LH-IX. The Lord of History and His Parousia

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

IX. The Lord of History and His Parousia

The philosophy of history is fundamentally a corollary of the doctrine of Creation, always taught by the metaphysics of Christian Philosophy, and now becoming a postulate of physics and mathematics as well. Since the Creator is infinitely intelligent, furthermore, philosophical reason by itself can (and should) recognize that He will have a plan in mind when creating. In carrying out such a plan God is already the Lord of history. Philosophical reason need feel nothing untoward in this recognition, nor even in admitting that the plan in itself is beyond its own scope. For this is nothing more than recognizing creaturehood.

The shame for philosophy is rather in the failure to recognize the Creator.

Philosophy and the Creed

These insights bring philosophical reason into correlation with the First Article of the Creed: faith in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. From this point an attitude of reasonable openness becomes possible to some word from the Supreme Being revealing the nature of His plan, to the message of the New Testament which E. Stauffer puts into a brief synthesis: “The Logos of the first day, the Creator’s fiat, Himself takes on historical form and becomes subject to successive development, completing in Himself the entire work of creation in its substantive historical reality.”1

The Catholic Fact, fulfillment of the Hebrew Fact, has been built into the empirically given of human history by the dynamics of Evangelization and Catechesis, activities which have proceeded historically in terms of this same Profession of the Apostolic Faith. For this Profession goes directly from Creation to the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and His expected return to judge the living and the dead.

This Parousia is at the heart of the Christian Message for it constitutes Him the Lord of history.

Thus God is the Lord of history still, but not in a way humans would expect or philosophical reason discover. The Lord of history is the Eternal Son, incarnate — and crucified. He is not the same as the Prince of this world. He was the Lord of history when, a prisoner with His hands tied, He was brought before Pilate, who asked Him:

“‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus replied… ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world….’ ‘So you are a king, then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it,’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice’” (John 18, 33-37).

In enduring the translatio imperii which the Great Apostasy will effect, the Christian philosophy of history will help Christians greatly by reflecting upon this special character of His Lordship over history. This Lordship will not be according to the thinking and the ways of men. Thus the intellectual victory over Religious Modernism, which the philosophy of history helps to win, is not the same as a social victory for the Church, a success in this world according to the fallen thinking and desires of men. To desire this success inordinately for the Church is, in fact, the temptation which lies at the root of the Modernist project to reinterpret the Christian message, especially the Article of Faith on the Parousia.2

The Creed and the Parousia

Yet the Parousia, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, is of the essence of the Profession of the Apostolic Faith, and has been since the Apostles and their writings. It is the characteristic thrust of the entire New Testament and the constant tenor of evangelization and catechesis in the Early Church as a whole.

“We preach not one coming of Christ,” Saint Cyril of Jerusalem teaches his catechumens, “but a second as well, far more glorious than the first. The first gave us a spectacle of His patience; the second will bring with it the crown of the Kingdom of God… Paul indicates these two Comings also in writing to Titus in these Words: ‘The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men, instructing us, in order that, rejecting ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live temperately and justly and piously in this world; looking for the blessed hope and glorious Coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2, 11-13). Do you see how he speaks of a first Coming, for which he gives thanks, and of a second we are to look for?

“We find the same lesson in the wording of the Creed we profess, as delivered to us, that is, to believe in Him who ‘ascended into heaven and sat down on the right of the Father, and is to come in glory to judge living and dead, of whose kingdom there will be no end.’ Our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, is to come from heaven, and to come with glory, at the end of this world, on the last day.

“For an end of this world there will be; this created world will be made new again. Corruption, theft, adultery and sins of every kind have flooded the earth, and bloodshed has been paid with blood; so to prevent this wondrous dwelling place from continuing forever filled with iniquity, this world is to pass away, to make room for a fairer world. You want proof of this from Scripture? Hearken to Isaiah: ‘The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll, and all their hosts shall wither away as the leaf on the vine, or as the fig withers on the fig tree’ (Is. 34, 3). And the Gospel says: ‘The sun shall be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven’ (Mt. 24, 29). Let us not give grieve as though we alone were to die, for the stars also will die; but perhaps they will rise again. The Lord shall fold up the heavens, not to destroy them, but to raise them up more beautiful.”3

The Mystery of Christ

This is no isolated instance, but rather the typical teaching of the Early Church, centered in its characteristic way upon the Mystery of Christ. It is this mysterium Christi, “which affects the whole course of human history,” that Vatican II in Optatam totius, No. 14, desires philosophy and theology to “supplement one another in revealing to the minds of the students,” in a renewed coordination of their distinct intellectual activities.

