Continuing my review of Jean Daniélou’s The Lord of History from here.
In these eight chapters, Daniélou transitions to exegesis, building on the foundation laid especially by the last chapter. The examination of sacred and secular modes of history served to define the space proper to the former; now, Daniélou returns ad fontes to fill that space. What does sacred history actually look like, according to scriptural Christian theology?
Chapters 1-3 thus examine divine action, human action, and the synergism implied in the incarnation respectively. Chapters 4-6 involve typology and progress, or the relationships between historical stages, and chapters 7-8 address eschatology.
1. Magnalia Dei
Thesis: Sacred history involves the manifestation of divine wonders, especially the mystery of wrath and love.
As the Bible is nothing less than a chronicle of the “wonders of God” (magnalia dei), the scriptures must contain a theology of history. They present to us the all-surpassing ways of God, and this manifests in certain patterns of narrative and divine action. First, several conceptual categories must be explicated to help us understand the divine acts in history.
For instance, creation (bara in Hebrew) and covenant (berith) are fundamental modes by which God relates to his cosmos. Bara can actually apply to any act of God, and not simply the Genesis cosmogony; likewise, berith may primarily refer to God’s dispensations to his chosen people, but as seen in the Noahic covenant and the incarnation respectively, everything from the natural cycle of seasons to the union of God and man is bound up in covenant.
Within this covenantal structure the attributes of God are revealed. The truth of God, in the Bible, does not refer to intellectual apprehension, but divine trustworthiness; hence the dominant Hebrew metaphor for faith: a rock. Divine righteousness (tsedeq) or justice is not based on rights and duties, as in human society, but on God fulfilling his own purposes and honoring his promises; it is his being true to himself (which is love). And this love (hesed) dictates the nature of divine fellowship: it ensures us grace and an infallible “entitlement” to grace, as in the sacraments. All these attributes as Daniélou describes them, note, center on God’s faithfulness revealed in covenant.
But perhaps one of the most important and mysterious aspects of God’s action in history is his wrath, a theme to which Daniélou will devote the larger part of his chapter. His text is the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3), which paints a fearful picture of God.
Two categories of imagery repeatedly alternate in this passage: phenomena of war and meteorological disturbances. Natural and historical disasters are paralleled, as the Lord goes on his triumphal military march over the world. This imagery, Daniélou notes, comes from “the pre-existing stock of religious symbolism, the figures whereby the things of God are revealed through the visible creation.” The power of the storm, even for moderns, can serve as a kind of hierophany, inspiring numinous feelings and archaic fears.
But the wrath of God revealed by the storm is offensive to the prudish of all ages. Wrath accompanies love in Old Testament and New; it must be reckoned with as a divine attribute. Daniélou adds, provocatively, “for all its anthropomorphic appearance, this particular word may well carry a stronger charge of mystical significance than any other, and afford the deepest insight into the meaning of the divine transcendence.” How can this be so, when anger and jealousy are condemned by Christian teaching as sinful passions? Yet Christ displayed just anger at those buying and selling in the temple; it was a proper response to the base and vile. So it follows that there is a proper use for the passion of anger, and that gives us a hint that anger is not necessarily the same thing as petty resentment (ressentiment), which springs from self-love.
Wrath, in this context, means the fundamental incompatibility of a pure God and sin. But the Greek word thumos, like the Latin ira, suggests more than that; it need not imply an object (something to be wrathful at). It indicates spiritedness or vitality, as in a stallion. Daniélou comments,
One of the Hebrew words used in this sense comes from the same root as the word for the smoking muzzle of a bull. So that the innermost kernel of this idea of the wrath of God would be simply a mark of the intensity of his being…. Wrath, so understood… is a precious conception, because other, more abstract, ideas, while they afford us a knowledge of truth, may give us no measure of intensity, whereas the ideas of jealousy and wrath do convey some impression of the intense life of God. In this way, the word ‘wrath’, which looks so anthropomorphic at first sight, really points to the secret of that which is most transcendent in the divine nature. So far from representing God in the image and likeness of man, it brings us to an apprehension of just that in which he most of all excels us, namely the supreme and perfect intensity of his being, which is out of all proportion and analogy with our own.
