Dominus Historiae: Part III

Continuing my review of Jean Daniélou’s The Lord of History from here.

Daniélou has by this point given us a fairly extensive theology of history. What is left for him to discuss but the implications of this theology for ordinary life? What values are promoted by this theology? Daniélou’s exegetical focus is even more intense here than the last part. The apostle Paul serves throughout as an example of these virtues in action, and his epistles are heavily quoted.

After completing this summary here, in the next and final entry, I will conclude with some meditations on Daniélou’s theology of history as a whole, and compare his views with those of some other thinkers I’ve read recently.

1. Courage

Thesis: Courage results from absolute dependence upon God.

In the previous chapter, Daniélou asserted that the judgment of the world is here. The age of the Church is an age of transition and the imminence of the Second Coming. This truth threatens a radical effect on the way we live our lives. The proper response of the Christian is courage, a reliance upon the power of God as we confront our time of trial and decision. A vital feature of this virtue is that it flows not from confidence in ourselves, but rather from awareness of our subjection to a greater master. We have courage because we are not going about our own business, but are rather involved in something much greater than us.

The missionary, like the apostle, is plucked by God from his life and pursuits and given a commission in the kingdom of heaven. Preferences, circumstances, and even personal risk have no bearing on the job at hand; the missionary discharges his duties with the confidence of an ambassador. He need have no special traits or abilities; Paul could boast in his weakness, because in it God revealed his own power. This is the root of Christian courage, which is both a readiness to act and a quietness in the presence of danger.

The duty of the missionary is to persuade people of the Gospel while there is yet time. Paul describes the missionary life as one free of attachments, operational in any circumstances, despite the contradiction of fellow men and the opposition of governments. The Gospel breaks ordinary patterns of discourse and refuses to be confined by human laws; preaching Christ without adulteration or reserve is an obligation that extends even to martyrdom, and only this creative Word has the power to accomplish the impossible, and change the human heart.

The missionary also faces natural perils in the line of duty, and these he must meet with the same courage and equanimity. But perhaps the most formidable dangers are spiritual, for he is a soldier in a cosmic war, operating in a realm of spirits, including hostile powers. He will be subjected to horrible temptations; yet because he is aware that God allows this for the sake of the final victory already accomplished by Christ, he remains at peace. Again, the Christian has courage, even though he be naturally a coward, because he testifies not of himself. That wonders are worked by the lowliest and weakest merely accentuates the unmistakable, magnetic glory of God.

2. Poverty

Thesis: Poverty is the fruitful renunciation of all things for love’s sake.

St. Paul, in his total commitment to his Lord, was

committed to an extraordinary existence…. His life was spent in the thick of the world’s tragedy: by this we mean not only the tragedy of contemporary civilization, but of all time; not the tragic conflict of economic and political forces, but the interior, spiritual conflict which is the essential tragedy of mankind. As we have repeatedly said, the real history of the world consists in this spiritual warfare that is continually waged around us for the possession of the souls of men….

He refused to fly or hide from reality, but abdicated his freedom and sank down to the heart of human misery. He was impoverished in a literal sense, completely deprived of earthly consolations. This was not, Daniélou adds, some “artifical self-imposed condition; it was an intrinsic element and immediate result of his self-dedication.” All who follow Paul in the life of divine love find they, too, are led to total renunciation.

The poverty of Paul entailed loss of reputation; he was so humbled as to become a fool and a nothing in the world’s eyes. He broke with his whole society and so gave offense to all, and therein lay his power. Unfortunately, “Among Christian people today it must be admitted that Christianity is very largely inoffensive, politically, intellectually, and every way: but that sort of Christianity will never transform anything.” Paul also gave up physical comforts and lived the hard life of a missionary. He was absolutely detached and so, in poverty, completely free. Finally, he gave up spiritual comfort for combat, peace and equilibrium for anguish.

“We must remember that giving oneself to God, even in the contemplative life, is no way to get peace of mind, but rather to get into the thick of the fighting.” There was indeed a kind of peace received by Paul, but that which surpasses understanding does not drive out all sorrows or “cut us off from the world’s pain.”

The following of Christ must always mean bearing a larger share of men’s troubles, because it means loving men more. If people believe, as is sometimes suggested, that the interior life is a kind of sublimated egotism, they are mistaken; they have not understood what the interior life is about. A balanced development of the personality, and psychological self-fulfilment, may be valuable human activities; but they are not what we have to expect from Christ our Lord — he has something quite different to offer us: a life of intimate involvement in the thick of suffering humanity, in a world of troubles.