The philosophy of history, cultivated anew and in its authentic mode, seems to be indicated explicitly as the way to this “more effective coordination.”

Mention has been made of the post-modern opportunities for scholarly research and philosophical analysis that are opening before Catholic students. These converge toward the renewal of theology and philosophy and this new kind of coordination between them which illuminates better the Lord of history. The work of research and analysis in the philosophy of history is a special need of the Church, both in academic teaching and in the pastoral and catechetical care of souls, as the Twentieth Century verges toward its end. Without attempting answers, this study can conclude with a few brief indications regarding typical questions and areas where a new approach, following Optatam totius, promises to be fruitful.

There is the question of the basic quality of the interior life proper to the post-modern situation. When she was asked, in the last weeks of her short life on the threshold of the Twentieth Century, what she meant by her Little Way of confidence in an abandon to the Heavenly Father, St. Thérèse of Lisieux replied: “It is recognizing one’s own nothingness, and looking up to the good God as a little child looks expectantly to his Father.”4 This is the First Article of the Creed and a living of the doctrine of Creation. In her magnificent, lightning-flash intuitions, which put her beyond the Modern Age with its Fathers Renan, Loisy and all the rest, she was post-modern all the way.

Then there is the question of the apostasy, an exercise in the philosophical judgment of values: whether cultural values are truly and authentically human. And the related question whether the present experience is the Great Apostasy of Scripture, or only a more or less distant preparation for it.5

Closely related to the apostasy from God is a set of problems relating to the human experience of the translatio imperii: deception, discouragement, doubt, misplaced attachment.6 The analyses made by the philosophy of history become increasingly practical, even essential. For example: as the movement against Christ wrests terrain from His sway, space will belong more and more to the Prince of this world. Catholics will be tempted to feel wrong and Religious Modernists, in return for cooperation with the cells of the new Empire, will be made to seem right. Catholics will be tempted to say: “Am I so sure, after all, that I am right? Ought I not be humble? In fact, do I not sometimes appear even officially to be in the wrong?”

The philosophy of history has a vital role in such a situation, for it changes the fundamental perspective in Christian thinking from space to time, a perspective in which the Prince of this world has only a brief hour. This helps to preserve communion with the Saints of all the Hebrew and Christian times, and loyalty to Him who is the Lord of history.

This historical dimension, ministering to insight and loyalty, is adduced forcefully by Bishop Graber: “If we look back at the Early Church, we can see the old false doctrines of those days reappearing in new garb. Arius, who denied that the Logos was of one substance with the Father, lives on. He lives on whenever attempts are made to avoid professing unequivocally that Christ is true God.”7

This loyalty, as a matter of fact, is an outcome of the study of the philosophy of history. It is the link between intellectual life and the Lord of history. It is the practical point where philosophy coordinates with theology in making more manifest, even in the darkness of the other one’s brief hour, the splendor of the mysterium Christi. It is the founder of Christian Philosophy and mankind’s greatest philosopher of history who deserves the last word: “Nam qualis amor est Christi, timere ne veniat? Fratres, non erubesciums? Amamus, et timemus, ne veniat…. Veniet, velimus nolimus. Non enim quia modo non venit, ideo venturus non est.”8

  1. 153. Quoted in J. Daniélou, The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History (London: Longmans, 1958), p. 191. On Jesus Christ as the center, the origin and the goal of history, and thus Himself personally the Lord of history, cf. also the work of Romano Guardini, The Lord (Chicago: Regenery, 1954), esp. pp. 439-443, “Lord of History,” and Part Seven, pp. 473-571, “Time and Eternity,” passim. 

