Thy Kingdom Come
Blessed are You on the throne of the glory of Your Kingdom, seated upon the Cherubim; always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come.
Quoted above are three references to the Kingdom of God in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy (there are a total of 48). The interesting thing about these three quotes is how they view the relationship of the Kingdom to time. The first statement, familiar from the Lord’s Prayer, seems to ask for something that is yet to happen: “Thy Kingdom Come.” The second, taken from the priest’s prayer of blessing just before the Trisagion sequence (“Holy God, Holy Mighty, etc.”), seems to refer to a present tense: God is seated on the throne of the glory of His Kingdom. The third, from the Anaphora prayer (the primary prayer in the consecration of the Bread and Wine), clearly references the Kingdom as something that has already been given. “Had endowed” (past tense) is paired, in a very jarring juxtaposition of tenses, with “the Kingdom which is to come” (future tense).
What’s with this strange treatment of time?
My childhood understanding of the Kingdom of God was that it was synonymous with heaven, or, at least, with the end of the world – the end of history – when God would wrap everything up and make everything right. It was very much “Thy Kingdom Come.” This future sense was the dominant thought that caused the German scholar, Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work, The Search for the Historical Jesus, to conclude that Jesus had, in fact, been mistaken, as had the early Church. He interpreted Jesus’ statements regarding the Kingdom, particularly those in His apocalyptic teaching, to be evidence that Jesus thought His Kingdom would come about very soon. Schweitzer’s observation was that such a thing didn’t happen. Jesus was wrong and so were His disciples.
A major rebuttal of Schweitzer’s work came from the Anglican scholar, C.H. Dodd, who argued for what he termed “realized eschatology.” Jesus was right about what He said, for, in Christ, the Kingdom of God did come and is already at work among us. Or, in Jesus own words, “If I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28, also Lk 11:20). And, in good Protestant fashion, the debate went on.
Dodd was correct to a large extent. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is more than an event waiting to happen. We hear this in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The Kingdom has already been prepared “from the foundation of the world.” The Kingdom already is, can be participated in now, and is yet to come. Is that confusing?
This is the strange world of eschatology (the study of “last things”). For some Christians, the word only refers to a series of events (vividly imagined) taking place at the end of the world. In the New Testament, and in the Fathers, the eschaton (end) is something far greater. Christ Himself is called both “Beginning” and “End” in the Book of Revelations. However, the “End” does not refer to a particular point in space and time (though at a particular point in space and time, its end and the “End” will coincide).
What is the Kingdom?
St. Maximus says it is the Holy Spirit. St. Paul affirms this: “The Kingdom of God does not consist of food or drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy and in the Holy Spirit” (Ro. 14:17). It is Christ’s great and Holy Pascha, existing from before all time and forever (Rev. 13:8 calls Jesus the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”). The Kingdom of God already is.
That which already is – is the very thing that is also coming into the world. It is not itself coming into existence, but when it enters the world it transforms the world towards the Kingdom. Every time Christ heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, cleanses a leper, raises the dead, casts out a demon, it is this “End,” this “Kingdom” that is being made manifest. Each such event dramatically illustrates Christ’s word, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The Cup of the Eucharist is a participation in this End, in the Kingdom. We pray that our communion will be
for the vigilance of soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion of Your Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, for boldness towards You, but not for judgment or condemnation.
After communion the priest prays:
O Christ! Great and most holy Pascha! O Wisdom, Word, and Power of God! Grant that we may more perfectly partake of You in the never-ending Day of Your Kingdom.
There is also a future aspect that we look towards. St. Paul describes it in this way:
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” … When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24-28)
History and the Kingdom
If all of this is true, if the Kingdom of God is already complete and we are already able to participate in it and we await the day of its full manifestation, then what is the place of history and the events associated with our salvation that have occurred in space and time?
History and the Kingdom are intended to coincide. The focus of the Kingdom is precisely the union of the created world with God. There is a complete coinciding of creation and Kingdom in the death and resurrection of Christ. That which was, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), is also that which takes place in Jerusalem on that day. His death and resurrection are filled with such power that the creation was shaken, some of the ancients came out of their graves, the sky was darkened. These are signs that an utterly cosmic event was occurring.
But in that this historical event is also the primary eternal event, it has a presence that transcends that specific space and time. When we stand before the altar, we stand before Golgotha and the empty tomb. We do not merely remember them – they are there!
By the same token, the historical events that relate to our salvation, such as the Passover from Egypt, Joshua taking the Land of Canaan, Noah and the Flood, Abraham’s promise, and so forth, are themselves significant as historical events because they, too, participate in that same eternal act of redemption. There is only one redemption, and that is Christ. What we see in the Scriptures of the Old Testament are the hints or the “shadow” (in the words of St. Maximus and St. Ambrose) of that which is to come – that which was revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Our salvation is not a historical project. Rather, it is God’s eternal project of saving history (the created world) by uniting it to His own life through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. This is the reason (as I have written at other times) that we cannot “build the Kingdom.” You cannot build what is and always has been complete. The Kingdom is divine. Divine things only come in “complete.” If it is divine, it is whole and has its own fullness.
We could never say that the historical events that participate in this one act of eternal redemption are unimportant. They have the same role as the wood of the Cross and the nails that held Jesus there. They are, if you will, elements of the Cross scattered through history. By the same token, we also cannot say that they are a chain of cause-and-effect, an older historical event creating a later historical event, etc. The incarnation of Christ is the cause of all things, it is said in the Fathers. That which is seen is temporary, that which is unseen is eternal, according to St. Paul.
The nature of our salvation as it has been made known to us forces us to speak about space and time in a manner that breaks many of the accepted rules of our modern world. Our modern rules of cause and effect would say that something happening in the first century cannot possibly be the cause of everything that happened before it. But that is how we speak.
In the words of St. Maximus:
The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the meaning of all the symbols and all the enigmas of Scripture, as well as the hidden meaning of all sensible and intelligible creation. But he who knows the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows also the essential principle of all things. Finally, he who penetrates yet further and finds himself initiated into the mystery of the Resurrection apprehends the end for which God created all things from the beginning.
The resurrection of Christ shatters the bonds of space and time and makes manifest that which is eternal. We eat and drink eternity in the Cup of Christ.
We also must remember that Kronos, the time of the world, is a variable and not a constant and its passage is effected by the speed of the observer. it also can be warped and changed by cosmic events. God and the Kingdom are not part of created things and therefore, are outside time. Kairos, the time of God is entirely different. As we step into heavenly worship during the Liturgy I never fail to be almost startled to find myself chanting the Litany of Thanksgiving for it always seems as the Liturgy has just begun and yet it is done. Therefore I see this apparent tangling of tenses as testimony to how different Kairos is than Kronos. In the eyes of God the end is already. In our eyes it is not yet.
I’m so grateful for these words of power and heart . They bring out of my own heart joy and praise to God. I’m ever grateful for your ministry.
On the level of meaning and this particular “meaning of history” question that you write about in this essay, how would you answer the question “Does God (and/or, the saint in the Eschaton) remember sin/evil?”
It’s a trick question of course, in that it presses the mystery of the distance or gap, between the end and the “process” (i.e. history) of “getting there”. All this language fails of course (the end or Kingdom is not a geographic “there”). However, it is in my opinion a way of asking the *meaning* of history (which “contains” sin, evil, death) without getting trapped in the mechanical, cause and effect, modern understanding of history. It also presses the classical Christian answer of “evil has no *substance* – its a privation” because it does not sidestep the difficult “well, that may be so, but evil’s *historical* substance is quite obviously present – evil still has an obvious *power*”
I’m thinking out loud (musing, if you will) on your question. So, don’t hold me to it. But, evil is not something – it has no existence. It is always a distortion of the good. When we remember the Cross, we could remember the evil of an innocent man’s crucifixion and the evil of the taunts and torture, etc. And yet, we call it Good Friday and see it in the brilliance of its transcendent goodness. Perhaps it is the case that in the Eschaton, the good that is finally reveal will “reinterpret” (in a true and complete ontological manner) everything that has gone before. What was once a wound becomes a mark of glorification. A remembrance that is also a resurrection.
Have you ever read this article?…
The opening lines quote the words of Fr Schememann and his reference to “evil time” (from his book The Journals of…).
Throughout this piece, you may find another angle to contemplate things evil and what of them. That is, what Christ has done in His Redemption.
It is also, I think, a compliment to what Father has to say here in this post.
“….he good that is finally reveal(ed) will “reinterpret” ….A remembrance that is also a resurrection.”
Thanks Father – I always appreciate the *literate* way you put things (I almost said “style” but that does not cover it)!
Just musing as well, in my opinion (not that I am alone – weirdos or the world unite! 😉 ) there is something deeply unsatisfying in the “evil is not something – it has no existence”, particularly in how it is an answer that comes from the Greek mind and its concern/emphasis on the essence/substance of God and creation and the need to avoid a Manichean metaphysic. The Fathers of course thought in this way (it was their time and place) and I do not mean to suggest it is “wrong”, just incomplete in a sense – especially to (my) heart. I prefer the language of Scripture, where the devil walks to and fro and bones can not praise God unless/until they are made alive again. This language captures a **continuity** between history, God, and the end of all things. Perhaps this is to somewhat go down the road of the “Jerusalem vs. Athens” trope but it helps (at least it does for me) to retain the *grittiness* of the Scriptural language when it comes to this subject – the Greek thinking comes across (to me) as too smooth, and leaves as many questions as it answers.
Thanks Paula for the link. I have that essay bookmarked and have “skimmed” it in the past, but I need to give it a proper effort!!
“What we see in the Scriptures of the Old Testament are the hints or the “shadow” (in the words of St. Maximus and St. Ambrose) of that which is to come…”
Yes Father…and in that “shadow” there is Existence, “… revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.” As you say “It is there!” Now that in Christ the Kingdom has come, we can say ‘It is here’! It no longer exists in “shadow”. And we can know it in our worship, we know it in our faith, we know it in our devotion, we know it in our prayers. We know it, as you remind us in the previous post, in our ‘world as sacrament’. More…as we press forward in longing to see who we are in Christ, it is there (!) where we know God.
These truths are so rich … and there is so much that has been given and yet to see!
Thank you Father Stephen. Such topics you write on…they never fail to lead to God’s praise!
Christopher….my pleasure! It is a lengthy article. The author, at the end, said that it took him 15 years to publish it! A lot of time and effort, and the good help of others, I think, shows itself well in the piece. Anyway, re-enjoy!
I had not considered that the most evil act in the history of mankind had as its result the salvation of mankind.
This is something I have to sip at for a while.
“Does God (and/or, the saint in the Eschaton) remember sin/evil?”
Perhaps it is the case that in the Eschaton, the good that is finally reveal will “reinterpret” (in a true and complete ontological manner) everything that has gone before. What was once a wound becomes a mark of glorification. A remembrance that is also a resurrection.
More musings: if the remembrance of God is, in fact, the nature of our life and salvation (as the thief on the cross stated), then perhaps God “remembering sin” becomes its reinterpretation (transformation) as Father says. Just my thoughts.
Reflecting on that thought, Byron, there comes to mind the story of the Flood and the promise of the rainbow, as seen with the Paschal events in mind. As is the lovely icon at the head of this presentation, the scene appearing as it does in a sequence leading to the destruction of cities, yet pointing to an harmonious intersection between the divine and humble human guest-offering. Past, present, and to come. How beautifully rendered with no shadows!
“If I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28, also Lk 11:20).
I think part of the problem with thinking clearly about Kingdom language is that (and I’m borrowing from Romanides again) the word should be translated reign/rule and not kingdom.
God’s reign and sovereignty are often not visible as in the case of Elijah (2 Kings 6:17), we are blind to it. When we see it and are aware and conscious of it it “comes”. But the connection with God’s rule and casting out demons is crucial. The nations of the world before the proclamation of the Gospel – which is the announcement of a new “reign”, regime, ruler – were under the power and dominion of the gods. After the resurrection the Gospel goes forth proclaiming a new ruler as Satan had been overthrown – and this is why Acts can say that ” The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Repentance, laying down arms, surrender and embrace of the new ruler – or better – the realization that the “new ruler” was always the real ruler – the opening of the eyes – is what the Gospel demands otherwise you side with the old regime. This again is the basis for exorcism of the baptized. Voluntary submission to exorcism, to baptism and chrismation is akin to toppling statues of Lenin and Stalin. I could go on with analogies…
This is why Paul says in effect that we should no longer serve sin because that “ruler” was defeated when we died in baptism. That dictator was deafeated why try and get him back into power, why try and vote him in again.