Before wrath, we find ourselves a pitiful nothing; we realize our own contingent creatureliness. It is the inability to conceive the remotest idea of absolute being, the unutterable chasm between creator and creature, more than a distaste for vengeful deities, that prevents moderns from understanding God’s wrath. Yet the living God whom no man can see and live surpasses our trite piety; the irreducible mystery of God’s wrath occupies all nature and history, as revealed to Habakkuk. So true prophets always preach judgment and repentance, all the way down to John the Baptist.
In Habakkuk, everything in heaven and earth is thrown into confusion by the Lord’s coming: the mountains fall, the earth is torn apart, the sun and moon are stayed, etc. Daniélou suggests a parallel with the Song of the Three Holy Children, in which all things lift up praise. Habakkuk gives us another part of the liturgy of creation: penitence. The elements tremble before their creator, who could destroy them in a moment, even as they express his judgment, as in the plagues of Egypt.
The passage also reveals God’s wrath in history, as the nations quail before him, united in their guilt. Are we to see famines, earthquakes, and atom bombs as the judgment of God? This is not some kind of immanent retributive justice, because suffering is not distributed according to individual guilt (cf. Job); is God then capricious? Daniélou suggests that disasters in history can be regarded as mysterious visitations of divine wrath on the earth, a brief opening of the curtain. Our self-sufficiency is exposed as a myth, and we see that the shadow of death hangs over us. Visitations awaken us from complacent slumber, drawing us to either repent or revolt before the spectacle of our destruction.
But Christians must also have faith that in the wrath of God is hidden his love, however incomprehensible the road that takes the cosmos toward salvation. Though on earth we can only see them as distinct, the untouchable holiness of God’s wrath and his infinite love of sinners are theologically and essentially one. Golgotha, in darkness and earthquake, reveals most perfectly this extraordinary unity, putting old symbols into a new light. To Habbakuk, the rays of the sun are destroying arrows from the Almighty’s hand; but Christians see that these rays are streams of life from the pierced hands of a savior. Wrath is revealed to be saving love. In St. John’s Revelation, the “lion” who comes to break the seals appears as a sacrificed lamb. Habakkuk is clear that the wrath of God is poured out for the salvation of God’s people (v. 13). Death itself, in the Paschal hymn, is destroyed by death; the unstoppable wrath of God surges through the cosmos and breaks the gates of Hell.
In the desolation that concludes Habakkuk’s prayer, a silence has fallen on the land; this, Daniélou declares, is the silence of the tomb of Christ, the silence of the formless void. Love will yet be revealed in a new creation. And this is the inward dimension of history, the trifold process manifest in all things: creation, judgment, and redemption, the wonders of God.
2. The Song of the Vine
The cycle of the Vine woven throughout the scriptures addresses the other side of history, the human response to divine action. For “that which God accomplishes on man’s behalf is not accomplished apart from man.” This cycle is epitomized in the Isaiah 5 canticle, which seems to have inspired New Testament authors and ancient theologians. This text presents a vine cultivated devotedly by God, only for it to bear him wild grapes. In disgust, God curses the vineyard to desolation.
The Song of the Vine is a figure of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and Israel is itself here a figure of all mankind. The drama of sacred history is the interplay of God’s fidelity and man’s infidelity. God is presented as the husbandman who labors in order that we might flourish, and waits expectantly for the fruit of faithfulness. But faithfulness was not what Israel, the choice vine, returned to the Lord. Instead Israel offered impiety and evil unabashedly posing as good. As with Israel, so with us. The manifold graces bestowed by God on the Church are lost on the greater part of mankind within and without; our abundant mediocrity is always visible to us. We know, further, that God has no use for a profitless vine; the gardener, though it breaks his heart, must tear down the worthless vineyard, as God gave Israel over to her enemies to be destroyed.