We do not subtract the pain, but add supernatural joy. Christian poverty is ultimately an illusion, for complete renunciation, according to the scriptures, is followed by inheritance. We give up our little, and receive all. We wish for nothing and so are slaves to nothing; yet all belongs to God, and so if we have God, we have everything. Our desire for acquisition is conquered by disinterested, joyful contemplation of all things, which we understand to be without exception the gifts of God.

From true poverty springs spiritual fruitfulness, and especially the love which comes from self-surrender. We think nothing of the cost. “Truly if we give all for love, we gain all, because we gain love, which, in the end, is all we need.” He who takes pleasure in God and his will transcends petty human likes and dislikes. Even duties we would normally hate take on a sweet character due to the immanence of love. Circumstances are reduced to irrelevance. “So poverty may be called the epiphany of love; more than all else, it makes love manifest, because in poverty there is nothing else but love: as it was in the poverty of Bethlehem that Christ’s love was most simply shown.”

Yet Paul was aware that this was still not the full possession of the heart’s desire. The beatific vision lies ahead. St. Ignatius of Antioch declared as he went to martyrdom that in his death he would become fully human; the burdens of mortal existence hindered pure contemplation of divine Light, and he had yet to emerge into glory as a butterfly from a chrysalis. Death is the ultimate poverty, and new life in union with God the ultimate joy. Our participation in the poverty embraced by Christ on the cross leads us through both “mortification” and “vivification.” The latter, though often ignored by critics of Christianity, is the whole end of the Christian life. Christians practice mortification simply to “release the springs of love within us,” to manifest the indwelling presence and power of God.

3. Sincerity

Thesis: Sincerity is unfeigned simplicity of heart.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:12-14, emphasizes the necessary sincerity and integrity of the apostle. Sincerity is at odds with deceit and self-interest. Paul does not try to win applause, which would adulterate his message, or use clever techniques to win converts like a salesman. There can be no compromise between the Christian and the world (here meaning human tendencies opposed to Christ, not creation). Sincerity is the harmonizing of the inner and outer realities of our souls.

False apostles use tricks to cheat people with false wares, but true apostles are pure in intention, interested only in God’s judgment of them. The mixed motives behind so many of our good deeds devalue them; but God knows the hidden treasures of our hearts, and genuine good works done before him will endure. Before everyone else, we have simply to let our yes be yes, and God will make of us a testimony to himself.

So the outward manifestation of sincerity is disinterested charity, dedication to the good of others with no thought of reward or praise. It is pure happiness at seeing others benefit. Paul was at pains to clear himself of the charge of self-interest. A sign of the true apostle is not seeking his own glory, but that of him who sent him. Paul refuses to boast in the spiritual powers given him by God, but only in his own humiliation. In defending his office, he insists that none of his own qualities matter, unless they threaten to interfere with the transmission of the Word of God. The missionary does engage in the affairs of the mundane world and seek to heal its troubles by his own natural capabilities, but this is not the calling itself. The Christian’s achievements have nothing to do with his gifts and efforts, but solely the divine work accomplished within him.

4. Zeal

Thesis: Zeal originates in the force of divine love.

Note for the uninformed: In both the Greek and Hebrew sections of the Bible, “zealous” and “jealous” are the same word translated differently. In English, they come from the same Latin root, which (like the Greek and Hebrew) lacks the exclusively negative connotations of the modern word “jealousy.”

St. Paul in 2 Corinthians tells the church that he is jealous with the jealousy of God. He does not wish to see any hint of infidelity toward the divine Beloved. Sometimes, the word “jealousy” is associated with resentment and envy. But like the term wrath, when applied to God, it means something quite different. “Zeal” too no longer, in contemporary language, retains its theological meaning and resonance. But zeal can accurately be defined as

God’s intolerance of competition for the true love of God. Zeal, in men, is simply the characteristic attitude of those who take God’s side, and consequently will not accept, any more than he does, any shortcomings in giving him his due of worship, any failure to love him as he should be loved: zeal means suffering and indignation because men do not keep faith with God. Zeal, so understood, is essentially and directly connected with love itself: it represents the ardour of love, the demanding, insatiable aspects of love.