The language of … Kindgom come immeadiately needs all this qualification you’ve provided helpfully, but rule/reign needs much less. The rule of God is here, has always been here, but we’ve been under the power of an impostor – death, sin, Satan – the impostor has been called out and defeated – and we can pray for God’s rule to come in a progressive way, in realizing that it is already here, and by entering it through the Church. One day the “barrier”, the boundary, of the earth and the heavenly will be erased and yet in one sense in the Church it doesn’t exist – if weren’t blind to it – like I am most of the time.
God bless you,
Thank you for this wonderful illumination Fr. Stephen!
For me, this whole “concept” always comes into sharp focus at the anaphora of every Divine Liturgy: “Remembering this saving commandment and all THOSE THINGS WHICH HAVE COME TO PASS FOR US: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of God the Father, THE SECOND AND GLORIOUS COMING.”
What great joy these words bring, even though the accounting begins with the “evil” at the cross! Maranatha!
The strange treatment of time is also apparent in the juxtaposition of the Liturgical readings on Sundays – first the reading from the letter of Saint Paul to… and then the Gospel reading. I was particularly struck this Sunday with the final verses of Saint Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, followed by Christ’s prayer to his Father at the last supper.
I remember mostly from Hebrews all the mighty works and sacrifices which await fulfillment , Paul’s questions underlining the concept – but there at the end of the letter comes the present day reversal of status, as Saint Paul brings the point home that we (they) find the Cross outside the traditional place of the Holy of holies – outside the camp, as he puts it. It is out here, where we presently are.
And then the Gospel – who are “the chosen”? They are those the Father has given to the Son, that little group; that mighty, precious, small group.
It’s so very powerful, as Daria indicates above.
The more I reflect on the non-linear time revealed to us in Scripture and Sacrament the more I begin to realize how on point is the name of this blog.
Does not the Kingdom become “at hand” for us through giving thanks, joyful repentance even for sorrowful things, rejoicing in prayer and the mercy of forgiveness while giving alms with a merciful heart.
As to time, I once again point to its fundamental irrelevance using Shakespeare. Hamlet preparing to go into his dual with Laertes says, thinking of his own eschatology: “If it be now, ’tis not to come, if it is not to come it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all”.
Or in Biblical terms: watch and pray.
It is astounding that the continuously readily available spiritual watchfulness is practically all that is needed (!) to have “the Kingdom become “at hand” for us through giving thanks, joyful repentance even for sorrowful things, rejoicing in prayer etc…”
Dino, sounds easy doesn’t it? But I long ago stopped confusing ease with simple.
Hi Father. Thank you for this thoughtful post.
I appreciate where you’re coming from, and this is an important corrective to modernist eschatologies. Still, I am wondering if perhaps you overstate your case. I am particularly puzzled by your statement “we cannot ‘build the Kingdom.’ You cannot build what is and always has been complete. The Kingdom is divine. Divine things only come in ‘complete.’ If it is divine, it is whole and has its own fullness.”
On the surface, I understand why this is an attractive position. Instead of God’s kingdom being closely associated with the messiness of time and historical contingencies, this position enables us to emphasize that the fullness of God’s kingdom is to be found in eternity. Moreover, the idea that we cannot build God’s kingdom seems like a necessary buffer against potentially problematic endeavors such as “Christendom,” or a political kingdom-building agenda, or the type of over-realized eschatologies that lead to grand dreams of utopia that you are particularly alert to.
Yet still, I am wondering if you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In the classical world that formed the backdrop to the New Testament, political rulers would often assert dominion over lands that were still enemy occupied territory. “I’m the new ruler now,” they would essentially declare, “so it’s time to bow the knee or be conquered.” Even when the ruler’s ascendancy to the throne was initiated by overthrowing the previous king, there would still follow a period of time in which the new ruler would have to assert his authority, both among those who had not yet heard the news, as well as among those who were defiant and still clung to the previous regime. The new king would have to put down rebellions and bring order and rule to the lands that were now rightfully his, or which he considered to be rightfully his as a result of conquest. This political context helps to explain a tension we see throughout the New Testament. Through His incarnation, death and resurrection, Christ made a spectacle of Satan and defeated him (Col. 2:15). Yet not everyone has heard the news (Rom 10:14). Much of the world carries on as normal, while others consciously defy Christ. New Creation has burst onto the scene, but it remains small to begin with, even as the Garden of Eden had been but a small part of God’s entire creation. Just as Adam and Eve were given the job of extending Eden into the rest of the earth, so the members of Christ’s body are now tasked with extending the new Eden throughout the world. Now here’s the really cool thing about this work we’ve been given to do: Christians can pursue this work in hope since Scripture promises that when Jesus returns, He will finish whatever is left, subduing all opposing authorities and powers (1 Cor. 15:24). This perspective helps us to understand why the New Testament sometimes describes God’s kingdom as fully present, but elsewhere describes it as still future. For example, Jesus declares that the Kingdom of God has come upon the people (Lk. 11:20) and is “at hand” (Mt. 4:17), and yet He also instructs them to pray “Thy Kingdom come,” (Mt. 6:10) as if it is something they are still to be realized. Similarly, Paul taught that Jesus is the king of this world (2 Tim. 6:15), yet he also said that the powers of darkness rule this world (Eph. 2:1-3; 6:12). He proclaimed that Jesus is raised above all principalities and powers (Eph. 1:21) with “all things under his feet” (Eph. 1:22), and yet elsewhere he wrote that Christ must reign until all things are put under His feet (1 Cot. 15:25). This tension between the already and the not-yet would have been perfectly intelligible to a first century reader given the process ancient kings went through in establishing their kingdom following coronation. We have an example of this with Herod the Great. In 40 BC, the Roman Senate officially declared that Herod was “King of Judea.” There followed a period in which Herod mercilessly established his rule by pursuing Jewish nationalists, rebels, and brigands. The authority that Herod was given de jure needed to be established de facto. A comparatively modern example of this same principle occurred with Charles Edward Stuart (1720–1788), known popularly as Bonnie Prince Charlie. In 1745, the Jacobite rebellion declared that Prince Charles was the rightful king of Britain, but this did not mean that he could simply walk into the houses of Parliament and demand that everyone give him allegiance. First, he had to capture London, which of course he failed to do. Legally he may have been the rightful king because of his pedigree (after all, he was the grandson of James II and VII), but that meant little if he could not actually establish his authority in practice.
In these examples of human rulership, including the base and perverted rulership of Herod, we catch a glimpse of a legitimate principle that goes back to mankind’s earliest experience. In the creation account, God had delegated to Adam and Eve authority over all lands, plants, and animals. But they were also tasked with going out and implementing that authority through their dominion-taking activities, not least through subduing the earth. Put another way, there was to be a progressive enactment of God’s authority over all the world, undertaking through the expanding work of His vice-regents. This same principle of progressively enacted authority plays out in Christ’s kingdom. Christ brought Eden back to the earth, but this finds fulfilment only as redeemed images of God actually multiple and take dominion. Christ made all things clean, but this finds its fulfilment in space and time as Christians offer up all food to God in thanksgiving. Christ defeated death, but this finds its fulfillment in space and time as we identify with Christ’s resurrection, first through theosis and ultimately in our own resurrection from the dead at the Second Coming. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has been seated at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1), and is now engaged in a process of subduing to Himself the lands that are rightfully His. St. Irenaeus makes this point by describing the incarnation as an actual of judgment against the usurpers. All of this points to the fact that throughout history there is a PROCESS of Christ’s kingdom coming to be realized (“built”, if you will) in space and time.
This kingdom-building work occurs through the ministry of the Church. In the ancient world, when a king ascended to his throne, it was customary to celebrate this ascension by giving gifts to those near his throne. For example, the king might offer one person lands, while he might give another person a high position in the army. Still another person might be given noble titles and the estates attached to those titles. Thus, after a king’s ascension it was advantageous to be near his throne to receive gifts. These gifts were not mere generosity but were part of the process whereby a king would assert his authority de facto. This is part of the backdrop to Ephesians 4. Paul tells us that when Christ ascended, and led captive his ancient foe, He ascended to His throne and gave gifts to men (Eph. 4:7-16). It is important to pay attention to the nature of these gifts since gifts offered by an ascended king are part of the process for establishing His dominion. In discussing the gifts of the ascended Christ, Paul mentions apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and he specifically connects these offices to Christ filling all things and becoming all in all. To an ancient reader, this passage would have evoked the image of a king recently ascended to his throne showering gifts upon those who were near—gifts which helped establish his de facto rulership. When Paul says that the gifts flowing from Christ’s throne are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, he is making a very clear point that it is through the entire apparatus of the Church that Christ’s authority is progressively enacted. Unlike with human kings, Christ’s kingdom does not advance through warfare and force; instead, Christ’s kingdom is built through new creation communities and the infrastructure of offices within those communities. At the heart of these offices is the sacramental life of the Church, when the manna from heaven comes straight to the worshipers via the Sacred Mysteries. The Holy of Holies, once carefully guarded by Cherubim, is thrown open to the entire worshiping community. In the sacramental life of the Church, the barrier between God and man begins to be broken down. This means that human beings are empowered to extend Eden into the wilderness and build for God’s kingdom, in anticipation for the world’s eventual deification. It does not matter how successful this work is when judged by worldly standards, because Christ promises that when He returns He will complete whatever is left undone.
Christians living in the first and second century understood these important truths better than we do today. St. Irenaeus, taught that the God who made the world is also the God who has been carefully overseeing it, bringing His plan to fruition through everything that happens. That plan, Irenaeus proclaimed, culminates in the redemptive work of Christ and will be consummated when God renews the earth. At the heart of Irenaeus’ vision was the understanding that the God who declared that everything He made was very good is the same God who promises to complete the work of creation. Early Christians like Irenaeus understood that the Church is the primary agent in this ongoing process of new creation. The key word here is “ongoing.” We do not yet live in the final stage of new creation when there will be no more death. Creation still groans for full liberation from bondage, but it is a groaning in hope (Rom 8:19-24).
Within the space of this incompleteness, the church is tasked with building for God’s kingdom, and participating synergistically towards the world’s eventual deification. The precise language we use here is important. We are not “building God’s kingdom,” because God’s kingdom is already here. New creation burst onto the scene with Christ’s resurrection. But during this interval between the kingdom’s inauguration and its consummation, Christ is progressively enacting His authority through the church, and thus we are called to build for God’s kingdom. Through our small and feeble efforts to join God in His work, we can play a small part in bringing His kingdom to culmination. The kingdom-building work we engage in is like the scaffolding God is using to construct the new heavens and the new earth, and this remains true regardless of whatever theory of the end-times we might hold. I like how the Bible scholar N. T. Wright explains this in his booklet New Heavens, New Earth. “the Christian hope,” he writes, “gives us a view of creation which emphasizes the goodness of God’s world, and God’s intention to renew it. It gives us, therefore, every possible incentive, or at least every Christian incentive, to work for the renewal of God’s creation and for justice within God’s creation. Not that we are building the kingdom by our own efforts. Let us not lapse into that. Rather, what we are doing here and now is building for God’s kingdom. It is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: there is continuity between our present work and God’s future kingdom, even though the former will have to pass through fire to attain the latter. It is also clearly implied in 1 Corinthians 15:58: the conclusion of Paul’s enormous exposition of the resurrection is not an outburst of joy at the glorious life to come, but a sober exhortation to work for the kingdom in the present, because we know that our work here and now is not in vain in the Lord. In other words, belief in the resurrection, the other side, if need be, of a period of disembodied life in the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 15:29), validates and so encourages present Christian life, work and witness.”
Since the world was made by a good God, not a lesser demi-god, and since this God promises to one day put the world to rights, we have hope. This hope assures us that nothing we do for Christ’s kingdom will ever be wasted, even when we cannot see any visible fruit in this life. Unlike unbelievers who can only judge their success by their results, we know we are building for God’s kingdom whether we see anything or not. And when new creation finally culminates in the renewed heavens and the renewed earth, it will be built on all the work of all the faithful men and women throughout history who have lived and died for Christ. In fact, God is even using evil in the inexorable process towards the world’s eventual deification. As the Romanian priest and theologian, Dumitru Staniloae, so beautifully expressed it, “God makes use both of the evil and the good forces as he leads history toward higher stages and ultimately toward salvation and deification, for providence implies synergy between God and the conscious creature.”