But that is not the end of the story. God Jehovah is unable to forget his beloved vine, though he gave it over to the wilderness; this is an irrevocable bond like marriage, which endures whatever the degradation of the partner. Daniélou calls Psalm 79 a kind of sequel to the Song of the Vine. In this psalm, the broken vine pleads to be again restored to God, reminding him of his covenant, promising to be faithful. “It is the old delusion of turning over a new leaf: but all the same it still has this much of real worth in it, that it springs from a right intention.” The failure would of course be repeated. The parable of the murderous vine-dressers in Matthew, which opens with a quote from Isaiah 5, makes this very point. Where the prophets failed to convert the people, the Son himself would fail.
But the death of the Son sparks an unforeseen reversal. The unfaithful are turned out of the vineyard, and the vine is planted beyond Israel’s borders, growing anew by its participation in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. This is the true and faithful vine, the Church, which draws its fruitfulness not from within, but from Christ. “I am the true vine….” Apart from the stock of the vine, the branches are helpless; so Israel, apart from the perfect union with God accomplished first and finally in Christ, was always doomed to failure. But the Son of Man has offered and will offer to God the fruits expected of us. Everything that has come before is revealed as preparation for this event. Meanwhile, we in our emptiness can rest in Christ’s perfect fullness, for from him flows all our life.
There is a sermon on the Song of the Vine by St. Zeno, given to fourth-century catechumens on the eve of their Easter baptism. Zeno taught that the Church was the new vine, planted to replace the wayward Israel. “[God then] tilled it with the labours of his priests: …he fixed it to the blessed wood of the Cross and taught it to bear an abundant crop. Even so the new branches among you to-day have been brought up to the Cross, and shall fill the Lord’s cellar with single-hearted rejoicing.” As the nations are grafted in, the vine fills the whole earth; today, not all the laborers have been brought into the vineyard, and more will be added at the ninth and eleventh hours. While empires rage, the Church will quietly go about this work of building up the Body of Christ. And this it cannot do without the very life of Christ flowing through it, causing it to flower with love.
3. Christology and History
Salvation history, as has already been seen, can be considered a succession of divine actions and human responses. These two themes are never fully resolved in the Old Testament, and culminate in the incarnation of the Word. This is the most wonderful of the wonders of God and the summit of the typological ascent of humanity, the key to history. “The dogmatic definition of the two natures in Christ by the Council of Chalcedon,” Daniélou argues, “illuminates the whole theology of history.”
Chalcedon has a bad reputation today among some Protestant theologians. These take issue with the static concepts employed and suggest that Chalcedon was a retreat from engagement with time and process. Daniélou admits that the historical preoccupations of earlier generations had diminished by the time of Chalcedon; the eschatological phrase “in these last days” was finally dropped from the Creed there. The Council was not so much concerned with the larger salvation history. Nevertheless, the dogmas of Chalcedon have immense implications for a theology of history. Christ in his two natures appears as the culmination of salvation history, the end and meaning of the whole process. Those who abandon the careful terminology of Chalcedon end up “liable either to founder in a doctrine of endless Becoming, or to evaporate in a timeless Ideal.” When definition of the end of time is lost, eschatology becomes meaningless and history loses its structure.
The Gospels are such extraordinary good news because they declare a present reality, the paradise of here and now, Christ. Here the two eschatological strands of Old Testament prophecy converge and unite: the interventions of God and the appearance of the new man. Jesus of Nazareth fulfills them both, for he is both lawgiver and messiah; he has a genealogy, a place in history, though belonging also to absolute eternity. The hypostatic union is thus the final fulfillment of all hopes and promises and creation itself, beyond which there can be no advance.
