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The Lord of History, by Msgr. Eugene Kevane. ©2003 The Miriam Press. All Rights Reserved

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References – III. The Patristic Understanding of History

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.

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.

35. Ibid., c. XXXIX; p. 40.

36. Ibid., c. LII; pp. 50-51.

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.

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

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.

40. Ibid., c. XXI (25); p. 66.

41. Ibid., c. XXVI (1); p. 81.

42. Ibid., c. XXX (1); p. 85.

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.

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

45. Ibid., 3 (2); p. 4.

46. Ibid., 3 (4); p. 5.

47. Ibid., 3 (5); pp. 7-8.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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

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.