Staniloae added that God is accomplishing the “leading forward of the world” in collaboration with the world, in the onward march to perfection. Perfection is achieved, not through making the existing form of the world eternal, but through its eschatological renewal when God completely discloses Himself to the world: “He is not the God who makes the existing form of the world eternal; rather, he is God of a world that he guides and moves toward the goal of perfection in him. God has indeed been at work in acts of the past, but these acts moved the world forward. That is why we must believe that he is also at work now in modes adequate to our own time and that he will be at work in the time to come as well, so as to disclose himself completely in the eschatological future.”
Evagrius of Ponticus writes: “The Kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, there is a variant reading of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke that says, “Thy Holy Spirit come…”
That is a bedrock assumption in my thoughts on the topic. I honor Staniloae, but I cannot agree that there is progress in history and they we are moving forward in a historical march to perfection. I think this is profoundly flawed as a reading of history and contrary to the actual warnings in Scripture in which the last days a described as anything but “progressed.” The trajectory of “history” is not upward.
I see that your reading of all this is quite important to you. I think that what I am describing is far more consonant with the tenor of Orthodox thought, while I find yours to be primarily a “reading in” of modernity and currents that have given us much troubling movements.
The “Kingdom of God is within you” cannot fit into what you describe, for example. The Church is not a social project. Our “politeia is in heaven” St. Paul teaches. The Church is the dwelling place of the Kingdom on earth. But, I can find no evidence in the Scriptures, whatsoever, of a development or gradualism regarding the Kingdom. It’s just not there.
Where does St. Irenaeus describe an “ongoing” process of the new creation? What I see in your explication is an appeal to a particular reading of how historical kingship was enacted, and then you read it into the Scriptures and the Fathers without citation or confirmation. In 40 years of studying the Fathers, I have never come across this idea within them. You cannot say that they all assumed this without a citation.
I provided over a dozen citations (!), and will find the St. Irenaeus reference (but not today – very busy).
I’m not sure why you want to revisit all of this. It’s all like cherry-picking to support a theory that simply has not and is not a theme in Orthodox theology. It fits nicely with Reform thought – but I do not see it in our Orthodox liturgical life, nor have I ever been taught such a thing. But, whatever you’d like to do. As I recall, I did not find your references to actually be making the point you want to make. But my memory in the matter is hazy.
I was referring to the references I provided earlier today in the comment above that you are responding to.
I see. I do not understand any of the Scriptures you cite to (a) support your position viz. a progressive unfolding of the Kingdom or (b) undermine in any way what I have written viz. the Kingdom.
When you say “Kingdom of God,” what do you mean? Can you give something of definition?
For me, the Kingdom of God is not a moral condition, but an ontological one. The Kingdom of God is to this world, what the Resurrection is to the body. There are, indeed, manifestations of the power of the resurrection in this world and time, but they do not describe broad, historical movements, as far as I can see. When the world thinks of progress, they generally mean little more than the Industrial Revolution and the spread of democracy, the stories of which only really work if you’re Middle Class or above, and, then, only in the First World.
What do you do with passages such as: 2 Peter 3:3, or Matt. 24:12 – which do not at all point towards an upward trend of history. I do not find this treatment of history to be anywhere prior to the Reformation and, then, mostly starting in the 1600’s and later within the various awakening movements and in the Enlightenment movements of the secularizers. This puzzles me.
The problem with applying a progress metaphor as you are (as a working in history) is that what you describe is not at all in fact what we see. We do not (and never have) seen a progressive work of the Kingdom of God in history. An ancient King (say Herod) could violently subdue Judea and make his de jure kingship into a de facto kingship. Everyone is so conquered that they no longer resist.
However, we see no pacified demons, who having once been vanquished now leave people in peace. We do not see any created things, once subject to death, now somehow liberated into the life of resurrection. Not one. Instead, creation groans. And, for what? The manifestation of the sons of God which will not be seen until the fulfillment of the eschaton.
I will grant that there are examples of saints whose theosis is made manifest – as it were – out of time. But they are like eschatological signs and are not the norm. We Orthodox “talk” about theosis as if it were going on inside us all the time and happening all around us. And yet, what we see is that ground gained yesterday is often lost tomorrow and must be gained over and over again.
We have the promise and the taste of heaven given to us in the Eucharist, and, its mystical presence within our hearts (when we are able to live in it), but we do not see any subduing of kingdoms, transformation of creation, etc. If the moral changes within modernity’s mythical liberation movements (in which we are largely set free from one economy to be placed in bondage to another) are imagined to somehow represent the Kingdom, then we are, I think, deeply deceived.
The Kingdom of God is real. It is not ethereal nor removed from history and its messiness. But it is not a historical process. Its stability is found within itself and not within history. History, the material world, has no stability in itself whatsoever. We cannot establish one thing and then move on to another for there is nothing stable that remains.
The Kingdom of God is the abiding stability of our lives and we can live in union with it. Christ indeed is reigning and He must reign until He subdues all things under His feet. If there is any progress going on within that reign then it is surely hidden from our eyes and remains a mystery. We have just come out of the bloodiest century in all of human history with the most ungodly rulers and regimes ever known – and we teeter on the brink of such madness at every moment. The trajectory of history, according to the Scriptures, is downwards. It remains so until the Kingdom is made manifest at the judgement. Do any of us “progress” in theosis – only God can judge such things and we are better off not knowing such things. They are not even the right question. Christ Himself – knowing Him – is alone the right question. He alone will judge. I think that holding these imaginary thoughts about Kingdom management and progress is a false pursuit that places our eyes on history and not on Christ Himself.
The Kingdom of God was/is manifest in its fulness in Christ’s Pascha. What we know, when we are doing it right, is Christ crucified. What else have we been taught to consider?
To me, the flaw in your reasoning is that you begin with an independent image – that of progressive kingship – derived from historical examples – and that you then use it to interpret the Scriptures – choosing verses that would fit that model – if that were actually what were being said. But, it begs the question. Instead we have this:
The writer of Hebrews does not say, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him, but it’s getting better and we are subjecting more and more things to Him every day.”
He doesn’t say it because it would not be the case of what we see. Instead, he says, “But we see Him…namely Jesus.” When we are crucified with Him, day by day, moment by moment, we see Him ever more clearly. What we see of the Kingdom in this life is the Cross. The Way of the Cross is the way of life. If it subdues demons, that is known to God. What I know are nails, thirst, a spear, spitting and mocking. Our hope is in the resurrected Christ.
I do not find any evidence of a progress metaphor marking the path of the Church. Even the transformation from “glory to glory” is, when reading St. Paul, one crucifixion following another crucifixion (which is His glory). The way down is the way up, according to St. Sophrony.
If you find it helpful to think about these things in the terms you’ve described – then I bid you God’s blessings in it. I have found what I’ve written to be more faithful to experience and the words and imagery within the Scriptures and the Fathers.
Hi Father. I want to reply to a few things you said in response to my earlier comment.
“I think this is profoundly flawed as a reading of history and contrary to the actual warnings in Scripture in which the last days a described as anything but ‘progressed.’ The trajectory of ‘history’ is not upward.”
I understand where you’re coming from here. However, when the Scripture uses the term “last days” this is often referring to events at the time of Christ and directly following (see Peter’s use of Joel 2:28–32 at Pentecost). But I am not disputing your general point, for there may be widespread apostasy prior to the Second Coming of Christ. However, if that does happen, it does not negate the reality of progress, provided we look beyond and ahead of the last days to the New Earth. When we take a Big Picture perspective of all of history (creation, election, exodus, kingdom, exile, redemption, church, continuation, new heavens and new earth) it becomes clear that God’s plans are progressing FORWARD towards a great climax. Redemption history is a linear progression with a beginning, middle and end. We’re in the middle right now.
You asked, “When you say ‘Kingdom of God,’ what do you mean? Can you give something of definition?”
Good question. The Kingdom of God refers to the reign of God. God currently reigns in heaven and He is in the process of establishing His reign on the earth. This process of establishing His reign on the earth has been going through a series of stages that include creation, election, exodus, kingdom, exile, redemption, church, continuation, new heavens and new earth. Some people may object to this because of John. 18:36 where Jesus allegedly said that His kingdom is not of this world. But Christ’s kingdom is certainly of and for this world, but it does not arise out of, or from, this earth. The RSV gets closest to the original Greek by rendering John 18:36 as “My kingdom is not from this world.” God’s intention to sanctify the entire earth is incapsulated in Jesus’s prayer, ‘thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven’ (Mat. 6:10). The phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels has this same underpinning, referring to the rule of heaven (that is, the reign of Israel’s God), being brought to bear in the present space-time world. So yes, God’s kingdom is of this world. It is a social project, but much more than just social. Modernist and secular theories of progress are distortions of the truth, but at least they understand something that many Christians miss: God’s kingdom is for this world.
You asked what I do with passages such as: 2 Peter 3:3, or Matt. 24:12, which you suggest “do not at all point towards an upward trend of history.”
I haven’t studied those passages, so I can only wager a guess. My hunch is that those passages refer to the maturation of evil that occurs in the present age, at a time when, God-willing, the maturation of the church is also coming to be a reality. With regard to the maturation of the church parallel to the maturation of evil, I make no prediction. It may be the case that widespread apostasy will compromise the church and then, when Jesus comes back, there may only be a remnant. If that does turn out to be the case, it does not undermine Scripture’s teaching about continuity between this age and the age to come. With regard to that continuity, I find it helpful to think of the relationship between the present age and the age to come as being not like the relationship between a Ford and a Dodge; it’s more like an old beaten up Ford compared to the same car after it has been renovated and renewed. C.S. Lewis gets it right in The Last Battle when he describes the heavenly Narnia being built on the template of the original Narnia. The “new earth” described in Revelation 21 will be “new” only in the sense that we say a lady is “a new woman” when she has had her hair made over and put on a new dress. Just as Christ’s resurrected body had continuity with the body He possessed prior to being resurrected (after all, those who saw him still recognized him, and He still bore the marks of the cross on his hands), so there will be continuity between the work that we do now and the new earth that God is in the process of making. And it hardly needs saying that this is true whatever end-times scenario one might have. Some of the language I am using has often been co-opted postmillennialists, but C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle imagines such continuity within a premillennialist framework.
Why is this important ? Well, it has profound practical implications, for just as belief in our own personal resurrection should spur us to righteous living in the present (1 Cor. 15:29-34), so belief in the future renewal of the whole earth (a renewal that has continuity with the present space-time universe) should act as a catalyst for making the world a better place in the present (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rev. 21). As Wim Rietkerk pointed out in his little (and little-known) book The Future Great Planet Earth, “Jesus did not feed the crowd before he had first commanded the disciples, ‘You yourselves give them something to eat.’ When they offered him the five loaves and two fish, which was all they had, he used those tiny things to perform his miracle (Matthew 14:16-20). In the same way, at his return, the Lord will ask us, ‘What did you do with my creation to renew it?’ Then he will multiply our finite achievements into the promised total renewal. To use Paul’s image of changing clothes in 1 Corinthians 15, He will take the tiny and weak threads and weave them into new garments with which He will clothe the world. There is a reason why the Holy Spirit is called the firstfruit of the new creation (Romans 8:23). So there is a challenging and important relationship between the works we are called to do now in order to save nature—to purify the water, to preserve the ozone layer, to plant trees instead of cutting them, to care about safe forms of energy—and the future renewal of the earth. God does not need our works to accomplish that; He could do it without us. But He will use our work and He will certainly rebuke us if we have not produced the work he expected. He will ask for them and He will make them the core of a renewed world.”
This perspective assures us that nothing we do for Christ’s kingdom will ever be wasted, even when we cannot see any visible fruit in this life. Unlike unbelievers who can only judge their success by their results, we know we are building for God’s kingdom whether we see anything or not. And when new creation finally culminates in the renewed heavens and the renewed earth, it will be built on all the work of all the faithful men and women throughout history who have lived and died for Christ. In fact, God is even using evil in the inexorable process towards the world’s eventual deification.
Finally, I wanted to offer a bit of push-back against your theory that the kingdom of God is not a social movement.