Chalcedon’s eagerness to preserve the true humanity of Christ was necessary to this vision of history. The whole purpose of the human race is contained in the incarnation: deification by union with the Godhead. Mankind’s election as a priesthood, bringing glory to God, arises from union with the Son whose priesthood is eternal. “The priestly work of Christ glorifies God in the most perfect manner possible; it is the ultimate act of worship, putting an end to all other sacrifices: Christ’s sacrifice is for ever the public liturgy, or common prayer, of the whole creation. Through him all creatures attain to their last end, which is to glorify God.” God and man maintain distinct identities in this union, but they are henceforth inseparable. The incarnate Son is the end of history.
But there is still time as the effects of the incarnation spread across the human race. Like Noah, Christ is both the end of one world and the beginning of another, and the two co-exist until the completion of the new age. Satan is dethroned, but still potent; death, the last enemy, is not yet destroyed. Meanwhile, is the Second Coming waiting until the Church has reached full numerical extension, or until all civilizations have received (or rejected) the Gospel? Or is it rather dependent on when humanity reaches the fullness of its wickedness? Or is it some mysterious decision of God? In favor of the latter, Daniélou notes that it is impossible for us to judge the timing of the Second Coming based on what happens in visible history.
Yet arguments can be drawn from the New Testament for two irreconcilable positions: either the Church must extend to the furthest limits of humanity before the Coming, or on the contrary the Coming is wholly unconditioned, an act of God that appears arbitrary from an earthly perspective. Gregory of Nyssa and Leo the Great represent these opposing views among the Church Fathers. The tension between eschatologies is strung throughout the early church, sometimes appearing in dramatic contrast. Hippolytus’s attempts to date the end of the world were rejected by Origen and later Augustine in favor of a radical discontinuity between sacred and secular time.
A reconciliation is found only in Chalcedon. History in the Chalcedonian sense is both the sovereign works of God and the “development of the Incarnation,” the process whereby individuals and groups are made sharers in Christ’s Resurrection. In the latter, mankind’s cooperation is necessary. The elimination of either the divine or the human element in history, as in the incarnation, is to fall into errors at opposite extremes. “The truth is that Christ will come again at the end of the world, and that the end of the world will be the coming again of Christ.”
4. ‘Let My People Go’
The above discussion of Chalcedon makes it clear that synergism is a distinguishing characteristic of Christian theology of history. Daniélou is now ready to discuss where typology fits in and how it works. For this, he takes two examples from the sacraments (the continuation of the mirabilia Dei in the era of the Church): “first, the work of liberation, focused upon the sacrament of Baptism; and secondly the action of the common meal, in relation to the Eucharist.” This chapter focuses on baptism.
“The Old Testament shows us the design of God’s mighty works; the New Testament shows us their definitive execution; the Church exhibits their repercussions.” The Exodus presents us with God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery; the redemption of captives is henceforth a recurring theme in salvation history. The crossing of the Red Sea reappears in the Gospels as the rising of Christ, and in the life of the Church in baptism. Finally, in the Apocalypse, those redeemed from Death stand beyond a sea of glass mingled with fire.
Indeed, the first Paschal liturgy, according to Daniélou, was celebrated by the Red Sea, in the praises of Miriam (Mary) and all the people for deliverance; the song of Miriam is still used by the Church every Easter vigil. For the Red Sea miracle, like the whole of the Old Testament, is not meant to inspire nostalgia for a sacred past, but to promise future wonders of God, namely, the fulfillment of Passover in the Resurrection. For us on whom the sun has risen, contemplation of Old Testament forms can still be valuable, in that they deepen our appreciation of the Christian event. The story of the Exodus of Israel, however, is swallowed up by the overwhelming significance of the salvation of the whole human race. It and other symbols have been assumed into the victory of Christ. The Exodus canticle now belongs to all who have been freed from death.
This freedom, accomplished by Christ for all, must yet be conferred to individuals, and this is accomplished in baptism. The sacrament of baptism is the work of God for our age, prefigured by the crossing of the Red Sea. Indeed, in the Early Church, baptismal candidates ritually followed the Exodus story, being marked on the forehead on the first day of Lent like the houses of the Israelites anointed with lamb’s blood. Forty days of trial followed, as the catechumen wrestled with Satan, who was about to lose a captive; the grace of Christ strengthened in the catechumen in equal measure. Then, at the baptismal font, the sea was divided and a way of escape miraculously opened. The catechumen left the world behind, and the devil and his angels, and emerged safely on the other side.
