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

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References – VI. The Philosophy of History in Christian Philosophy

100. Cf. Raymond Aron, Introduction to the Philosophy of History: An Essay on the Limits of Historical Objectivity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 9: “The title of this book runs the risk of misleading the reader who might identify the philosophy of history with the great systems of the beginning of the nineteenth century, so discredited today.”

101. Cf. L. G. Patterson, op. cit., pp. 94ff., on the contrast between Sts. Ambrose and Augustine on the one hand, and the Eusebians on the other. “We can now see very easily how naive was the reliance of these fourth-century Christians on the assumption that the events of the time heralded a period of peace and prosperity” (p. 94). Patterson goes so far as to speak of “…Augustine’s virtual repudiation of the significance of a Christian empire…” (p. 152).

102. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), pp. 111-112. Cf. in general his chapter IV, “Gnosticism — The Nature of Modernity,” pp. 107-132. For Joachim, the three ages in historical succession are those of the Father, under the leadership of Abraham; of the Son, under the leadership of Jesus Christ; and of the Holy Spirit, under the leadership of one still to come, one who will introduce a new kind of religious life and hence a better world. Joachim, who imagined that the Age of jesus Christ was to end at A.D. 1260, set a pattern of thinking about forerunners of the coming leader, “paracletic figures,” a concept that will emerge in later, secularized stages of Modern Philosophy as the “Supermen” of Comte, Marx and Nietzsche. In this patter of thinking, “the course of history as an intelligible, meaningful whole must be assumed accessible to human knowledge, either through a direct revelation or through speculative gnosis. Hence, the Gnostic prophet, or, in the later stages of secularization, the Gnostic intellectual, becomes an appurtenance of modern civilization. Joachim himself is the first instance of the species,” Ibid., p. 112. For the broadening and deepening of Voegelin’s insight into Gnosticism, cf. Vol. IV of Order and History: The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Louisiana Stae Univ. Press, 1974), “Introduction,” pp. 1-58. For Joachim of Flora, cf. Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages: A Study in Joachimism (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1969). For Aquinas’ lucid rejection of Joachimism, cf. S.T., I-II, q. 106, art. 3-4; II-II, q.174, art. 6; cf. Max Seckler, Le salut et l’histoire: la pensee de S. Thomas d’Aquin sur la theologie de l’histoire (Paris: Cerf, 1967), pp. 179-185, “Saint Thomas d’Aquin et Joachim de Flore.” Gnosticism, while retaining re-defined and re-interpreted Christian terminology, always moves against Christ, replacing Him with a new Coming One, and always attempts to subvert the Catholic Church in its original and abiding constitution with a Magisterium and Sacraments. “The Third Age of Joachim,” writes Voegelin, “by virtue of its new descent of the spirit, will transform men into members of the new realm without sacramental mediation of grace. In the Third Age the Church will cease to exist because the charismatic gifts that are necessary for the perfect life will reach men without administration of Sacraments. While Joachim himself conceived the new age concretely as an order of monks, the idea of a community of the spirutally Perfect who can live together without institutional authority was formulated on principle. The idea wsa capable of infinite variations. It can be traced in various degrees of purity in medieval and Renaissance sects, as well as in the Puritan churches of the saints; in its secularized form it has become a formidable component in the contemporary democratic creed; and it is the dynamic core in the Marxian mysticism of the realm of freedom and the withering away of the state.” Ibid., pp. 112-113. It is the emptiness of this construct which Solzhenitsyn experienced so keenly and describes so graphically in his works, an emptiness to which the growing volume of Samizdat literature bears witness.

103. Voegelin, ibid., p. 124.

104. Ibid., p. 163. Again important perspectives open up to younger scholars for research on Modern Philosophy as such, time and culture conditioned as it is and with a demonstrable beginning and ending, as a re-birth of the ancient Gnosticism which troubled the Early Church so deeply. Cf. the bibliographical leads in Voegelin, ibid., p. 124. Seen from this point of view, Comte, Marx and Nietzsche are all 19th Century Modernist Gnostics, who cast long shadows out of Modernity into post-modern time, shadows which help to explain how Religious Modernism, with its Marxist leanings, can continue to exist and seem alive in the years after 1908 and 1914.

105. Voegelin, ibid., p. 160-167, with reference to Eccles. (Qoheleth) 3, 1-22, where man’s natural inability to know God’s purposes in the order and succession of events in time is explicitly stated.

106. Ibid., p. 167. Voegelin speaks of “Gnostic insanity” (p. 170), and “The pathological substitution of the dream world” (p. 172). If these concepts seem too strong, one must study the fundamental work of Cornelio Fabro, Introduzione all’Ateismo Moderno (Rome: Studium, 1969, 2nd edition); English translation, God in Exile (New York: Newman Press, 1970), already cited. Fabro’s comprehensive analysis of Modern Philosophy as such, from Descartes to Nietzsche, Heidegger, marx and Lenin, reveals its implacable tendency toward atheism, a tendency constituted by its Cartesian, Spinozan and Kantian immanentism, its turning of human thought down from the personal God of creation and in upon the merely human understood simplistically as an experience of organismic being in time. Fabro and Voegelin taken together, and with them the growing number of post-modern thinkers, establish two facts, each increasingly relevant for the philosophy of history. The first is that Modernity, as a process in history and as a view of history, is “a Gnosticism…which is a fall from faith in the Christian sense as a mass phenomenon” (Voegelin, ibid., p. 123); and the second is a paraphrase of Marx dictum on religion: atheism is the mental illness of mankind.

