959), p. 2. 

  13. 45. Ibid., 3 (2); p. 4. 

  14. 46. Ibid., 3 (4); p. 5. 

  15. 47. Ibid., 3 (5); pp. 7-8. 

  16. 48. De fide rerum quae non videntur 4 (70: Deferrari-McDonald (transl.) On Faith in Things Unseen (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1947), Vol. II, p. 461. Me attendite, vobis dicit Ecclesia. And Augustine correlates the present reality of the Church, which an unbeliever can see by his natural reason, with Ps. 45: Ego sum Ecclesia de qua in eodem psalmo dicitur…. Constitues eos principes super omnem terram. Ibid., 3 (5). The key concept here in the Psalmist’s prophecy is that of the whole earth, all the peoples, the entire Gentile world. For Augustine, like all educated men of his day, the Roman Empire was this entire world. This is what recurs constantly in Augustine’s description of his own experience and thought regarding the actual fulfillment toto orbe terrarum of the Hebrew expectation. 

  17. 49. Ibid., 4 (7); pp. 462-46. St. Thomas Aquinas stresses this same divine miracle, the conversion of the pagan word of classical antiquity to God in the Catholic Church, in his catechetical explanation of the Apostles’ Creed. 

  18. 50. For the Enarrationes, cf. M. Pontet, L’Éxégèse de Saint Augustin Prèdicateur (Paris: Aubier, 1945), passim. Cf. for example En. in ps. 47: Omnia antea prophetata sunt. (CCL 38, 543). For the De civitate Dei as marking the definitive intellectual victory over paganism, cf. Cochrane, op. cit., and especially Gigon, op. cit., “Die abschliessende Replik des Christentums: Augustins Civitas Dei,” pp. 127-141. Consciousness of participation in this world-wide conversion to the Hebrew God in the Church founded by His Eternal Son Incarnate animates Augustine’s treatise on The First Catechetical Instruction, where he shows it to be an integral part of the method of teaching the Faith in the Catechumenate of the Early Church. Cf. De catechizandis rudibus 6; 33; 44-45; Christianity is taught as this visible Catholic Fact standing on the landscape of universal history, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Fact with its prophetic literature. “The narration is complete,” Augustine writes, “when the beginner is first instructed from the text: In the beginning God created heaven and earth, down to the present period of Church history.” ibid., 3 (5). Cf. Jean Daniélou, La catechesi nei primi secoli (Torino: Elle Di Ci, 1969), “Il metodo catechistico,” pp. 203-235; “É un invito ad una vera teologia della storia” p. 235. 

  19. 51. De doctrina christiana III, 34 (47-48-49); Corpus Christianorum (Turnholt: Brepols, 1962), Series Latina, 32, pp. 106-110. 

  20. 52. Ibid.; J. F. Shaw (Transl.), in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), Vol. II, p. 570. 

  21. 53. De doctrina christiana II, 28 (44); Corpus Christianorum, ibid., p. 63; John J. Gavigan (transl.), “Christian Instruction,” in Writings of St. Augustine (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1947), Vol. 4, pp. 99-100. For the chief moments in the Christian correlation of the pagan history with the historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures, see J. Quasten, Patrology (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1953), Vol. II, pp. 137-140, on the Chronicles of Sextus Julius Africanus; ibid., 163-297, on Hippolytus of Rome and his “Chronicle of World History” (p. 176); and Vol. III, pp. 311-314, on “The Chronicle” of Eusebius of Caesarea. Jerome translated Eusebius’ work into Latin, and Augustine used it when composing Book XVIII of the De civitate Dei, his synthetic correlation of the sacred history of the Bible with secular history of the succession of the Empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. 

  22. 54. De fide rerum 5 (8); op. cit., pp. 464-465. De Christo et Ecclesia quae praedicta sunt, ordinata serie cucurrerunt: Corpus Christianorum (Turnholt: Brepols, 1969), Vol. 46, p. 14; and cf. De vera religione 63 (80-81): “The mode of order lives in perpetual truth.” This concept of an ordered sequence and succession in time is fundamental in Augustine’s thinking, and indeed in the Early Church generally, as Cullmann brings into view in his Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950); and L. G. Patterson, op. cit., passim. This is the special significance of Augustine’s early philosophical Dialogue at Cassiciacum, the De ordine (Corpus Christianorum 29, pp. 87-137). For the manner in which Augustine correlated in this Dialogue the order of studies with the order in history, indeed with the concretely visible order of things which is bringing the Catholic Fact into historical reality, cf. E. Kevane, Augustine the Educator (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1964), pp. 99-102; and passim. 