The Song of Moses represents a genuine divine intervention, the accomplishing of the impossible by God, and Miriam signifies the Church in joyful response. Though the devil seeks to snatch the baptized back to his fold, Christians have no more to fear in the waters of death. And death itself will be overcome; we will pass through the waters once more, and stand beyond the river of fire, lifting up eternally the Song of Moses to God on harps not made by human hands (Rev 15:2-4).
5. The Banquet of the Poor
One feature inherent to typology is its multiplicity. For,
the New Testament itself is a complex document, containing records and interpretations which correspond to different strata of historical reality. It is concerned with Christ in his earthly life, with Christ living on in the Church, with the life of Christ in each Christian soul, and with the second coming of Christian glory. Consequently the typological or figurative interpretation of a given passage will vary with the various aspects of the literature; there will be a Christological sense, an ecclesiastical sense, mystical and eschatological senses.
Daniélou proposes to discuss each sense according to its chronological appearance in Christian theology. He takes as his theme the “shared meal” found in the Old Testament.
The first sense of interpretation is the eschatological, in which a prophecy is fulfilled by an ultimate historical event, a lesser work by a greater work. So the common meal of the Deuteronomic liturgy is linked to the messianic banquet of Isaiah, the feast of Wisdom in Proverbs, the Passover meal, and the wedding-feast of the Song of Songs; all these were seen by Jewish apocalyptic and rabbinic literature as pointing to the coming Kingdom of God and the celebration of a return to Paradise. Thus, throughout the composition of the Old Testament, more material accumulated on the theme of the eschatological feast, and this was all directed in the New Testament toward Christ.
Hence the Christological sense of typology. The imagery of the wedding-feast reappears as the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in St. John’s Apocalypse. The messianic banquet is frequently suggested in the words of Christ in the Gospels. And the passover meal is literally enacted as the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus speaks within this tradition when he tells the Pharisees that his disciples do not fast because the bridegroom is present. The days of Christ are days of feasting; all are invited to his table, including publicans and sinners. Five thousand are fed by Christ’s hand like manna in the wilderness, signifying the greater Exodus taking place. Christ fulfills the eschatological signs of the Old Testament, at Cana and Emmaeus, sharing food and drink with his disciples in his resurrected body.
Christological typology is characteristically Matthaean. But in St. John’s gospel, the ecclesiastical sense often dominates. The narrative of Christ is found to be full of signs of sacramental realities. This means that the scriptural banquets, for instance, are seen as signs of the eucharistic meal of the Church. This sense appears in the synoptics as well, as when Christ tells of the kingdom supper to which all peoples will be drawn. In John, eucharistic symbolism abounds; the feeding of the five thousand is related to Christ’s naming of himself as the bread of life. Psalm 23 was frequently used by the Early Church in liturgy and catechetical teaching as a prefigurement of the sacraments, as were the aforementioned banquet of Wisdom and feast of the Song of Songs. Daniélou here gives particular attention to Sts. Ambrose, Cyprian, and Gregory of Nyssa.
A close connection was maintained by early Church theologians between the sacramental and mystical senses of typology. That which is instituted in the sacraments of the Church is never far from the interior life of a Christian. Origen was one of the first to develop this sense of typology, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs; he not only applied Old Testament texts to Christ and the Church, but also to the individual soul. Gregory of Nyssa, and later Ambrose, developed the idea of “sober drunkenness” as an ascent by the cup of Wisdom to heavenly things. We are personally bid to join in the eschatological feast, coming to the sacramental meal with the expectation that we as individuals will be transformed.