Consider that the Apostle went to great lengths to describe how new creation is breaking into the present order and changing relationships, and even whole villages, in anticipation of the age to come when the work of new creation will be complete. He described new creation not just in terms of personal salvation but also in terms of the social relationships that make up a community (wives-husbands, children-parents, masters-slaves, bishops-laity, etc.). New creation is clearly a communal endeavor, with implications for all society. This cultural dimension is possible because of the eschatological nature of Christian theology. Just as Christ’s resurrection in the middle of history points towards the resurrection of all God’s people at the end of history, so the establishment of transformed communities characterized by faith and love, acts as advanced signposts to God’s larger plan for renewing the entire earth. The prophetic vision of a future world in which all creation praises God (Ps 96 and 98), and in which Jew and Gentile join hands in worship (Zech. 8), is a vision that comes rushing into the present through Christ, even as the Church awaits the final fulfilment of this vision at the Second Coming. In the meantime, as the gospel fleshes itself out in human communities, there are social implications. Thieves will cease stealing and start working (Eph. 4:28). Husbands will treat their wives with gentleness (1 Pet. 3:7; Eph. 25-29) and wives will submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-23; 1 Pet. 3:1). Relationships that were previously characterized by suspicion and backbiting will be replaced by brotherly love and peace (Rom. 12:10-21; 14:19; Heb. 12:14; James 3:17-18). The church will provide counseling for those whose lives and relationships are in disorder (Gal 6:1; Phil. 4:3). People will replace filthy speaking with gentleness (Col. 3:8 & 12). The rich will help the poor (2 Tim 6:18-10), and the poor will be content with what they have (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Men and women will work to bring the peace of Christ into their hearts and minds (Mt. 11:28-30; Jn. 14:27; Rom. 14:17; Phil. 4:6-9), in anticipation of the peace the Messiah is bringing to the whole earth (Is. 9:6; 11:6-9; Lk. 1:79; 2:14). All of this points to the fact that the Kingdom of God is a social movement.
New creation theology is about more than social ethics but not less. Jesus didn’t come simply to make us better people. After all, the problem with sin is that it severed the connection between the image and the prototype. What was needed to rectify the fallen human condition is for the divine life to personally unite with human nature. What was needed is for human nature to be re-enlivened with the divine life, for God once again to breathe His life into the nostrils of men and women. Only in this way can human nature actually be healed (“saved”) so we can begin realizing our proper end. Jesus taught that this is exactly what was happening in and through His own ministry. Through descending down into death, the God-man lifted out of death those who were perishing. Jesus defeated the death-principle through actually reuniting human nature to the divine nature. This is a theme that would later be developed through the writings of numerous church fathers, including most notably Athanasius of Alexandria. But even as early as the New Testament, we find the apostolic writers suggesting that through Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, the life of heaven has become injected into human nature, making it possible for humanity to begin realizing its primordial vocation. This is the background to Christian social ethics, since the natural result of our nature being incorporated into the divine life is for communities of healing and virtue to spring up. Healing of social communities is the result of new creation, not the cause of it.
This sets the context for understanding what early Christians meant by “salvation.” Within the first-century context, saying that “Jesus saves” referred to more than simply the fact that Jesus made it possible for believers to go to heaven when they die, though it certainly includes that. Rather, Jesus saves humanity in the sense that He reunites human nature to the life of God. Instead of mankind being defined by death, men and women can be defined by the divine life and thus fulfil their vocation to image God throughout the earth (or, to borrow the language of N.T. Wright, “to live as worshipping stewards within God’s heaven-and-earth reality.”) Thus, in one of St. Basil the Great’s pre-communion prayers, he refers to how Christ’s blood “didst refashion our nature corrupted by sin.” The inclusion of this language in a pre-communion prayer is significant, for according to Jesus and the apostles, the uniting of man with God that began at the incarnation continues as the life of God is mediated to mankind through the sacramental life of the Church. The ministry of the Church thus become the means for men and women to experience salvation in the aforementioned sense of being reunited with the divine life. The incarnation of Christ—made present to men and women through the sacramental life of the Church—is the medicine of immortality through which the human soul is healed.
All this has social ramifications, to be sure, but the social ethics are the result and not the cause of new creation. By defeating death and bringing new creation life to His followers, the Lord is creating a people who can once again use their image-bearing vocation to assert His rightful authority over all false gods. This results in restored relationships and rightly ordered communities, as a continuation of the historical process that began at Genesis and which will reach fruition in the eschatological future when Christ’s work bringing the heaven-earth duality is finally complete.
Church communities pull us towards the eschatological future, for they signal the end of exile and the restoration of God’s people, now structured around the true Israel of Jesus Christ. By being established in lands that had previously been spiritually unclean, these communities point to a fulfilment of Ezekiel’s vision where streams of healing of water flowed into the wilderness to gradually turn the entire world into Eden. The weekly proclamation of forgiveness within these communities signal that God’s presence has returned to His people (throughout the Old Testament, forgiveness language was associated with end of exile and the return of God’s presence to His people). By offering up all of life to God in gratitude and worship, these communities extend the qualitative and quantitative extent of the King’s territory, in fulfilment of the dominion mandate given to Adam and Eve. By struggling to live (albeit imperfectly) by the virtues, the members of these communities show that divine structure, order, and light are conquering over the pre-creational state of formlessness, void, and chaos. In this way, the Church anticipates the age to come, when all activities and space have finally become Edenic.
“However, we see no pacified demons, who having once been vanquished now leave people in peace. We do not see any created things, once subject to death, now somehow liberated into the life of resurrection. Not one. Instead, creation groans. ”
Would I be correct to infer from the above statement that you believe that the progress of kingdom of God on earth is still incomplete?
I understand how you are developing this. I disagree. That’s about as simple as I can say it. The Kingdom is never incomplete – it’s manifestation among us is largely hidden, not just lacking in progress.
Because the Kingdom of God has come in the Pascha of Christ, Christians are taught to live in obedience to His commandments, which are in harmony with the reality of the Kingdom, and possible because of its reality. That is not a progressive work. It is obedience and life lived in union with God.
We are specifically warned against living in a linear manner. We are taught to live only today, indeed, only now. Progressive thought is an abandonment of that word of Christ in order to mire ourselves in a historical project of our own imagining. I would never, as a priest, counsel someone to think in this manner.
Not only is there no evidence of a progress in this world, there is no evidence of a progress in the Church. The Church is not more something now than it was 500 years ago. Indeed, there is corruption and disobedience, and various kinds of misdoings in some of its highest reaches. Christ says, “Will the Son of Man find faith when He comes?” This entire progress metaphor is, tragically, absurd when applied to everything we see in the historical record. It simply fails the test of reality. It’s always interesting to work out a thoughtful system – but if it simply doesn’t hold up to reality then it’s revealed to be in vain.
I don’t know what more there is to say in this matter.
Your responses to Robin on the kingdom of God were an entire article! Thank you. Yes, the cross is the way before us. And it betokens no hint of progress in history nor in our individual lives. This was plainly shown yesterday in the killing of the Orthodox priest in France and other Orthodox lives taken in Nice.
I find the application of progress to history as untenable. We have to speak about the Kingdom in other terms. The Kingdom of God is not linear. Heck, I’m not even sure that history is linear.
Father, having history as an avocation for most of my life I concur with you 100%.
While there is technological change, even that is difficult to truly categorize as progress. The historical literature that examines such ideas is vast actually and I think it would be difficult to find many who a truly progressive linear interpretation except those who were more idealogs than historians such as Karl Marx.
Neither is history linear–not in the least. It is difficult to describe accurately but the least accurate description is linear. That is not only wrong but massively uninteresting. For history to be linear, human beings would have to linear.
Within the one storey there are spirals and folds and unexpected intersections and interconnections almost Escher like at the center of which is the birth, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Linearity/progress is a cultural/social construct. The Seminole culture (the traditional one that my mother grew up in) didn’t have it. At least not the western European version. What the cultural outlook on progress is now within that community today might be different after it has had so much exposure to the European culture that came to the Americas, especially after TV and internet.
Physics doesn’t see time as a linear variable either.
History, that is to say the stories we tell about the past, no doubt varies depending on the teller of the story and the audience to whom the story teller desires to speak. The Church has her own story, written in the scriptures and She is the one who “owns” it, who tells it and we who are the Church are the listeners and singers of Her songs. Despite the interests and goals of particular individuals, the latitude of interpretation belongs to Her.
What I find common to many Protestants (readers who are Protestant please forgive this broad description, I know there are those who don’t hold fast to this rule) is the tendency to subject scripture to their own personal interpretation (or cling to their pastor’s interpretation). They design arguments to refute the tradition of the Church, while elevating their personal interpretations based on their own premises.
As a result, there are now more variations of Protestant views and “historical accounts” than ever before.
Father, I’m grateful for this discussion and your description of the Kingdom of God and what it means. Happily I’ve read enough of the Fathers and Orthodox theologians, to confirm your perspective.
Christ said it succinctly didn’t He?
Mark 10:14-15(NKJV) But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will be no means enter it”.
“As a little child” suggests to me that there is a lot of “non-progressive stuff” needed, that is, a form of ascesis or stripping down and openness in the heart.
Generally children don’t get to vote, nor have a say in most “adult” matters. They are encouraged to be obedient, to learn, to abide, and play nicely. They don’t do much in social construction, save what they now do on the internet. To that extent, we seem to be allowing the internet to rob them of their childhood. Nevertheless who is more wide-eyed, open, in awe of the world than a young child? Who cries harder than a child who seeks love?
On the cries of a child who seeks love: My son had pyloric stenosis as a newborn. He nearly died of it because it wasn’t diagnosed properly. I was told it was due to my “radical” behavior of breastfeeding him. The notion of breastfeeding was outdated and outmoded by the almighty bottle and the “more nutritional” stuff that was to replace a human mother’s milk. This was progress we were told. My baby was dying of hunger and I was told that I was responsible. So I desperately tried to give him the bottle. He refused it. I was told if he got hungry enough he would take it. He didn’t take it. In desperation I called another radical mother who put me in touch with the La Leche League (sound familiar Father ???) A medical doctor called (herself a breastfeeder) and talked me through the measures to determine whether he was having difficulty breastfeeding or whether it was some other issue. She declared it was some issue and that I was to demand that my baby receive a Barium swallow, to see what was going on. She suspected it was pyloric stenosis. This was a diagnose over the phone in which there were no pictures, no visuals, for her to use, just the voice of a very tired and frightened young mother.
At the doctors office, I was told once again that I was just being “hysterical” and that was the issue bothering my baby. I’m inclined to be brief here to simply say, I provided them a new definition of hysterical, and afterward he was sent to the hospital and appropriately diagnosed.
My baby boy never stopped breastfeeding but he did finally thrive after his operation. The surgery was an ordeal for him because in those days they had an understanding that babies at that age didn’t feel pain. No anesthetics. (This is no exaggeration). This they believed because of the “medical research” they had at the time. BTW I’m a scientist now after the fact and consequently don’t have a particularly high opinion of medical research. But I’m told medical research is a lot better now. More rigorous. So they say.
Progress. Yes, I know it well.
Father please forgive me. Sometimes instead of spilling the beans I throw so many peas into the air. Thank you for your patience and this ministry.
“… consequently I don’t have a particularly high opinion of medical research”
Yet we are being ruled today by “medical research” today including shutting down Pascha celebrations because they are ” inessential”.
Just like breast feeding?
Forgive me, but I’ll sound a little Marxist for a moment. 🙂 One of the problems with linear, progressive reading of history (and all of that analysis) is that it’s largely a modern, Middle Class reading. We have been shaped to think of ourselves as managers and people who effect and shape history (it’s our drinking at the well of democracy-myths). Among the poor (where my background lies), people simply do not think like this. You never really imagine yourself to be in charge of anything. You believe in God and you pray, and you take things as they come, and you try to survive.
These are the people to whom Christ preached and from whom He largely drew His disciples. The managers of history crucified Him. He warns us to become as little children (yes, Dee), and, essentially teaches us to become poor – and if not literally poor – then to have so emptied ourselves that we have true solidarity with them.
What I have written is the faith of the saints and the poor through time. History is not linear, per se, indeed, it might, from a certain perspective, even be happening all at once. If the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, how can we speak of history as linear? When we stand in the altar and speak of the Second Coming as though it were in the past, how can history be linear. It’s perceived linearity leads the powerful to imagine themselves to be able to manage outcomes. There is ever so much more to say in this – but I say it all the time and repeatedly in my work. God give us grace!
The Grinch couldn’t stop Christmas from coming. Pascha came as well. We were merely inconvenienced. All things will be revealed.
