Fr Romano Guardini: Do You See the Words of the Old Testament Shimmering with Jesus the Messiah?

Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Marina (Margaret)

Guardini_Square_2.jpegON PENTECOST faith was born, and with it Christian existence. Consciousness of a life grounded in Christ, its beginning and end, opened people’s eyes. The Christians looked about them, reviewing the past, not only that of individuals but in the collective form of human history; they recognized themselves as part of that history and claimed it for their own.

The history of the Old Testament is double. The one thread recounts how in the first half of the second millennium a little tribe wandered from Palestine into Egypt. There it remained, at first welcomed, then feared and oppressed, until finally, greatly increased and stoutly nationalistic, it returned to Palestine. The country of its origin had first to be reconquered; then after a period of confusion and violence, a royal house was established. A few centuries of tumult and injustice follow, and both parts of the realm succumb to the onslaught of their powerful eastern neighbors, the Babylonians and Assyrians. The Hebrews are deported, to return only after years of slavery, their strength broken. Brief revival in the struggles with the Syrians, then the Jews are conquered by the Romans and incorporated into their Empire.

That is history, but not yet the history of the Old Testament, which above all is the history of God on earth: of the covenant He sealed first with Abraham then with Moses. Through that covenant the Hebrew people became the chosen people of God, and henceforth its history is the record of their keeping or breaking their contract with Him, not of their political, cultural, or even religious powers. Naturally, the forces within them that seek self-expression in autonomous, earthly history will reject the covenant and its demands. This is the reason for the strange double quality of Jewish history with its two currents: the upper, essential stream that must be lived in faith in divine revelation, and the undertow of the natural, accidental course of events that constantly disturbs it. It is a difficult existence and possible only with the grace that flows from there where the covenant was authorized.

Prophet after prophet is sent by God to help His people understand His sacred purpose; to take the plunge into faith and life in accordance with the divine contract, in order that for the faith thus dared they may be blessed with a national fulfillment far beyond their natural capacities as a tiny people surrounded by powerful empires. It was the prophets who shaped the Old Testament’s consciousness of history. Through their words shimmered a distant figure: the Messiah; and an equally distant future state: the Messianic kingdom. This was the radiant goal the prophets saw at the end of their dark passage; it was their perennial hope. But their faith was not strong enough to sweep the people with them against the tide of nature and the all-powerful present. They were rejected, persecuted, killed; then, too late, their writings collected and revered as sacred. We have heard the bitter echo of their fate in the words of Him whom they foretold (Matt. 23:29-35). The outcome of it all is dark and tangled; neither a great natural historical development, nor genuine action in faith. Brief periods of prosperity and greening culture hint at what might have been: the reign of David, the first years of Solomon, the eras of Hosea and the first Machabees. But after each ascent, new decline. And finally, when the One towards whom the whole sense of the covenant was directed actually arrives, the nation and its leaders are so involved and confused that they fail to recognize Him.

Now, after such a past, young Christianity says: All that belongs to us! Jesus, so briefly dead, has fulfilled the old history and begun the new. He stands in the middle. All that has been was preparation for Him, all that is to come works through Him. Saints Paul and John go still further. They proclaim the return of this same Christ at the end of time to judge the world and give all history its ultimate sense, and they reveal Him at the beginning of all eventfulness; before the beginning of time: John as the Logos, universal Creator; Paul as Him in whom all things were founded.

And the covenant? The old has been accomplished. God kept His promise, in spite of all man’s faithlessness.  In Christ it is finally fulfilled and the new covenant is established between the Father in heaven and all who believe in Him through Jesus Christ, covenant of faith standing fast in a world that holds it for scandal or folly. Now the promise is that of the coming kingdom; the new creation. There too a people; no natural race, but people in the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed in Peter’s first Epistle: “You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people; that you may proclaim the perfections of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9-10). Nation of all who believe in the Lord.

At Pentecost, consciousness of Christian history (arching back to the beginning of time and forward to the end of time) dawns. Since then for the most part it has gradually been lost. Much of Christian existence has been broken up into individual believers under some roof-organization. We all have reason to pray the Holy Spirit to send us new consciousness of our universal history, of our place in God’s plan, organically rooted in the past and branching, flowering into the future.

~Fr. Romano Guardini, “Lord of History” in The Lord


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