Daniélou now turns to a typological analysis of the basic elements of the Passover meal, according to the senses discussed above. As previously mentioned, the Passover had already acquired eschatological significance in Judaism, and the Church Fathers continued and expanded this theme. However, Daniélou observes that, surprisingly, the typological analysis of Passover in the New Testament involves solely the mystical sense, as in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 and 1 Peter 1. The theme was later more fully developed by Origen and others. To a lesser extent, other typological interpretations appear in the Fathers. Tertullian and Melito of Sardis explored the Christological symbolism of the Passover rituals, while eucharistic interpretations used the Passover supper preparations as suggesting the kind of spiritual attitudes one must adopt before communion.
Daniélou concludes with some thoughts on the last supper of Christ, the most important meal in the Bible. He has left this for last, as all the streams of typological interpretation converge there. Perhaps for this reason, Biblical scholars, especially Protestants, hotly contest exactly what sort of meal this was and what its intended significance was supposed to be, coming to divergent conclusions. For Daniélou, the answer is simply that the last supper incorporates the whole typological wealth of the spiritual meal in scripture. It is the messianic banquet; it is a figure of the great banquet of the eschatological kingdom; it is a Passover meal and thus “both a fulfilment of the promises figured in the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, and itself a prophecy of the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God”; above all, perhaps, it is the institution of the Eucharist. The historical event contains in itself the complete mystery to which all the scriptural development of sacred meal imagery points.
6. The Development of History
This chapter involves an extended consultation with St. Gregory of Nyssa. Christianity sees an “organic interconnexion” of historical stages exemplified in typology. “It is the business of theology to seek out the intrinsic principles and laws of this systematic coherence, which represents the working out of the divine plan itself.” To Daniélou, Gregory of Nyssa is the definitive thinker of this area of theology, having propounded a theory of akolouthia (“sequence”). Akolouthia is the orderly progression of events through which God’s plan unfolds, like movement from seedling to tree to fruit. There is a goal to history, an ineluctable fulfillment in union with God; so akolouthia in this context is “a process of deification.”
Gregory proposed that “all things were created entire from the beginning of time, and come forth by a progressive development through the working of their own innate dynamism.” Everything was set into place at creation in seed form, and through the medium of time, according to intrinsic laws, its perfection emerges in a succession of stages, akolouthia. This is Gregory’s solution to the mystery of time: rather than retreat into Platonic denial, he affirms the akolouthia as something of positive value in the divine plan. Akolouthia, as the law of succession, governs all creaturely affairs; it is the foundation of creatureliness. One moment creation does not exist; the next, it does. It does not remain static, but is compelled to develop across time, which is itself a creature of God. Birth and death and all natural cycles are driven by time toward their fulfillment in Christ.
But sin creates a problem. Man is currently in contradiction with the state in which he was created; using the scriptures, we can reconstruct the akolouthia of dissolution. Gregory explains that this akolouthia was activated by original sin and, by every movement through time, spread its corrupting influence throughout creation. Every generation propagates it in the next; every sin in the soul engenders multiple others.
Only the akolouthia of grace can arrest and reverse the akolouthia of depravity. Sin and grace, the disease and the cure, are both transmitted throughout the human race by akolouthia, one sparked by the sin of Adam, the other kindled by the obedience of Christ. Grace is first conferred on the apostles and gradually spreads across the human race to those most subject to evil; likewise, in the individual soul grace spreads by degrees. Recreation works not all at once, like the immediately perfect first creation, but by means of akolouthia, a gradual movement toward perfection from a lower state.
This is because the return to God involves free wills. So God has designed the structure of sacred history as a sequence of covenants to bring wayward rational creatures back to himself, from “the illumination of prophecy and the law” to “the full glory of the Light.” Individuals similarly move from baby’s milk to solid food as they follow their ordained akolouthia of growth. Here, in Gregory, we find the complement to Augustine’s focus on divine initiative in City of God; the Christendoms of west and east meet in the “theandric synergism” of sacred history.
7. Lent and Eastertide
Daniélou has so far discussed two major characteristics of sacred history: synergism and the connections between successive stages. The third and last is eschatology, the tension between things of the present and things to come. The consummation of history, the end of evolution, lies in another age. This is figured liturgically in the forty days of Lent and the fifty days of Pentecost, each representing successive eons of sacred history. The biblical and liturgical significance of forty days is thus where Daniélou begins his discussion.