Sorry to disappoint all of you, but history most definitely is linear. Non-linear approaches to history are sub-Christian and come from Oriental paganism with their denial of Final Judgment. A Christian approach to history sees history as a story God is writing through a series of progressive stages (creation, election, exodus, kingdom, exile, redemption, church, continuation, judgement, new heavens and new earth) working towards the final climax of the Eschaton.
You describe a good story as far as western literature goes, Robin. And there is no disappointment in it. But I sincerely don’t hear a classical Christian element in it.
My training is in chemistry which is itself a classical science. Modernism does mess with it a bit but, most of it’s classical features have remained intact. That said, I respect your insistence. Nevertheless as far as I know it will not receive traction among those classically trained in Orthodox theology. Of course Orthodoxy and it’s theology has a history. Do you want to become familiar with it? Father often provides helpful readings.
We are heading to a new age indeed but that age was written before the formation of creation, by Christ.
Pascha came alright Father, but the only reason I was able to celebrate it was because I found a partial UTube video of the Pascha at my parish in 2004. The same Pascha just after my wife’s death where I was given an indelible and everlasting experience of non-linear history, i.e, of the Resurrection. Jesus lifts us all by His sacrifice and mercy.
But, one of the blessing of that time of my wife’s dying and, I believe, essential to her salvation, was my priest and several parish members gathering around us as she died to sing and pray. Now, that would not be allowed, also as inessential and dangerous. Sorry, but it is a bit more than inconvenience I think.
Especially since it is all in the name of “science” and “medical research” . Patience is warranted for awhile, but if it continues is can easily become an attempt to scour all mystery and life from us. That will succeed in some hearts.
God forgive me, a sinner.
Dee, I must say how thankful I am for you and the way in which you write. You touch a very deep part of me that I somehow think we share. You often bring joy and thanksgiving to me through your words.
Father, you make a very poor Marxist, thank God. You, as is proper and true humanize the poor, unlike the Rich Man in today’s Gospel. Marx dehumanized everyone in a very twisted interpretation of the Hegalian Dialectic which was bad enough.
Robin even the Dialectic is not linear.
The great American Historian Dumas Malone called the writing of history “empathetic projection”. Plus in commenting on writing his biography of Thomas Jefferson that “he lived with Jefferson for seven years.
It is easy to dismiss such statements as metaphorical only but are not. They describe the essential human interconnectivity that actually transcends linear time. Not as some “scientific time travel” but as an integral function of the human soul and heart snd body put there by God, I believe, to allow for the Incarnation and full Union with Him. Renewed and transfigured.
Dear Michael thank you for your kind words. Sometimes I fear however, I go overboard.
Dee, it is a balance and the deep of which you speak is, of course, Jesus and that touches us all. May the blessings of the good God be with you always.
I think that you are overstating the case of linearity. Of course there is a Final Judgment. What you describe is, I think, a way of “teaching” history that has been employed, but not something that is necessitated in Orthodox Christian theology. At its worst it gives rise to Dispensationalism. It also has a bit of a checkered history, mixed in with various kinds of apocalypticisms. A thorough-going understanding of sacramental theology and the mystery of redemption are, I think, too easily hindered by an over-historicized approach. Our modern world’s secularism is an example of an over-historicized world view where progress has become a theme – one that is a heretical misuse of the term.
But I understand that this historical scheme is important to you and I appreciate your stating it. May God bless your work and your studies.
I get a sense in this conversation that Robin is suggesting that the Incarnation (and the other historical events noted) is God’s means of getting inside history so that He can work “within” history to transform it. And, that our acts can help out in this effort. I think there is a fundamental break at this point in our understanding(s). First, I do not think that history is quite the thing being described by Robin. I may be misunderstanding him, but it seems that he sees a linear/cause-effect series of events through time – much like a materialist would describe – except that through incarnation and inspiring certain events God is working in that process and progressively moving things towards their final end.
If that is a correct description, then I definitely disagree with its basic premises.
The world is not rightly seen in a materialist fashion. The world is sacramental in its very nature. If I describe things in a linear/cause-effect/material manner, I have not described the world as it actually exists. The world exists as a communion with God. The various “historical” events that Robin cites – creation, election, exile, etc. – are not sequences of one thing causing the next. They are manifestations of the one action of God always and everywhere for our salvation and the restoration of communion with Him. They are His Pascha. We might speak of them in a sequential manner – but our salvation is one thing – and always has been.
Based on the above comments, as well as an email I received from a brother in response to what I wrote, I am sensing some confusion about what I meant when I said that time is “linear. ” In order to properly explain myself, I must offer some groundwork from the OT.
God’s call of Abraham was a recapitulation of the original vocation given to Adam and Eve. After sin had defaced God’s images, God called Abraham’s descendants apart from the rest of humanity to show them how to fulfill their primordial vocation of imaging Him, which is to say, how to become fully human. As part of God’s covenant with Abraham, He gave him the land of Canaan. Abraham and his descendants were tasked with living faithfully in this land, which would become a type of Eden. Abraham’s great grand-child was a man named Joseph. In Genesis 37, we read that Joseph’s brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery. Even while languishing as a slave in Egypt, God’s blessing rested on Joseph, leading to his rise in power and influence within the Egyptian government. Later when there was a famine in the land of Canaan and Joseph’s brothers travelled there in search of food, Joseph revealed himself to his family and invited their households to join him. Even in Egypt, however, the Patriarchs never forgot about the promised land, and Joseph instructed his children to take his bones with them when they eventually returned to the land given to Abraham.
For many generations Abraham’s descendants remained in Egypt, yet they never forgot their homeland. As their population swelled, the Egyptians felt threatened and decided to enslave the Hebrews. After generations in bondage, the hope of returning to the promised land seemed to recede further from sight. God’s people languished in slavery for two hundred and fifty years until God raised up a man named Moses to deliver them from captivity. Since Pharaoh refused to let the people go, the Lord used Moses to bring a series of judgments against Egypt and her gods. These judgements culminated in a plague of death on the first-born son of every family. As the angel of death passed through Egypt bringing death on every household, the Lord provided instructions to Moses for how the Israelites could be protected. They were to take blood from a lamb (known thereafter as the Passover lamb) and mark it above their doors as a sign for God’s judgment to pass over that house. During this night of Passover, the children of Israel ate in haste, knowing that they were about to depart for the land God had given to their forefather Abraham. They even cooked bread without any yeast, knowing it would not have time to rise.
To ensure that faithful Jews and Israelites did not forget that momentous night when the angel of death passed over their houses and judged their Egyptian oppressors, God commanded the descendants of Abraham to celebrate the Passover every year (Ex. 12:14). This annual celebration included special rituals that reenacted the original Passover meal, such as unleavened bread to recall their haste, bitter herbs to recall their enslavement, and a Passover lamb to recall their redemption from the angel of death.
As redemption history progressed (there’s that word again) and God’s people experienced additional exiles, the Passover celebration took on special significance as a hope and promise of future deliverance. Moreover, the prophetic corpus gave reason for looking on the Passover as a down-payment of the time when the God of Israel would finally rescue His people from their ultimate enemy, sin and death. Jews in the first century generally believed that they were still in a state of exile, because they were awaiting a second Exodus when God would forgive them of their sins, deliver them from their foreign overlords, return to dwell among them, and institute the New Covenant that the prophet Jeremiah had foretold. It was during this period of painful expectation that the story of the Exodus, and its liturgical reenactment every year, took on special potency.
Significantly, the annual Passover celebration was more than simply a reminder of those portentous events so long ago. The faithful believed that through the Passover liturgy, they were actually participating in those original events. Through the ritualistic reenactment of the Passover night, the ancient past was brought forward into the present.
Jesus celebrated the Passover in the event we call the Last Supper, as faithful Jews and Israelites had been doing for hundreds of years. Significantly, this occurred on the night before Jesus, the new Passover lamb, rescued Abraham’s descendants from their final bondage. By mysteriously participating in the original Passover, Christ was able to transform the celebration in light of His own dawning victory over slavery and exile. Taking the Passover bread and wine, Christ declared that it was His body and blood shed for the remission of sins and the introduction of a new covenant (Mt. 26:26-29). When Christians thereafter celebrated the Last Supper, or the Eucharist as it later came to be called, they participate in Christ’s victorious death, the ultimate Exodus out of bondage. Just as the annual Passover liturgy was a participation in the original Passover meal, so the Christian Eucharist became a participation in the new Exodus made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death.
Many Christians have a hard time understanding this type of liturgical participation, and so they end up with weird theories, such as the theory held by many Protestants that communion is simply an illustration and nothing more, or the even stranger Protestant theory which says that Catholics and Orthodox believe that Christ is being re-sacrificed every time communion is served, or the theory that has been espoused in this discussion which says that time on earth is not linear.
Much of this confusion arises because we have a different understanding of time than the ancient Hebrews. When the Hebrews celebrated the Passover every year, the symbolism and typology enabled them to spiritually participate in those original events, even though in purely secular time the Passover was in the distant past. The ancient Hebrews did not believe that the Passover repeated itself hundreds of times throughout secular history, just as Catholics and Orthodox do not believe that Christ is re-sacrificed anew every time a priest says the Mass. Rather, the doctrine of liturgical participation is built on the notion that a specific punctiliar event in the distant past can come rushing forward into the present, and that through “reminiscence” (anamnesis in Greek), those events can be “made present.”
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor articulated the concept of making present by saying that “The original Passover in Egypt, and the last supper, are brought into close proximity by typology, although they are aeons apart in secular time.” If this is true, then it challenges how we think of time. Consider the following question: what is closer to the original Easter: January 3rd 1975, or Easter Sunday 2013? According to human reason, we would say that January 3rd 1975 is thirty-eight years closer to the original Easter than Easter Sunday (or Pascha, as I prefer to call it) in the year 2013. But that is a secular way of approaching time. When our thinking has been informed by a Judeo-Christian worldview, we understand that Easter Sunday is actually “closer” to the events of Christ’s resurrection, though on a different axis from secular time.
The early Christians grasped something of this mystery in their understanding of Real Presence: the teaching that the communion elements mysteriously participate in Christ’s body and His original sacrifice. Although Real Presence became controversial after the sixteenth century, the principle behind it pervades Christian liturgy, as Jesus’ followers are caught up to participate in the key events of salvation history. For example, during Advent, Christians re-enact the period of painful waiting for the Messiah by singing songs such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Christ’s temptation in the wilderness is re-enacted during Lent when Christians fast and give particular attention to the struggle against temptation. All the events of Christ’s final week are re-enacted during Holy Week. And of course, Christ’s death and resurrection are re-enacted through the Eucharistic and Paschal mysteries. The ancient prayers and hymns that accompany these fasts and feasts build on the same reality that the Hebrews understood in their Passover celebrations: under the right conditions, great events from the past are brought into conjunction with the present, enabling worshipers to participate in spiritual realities that transcend their immediate location in time and space.
Where am I going with all this? Simply that this spiritual perspective on time not only challenges modern secular assumptions, but it also refutes oriental paganism with its cyclical conception of time, in addition to undermining the non-linear conceptions of earthly time that are becoming so trendy within contemporary American Orthodoxy. Within the Judaeo-Christian understanding, time proceeds in a linear fashion, marked by key epochs in the ongoing march towards the final eschatological climax. These epochs (creation, election, exodus, kingdom, exile, redemption, church, continuation, second coming, final judgment, new heavens and new earth) pull history along so that the linear flow of time becomes the stage on which the drama of redemption plays out. As these epochs in redemption’s drama become reenacted and made present sacramentally (see above), the worshiping community is enabled to look back and look forward within the linear timeline of history. Passover looked backwards to remember creation but it also looked forward to anticipate the final Exodus when creation itself is rescued from slavery. Pascha looks back to Christ’s resurrection but it is also a foretaste of what awaits us in our future resurrection. What is going on here is more than simply looking forward and backward, as if the celebration of these events is simply a lesson in history and prophecy. Rather, worshipers sacramentally participate in the past and the future, both of which come rushing into the present. But past, present, and future assume a linear view of time. To be sure, this sacramental understanding of time is MORE than a pure linearity, but it is not LESS. This should not be hard to grasp living in a world where God has blessed us with the seasons. Within the drama of time’s linearity, the cycles of the moon and stars repeat themselves to mark recurring seasons, and they help us to organize ourselves according to repeating days, weeks, months, and seasons. But these cyclical rhythms are pulling history forward similar to how the hands of a clock rotate within the context of a larger rhythms of forward movement (hours, days, years). In much the same way, the repeating cycles of our liturgy—Nativity, Theophany, Lent, Pascha, etc.—pull history forward in the ongoing progress towards the final eschaton. But we are not there yet. God’s kingdom (i.e.. the reign of God) is not fully established de facto on earth as it is in heaven, as evidenced by the recent killing of the Orthodox priest in France that was referenced above.
