Dominus Historiae: Part II

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.

Continue reading

Dominus Historiae: Part I

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

These first ten essays explore various issues relevant to the Christian theologian of history. His primary aim is to explore the relationship between religious concepts and historical concepts, between sacred history and secular history. Repeatedly, Daniélou offers us two contrasting Christian responses, only to reject them both in favor of a way that preserves the best in each. Throughout, he remains rooted in scripture and the Church Fathers, but contemporary issues are never far from his mind.

The first five essays focus on the Church as it is incarnate in the world, dealing in turn with the difficulties of manifesting in various times, cultures, and classes. The following five essays explore theoretical questions raised in the preceding, offering a theology of history that directly responds to Marxists, secular historians, syncretists, and in general those wary of the Catholic approach. It culminates in a definition and defense of the symbolic structure of sacred history and its methodological key: typology.

Perhaps the most helpful definitions to keep in mind are those of salvation/sacred history and profane/secular history. I will repeat them here. Sacred history encompasses the progressive work of God in time for the salvation of the cosmos. In Daniélou’s view, this is the inner reality of all history, what gives time shape and meaning. Secular history includes the “surface” of history, the great deeds of nations and people, the always-changing fortunes of civilization. As Daniélou explains in his first chapter, the Church is implicated in both modes of history.

If you do not wish to read the whole thing, click here to jump to the outline. Continue reading

Dominus Historiae: Introduction

Jean Daniélou was one of Roman Catholicism’s key twentieth-century theologians. A French Jesuit and ressourcement thinker, Daniélou had a great love for the Church Fathers, notably Gregory of Nyssa, the subject of his earliest writings. But he was no antiquarian; he was a cultural critic, well-read in other religions as well as classical literature and the modern secular corpus. In 1969, he was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and he died in 1974, less than two years after his election to the prestigious Académie française.

His Essai sur le Mystère de l’Histoire (1953) or, as it is commonly titled in English, The Lord of History, was composed while Daniélou was a professor at the Catholic University of Paris. His writings at this time were pioneering the Covenantal theology movement in Catholicism, which emphasized interpreting the Bible through the sequence of covenants in salvation history. It was, moreover, a deliberate move away from historical-critical methods aimed at uncovering a literal meaning, and a return to Patristic methods, including the classical “fourfold sense.”

The Lord of History can thus be seen as a seminal work in this project, especially as regards a Christian theology of history. Daniélou’s work in this respect on the Greek Fathers was later complemented by Joseph Ratzinger’s exposition of the Latin Fathers on similar themes.

Continue reading

The Silence of Animals: A Review

The Silence of Animals is a recent book by iconoclast writer John Gray. Gray gives the impression of an ancient pagan philosopher, at odds with his time. His influence as a popular thinker can be attributed not only to his literary style, but his willingness to attack cherished popular beliefs and espouse a radical rethinking of basic assumptions.

Gray is an atheist, but decidedly an outsider. Contemporary atheist culture tends toward secular humanism and rationalism, philosophies Gray despises as vacuous and challenges in this book. Not the stereotypical modern atheist, Gray is a genuine philosophical skeptic. His worldview is an eclectic composite of the archaic and the novel.

To his mind, the important question is not whether one believes in God, but whether one believes in humanity. An atheist who answers the latter question affirmatively is still a “believer.” Such an atheist is also, methinks, the principal target of his book. Gray tries to persuade his readers to give up the last vestiges of religious thought and embrace a more thoroughgoing, liberated godlessness.

Why, then, should I find this book worth reading? If I do not accept his premise that theism is an impossible intellectual position (and I don’t), the rest of his argument—the whole antihuman tirade—is not especially convincing or apposite. Nevertheless, Gray strikes me as a potentially important original voice. His is a well-read, blunt, oddly appealing nihilism. Though his attacks are not directed chiefly at religion in The Silence of Animals, the alternative to religious thought Gray espouses here may prove far more dangerous to Christianity than any of the popular rationalisms that currently afflict our culture.

Continue reading

The Leper Staggers On

Six months ago, I posted a short meditation on cosmic evil. Since then, the Ebola fatalities figure has climbed from 1000 to almost 10,000. The body count in Ukraine amounts to at least 5400, over twice the estimate of last August. The immediate violence in Gaza resolved at around 2200 deaths, though of course nothing is really resolved.

Figures from ISIS and the chaos that surrounds them are still uncertain but certainly horrific. More than 210,000 have been killed in Syria in the last four years, and three and a half million have fled the country. Last year alone, 17,000 civilians died violently in Iraq. Christian communities that have occupied the Middle East for 1900 years have vanished completely. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims are starving in refugee camps.

Meanwhile, ISIS has drawn tens of thousands of young men and women, a substantial minority of them raised in secular western states, into its vision of an Islamist utopia born from apocalyptic violence. They seem completely fearless of divine or human retribution. Their assets amount to billions of dollars. The spokesman in a video from Libyan ISIS, released last Sunday and showing a massacre of about 21 Christians, reminded viewers that Libya is just opposite Rome, the ancient heart of western Christendom.

If I am distant from the media coverage, I am not physically remote from the suffering. As the crow flies, I’m only 640 kilometers away from Mosul. That is about half the distance from my parents’ house in Virginia to my wife’s family in Mississippi. I could drive there in a day, had I a car and were the borders open.

Of course, these statistics can convey nothing of the suffering experienced by each soul. Quantification cannot touch on the true nature of the beast. But there seems no other way to even hint at the magnitude of the destruction, as the world rolls on toward judgment.

I am not raising an alarm. I am in no position to pontificate. I am simply grieving, and seeking repentance for my own part in evil.

