Friday, October 3, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" III.XII

Part III: Regeneration

XII. Divine Necessity and Human History 

Once "personality" is discovered, that functionally means we have the discovery of history (456), though Christians (and Augustine) limit the focus of history to the person of Christ. In history as well, Christianity and Classicism therefore clearly split.

Herodotus is of course the father of history, but he appealed to philosophy by embracing a) fact; b) value; and c) causation (457-458)--indeed he held an entire cosmology and system of life in which he seeks the beginning of all things. (458) He searches for the logos, the beginning, envisioned by Heraclitus. (458-459) This does not mean the anthropomorphic gods of heaven, but the source of wisdom, justice, matter, and being--the source of the flux, which itself is a harmony of conflict. (459-460) Thus for Herodotus, 1) the "cosmos is spatial;" 2) it is also temporal; and 3) it is "material." Balance and compensation govern the universe. (460-461) These cosmic physical laws govern mankind (461-462), and history is the explanation of "human behavior" according to these laws.

Specifically, these laws are the laws of desire, happiness, and appropriate limits. (462) But if these govern all, how can we be free, or even have independent consciousness? (462-463) Moreover, how do they connect with the actual events of history? (463-464) We see the link in the "ups and downs" of history, both mythic and "modern." (464-465) In the story of Croesus, all these things are brought together. (465-466) Desire becomes the moving force in history (466-467), working through the "conflict of opposites." (467) Yet, there is no further ethic. Herodotus is a scientist first and foremost. (467-468) The cosmos is mere matter and motion, and all human attempts at happiness must ultimately fail. (468)

Later Classical histories were attempts to escape Herodotus' conclusions, especially his pessimism. (469) To this end, Thucydides, for example, pursues only man in his specific circumstances. (469-470) Galen follows in his steps (470-471), while adding in a belief in man's organic growth (471) and the quest for uniforms patterns of human nature (471-472)--patterns which Thucydides had found in politics. (472) Society thus became a quest for happiness. (472-473) This becomes terror when adversity removes restraint. (473-474) And yet, out of this chaos, change occurred and history advanced. In the hands of Polybius this becomes "fortune," and under the Empire it became associated with the Caesars. (474)

For Christians, the failure of Classical history was the failure to realize "the true curse of human being and motivation." (474-475) Instead, Christians appealed to the Bible as true history, especially against Marcion and the Manichees. (475)

Augustine further developed a hermeneutic that navigated between literalism and allegory (475-476), drawing largely on grammar, but mostly guided by the Spirit. (476) The Spirit-filled reading of Scripture is not about establishing dates and times, but rather is about living a Godly life. (476-477) Value becomes the point of history, and wisdom (sapientia) is the guide. (477-478)

Thus, pagan ideas of history as art, science, or fortune are all set aside. (478-479) The Logos becomes instead the center of the philosophy of history. (480) History therefore is the history of personality, and yet neither anthropomorphic nor anthrocentric. (480-481) The Christian is merely the interpreter, not the definer, of history and nature. (481)

But what about the "problem" of predestination? Augustine is happy to leave it in tension. (481-482) A Trinitarian view of history results in certain guidelines for "time, space, and matter, the elements, so to speak, of all mutable natures." (482) The Classical world had explained progress cyclically, which, as Augustine suggested, reveals a limitation in the human imagination (483), and denies the possibility of salvation. (483-484) Time, rather, is linear and teleological. (484-485) This allows us to be both body and soul (485-486), both of which desire happiness. The goal of a rational being is peaceful order, which requires 1) an accurate understanding of the world and 2) a proper ordering of values. (486-487) Both of these are, for mankind, moral issues. (487) These are moreover universal and unite mankind through the Logos far more deeply than the Stoics ever dreamed of (487-488), though this principles also divides us from each other. (488)

This combination of unity and division defines the two cities (488-489), which are united and divided in their desires. (489-490) The city of man desires material order and the peace of the household, marriage, and city (490), as well as empire. The problem of the city of man is that that it has material wealth, but rather in how it desires material wealth. (491-492) This becomes a dog-eat-dog world, where the best safety is tenuous. (492-493) The polis is "the greatest and most shameless of heresies." (493) Thus, we should not trust worldly systems, but rather realize the deficiencies of the secular order. (494-495) The rise of Empire only brought these deficiencies to man on a grander scale. (495-496)

In all this worldly failure, we see God's hand teaching us about Himself. (496) The same was true of false political and economic unity, as well as of religious pluralism. Turning these things into virtues merely hastened the collapse of the whole system. (497-498) Even poetry and literature as a source of energy and unity is deficient. (498-499) Religion as a means of controlling the people also fails, as do its poet proponents. (499-500)

The Classical world has misjudged "the true source of power," assuming it to be man, and so all things collapse. For the Christian, "all power [is] from on high," and the lust for power must be overcome by "justification by faith." (500-501) The individual is not a cosmic speck, but a living spirit which may convert. (501-502) Grace in conversion into a relationship becomes the unity and focus of the Christian (503), and grace meets our need for illumination and fulfillment.

But what is grace? Only metaphors can be used (504), though the operation of salvation may be described: conviction, forgiveness, belief, victory (504-505), but before victory (in heaven) there is lifelong struggle, which requires yet more grace. (505-506) The result of this is peace and order and wisdom. (506)

And so Christians alone see the Truth, while the Classical system remained a human imposition on the world. (506-507) The attempt to use reason isolated from personality was a failure, or monstrous. (507-508) Likewise ethics in the Classical system failed, as they could not encapsulate the whole man. (507-508) And both materialism and idealism are refuted as well. (508-509)

This transformation did not destroy the state, just its ultimate claims. (509) The state serves a function, it is just that said function is a limited and temporary one. (509-510) This does not lead Augustine to withdrawal or to secession, but rather to "a fresh integration of human life," and a new worldview based on the true Good. (510-511) This fresh vision creates fresh unity based on faith and the will that transcends national boundaries and ennobles the individual against totalitarian secular claims. (511-512) This spirit is loosely democratic, for 1) it transcends racial/cultural bonds; 2) the law of love is the same for all; 3) it recognizes the sinfulness of all men. (512)

Human history is conflict, but a conflict of sinners struggling to recover the lost Good. (513-514) This struggle will end only in the millennium (514-515), and the triumph of those who have found peace, order, and forgiveness over those who persist in maintaining the Classical delusions. (515-516)

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