107. Voegelin, op. cit., p. 120.

108. Cf. St. Augustine’s definition of history, De doctrina christiana II, 28 (44); and fn. 53 above.

109. St. Augustine, De Trinitate, IV 15 (20-16 (21); Marcus Dods (transl.), Aurelius Augustine: On the Trinity (Edinburgh: Clark, 1873), pp. 130-131; for the original text, P.L. 42, 901-902.

110. Cf. Acts 1, 6: “They asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has established by his own authority….’” And again, Qoheleth 3, 1-22.

111. Augustine, De Trinitate IV, 17 (22); Dods, ibid., pp. 131-132.

112. Ibid., 17 (22); Dods, p. 132.

113. Ibid., 17 (23); Dods, p. 133.

114. Augustine, De civitate Dei, XI, 28; P.L. 41, 341-342: alios nunc testes vel quaerimus vel habemus — i.e., this kind of knowledge is in a different order, and is not forthcoming from the natural rational power of man that produces empirical and philosophical knowledge. For the English translation, cf. Walsh-Monahan, Saint Augustine: The City of God, Books VIII-XVI (Washington: The University of America Press, 1963), p. 233.

115. Ibid.

116. Putting these things another way, God is the Master of contingency, an aspect of His Almightiness which belongs strictly to the unlimited mode of existing proper to the First Cause. It belongs to God alone. The fact that there is a plan of some kind in creation and history can be deduced from the philosophical certitude that the Supreme Being of the universe is intelligent. But philosophical reason cannot know what the plan is. Voegelin puts it correctly: history is not an eidos, an essence.

117. Cf. Optatam totius, Note 1, above; and Josef Pieper, Über das Ende der Zeit: Eine Geschichtsphilosophische Meditation (München: Kosel-Verlag, 1953), p. 27: “One may say, therefore, that an affinity on principle and of a special character exists between Philosophy of History and Theology.”

118. Cf. H.-I. Marrou, The Meaning of History (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966); “Introduction: The Critical Philosophy of History,” pp. 9-28; R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1946); W. H. Walsh, An Introduction to Philosophy of History (London: Hutchison, 1951); Henri Gouhier, L’histoire et sa philosophie (Paris: J. Vrin, 1952), esp. ch. V, “Histoire de la philosophie et histoire des visions du monde.” Professor Gouhier is quite laconic: “If history has a meaning, that meaning is not historical but theological: what one calls ‘philosophy of history’ is never anything but a theology of history more or less disguised” (p. 128). Better perhaps: either the objectively real one, or one of its Modernist Gnostic perversions in Voegelin’s sense. For the same insight, see O. Köhler, “Geschichte,” in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Vol. IV, 777-789; “Die Sinnfrage,” p. 779: “Answers about meaning given by Philosophy of History are derivatives of the Theology of History.”

119. Cf. Jacques Maritain, On the Philosophy of History (New York: Scribner’s 1957), p. 17: “The philosophy of history is connected with the whole of philosophy. And yet it itself belongs to practical and moral philosophy.” Maritain did not write an ex professo and comprehensive treatise on the philosophy of history, but touched on it constantly when treating other questions. Cf. Charles Journet and Brooke Williams Smith, op. cit. Furthermore, his treatment tended more to concern the operation of secondary causes in history, the movement of the larger ones such as the Empires, in older parlance, or cultures and civilizations, as these extensive human social entities are called today, patterns of human operation that reflect human nature. “My own reflections and remarks on the philosophy of history,” he writes, “were, in fact, prompted for many years by the practical problem of the plight of Christians in contemporary society” (p. 171). But Maritain gives the principles involved, and is fundamentally post-modern in his openness to the mode of the First Cause Creating as the ultimate formal object of this discipline. “The philosophy of history has the same subject matter as history…, but another object than history” (p. 4). Thus he can praise Toynbee’s way of characterizing the great civilizations as “a good example of the possibility of drawing through indiction some typical characteristics relating to history” (p. 9). Then his openness to the ultimate nature of the philosophy of history comes explicitly into view in his final word on Toynbee: “There is no complete or adequate philosophy of history if it is not connected with some prophetic or theological data” (p. 170). “So it is that Toynbee’s remarkable, immensely erudite and thoroughly conscientious work is finally disappointing. It misses the mark because it is too ambitious (it claims to explain history) and insufficiently equipped (it is not integrated in a general philosophy); and, above all, because it resides in a sphere entirely extraneous to moral philosophy adequately taken. Toynbee discards the possibility of having his rational inquiry assisted and complemented by a theological light and prophetic data. Hence the shallowness to which I alluded” (p. 173). The relationship to Optatam totius, No. 14, is clear. “It is in a Christian perspective,” maritain states, “that I have for a long time brooded over my reflections on the philosophy of history” (p. 54).