EDIT: It is completely coincidental, but perhaps appropriate, that I have posted this on the eve of Ash Wednesday.


A Brief History of Vejini (ვეჯინი)

From my travel blog. This is the village where we live.

Rex and Kirsten's Adventure Blog

IMG_8941a (1024x768)Or, information you’d never get from the average local. I drew virtually all this information from the Georgian Chronicles (Kartlis Tskhovreba), the official historical corpus of Georgia composed in the medieval period. It can be found online here.

To properly present the history of this ordinary village in Kakheti, immediately south of Gurjaani, some background in the broader history of the region is necessary.

In the remote past, the part of the Caucasus now occupied by Georgia was divided into two major kingdoms: Colchis (Lazica) in the west and Iberia (Kartli) in the east. These kingdoms were passed back and forth between the two great empires of Rome and Persia for century after century. Eventually the Iberian monarchy was abolished by the Persians, and in the seventh century the Arabs showed up and established the Emirate of Tbilisi, leaving only the divided principalities of the northwest free.

However, with…

View original post 1,574 more words

O Rex Gentium: Meditations on the O Antiphons

The sixth O Antiphon is to the King of Nations.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O king of nations, and their desire,
and cornerstone, who makes them one,
come, and save humankind,
which you formed from clay.

This antiphon follows the theme of triumph begun in the last one. If O Oriens shows how the incarnation prefigured the cosmic dawn of Christ’s resurrection, O Rex Gentium depicts the ascended Christ enthroned over the world. He has taken up not only David’s scepter but the scepter of heaven, subjecting all powers in heaven and earth to himself.

Three messianic titles appear in the first two lines: “king of nations,” “desire of nations,” and “cornerstone, making them one” (cf. Jeremiah 10:7, Haggai 2:7, and Ephesians 2:20 respectively). These images together suggest the fullness of his presence: he is over us as king, he is with us as beloved, and he is at our foundation as cornerstone. He binds us to the Godhead, to his incarnate person, and to one another.

Continue reading

O Oriens: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Travel, jet lag, and holiday activities predictably demolished my plans to keep up with Advent 2014. So now, after Epiphany, I resume my series on the O Antiphons.

The fifth O Antiphon is to the Rising Dawn.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

O rising one, splendor of eternal light,
and sun of justice:
come, and illuminate those sitting in darkness,
and the shadow of death.

This antiphon shows Christ to be light and enlightener. O Clavis David showed us his descent. Now the image reverses, and we see that the descent of Christ in the incarnation is also an ascent.

The Latin oriens is the root of our word “oriental.” It is literally “rising [one],” usually indicating the east, the dawn, or the rising sun. Nevertheless, there is a tradition of rendering oriens here “morning star,” which is within the range of possible meanings, as in the Old English poem based on this antiphon, Eala earendel. The morning star, Venus, is the harbinger of the dawn; Christ takes this name for himself in Revelation 22:16 (see also 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 2:28).

Continue reading

O Clavis David: Meditations on the O Antiphons

The fourth O Antiphon is to the Key of David.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel;
who opens, and no one closes;
who closes, and no one opens:
come, and lead the fettered ones out from the prison-house,
those sitting in darkness, and the shadow of death.

This is the second Davidic reference, and an answer to the previous antiphon’s plea for freedom. Its central image is drawn from Isaiah 22:22 (quoted almost verbatim in lines 2-3) and Revelation 3:7.

Nevertheless, it is also one of the more difficult and obscure of Christ’s traditional titles. The original passage describes a transfer of authority from the master of Hezekiah’s palace to Eliakim, a man of the Lord’s choosing. Isaiah declares, “the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” The revelation to St. John states that Christ now possesses this key, and because of this a door that cannot be shut has been set before certain faithful Christians.

This is part of a network of opening/shutting/binding/loosing images in the scriptures. Perhaps the most notable instance, and probably a deliberate reference to Eliakim in Isaiah, is when Jesus promises Peter the keys of his kingdom, that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (See also Matthew 23:13 for a negative use of this imagery.)

These examples in mind, we see that the hymnist made a very interesting choice in how he concludes this antiphon. The language of the key, to any early Christian, clearly points to the authority of Christ, in and by whom the Church has power to govern its members and to make binding dogmatic decisions. The scepter is obviously a symbol of rule as well.

Continue reading

O Radix Jesse: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Sr. Angsar Holmberg, CSJThe third O Antiphon is to the Root of Jesse.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stands as an ensign of the peoples,
before whom kings will shut their mouths,
whom the nations will entreat,
come to free us, refuse now to be hindered.

This antiphon hails Christ as the Root of Jesse. This time, it is not Christ’s divinity that is on display, but his messiahship. The great Wisdom of the Cosmos and Lord of Israel is shown as member and head of the royal house of David.

The first line of this antiphon is drawn from Isaiah 11:10, the second from Isaiah 52:15. Isaiah 11 depicts the “root of Jesse” flowering again; the House of David, whose degraded descendants would lose the throne within two centuries, would produce an heir on whom rested the Divine Spirit. This anointed king would rule with justice and turn Zion into a new Eden, and all the Gentiles would be drawn to him out of their own sin and desolation.

This title is an essentially human one, but not at odds with the previous portraits of his transcendent divinity. These successive antiphons embody the orthodox doctrine that Christ is wholly God and wholly Man. The Son, in assuming humanity, became a part of the same genetic House of David that he elected. Again, we see that the Son in the incarnation has come to inhabit the house he prepared through time. Millennia of longing for the divine were finally answered in a form that could be touched and seen.

Continue reading