It is figured in the exclusive love of husband and wife for one another, a love that will permit no intrusion or obstruction on its inner life. The union of Christ and the soul is likewise to be singular and unadulterated. So also God cited his “jealousy” in the prohibition of idols in Israel, and the prophets repeated his admonition that there should be no defilement of their spiritual marriage. God refuses to “stay in his sky” and leave his people alone; his fierce love suffers no stain of sin in us.

Yet, Daniélou declares, retribution gives God no satisfaction or pleasure. He only seeks conversion, and his chastisements and abandonment are the stratagems of a lover to stir the guilty conscience and arouse jealousy respectively. The proper human response is zeal in turn, God’s own zeal reflected back to him. An appropriately shocking picture of this mutual zeal is drawn by the story of Phineas, a priest, who out of zeal for the Lord publically killed a man and his heathen wife for their sacrilegious union, so averting divine vengeance. The horrifying violence of this scene “conveys some idea of the rigour of God’s claim.” Elijah, too, was witness to God’s profound jealousy. Elijah despaired over Israel’s unfaithfulness and was presented with wind, earthquake, and fire. But because Elijah shared God’s own zeal, God revealed himself to the prophet not in these signs, but in the intimacy of a still, small voice.

The zeal of God for the Church was revealed when Christ cleansed the temple, and we do ill to forget it. To see the Church filled with charlatans and the people misled by false teachers must break our hearts, as it broke St. Paul’s. The mercy of God is infinite, but this mercy is grounded on an unrelenting love; so must our compassion for sinners be rooted not in “fellow-feeling for sin” but a solid core of purity. St. Paul exhibits extraordinary passion and even confusion over the Corinthians’ wandering from the apostolic faith; he sounds in many points very much like a distraught lover. But throughout, his zeal remains totally identified with God’s. Paul, as the one who “betrothed” them to Christ, is simply a participant in a love story between God and his Church.

Paul’s eagerness for the churches to remain faithful to God starkly contrasts with clerical despotism, in which a desire for power and personal glory substitutes for genuine zeal for God’s sake. We must be fervently grateful for good influences on the Church that originate outside ourselves, even as we struggle against bad influences. Defending souls from Satan and their own inner evil is our duty. Daniélou’s description of this task is worth quoting at length.

We have to help others to be true to themselves, help them not to make a botch of their lives, help them to persevere in their own main task and to obey God’s call to each one of them. So doing, we shall further at one and the same time both the rightful claims of God upon each soul, and the best interests of the souls of men. If this is our aim, with a purely spiritual and holy motive, and also with some degree of supernatural intensity of purpose (for the love of God is a devouring fire), then we have spiritual zeal, which is apostolic and godly. We must work to help others to find their own way to God, even if it means offending them, or hurting them, or on occasions opposing their wishes and good pleasure: we must be able to show that we disagree — it is often the best service we can render them. They must have someone around who can say ‘no’ to them, when everyone else is saying ‘yes’ for fear of giving offence. They must be taught that there is someone who suffers when they are unfaithful or slack. Then, when they come to themselves, like the unfaithful wife in Hosea, they will say: ‘Back go I to the husband that was mine once; things were better with me in days gone by.’ That is the conversion of a soul, when the interior call is heard, to go back to the true home, the Father’s house, where the soul always knew that real happiness was to be found, even when leaving it for the sake of adventure and out of curiosity. But for this to happen, there must be someone who is truer to that soul than it is to itself, a witness to the contrast between the real personality and what seems to have become of the person. Apostolic zeal, properly so called, is the kind of love that expects the most of the beloved: it is real love. Doing good does not always mean being nice, as we must constantly be reminded; on the contrary, being nice to people is often the reverse of doing them good. Charity is not to be confused with the sort of facile condonation that often does duty for it.

Daniélou adds, however, that “Real zeal comes from pure love, and has all love’s instinctive tact.” Though divine zeal interrupts the pursuit of selfish enjoyment, it does so without the taint of the busybody who seeks some measure of power over others. Rather, it confronts evil in others with courteous, compassionate watchfulness, ready to serve without reward when a desperate soul cries for help.

5. Gnosis

Thesis: Christian gnosis is divinely-given insight into the mind of God that, united to charity, allows us to live faithfully within both the spiritual and worldly realms.