The preparation for eternity signified in the forty days of Lent is mirrored multiple times in scripture. Christ’s forty day fast in the wilderness is preeminent, but likewise we see Israel’s forty years of wandering and the forty-day fasts of Moses and Elijah; these particular Old Testament examples were universally associated with the fast of Christ by the Church Fathers. “Thus we are introduced at once to the three planes of the history of salvation — the Old Testament, Christ, and the Church.”
The forty years of wandering in the book of Numbers is a judgment on the unfaithful Exodus generation; the association of the number forty with punishment also appears with Noah’s flood and Ezekiel. But Deuteronomy describes the years of wandering not as a period of desertion, but of special protection by God (2:7, 8:2-4). God reveals that he has been testing and teaching his people in the way of faith, preparing them for the Promised Land. Thereafter in the Old Testament, this is the dominant interpretation. The author of Acts, who has a particular interest in the number forty, seems to agree that this was a time of wonders and deliverance, though it ended in apparent failure.
It is because of the failure that this testing points to another test, as the author of Hebrews declared. The test of the greater Exodus, the eschatological Exodus, belongs to this age, the day of Christ; this is the temptation in the wilderness. Christ succeeded where the Israelites failed; his forty days of faithfulness are contrasted with the forty years of unbelief. Moreover, “the temptation of Christ is one of the mysteries in which all Christians must participate.” This takes place liturgically with Lent, which opens with the story of the temptation and historically ended with the baptism of catechumens.
Moses and Elijah also endured forty-day fasts, times of seclusion and contemplation of God. But although Elijah’s imitation of Moses represented a renewal, he could not be the eschatological second Moses, the new lawgiver; this was Christ as revealed on the mountain of Transfiguration. Still, the forty-day fasts, as in the case of Moses, carried connotations of penance for the sins of the people, as also in the prophecy of Jonah. The “preaching of penance” is fulfilled in the ministry of the Church, for we are in the “forty days” of repentance and suspended judgment, of which Lent is a deliberate figure. As St. Augustine explained, Lent is following the example of Christ and his typological predecessors; it is a sign of the whole life of the Christian on this earth, crucifying the old man.
“The institution of Lent,” Daniélou adds, “has this in common with all other liturgical enactments, that it is both a memorial and a prophecy.” He has already discussed its scriptural sources or memorial aspect; now he turns to the prophetic side. Parenthetically, he notes, “liturgy is essentially a symbolism of time, wherein the seasons of the year stand for realities in the history of salvation.” Given the above, Lent clearly signifies a time of preparation for judgment, and the Church Fathers naturally associated this with the whole present age, which is lived in preparation for the new world. The subsequent fifty days of Pentecost represent eternity, for fifty days is just beyond seven Sabbaths, a week of weeks. The Christian calendar, as described by St. Augustine, is thus “bold[ly] eschatological,” pivoting on the vigil of the Resurrection.
8. Notions of Eschatology
Apocalyptic writers and prophets have always thrived during particularly catastrophic episodes of human history. While Christ was clear that the day of judgment cannot be known by mortals, it is likewise unquestionable that the last judgment is a fundamental teaching. But how do we understand this judgment? This is something on which Christians are far from united, especially as regards where Christ fits in, and to what extent or whether his coming constitutes the end of the world.
On the one hand, Albert Schweitzer asserted that a plain reading of the text has Jesus prophesying the end of the world in the near future, and since that has not yet occurred, “Jesus was mistaken.” As Daniélou remarks, this is “rather an important statement to be made on such slight and doubtful grounds.” Opposed to the consequent eschatology of Schweitzer, C. H. Dodd advocated realized eschatology, according to which the eschatological teaching of Christ was fully fulfilled in himself. Daniélou largely favors this view based on the scriptural evidence, but he finds Dodd’s thesis too exclusive. It leaves history as a remainder, with no theological significance; this is close to the Bultmannian position that there is no future judgment, only our choices and their consequences in history. Because this position takes its cues from existentialism, Daniélou calls it an existential eschatology.