The saints in heaven still cry out “How long o Lord?” (Rev 6:20).
Prior to the Second Coming, the de facto aspects of Christ’s kingdom can only be realized in a partial and incomplete ways. Failure to recognize this incompleteness easily leads to over-realized eschatologies that we see in political movements like Marxism, theonomy, the “social gospel” movement of the twentieth century, or grandiose ideas like the illusion that we can completely end poverty. Until Christ’s kingdom is culminated with the second coming and the last judgment, this earth will continue to be a battle ground between the forces of truth vs. falsehood, justice vs. injustice, righteousness vs. wickedness, Eden vs. the wilderness. Christians can and should join this cosmic battle through the work we do in our families, churches, communities, cities, and nations, but our progress cannot be measured in purely earthly terms.
The establishment of God’s kingdom on earth is a process, but one that is at present INCOMPLETE. I’ll say that again: GOD’S KINGDOM ON EARTH IS INCOMPLETE. Paul describes the process whereby God progressively subdues all contrary rule and authority to Himself. In the Pauline description, Christ’s progressively enacted authority follows three stages. The first stage is Christ’s resurrection from the dead as a firstfruits of those who will later follow. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:20-21) Paul then describes the next stage, when God will give resurrection bodies to the faithful throughout all of history. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Cor. 15:22-23) Elsewhere Paul expanded on this by clarifying that those who have died in the faith will be given resurrection bodies before those who are alive at the time of the second coming (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The third stage is when Christ finally subdues all contrary authority and power, including the power of death itself. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Another way of talking about this progression is to use the language of inauguration, continuation, and culmination. Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated through His life-giving death and resurrection. This gave rise to the period of continuation during which He subdues lands to Himself. This is the period in which we now live, and this process of continual subduing is in anticipation of the final culmination when He finally throws down all contrary rule and power. Linear history then, becomes the stage on which this battle is waged, as we progress in the ongoing march towards perfection that will be realized only in the eschaton. In the meantime, we have been endowed with the firstfruits or down-payment of a kingdom whose fullness is still in the future. Through Christ and the ministry of the church, the life of the age to come rushing forward into the present. We live in the eighth day—the continuous Pascha or Easter—which still anticipates the more glorious Pascha when Christ returns and institutes the new heavens and the new earth.
Because of this, there is a tension between the already and the not-yet. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) emphasized that the economy of salvation is divided into key stages in the ongoing progress through history. Within the present age, he taught, human beings have the vocation of connecting the material and the spiritual realms, which they do by guiding the world’s encounter with God. Here St. Gregory echoed the historical approach adopted by St. Irenaeus, who emphasized that the final goal of creation is still to be realized. St. Irenaeus speculated about the events things leading up to a new earth, positing a thousand-year millennium. (Against Heresies, 5.35.2) While the church has generally rejected St. Irenaeus’ speculations, it has not rejected his fundamental point that there is an incompleteness to the realization of God’s kingdom within space and time. Within the space of this incompleteness, the church is tasked with building for God’s kingdom, and participating synergistically towards the world’s eventual deification.
Thank you for the exposition – you have a place for a more sacramental understanding than I was seeing. I still, however, cannot see a progress through time for the Kingdom. I utterly agree that we do not yet see the full manifestation of the Kingdom in this world, if that is what you mean by “God’s kingdom on earth is incomplete.” I would not say “incomplete.” I would say, “Not fully manifest.” I do not think it is “more manifest” now than it was 1300 years ago (for example). We live, more or less, in a single day, a single time, until the “manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8). We live in the day of creation’s groaning.
But the Kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit (St. Maximus). It is the true union of the created and the uncreated – and nothing less. There are indeed foretastes that God gives us. We preach the Kingdom. We do not build it. We pray for its coming (in that Day) and we long to have those glimpses within our experience. But it is not something that we can build. We preach it. God makes it manifest.
The Kingdom of God is to this world what the resurrection is to the body. Nothing less. If you can raise the dead into a non-dying life, then you could say you are “building the Kingdom.” But since we cannot and do not – we cannot and should not say such a thing. That notion – “building the Kingdom” is simply outside the Tradition and is not found in the English language until the 19th century (cf. Rauschenbusch).
We proclaim it. God brings it forth. It is not for us to manage that bringing forth – because it is a mystery beyond our ken (just as is the resurrection). When asked who He was, Christ answered with signs in Isaiah: the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news proclaimed to them (I take that to be the fullness of the cosmic Jubilee). And the coming of the Kingdom is marked by just such signs – the supernatural (I do not like the term) fulfillment and transformation of the world. But not a progressive improvement of history. Again, there is no such thing.
I have lived and worked “on the ground” all of my adult life, over 40 years now, laboring in obedience to the Kingdom of God. Whatever deification and theosis, or even synergy there may be, is not very visible – other than the lived miracle of each life Baptized into Christ. But, I see that number as a dwindling percentage of the world, while the darkness of the world increases, as we have been warned in the Scriptures.
What you have described, with the language you are using, seems very easily co-opted into various modern political models of progressive theory. God alone manages history. We have no commands for such things. Perhaps my vision is too small. But I have a very small life and pray that it becomes yet smaller. There are the commandments. There is the sacramental life of grace. There is the providence of God. These theories of history seem to me to be removed from life itself. I fear anyone who imagines themselves to be building the Kingdom.
One more comment and then I will shut up on this topic(because I could go on forever).
In his 1931 address to the American Historical Society as its President Carl Becker https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/presidential-addresses/carl-l-becker
said that “History is the memory of events that occured in the past”.
The key word for me is memory.
Memory is. It just is. It can be added to and subtracted from but it does not progress or regress even, it changes, adapts and fluctuates and it is anything but linear. Even the term “past” takes on a somewhat plastic quality IMO.
However much fun such excursions of the heart and mind are, and they are fun; however much the thoughts, images and ideas engaged in the process help us to grow and develop as human beings, and they certainly have me, if I step back and allow my mind to descend into my heart a slight amount it is all irrelevant in the presence of Christ, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow who came( is coming) down from heaven, became(is becoming man), was(is)Crucified and was(is) Risen trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
I have seen the Resurrection.
Once death is overcome there are no other points to determine the begining and end of any line. After all He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.
Christ is Risen!
Robin, here is an interesting exercise from Colossians 1:
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 7 as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.
Col. 1:9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
Here, the Kingdom is a “hope” laid up in the heavens. It has been made known. (that preaching is now being made known through all the earth). It is presently bringing forth fruit. That fruit seems to be equated with walking in a manner pleasing to God, doing good works (keeping the commandments), accompanied with patience and long-suffering. I assume the patience and long-suffering are required because we do not yet see the Kingdom manifest in this world.
I do not suggest that the Kingdom of God is not made manifest in our hearts (and on certain occasions revealed in the world – miraculously). Indeed, because the Kingdom now dwells in our hearts (as we dwell in the Kingdom) – so we are able to perceive (by grace) its work in the world. I do not deny that our good works participate in that work.
However, I see nothing in this passage or elsewhere that suggest a gradual increase and building of the Kingdom. Church history certainly doesn’t give witness to any such increase or building. What I find lacking in your account is the presence of the mystery of the Kingdom, much less its utter permeation of creation at present (though hidden).
Instead, I hear a very historical account that any Protestant could give, with the exception of the sacrament of the Eucharist which seems to be very singularized – not a pattern. I wonder what you make of Schmemann’s For the Life of the World. This just seems to me to be a very inadequate summary of theology – just mostly history – but not particularly grounded in either the grammar or primary concerns of the Orthodox Fathers. Nor do I see what there is that is lacking in the accounts I written in the present article and others like it – except that I resist this notion of progress and building as an interloper.
Oddly, I’ve heard your account before, years ago. It was in the teaching of a number of Pentecostals. Interesting.
Father I believe you’ve written a good reflection and I’m doubtful that my comment/question here will be helpful. But just in case, here it is.
There seems to be an non-Orthodox mixture of concepts of Eschaton and “Kingdom come” in Protestant understanding. Is this perception correct? Perhaps a reflection of a two story approach? Please forgive me if I’m muddying the waters.
I think you’re explaining it well, but I attempting to grasp what is happening in Robin’s conceptualization. I’m not going to say more or ask more, if this isn’t helpful.
I think what he’s saying about the Kingdom of God has aspects about it that seem a bit two-storey. It’s unintentional, I think. Robin is Orthodox, I think. But we’ve been drinking at some different wells.
oh my I didn’t know. Please forgive me Robin for my presumptions.
Easy mistake, I think. My introduction to Orthodoxy 45 years ago or so, was reading Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church. I’ve been reading it and thinking it in a “mystical key” ever since, and seeking to live it out in that same manner. When that element seems missing from something, it simply doesn’t sound quite Orthodox to me. I cannot think of Orthodox theology that I have read that is presented in any other way. Though, there doubtless are examples of such.
I noted Robin’s dig at the non-linear approaches to history “popular” in some Orthodox circles. I think he describes them incorrectly and is wrong to source them in pagan sources. Orthodox eschatology is not linear. That is a fundamental problem in all of this. It simply ignores the incredible abundance of evidence in the liturgical tradition of the Church and elsewhere.
Forgive me, but I think Robin is trained in history, not in theology, though I might be mistaken. I think I recall that he’s a doctoral candidate somewhere.
“I wonder what you make of Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.” I discuss that in the final chapter of my recent book Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life. . . Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (https://store.ancientfaith.com/gratitude-in-lifes-trenches/)
It’s looks very interesting. I look forward to reading it. Good endorsements.
I would be delighted if you could write a review of it. Shall I send you a review copy?
I would be very interested. My snailmail: 109 Ditman Lane, Oak Ridge, TN 37830
All this talk of history revitalized a bit of my own memory. Warning politically related personal analysis to follow:
I studied Andrew Jackson pretty intensely as an under grad and had a goal to go post grad study under Robert V. Remini his noted biographer. God had other plans.
To my mind there are some remarkable similarities between our time and Jacksonian Age. There is also remarkable similarity between President Trump and President Jackson in personality, style and, broadly speaking, policy wise. Significant enough I think to make comparisons both interesting and useful. Also significantly different to avoid false conclusions.
It is real easy to go overboard and draw such false conclusions. The worst policy of Jackson was his Native American Removal that led to the Trail of Tears. His best is arguably the Nullification Controversy. His decisive action to prevent South Carolina nullifying valid Federal Laws preserved the union and made it less likely the South would prevail in any conflict.
If you read his letters one thing that emerges clearly is his quite mystical idea of Union. Our political Union was God-given and not the result of progress or being built.
As he put it: “Liberty and Union one and inseparable.”
Based on that, he did free his slaves when he died–pity not before but…
IMO it is not difficult to see similar geo-political forces at work now, making our political union difficult and we even have potential violence om the horizon because if it.
Jackson went out of his way to pick fights–even fought duels.
I personally appreciate one story from late in his Presidency. He was old and increasingly had to use his hickory walking stick as a cane. He was arriving home to the White House late one night. As he exited carriage an angry man came out of the night, pointed a precussion cap pistol at Jackson point blank and fired. The pistol misfired. The carriage driver had to pull President Jackson off the man or Jackson would have beaten the man to death.
“I cannot think of Orthodox theology that I have read that is presented in any other way. Though, there doubtless are examples of such.”
Father my own training in Orthodox theology has come from different people from you but does include you as well. There were never theological conflicts in my catechism of this sort. All that you have written here, in this article and comments, is what I have been taught, in my catechism and in all the readings I have read thus far, that is, the Fathers, readings from theologians coming out of different Orthodox seminaries, and the lives and sayings of saints. So, from my own training, it seems to me your topics appropriately represent the liturgical tradition in Orthodox theology.
Plus I note the fact that your ministry has the endorsement of Orthodox hierarchy, which expresses a trust in your capacity to provide appropriate representation of Orthodoxy in this blog.