Gnosis or special religious knowledge has always presented Christianity with a problem. Paul contrasted worldly wisdom with charity to argue that the latter is the true mark of God’s ministers. Daniélou adds,

On every hand, bogus mystics, materialists and spiritualists alike, claim to possess the ultimate truth of reality. Even within Christianity, the evaluation of supranormal knowledge is a controversial matter; the Church recognizes this phenomenon as a bright jewel in her crown and as a distinguishing mark of her intrinsic holiness; but at the same time she constantly insists that any anxious or inquisitive pursuit of these extraordinary ways is a dangerous illusion; and constantly reiterates that charity is better.

What, then, is genuine Christian gnosis? It is not the matter of the contemporary phenomenon of “prophetism,” which involves particular fresh readings of the historical process; true prophets denounce such devised, trendy readings of history. True prophets are simply those who attest truthfully to whatever is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit of the mind of God. Like Mary in the Magnificat, they stand in awe of the divine glory, not temporal achievements such as military conquests and the theories of human geniuses. A mind so elevated looks on contemporary events from the outside, or rather from their true inner meaning, understanding them in terms that transcend human insight.

This is gnosis, then, “this intuition of the religious meaning of history, but also the knowledge of history’s last end, which determines its entire course.” It is not like the gnosis of non-Christian religions, a superior awareness of the supernatural elements of reality, but something beyond human intelligence entirely. It is nothing less than “the unfathomable recesses of God’s mind,” which is only anticipated in this life, revealed through a glass darkly. Some foretaste may be allowed us, some consciousness of the mysteries, that we not allow earthly pleasures to satisfy us. But we belong there, drinking from the hidden fountains of love forever; here, as we struggle for ourselves and others against the horrific suffering and evil to which the world is enslaved, we must retain our orientation to a wisdom that is folly to the world. Gnosis does not forget the darkness, but identifies it and delivers us from it.

Of all evils, the worst is not to realize that anything is wrong…. Most men are so accustomed to the blackness of captivity that they have lost the feeling of any better light — so familiar with the symptoms of their sickness as to have no notion of real health…. And the deepest of all these heavy sleepers are perhaps those who have no sufferings of their own to make them sit up and listen; well-fed, satisfied people, who have everything they want, with always enough to eat and enough to drink and enough to keep them happy; people whose lives are so perfectly smooth and even as to afford no opening at all. These can exhibit already in this world a sort of living damnation, impervious to God, impervious to others, closed up in their self-sufficiency, completely lost to all sense of what they are really for.

Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians contrasts this Christian gnosis with that of false teachers. The Corinthians prized extraordinary phenomena and were much impressed with visiting teachers who claimed to have received divine revelation. Paul remarked that he, too, had been blessed with extraordinary experiences, but he based his authority not in this, but in the fact that he did not use his gifts for his own glory. Rather, he showed constant love and sincerity to his spiritual children in the Corinthian church.

Daniélou comments, “the Church will have nothing to do with extraordinary graces except in so far as these are associated with effective dispositions of charity: this is always the ultimate test.” The great mystics of the Church have repeatedly demonstrated this by counting their extraordinary experiences for little, and admonishing others not to seek such gifts, only self-denial. Such gifts are not to be despised, but they cannot stand alone, and they are not the substance of one’s Christianity. If others should fail to see the miracles that may occur in the intimacy of God and the soul, what does that matter? What matters is charity, and to that the rest is merely fruit and ornament.

Christian gnosis and charity are ultimately harmonic, like love of God and love of neighbor. How do we live in two worlds, partaking in the angelic liturgy and contemplating the things of God on one hand, and on the other serving among the heathens, devoting ourselves to their needs? The tension is a simple fact of missionary existence. Some remain in the heart of the temple community, but the missionary is out in the world; so also Christ left the heavenly courts for the sake of the world and identified himself with sinful humanity.

“The cross of Christ is the only means of communication between the heathen world and the blessed Trinity: so we cannot be surprised to find that when we deliberately establish ourselves in the midst of these two, and try to bring them together, this is not possible without the Cross.” Paul, living at the intersection of the Cross, nevertheless extends with it in all directions, for he is united to Christ, who bore on his shoulders the divine-human dichotomy and filled up the interval.

