Fr Jean Daniélou: Did You Know You Are Still Living in Sacred History?

Feast of St. Aquila the Apostle Among the 70

Danielou_Square_3.jpegST AUGUSTINE says that sacred history continues usque ad praesentia tempora [up to the present time]. This is a point of importance. Sacred history is not restricted to the contents of the Bible, but is still going on: we are living in sacred history. God still accomplishes His mighty works, in the conversion and sanctification of souls. The particular significance of this point is missed in the usual Protestant presentations of the theology of history, where sacred history tends to be identified with what is recorded in the Scriptures, and no reference is made to the Church as continuing God’s work through the infallible magisterium and the unfailing efficacy of the sacraments. On this understanding, the age of the New Israel is less happily circumstanced than the age of the Old: the Incarnation would thus appear to have arrested the course of history. Such is the position associated with the name of Barth: it can be called a sort of post-Christian Gnosticism. From this point of view, the only important event is the resurrection of Christ. The final salvation of men flows from this event, solely in proportion to their belief in it: but there is no working out of salvation in the course of historical time. History brings no increment of real value, and consequently no progress: there is really no point in it. The Barthian preoccupation is therefore with the past event of the Resurrection, more than with the present life of the Church.

Cullman does indeed repudiate this extreme position, and the fact is worth noting. He acknowledges “an existing kingdom of Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” But he objects to the Catholic presentation that it over-emphasizes the importance of the growing Church and the living tradition. Our reply must be that the Catholics’ appreciation of the development of the Church does not in any way diminish their faith in the unique importance of the fact of the Resurrection; but it does imply recognition of the positive worth of current history, consisting in the growth of the mystical body through the work of the Spirit. What has been already accomplished once for all time is the union of manhood and godhead in Jesus Christ. What is awaited at the end of all time is the manifestation of Christ’s victory, in the transfiguration of the universe and the general resurrection of bodies. But what is now in progress is something invisible, yet supremely real, the building up in charity of that mystical body of Christ that shall be revealed in the last day.

This, then, is the purport and import of current history: the Christian mission. Christ delays His second coming because His Gospel must first “be preached all over the world, so that all nations may hear the truth; only after that will the end come” (Mat. 24:14). This, be it noted, was already the answer that St. Augustine gave to those men of his time who thought that the fall of Rome meant the end of the world: that could not be so, because the Gospel had not yet been preached to the barbarians. Nor is the Christian mission simply to teach the word to individuals of all countries: it is to evangelize the civilizations represented by the real leaders of every people, so that Christianity may find its appropriate and authentic expression in the idiom of every racial community, and the Church be like a bride circumdata varietate [Ps. 44:10: “surrounded with variety” or “arrayed in variety”], as the Psalmist says. It is a work of ages.

~Jean Danielou, The Lord of History


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