Whatever “different takes” there are, if they are Orthodox and were important to the life of the Church, I should hope I would have heard of them by now. Nevertheless, it is important to continue to learn and I always remind catechumens to be careful where they learn. Generally all blogs (in my recommendations) are off the list except this one for catechumens. Then once their understanding matures perhaps venture further a field. But I always urge caution. There’s too much on the internet that isn’t that helpful, if one wishes to learn the Orthodox Way.
I don’t want to draw conclusions too strongly. I note that Robin, for example, had a background in Reform Christianity before becoming Orthodox. My experience is that some, not all, from that direction retain a bit of a “Western” flavor. The West rarely developed the “mystical” approach that is often associated with the Eastern Church (though that’s a very broad term). And, it’s an approach that was certainly around before the Great Schism of 1054. It’s just never worked for me. There are certain questions that I’ve asked that press the so-called mystical approach.
One of those regards the sacrament of the Eucharist with regard to time. Robin noted that in the Eucharist, we do not re-sacrifice Christ, but that the one sacrifice of Christ is present in the Divine Liturgy. He describes this as:
I would not describe it that way. His description privileges a sort of secular concept of time (linear) as the “boiler plate.” For me, I would ask, “What is the nature of time such that this participation in the present in an event that happened 2,000 years ago is possible?” That is what Schmemann does. He rules out a “punctiliar” approach as a “reification” (“thing-i-fy-ing”) the sacrament. Rather, he argues very strongly that the nature of the sacrament reveals the true nature of the world as a proper “symbol.”
Thus, I suggest that everytime Christ took bread, blessed, broke and gave it, it reveals Bread to be His Body and His Blood. It is not just at the Last Supper – but every time. Thus, in the 6th chapter of John, the great teaching of the Eucharist is not married to the Passover meal, but explicates the feeding of the 5,000. Because Jesus is who He is, Bread is revealed to be what it truly is meant to be. And, just so, in Christ, we are revealed to be who we are truly meant to be. Simon is seen to be Peter, etc.
This is how I was taught. And, it differs from what I’m seeing Robin say. Though, in his defense, I do not hear him saying this is wrong. It’s also true that, depending on one’s teachers, and the circle of conversations within Orthodoxy, things can take on a different tenor. I can only judge my own work by the consistent feedback I receive from hierarchs, priests, and Orthodox teachers of theology, both here in the US and elsewhere across the world.
And, in Robin’s defense, he has only argued that he thinks I overstate things viz. the Kingdom of God. I do not think I do – but I have been much more willing to press the point against the notion of “building up the Kingdom” precisely because I do not, on the one hand, find such language in the Tradition, and, on the other, think is easily becomes an unwitting Trojan Horse for certain modern ideas that are false.
Anyone writing after about 1840, speaking of improvement, progress, betterment, etc., is to be questioned very carefully. It is, I believe, a modern heresy and an abuse of Christian eschatology.
This has been interesting.
Father indeed it has been interesting. I have not had a chance to talk history like this in a long time. A joy.
Father your training is certainly far more broad than my own. In my youth I never really learned Protestant theology with the exception of some off comments directed to my mother as a “pagan”. She believed herself to be Christian–although within a 500 year old Seminole tradition that some Protestants would not recognize. For me as a child these comments to her and the effect they had on her was enough for me to question the legitimacy of all “self-professed” Christians. As a result, I lived the bulk of my life– the ballpark of about 40 years– outside of western Christian traditions. Nevertheless this culture is saturated with it, which makes my claim to be outside of it a bit of an overstatement.
Consequently, the bulk of what I have learned about non-Orthodox ideas of any depth is actually post hoc, after becoming an Orthodox Christian. And as a result, I suppose it seems rather easy for me to recognize what seems to be different.
It is a little alarming to me that the catechism of former non-Orthodox Christians doesn’t do more to support an immersion that washes away former non-Orthodox theology. Perhaps this is an indication that this is very hard to do. I’ve noted even a few Orthodox priests err due to their former (Protestant) theological training, which is even more of a concern. Thank God that is a rarity. For those of us who teach in catechism classes, we need to pay close attention to what catechumens say and understand, and take catechism classes very seriously. I should mention that I’m not teaching catechism classes now, but at the time, it was to me no casual endeavor whatsoever.
Please forgive my continued ramblings.
Also, I’ll add that by “teaching” I mean to say that I used Fr Schmemann’ book “Of Water and the Spirit”, as the foundation and pedagogical structure of the class. I’d prefer to say that he was the one who was actually doing the teaching.
Dee, if you are anything like me by “teaching” classes you ended up learning more than the other members of the class.
Robin, et al
Sometimes I feel the need to run things by someone else – get an outside opinion and a sanity check. I sent an email with the article and this conversation with Robin to a priest friend who’s very solid theologically – and, I think, gets where I coming from. Here is his response:
Well, chew on that, folks.
Thank you all for the responses to my LONG post defending a linear view of earthly time (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197753). To respond to the Patristic quotations and rational argumentation I presented by saying, “it simply doesn’t sound quite Orthodox to me” is not a response at all, but just a statement of feeling. If there is something wrong in my argument for a linear view of earthly time, then show it. But to simply repeat your conclusions without showing HOW I am wrong is not to have a discussion at all.
Fr. Stephen, thank you for sharing that feedback from your friend. Do you agree with him that what I’ve been writing is non-problematic?
I think he offered a very generous reading. I still find the language of progress to be problematic. I would say that history is providential – in fact – “history” is a less accurate term than “providence.” I have written persistently about the essential importance of providence. I do not, however, have any notion of our contributing to providence or furthering it. I’m not even comfortable with using the language of cause and effect with regard to providence. I’ve used the term “causelessly causing” to try to express that relationship.
I also think that it is problematic to think in linear, historical terms, in the sense that the past is the cause of the present, etc. The Incarnation, in the Fathers is the “Cause of all things” (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/?s=cause+of+all+things). There is certainly an experience of the passage of time, past, present, and future. But we have Christ saying, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and so many other things that simply do not proceed in a linear fashion. I do not substitute a cyclical notion, like the Far East or the Pagans. But that the mystery of the Kingdom transcends linearity. We are being drawn towards an End – and it is more correct to say that the End is the cause far more than that what is now is a result of things in the past. Indeed, all typology points in the opposite direction.
But, no doubt, it would be possible to nuance what you are saying such that it would be less problematic.
I have a particular mission (of sorts) in my writing. Much of that is to introduce readers to the mystical theology of the Eastern Church and to hear more clearly how many aspects of that approach are helpful in coming to know God. I have found it helpful to push against a too simplistic presentation of linearity, for example. It has far too many problems and does not allow for the truth as it is often expressed in the Fathers.
I will remind you that I did not come looking to find problems in your writing – but that you came declaring problems in mine. I’m not very good at arguing – and I don’t like to do it. The most I can say is that, if what you are saying is non-problematic, I would, nonetheless, not say it that way. It would leave me empty.
I have written numerous times against the notion of “not making the world a better place” and have largely been pushing against the false ideas of modern secularism. What you are saying, I will grant is a different thing. However, it has a way of “rhyming” with that secularized notion. Indeed, in my Anglican life, “building the Kingdom” was a common phrase and was always synonymous with Left-wing politics – just social gospel.
I wish you well in your work – but am probably not the right person to judge it.
Robin, it is difficult to show “something wrong” when it is not the argument that is the problem but the premise. My whole intellectual formation, begun by my parents in a conscious and deep way was on a non-linear foundation. My father was 47 when I was born my mother 40. He was a pioneer, living with his patents and an older brother in a sod hut when they first began homesteading on the high plains of eastern New Mexico in 1906. He went on from there to get am MD from the University of Kansas in the top 10% of his class snd sn MPH from Harvard. He had a profound appreciation for nuance and a strong philosophy of life that informed his work in Public Health. I heard it nearly everyday how to think: the interconnectedness of all life. My mother was a dancer with Martha Graham before she married my father who had a passion for art and dance that brought her to the understanding that ‘history’ was lived within a pattern defined by the Fibonacci Sequence. An interconnected dynamic whole
So, even when there are linear elements, I put them in a non-linear context. My teachers in history also approached the understanding of the nature as “present” and continuing, but not truly linear. I cannot say you are wrong, I just find your premise incomplete. To accept it would require me to jettison a good deal of a lifetime’s mode of thinking. A mode of thinking that I have found extraordinarily fruitful. I hope your way of thinking is as fruitful.
I find no need to have one mode replace the other. I found the discussion itself opening new ground in my mind and helping me revisit old gems with added freshness. Thank you.
Does one way have to be “right” and the other “wrong”?
I should clarify. What you are writing does not fall into the realm of dogma – and is thus not a topic of “outside of Orthodoxy” or some such thing. It’s problematic, for me, to speak of providence working in a progressive manner. I think it is inscrutable to the greater extent.
But not problematic in the sense of “you can’t say that sort of thing.”
Michael Bauman, thanks for sharing the “interconnected dynamic whole” of your experience. I would love to know more of what you mean when you say, “I put them in a non-linear context… I just find your premise incomplete. To accept it would require me to jettison a good deal of a lifetime’s mode of thinking. A mode of thinking that I have found extraordinarily fruitful.” Specifically, I am curious if you experience negates the following statement from my earlier comment (and see https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197753 for full context):
“Within the drama of time’s linearity, the cycles of the moon and stars repeat themselves to mark recurring seasons, and they help us to organize ourselves according to repeating days, weeks, months, and seasons. But these cyclical rhythms are pulling history forward similar to how the hands of a clock rotate within the context of a larger rhythms of forward movement (hours, days, years). In much the same way, the repeating cycles of our liturgy—Nativity, Theophany, Lent, Pascha, etc.—pull history forward in the ongoing progress towards the final eschaton. But we are not there yet. God’s kingdom (i.e.. the reign of God) is not fully established de facto on earth as it is in heaven, as evidenced by the recent killing of the Orthodox priest in France that was referenced above. The saints in heaven still cry out ‘How long o Lord?’ (Rev 6:20).”
With regard to my earlier comment about time’s linearity, you wrote, “it is difficult to show ‘something wrong’ when it is not the argument that is the problem but the premise.” I don’t agree. Wrong premises are one of four ways that an argument can go wrong, and it is possible to show this by identifying the false premises. Here are the four ways that an argument can be faulty:
(1) there can be false premises,
(2) there can be true premises that nevertheless do not support the conclusion,
(3) there can be equivocation of terms,
(4) there can be a combination of any of the above three things that render the argument unsound.
Consider how this might apply to the following syllogism:
All Men Are Mortal
Socrates is a Man
Therefore, Socrates is Mortal
We can say that the above argument is valid when the conclusion follows logically from the premises. That is to say, if the premises are true then the conclusion necessarily follows. But are the premises actually true? In the case of the above argument, both the premises are true: all men are indeed mortal, and Socrates was indeed a man. It is possible, however, to make an argument that is structurally valid (that is, where the conclusion follows from the premises) but the premises are still false. Here would be an example:
All Men Are Trees
Socrates is a Man
Therefore, Socrates is a Tree
Notice that the conclusion follows logically from the premises even though the premises are false. In order for an argument to work, it must be valid as well as containing true premises. When an argument is both valid and true, and contains no ambiguous terms, then we say the argument is sound.
An example of an argument with ambiguous terms would be the following:
Only man is a rational animal.
No woman is a man.
Therefore, no woman is a rational animal.
This argument has ambiguous terms, because the term “man” is being used in a different sense in premise one and premise two. Thus, even if it is valid (conclusion following logically from premises), it is not sound, because it doesn’t satisfy the criteria of having no ambiguous terms.
Most of the informal arguments we construct in our day to day lives, or even more formal arguments we might make when writing or having intellectual conversations, do not follow the same strict structure as the above syllogisms. In normal everyday discussions, both the premises and conclusion are sometimes implied, and there are usually many more premises and terms than what we find in a simple syllogism. Even so, all proper arguments are made up of conclusions and premises that purport to support those conclusions. And again, if the premises are true and if the conclusion follows logically from those premises and there are no ambiguous terms, then the argument is sound.
Applying this to the present discussion, when you write “I just find your premise incomplete,” this is hard for me to interact with without knowing WHICH premises are incomplete, and how the alleged incompleteness impacts the conclusion I am drawing from those premises.
With regard to the linearity of time, you ask “Does one way have to be ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’?” Here I must confess that I don’t know if the recent denials of my view of time’s linearity are “wrong,” as I do not understand such denials, and I do not consider them as rising to a sufficient level of coherence necessary for either falsification or verification. But in general, I will outline the framework for assessing whether two positions can both of right at the same time.