Although the emphasis on Christ-as-end is commendable, Dodd is wrong, Daniélou argues, to confine the Gospel message to this one theme. Daniélou sides more with Oscar Cullmann, whose solution reconciles the textual evidence as a whole. According to Cullmann, the resurrection is the event of the end of time, beyond which there can be nothing; but
this supreme event has yet to fructify in all its consequences. The first Christians were impressed with the nearness of the end precisely because of the overwhelming importance of the event itself: the end was not chronologically near, but ‘at hand’ because its decisive elements were essentially accomplished. This interpretation may properly be called ‘anticipated’ eschatology.
Even Cullmann somewhat neglects the interim and how we are to inhabit it. Thus Daniélou turns to a final thinker and position, Donatien Mollat and his initiated eschatology. Christ began the judgment with his first coming, it continues with Christ’s presence in the fellowship of the Church, and it culminates with the Second Coming. Thus, Christian life is a continual judgment. “‘The mystical presence of the Son of Man in all men imports an unsuspected eschatological dimension into all human relationships, that is to say into all history at all times. Mankind is now face to face with the Son of Man at every moment of existence: the judgement is now.'” The insights of the other interpretations are reconciled into this one view.
Questions remain. How imminent is the final end, the culmination of the process? St. Paul’s position that the Church is the messianic kingdom whose whole existence is eschatological is incompatible with a quick end of time following the resurrection of Christ. Thus, “the texts which proclaim judgement as imminent are not to be taken as referring solely to the last things, but rather to the whole sequence of eschatological events to come.” The Fall of Jerusalem is one of the first of these.
A second question regards the extent to which our eschatology should be influenced by critical considerations. Bultmann would insist that we “demythologize” eschatology as extinct literary convention. As others have shown, this ultimately reduces Christ’s teaching to ethics devoid of historical relevance. Nevertheless, the influence of Jewish apocalyptic literature on the New Testament is significant; certain images, such as trumpets, an underground Hell, and demons in the air, certainly indicate continuity with that literary tradition. But that should not greatly affect how we view the substance of the teaching, and Daniélou points to other theologians for further thoughts on this issue.
Certain conclusions follow on all that has been said. First,
the Last Things have already begun. The resurrection of Christ is presented as the first and decisive act of the last day. The Word of God took humanity to himself in the Incarnation, and cleansed it through his precious blood, and brought it into his Father’s house for ever at his ascension. The work of salvation has been substantially done, everything essential has been secured already. This colours the whole Christian view of history. It is incompatible with an evolutionary theory looking forward to any future event of comparable importance, or any future development transcending Christ.
The continuing enslavement of man to evil and the forces of history are a stumbling block to some as regards this truth. The complete judgment is still anticipated, and it is the Church that prepares men and women for it, warning them and calling them to safety. The Church is a thing from beyond the judgment, and everyone baptized into her is born again into the new life on the other side.
“The paradox of Christianity,” Daniélou muses, “is the integration of these two things, fulfilment and expectation.” We already possess sonship and thus the good things of the eschaton; yet this position we can lose, for the end has not yet come. Christianity is “the moment of transition,” and so in tension for the duration of its existence. Likewise, judgment is at work on the field of history, but we must never confuse temporal successes or defeats with signs of divine approval or displeasure. This is a facile and false approach to the true mystery of judgment. All nations, and all persons, have sinned, and God judges them all. Ultimately,
the days of our life, long or short, are the last days; we are always spiritually on the threshold of the next world. This is the doctrine which reminds us that our time is a time of crisis, in the etymological sense of the word [Gr. krisis, “decision”], a time when men and nations are continuously judged in the secret places of the heart. And this is how Christianity provides the solution of both the essential problems of our time and of all times, the problem of history and the problem of existence.