  2. 154. Cf., for example, Father George Tyrrell’s “profession of unbelief” in his Christianity at the Crossroads (London: Longmans, Green, 1909), p. 95: “The difficulty, for us, lies in the fact that this ‘idea’ [of Jesus] has been transmitted too faithfully, in form and not merely in substance; that this apocalyptic imagery has been given a fact-value which our minds have slowly become incapable of accepting…. For Jesus, what we call His apocalyptic ‘imagery’ was no mere imagery but literal fact. But for us it can be so no longer. We can no longer believe in the little local Heaven above the flat earth, from which Jesus is to appear in the clouds; nor in all the details of the vision governed by this conception.” Liberal Protestantism consistently expresses the same negation, just as Reform Judaism gives up the historic Hebrew faith in a personal Messiah to come in glory. These religious positions represent the old-fashioned quintessence of the “modern,” as such. In the radically altered post-modern universe of intellectual life, there is no problem, for “above” and “below” relate now to the various wave lengths and impalpable modes in which it is now understood that even material beings can exist. 

  3. 155. S. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis XV; Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson (transl.), The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Washington: The Catholic University of America, 1969), Vol. II, pp. 53-55. 

  4. 156. In Francois le l’Im. Conc., O.C.D., Mieux Connaître Sainte Thèrése de Lisieux (Paris: Librairie S. Paul, 1955), p. 32. 

  5. 157. John Henry Newman continues to be the best guide on these matters for the English-speaking world. No one knows the day or the hour, for the times are reserved to the Father. But there are also signs of the times, which need the attention of careful Catholic scholarship, especially when a Marxist interpretation of the phrase is gaining headway alongside the Modernist one of “On-going Revelation.” Cf. R. Guardini, op. cit., pp. 467-471, “The Lord’s Return.” “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that also among Christians profound consciousness of the Lord’s return has become a rarity…. But does this not entail an essential loss to Christian faith?” (p. 471). In general, the philosophy of history looks to theology for enlightened discussion of the matter; and doubtless both Christian Philosophy and Sacred Theology look forward to a future teaching of the Extraordinary Magisterium on the signs of the times. 

  6. 158. Attachments, for example, to the temporal structures of that other Empire of Christian Rome. Catholic Christians ought to be attached to the things of the immortal soul and the lasting home which is to come. Cf. St. Augustine, En. in. ps. 95, P.L. 36-37, 1235, commenting on “The world as we know it is passing away” (1 Cor. 7, 31), and “There is no eternal city for us in this life but we look for one in the life to come” (Hebr. 13, 15). A different kind of attachment, offering a constant challenge to post-modern philosophical analysis throughout the Twentieth century, is the bias of Religious Modernism holding over from the Modern Age even in scholarly works. “Treatises of this type,” writes Voegelin, “quite frequently are still indispensable because of their reliable information concerning facts (bibliographical references, critical establishment of texts, etc.). The damage is rather done through interpretation.” The New Science of Politics, op. cit., p. 10/ Voegelin is writing of the hold-over influence of Comtean positivism in certain contemporary treatises on history, sociology and law, but his insight applies also to work in philosophy and theology. As an example, cf. Roger Aubert, Le problème de l’acte de foi (Louvain: Nauwelaerts, 1969, 4th ed.), where helpful positive scholarship is marred sometimes by insufficient concern for and fidelity to the Church’s post-modern program of renewal in philosophy. Aubert’s slant becomes visible in his “Preface” to “Progress and Decline in the History of Church Renewal,” Concilium (New York: Paulist Press, 1967), Vol. 27, p. 2: “It is a pity, for example, that we have not been able to find room for…the conflict between Catholic intellectuals and intégristes (hyperconservatives).” This illustrates well the attitude holding over from the Modern Age: Religious Modernists are “Catholic intellectuals” and those who profess the Apostolic Faith, quod ubique, quod semper, and who think philosophically within that same Faith, are “intégristes (hyperconservatives).” This is to mistake entirely the meaning of Aeterni Patris and the significance of the program for the renewal of Christian Philosophy in the contemporary Church. Younger scholars, truly and fully post-modern, are calmly setting aside this kind of obsolete name-calling. Aeterni Patris will have its second century. 

  7. 159. Rudolf Graber, Athanasius and the Church of Our Time (London: Van Duren, 1974), p. 24. The first published work of John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century (London: Longmans, Green, 1901) continues to be seminal throughout all three moments of the Modernist phenomenon. 

  8. 160. St. Augustine, En. in ps. 95; P.L. 36-37, 1235: “What kind of love of Christ is it that fears to have Him come? Brothers, are we not ashamed of ourselves? We love Him and we fear to have Him come!… He will come, whether we like it or not. For from the fact that His coming is delayed, it does not follow that He is not going to come.” 

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