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.

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In Horto Fragranti: Genesis 18

The title of this and future meditations on Scripture, In Horto Fragranti, means “in the fragrant garden” and refers to John of Damascus’s description of the Bible as a fragrant garden in which are the fountains of life.

In Genesis 18, Moses describes a meeting at the oaks of Mamre. Three “angels,” one of them the concealed Lord, pass near where Abraham, a wealthy nomadic chieftain, has pitched his tents. Abraham looks up and sees three travelers caught in the heat of the day, and urges them to partake of his hospitality before continuing on their way. They agree.

Abraham was recently circumcised in covenant with God. Thus Abraham legally and sacramentally committed himself and his descendants to God; he was reborn under a new name which God gave him, as God had given Adam his name. Now Abraham was consecrated as the father of many nations, biologically the father of Israel through Isaac, and spiritually the father of the Church through Christ. God has already made the shepherd-prince great promises.

Now the cosmic sovereign orchestrates a more intimate encounter than has yet taken place between himself and his new vassal. Food is of no material use to spiritual beings, let alone the transcendent Creator; yet the Lord consents to share bread, curds, milk, and the meat of a calf, and also to have his feet washed. (Years later, Christ returns the favor.)

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A Short Sequence of Thoughts on Creationism

I’ll admit first that I haven’t watched the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, whose hype induced me to write this essay, and I probably won’t. I have also invested very little of the past five or six years into investigating the specifics of the creationism controversy, which I am aware still smolders in Evangelical circles.

Some autobiographical information may account for my present general apathy. Defending young earth creationism (YEC) was a major church-culture thing when I was a kid, and the typical centerpiece of apologetics ministry. I traveled to an Answers in Genesis conference with a church group when I was about eleven, and met Ken Ham there. Ham also taught adult Sunday School once in my little Baptist church. (My father, who has no particular leaning on YEC, personally found him evasive.)

My parents did their best to supply me with apologetics materials as my intellect budded. Some, for instance on the textual integrity of the Bible, were helpful; others seemed more contrived. Despite my father’s lack of investment in a young earth perspective, my mother purchased mostly YEC books when it came to science. I might have argued the YEC perspective for much of my teens, but around the time I entered college, I simply let it go. No new challenges made me rethink the validity of my position; I just realized that the issue was not so important and I was not so knowledgeable as to qualify me for an advocate of any position. Noting that I had only seen such arguments stir up discord, moreover, I seriously questioned the value and necessity of militant apologetics. Instead, I turned toward philosophy and theology, trying to understand my faith better before attempting to defend it. I still think this a fortunate shift.

My exposure did continue in low levels. While at Belhaven I read a book, written by scientists, that espoused intelligent design, and it seemed more reasonable to me than YEC. Later, as I started to realize where my assumptions about interpreting Genesis came from, and how novel they were in the history of Christian thought (YEC arose in the 1920s out of Seventh-day Adventism, a heterodox sect), any remaining commitment to YEC disintegrated, and my perception of evolutionary science as intrinsically a sinister, hostile force faded.

However much I enjoyed my six credits of biology in college—as I did, genuinely—science is still not a field in which I am particularly knowledgeable. I was deeply interested in geology and astronomy when younger, and though online chemistry classes dampened my regard, I could see reviving it at some point; nevertheless, the vast field of humanities has dominated my adult education and continuing interests.

So this is how I, a scientifically illiterate non-enthusiast, understand the meat of the question.

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