It is then the very vocation of the apostle to unite, however paradoxically, the love of the Trinity and the love of the heathen, to belong to both, and to feel the separation between them. The whole spiritual life of a real missionary wears this double aspect: every feature of it is marked with the missionary character. His prayer is apostolic, for he takes up in it the peoples whom he has spiritually made his own, offering explicitly to the Father through the Son everything about them that is capable of consecration. His poverty is apostolic, for it consists in accepting the deprivation of all that he has — his time, his affections, his substance — by and for the sake of his brethren. He is made over to them, he is their prey: ‘henceforward, we do not think of anybody in a merely human fashion’. We are destitute of human wealth; but we hold our single treasure in the inaccessible secret heart of hearts, the tabernacle where dwells the blessed Trinity.

6. Hope

Thesis: Hope is rooted in the victory of Christ already accomplished and commissions us to participate in the sacred history of the world.

Daniélou calls hope “the specific virtue of life in the time-process.” Hope is the act of restful patience in the present, founded on the past and looking to the future. Hope is not optimism, because it does not assume that things will simply “work out” in an automatic sense; it regards evil as fundamentally tragic rather than humanly remediable. Pessimism, on the other hand, is an acknowledgment that optimism is based on fantasy, an attitude of despair. But this attitude is, Daniélou argues, the precondition of hope, “for the first act of hope is a cry for help, which springs from the awareness of a desperate situation.” Pessimism fails to take this step, contenting itself with despair; the philosophies it produces are either those of resignation (e.g., Stoicism) or revolt (e.g., Camus).

Christianity, however, begins with resignation and leads us on to hope in something beyond evidence and probabilities. Finding no help in himself, the hopeful man turns to another, abdicating his own will and aspirations to grace and glory in order to receive them from the hand of their only giver. This is not giving up, but moving forward. “It is a monstrous abuse of Christ’s atonement to make of it no more than a labour-saving device. Christ came among us to break the bounds of our natural human existence, and to afford us a way of access into the boundless life of God himself.” We give our lives away to God, and receive in turn the life of the Spirit.

But this is not yet hope as a uniquely Christian theological virtue. Prior to Christ, Israel hoped in this way, seeing the works of God and so trusting that his promises would be fulfilled. But we today have received the fulfillment, in Christ. Our hope is based on the union of Christ to our nature for all time, a thing already accomplished. We are, moreover, in the era of the Church, embedded in the continuing progress of sacred history, surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” who have run before us, the saints. All we really wait for is the complete distribution of the fruits already won; the sacraments constantly reassure us that God does not renege on his promises, and his grace is ours.

Our response, then, is hope, confidence not of servants in a master but sons in a loving father. We are given extraordinary liberty, even regular access to the throne of God. We are also given resurrection; the soul has died and been reborn in baptism, and the body will likewise die and be reborn; it is this completion of the victory of life over death that we wait for, the freedom of body as well as soul. The unseen will manifest in the seen. Christians are no more spiritualists in a reductionistic sense than they are materialists; our hope is for all creation, matter included.

And now, as the process of salvation moves toward completion, we do our utmost to spread the flames of the Word to the ends of the earth. Hope gives us patience that, whatever the fortunes of our mission seem to be, there will be a fulfillment. Today, even as some peoples rejoice in the springtime of their Christianity, we see whole nations in trials, “dark nights of the soul.” In the west, heresy and schism rage; in the east, fierce oppression from hostile governments. But an end to purgation will come; time is given us to welcome as many as will come to salvation.

2 Peter 3:11-12 remarks, strikingly, that we hasten the coming of the Lord by our cooperation with his grace. How do we do this? According to Christ (and St. Peter in that same chapter above), we do so by preaching the gospel to the whole of mankind. We do not merely anticipate the Lord’s coming; we act, laboring in love for the sake of the world, as Christ did, redeeming and transfiguring everything of value. Hope is not the virtue of looking forward to our individual salvation, but it longs for the healing of the whole humanity and the whole cosmos, and for ourselves only insofar as we belong to that whole. My hope is not for “me” but for “us,” for I am united with others in love and earnestly desire their salvation.

This is where hope and history meet. We must reject the tendency to myopically focus on our own destiny, and instead go forth in the service of God, clinging to a hope that transcends us as particular persons. “A truer sense of the scale and proportions of Christianity will not narrow it down to this exclusive concern for individual salvation, but will see in it a call to work for the salvation of the world, that is, to take part in history.”

(Continue to the last part of the review.)

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