  23. 55. De vera religione 6 (13); Corpus Christianorum, ibid., p. 196: “Historia et prophetia dispensationis temporalis divinae providentiae pro salute generis humani in aeternam vitam reformandi atque reparandi”; Burleigh, op. cit., p. 14. It would be difficult to improve upon this passage as a witness to the manner in which historia is now at home in Christian philosophical thought. Cf. De vera religione 25 (46-67), Augustine’s profound meta-temporal intuition which sees the historical reality of Hebrew prophecy, and rises to its source, “the one God who rules all things.” (Burleigh, op. cit., p. 42); and 27 (50) for “the succession of the people devoted to the one God,” the two Testaments, the special character of the Christian Era, and “the divisions of the ages.” This is the germ of the reflection upon the structured movement of universal history which will develop into maturity in the De civitate Dei. And cf. the De catechizandis rudibus 39, which is actually an outline of the De civitate Dei, showing how a teaching of the meaning and direction of universal history was an essential part of teaching method in the Catechumenate of the Early Church. With the Fathers generally, Augustine made use both of the concept of the Six Ages, and the concept of the Four Empires, when describing the largest stages of the ordered succession of universal history. Cf. Auguste Luneau, L’histoire du salut chez les Pères de l’Eglise: La doctrine de Ages du Monde. (Paris: Beauchesne 1964). 

  24. 56. St. Jerome, Com. in Danielem Prophetam; Migne, P. L. 25, 504. Cf. his prologue, ibid., 49-494, for his refutation of Porphyry’s evasion of the Prophet Daniel by attempting to deny the authenticity of the book and to show that it merely describes past events, without reference to coming ones. Contemporary post-modern Christian scholarship has much work to do on this point, close as it is to the eye of the intellectual storm on the meaning and direction of history. One thing is certain: empirical scholarship upon the Book of Daniel must lay aside the colored glasses of Modern Philosophy as such, to see things with the natural and open vision of post-modern metaphysics. 

  25. 57. The psychological effect of this delay was reflected in the Roman Missal of the Mass in the Latin Rite, which was largely composed in this period and carried forward into the Tridentine Missal of 1570. Here the expectation of the Second Coming, vividly voiced in the earlier Eastern Rites, almost disappears. In the Vatican II renewal which led to the Roman Missal of 1970, the expectation of the Second Coming is restored powerfully in the texts and prayers of the Mass of the Latin Rite. 

  26. 58. De civitate Dei; P.L. 41, 13-804; cf. XIV, 28: Fecerunt itaque civitates duas amores duo; terrenam scilicet amor sui usque ad contemptum Dei, coelestem vero amor Dei usque ad contemptum sui. For his synthetic view of the Five Ages which prepared the present Sixth Age, cf. XVIII, 1; for the fulfillment of the Hebrew Prophets in the Christian events of the Sixth Age, cf. XVIII, cc. 27-54. In XIX, 22, Augustine sums up both his treatise and this present sketch of historical understanding in the Judaeo-Christian culture: Magnae caecitatis est, adhuc quaerere quis iste sit Deus. Ipse est Deus, cuius Prophetae praedixerunt ista quae cernimus. The insight abides: these are words which could well have been written in the post-modern decades of the 20th Century. 

  27. 59. This is the theme of the book, Augustine the Educator, cited above. 

  28. 60. See notes 7 and 43 above for the manner in which secular historians perceive this historic reality. Ozanam, Newman, Kurth and other men of the Christian value judgment see it as an integrating part of Isaiah’s sign held high above the peoples and nations, the Christian Rome of Sts. Peter and Paul. Cf. Christopher Dawson in Vittorino Veronese (Ed.), World Crisis and the Catholic (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958), p. 166: “It is impossible for us to understand the Church if we regard her as subject to the limitation of human culture. For she is essentially a supernatural organism which transcends human cultures and transforms them to her own ends. As Newman insisted, the Church is not a creed or a philosophy, but an imperial power, a ‘counter Kingdom’ which occupies ground and claims to rule over those whom this world’s governments had once ruled over without a rival.” Cf. John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Longmans, Green, 1930); Chapter X, “Inferences of Assent in the matter of Revealed Religion,” pp. 409-492. The perception of this historic reality foretold by the Prophets and standing in the Christian Era was basic to Newman’s life and work. Cf. J. Richard Quinn, The Recognition of the True Church according to John Henry Newman. (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1954). And especially Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955), Vol. I, pp. 554-559, “Apostolicity the Ground of Newman’s Conversion to Catholicism.” For Isaiah’s sign, Is. 11, 12, cf. Vatican I, Dei Filius, chap. III; English in John F. Broderick, S.J., Documents of Vatican Council I (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1971), pp. 43-46. 

  • You are my witnesses (Is. 43:10)  •  You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)