Feast of the 45 Holy Martyrs of Nikopolis
THE BIBLE is a record of the evidence for certain events, certain historical works of God: as, the covenant with Abraham, the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Pentecost. Consequently the Christian outlook is primarily determined by a series of divine operations, tracing a distinct line of development: each of these events marks a new stage in the actualization of God’s design, and a mutation of human life. Two aspects of the whole process are of especial importance: first the nature of the event itself, and of the divine decision transforming reality; and secondly the succession of events, exhibiting at once a certain continuity and a certain discontinuity, i.e. by definition, progress.
If we now examine the forms of thought and philosophical systems current at the time when Christianity made its appearance in the world, it is clear that they were by no means ready to assimilate this Christian conception: on the contrary, they were wholly antagonistic thereto.
In the first place, there was the influence of Greek thought: here, that which is divine consists in the unmoved eternal order of Ideas. Immutable law, whether of nature of of society, represents to the senses the changeless eternity of the intelligible world. The phenomenon of movement itself is an imitation of immobility, being conceived as cyclical, both in the regular motions of the heavenly bodies and in the eternal recurrence which governs the course of history, so that the same events will be everlastingly repeated. By going round in a circle, even change thus conforms to the stable eternity of the ideal world, and no longer implies innovation. No such thing as an event can ever infringe the eternal order.
The opposition is fundamental between this conception and the Christian belief in a unique, irrevocable value belonging to the historical Incarnation. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Christ is said to have entered “once” (apax) into the holy place, that is, when he ascended into God’s heaven: something was then irrevocably gained. Nothing can ever again divide human nature from the Divinity; there is no possibility of relapse; mankind is essentially saved. All that remains is the business of extending to the individual members of the species that which has been secured for all humanity. The event, then, has finally effected a qualitative change at a given moment in time, so that things can never be the same again. The words “past” and “present” have here their full meaning. It is this belief in the irreversibility of salvation that gives rise to the Christian virtue of hope, in contrast to the characteristic melancholy which flows from the Greek acceptance of an endless repetition.
~Jean Danielou, The Lord of History
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