Logic shows us that there are a variety of ways that things can be consistent or inconsistent. On the level of simple statements (i.e. all men are mortal, no men are mortal, some men are mortal, some men are not mortal) there are roughly four ways that statements can be related. These are represented by the Square of Opposition (which you can view at https://iep.utm.edu/sqr-opp/.
Statements in the top left-hand corner of the Square of Opposition are what we call Universal Affirmative Statements, and these are designated by the letter A. In the top right-hand corner of the Square of Opposition are what we call Universal Negative statements, and these are designated by the letter E. Statements in the bottom left-hand corner of the Square of Opposition are what we call Particular Affirmative statements, and these are designated by the letter I. In the bottom right-hand corner of the Square of Opposition are what we call Particular Negative statements, designated by the letter O.
The relationship between contraries (A and E statements) on the top horizontal axis is such that both statements cannot be true at the same time, although both may be false at the same time. For example, although the statement “all men are mortal” and “no men are mortal” could both be false at the same time (as would be the case in certain Greek myths where only some men are mortal), they cannot both be true at the same time. We describe this relationship between A statements and E statements by saying that they are contrarieties.
On the other hand, the relationship between subcontrary statements (I and O statements) on the bottom horizontal axis is such that both cannot be false at the same time, although both can be true at the same time. For example, although the I statement “some birds are flying things” could not be false if it is also false that “some birds are not flying things” (because the falsity of “some birds are flying things” must necessarily mean that “some birds are not flying things”), they could both be true at the same time. That is, it could be true that some birds are flying things at the same time as it is also true that some birds (i.e., ostriches) are not flying things.
The diagonal axis (from A to O, and from I to E) represents a contradictory relationship between statements, so that the truth of A implies the falsity of O, and the falsity of A implies the truth of A, and the truth of I implies the falsity of E, while the falsity of E implies the truth of E. For example, the A statement that all fruits contain seeds contradicts the O statement that some fruits do not contain seeds, for if it is true that all fruits contain seeds then it must necessarily be false that some fruits do not contain seeds, but if it is false that all fruits contain seeds then it must necessarily be true that some fruits do not contain seeds.
The vertical axes represent the flow of truth or falsity from A to I and from E to O. If the A statement that every dog is a mammal is true, then this truth flows to position I on the Square of Opposition, meaning that it must also be true that some dogs are mammals. Similarly, if it is true that no reptiles are birds, then it has to also be true that some reptiles are not birds.
These relationships can be summarized as follows, which I grabbed off the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy with minimal modification:
Two propositions are contraries if they cannot both be true but can both be false.
Two propositions are subcontraries if they cannot both be false but can both be true.
Two propositions are contradictory if they cannot both be true and they cannot both be false.
A proposition is a subaltern of another if it must be true if its superaltern is true, and the superaltern must be false if the subaltern is false.
The square of opposition represents fixed and immutable laws regulating degrees of consistency and inconsistency among statements. Now most of what we encounter in every day life, and also in the realm of theology and philosophy, are not written in simple A, E, I, and O statements. This means that in most of the everyday situations we face will be less clear what statements are consistent and inconsistent. In most everyday contexts, what is consistent and inconsistent will follow from empirical observation and probabilities, not from logical laws. And even when we are dealing with straightforward A, E, I, and O statements in everyday life, we must enter into the realm of empirical observation, or perhaps appeal to authority, to find out if the statements are actually true. This is where we rely less on pure logic and more on what is called critical thinking. Yet logic prepares us for critical thinking like playing scales prepares us for playing Chopin.
Consider the following statement. “The allegations concerning Daniel’s adultery must be false because Daniel is a pious Christian who loves his wife.” This argument makes appeal to a criterion of consistency, claiming that the statement “Daniel committed adultery” is inconsistent with our body of knowledge regarding who we know Daniel to be. These are not simple A, E, I, or O statements that can be checked against logical laws, and even if we could reduce this problem to the four types of statements, this would not get us any closer to knowing which statements are true concerning Daniel. Rather, to check into this argument, you would need to explore empirical details, to learn about Daniel’s life, to find out why the allegations have been made, and maybe even listen to your intuition. Yet we are still checking for consistency in a similar way to the Square of Opposition, for we want to know what can be affirmed or denied about Daniel at the same time. What type of statements can be true at the same time? For example, can the statement “Daniel committed adultery” and “Daniel is pious” both be true at the same time? What statements can be false at the same time? For example, could it false that Daniel committed adultery and also false that he is pious? What statements contradict each other? For example, does the truth of Daniel’s piety imply the falsity of the charges against him, or visa versa? Law courts must engage in these types of problems all the time.
Applying this to the question of time’s linearity, which I addressed earlier (see https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197753 ), we would have to know if you are claiming that ALL earthly time is non-linear and in what sense, or whether you are claiming that SOME earthly time is non-linear in a certain sense. I have already explained in detail what I mean when I say that earthly time is linear, but I do not feel able to sufficiently evaluate your disputation of it until I have a better grasp of what you specifically mean. You asked “Does one way have to be ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’?” It all depends on the type of claim you are making, and what type of claim I am making, and so far the former is unclear to me.
Forgive me if anything I have written here is not helpful or if it creates confusion.
Hi Father Stephen. I wanted to reply to your comment “If you can raise the dead into a non-dying life, then you could say you are ‘building the Kingdom.’ But since we cannot and do not – we cannot and should not say such a thing.”
I puzzled at this statement, because the principle of resurrection is already at work in the world every day through our acts of virtue and piety, and this is one of the ways that God’s Providence is working in the world in a progressive (forward-moving, goal oriented) manner. I don’t need to raise the dead to build for the Kingdom: I am building for God’s kingdom every day I practice gratitude instead of anxiety; I am building for God’s kingdom every day I allow the coming resurrection to transform how I speak to my children and wife.
As Orthodox Christians, we experience the foretaste of resurrection life – which we be fully complete at the eschaton – every day through acts of love and faith, and this is one of the primary ways that God’s Providence is progressively moving history forward towards the goal of perfection. The seed of resurrection is already at work in the world, and this enables us to build for God’s kingdom (but see my earlier qualifications at https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197514 and why I say we are not building God’s kingdom but building FOR God’s kingdom) within the medium of time’s linearity. But let me explain why I think this, and here I must qualify that I am channeling what I was taught when I was catechized and not simply my own opinion. What I was taught may indeed have been wrong, but I think it coheres with Scripture, and I will try to show this as well.
After the resurrection of Christ, the early Christians believed that new creation was spreading from their communities throughout the physical world, which itself is awaiting Christ’s return (Rom. 8:19-23). As miraculous healings occurred at the hands of the disciples (Acts 2:43; 19:11-12), this revived the Isaianic vision of a world where the curse would be reversed (Is. 35). The reign of God, already a reality in the “upstairs” realm of heaven (yes, and I use that term unapologetically), was being spread to the “downstairs” of earth (in the way previously described through the examples of Herod and Bonnie Prince Charlie – see https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197514). Through the power of the incarnation and resurrection, the heaven and earth duality/intersection that had been a reality in Eden, was once again becoming a reality on earth. This intersection of heaven and earth did not involve a God who is separate from the world occasionally “intervening,” or working on the materials of creation from outside via a series of cause and effects. Rather, Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection brought a spiritual enlivening to the very structure of material creation, so that even the distinction between the spiritual and the material (and between upstairs and downstairs, or heaven and earth) became porous. The implications of this were both cosmic and cultural. The latter can be seen in the way the apostles went around establishing communities marked out by new loyalties and characterized by counter-cultural values like faith and sacrificial love. These missionary endeavors were an outworking of the Christian’s belief that they had been called to continue Christ’s healing ministry through bringing the values of His kingdom into families, communities, and society. N.T. Wright describes just how counter-cultural the apostolic ministry was: “Christianity advocated a love which cut across racial boundaries. It sternly forbade sexual immorality, the exposure of children, and a great many other things which the pagan world took for granted.” We could continue on this theme, and we might explore how new creation challenged prevailing attitudes about the poor, or how it brought new dignity to women. The point is that Christ’s resurrection had tangible consequences that very quickly began to be felt throughout the culture. That is why I said earlier that the Church is a social movement, although much more. The Apostle Paul built on this and went to great lengths to describe how new creation is breaking into the present order and changing lives, and even whole villages, in anticipation of the age to come when the work of new creation will be complete. For example, Paul described new creation not just in terms of personal salvation but also in terms of the social relationships that make up a community (wives-husbands, children-parents, masters-slaves, bishops-laity, etc.). New creation is clearly a communal endeavor, with implications for all society. This cultural dimension is possible because of the eschatological nature of Christian theology. Just as Christ’s resurrection in the middle of history points towards the resurrection of all God’s people at the end of history, so the establishment of transformed communities characterized by faith and love, act as advanced signposts to God’s larger plan for renewing the entire earth. The prophetic vision of a future world in which all creation praises God (Ps 96 and 98), and in which Jew and Gentile join hands in worship (Zech. 8), is a vision that comes rushing into the present through Christ, even as the Church awaits the final fulfilment of this vision at the Second Coming.
The future transformation that we look forward to—which will be complete when Christ returns and ushers in the new heavens and the new earth—gives every reason to work for progress (there’s that word again) in the present order of things. Just as Adam and Eve were given a job to do in the first creation, so we have been given jobs to do within renewed (renewing) creation. Sometimes these jobs will include work that we think of as “spiritual,” but most often it will simply involve going about our daily tasks in a way that is honoring to our image-bearing vocation. Indeed, every lawful activity in our life should be taken up and offered to God as a type of worship, in anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth.
That is why Christian teachers like Paul showed that this future hope came with a present challenge: we can experience a foretaste of future glory by putting our members to the service of Christ, turning away from those things that corrupt and destroy God’s good creation. This is why St. Paul’s great discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 culminated in a practical exhortation to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
By living now in the light of future resurrection, we participate synergistically with Providence in moving forward towards the future deification of the earth. We are not building God’s kingdom, but we are building FOR God’s kingdom. As N.T. Wright put it, “the Christian hope…gives us a view of creation which emphasizes the goodness of God’s world, and God’s intention to renew it. It gives us, therefore, every possible incentive, or at least every Christian incentive, to work for the renewal of God’s creation and for justice within God’s creation. Not that we are building the kingdom by our own efforts. Let us not lapse into that. Rather, what we are doing here and now is building for God’s kingdom. It is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: there is continuity between our present work and God’s future kingdom, even though the former will have to pass through fire to attain the latter. It is also clearly implied in 1 Corinthians 15:58: the conclusion of Paul’s enormous exposition of the resurrection is not an outburst of joy at the glorious life to come, but a sober exhortation to work for the kingdom in the present, because we know that our work here and now is not in vain in the Lord. In other words, belief in the resurrection, the other side, if need be, of a period of disembodied life in the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 15:29), validates and so encourages present Christian life, work and witness.”
Through this present work and witness, Providence is directing the world, always adapting and adjusting in the forward movement of history’s linearity. And even if – God forbid – there should be widespread apostasy before the Second Coming, when the Lord does finally return, He will build the new heavens and the new earth on the scaffolding of all the faithful men and women who lived and died, and especially those who were martyred. This is a spiritual dynamic that is true regardless of what we see happening around us, which is why I was slightly offended by your comment about the Orthodox Priest in France who was recently murdered, although I understood the point you were trying to make.
Putting this altogether, this means that movements like the “social gospel” and Marxism, and Enlightenment ideas of “progress” are not completely wrong – they understand an important truth but twist it. These over-realized eschatologies are distortions of Christian teaching, but in rejecting them we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Marxism understood something that many Christians miss, which is that history is the scene of development. Providence is leading the world forward in the onward march to perfection, and this leading-forward occurs through a series of progressive phases (creation, election, exodus, monarchy, exile, redemption, church, continuation, last judgment, new heavens and new earth). Providence is flexible and adaptive in as we build God’s kingdom in the medium of time’s linearity through successive phases (but see my earlier qualifications about this language at https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197514 and https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197654 and https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/07/26/whats-with-the-kingdom-of-god/#comment-197753). I have been so blessed to have the nature of this forward-looking adaptive Providence clarified by Father Dimitru Staniloae, who discusses the successive phases of God’s kingdom-building work. I quote, from the book The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.
“Even in the state of sin, it is providence that preserves and directs the world. This means that the world is not compromised nor will ever be brought to utter destruction by the force of evil but keeps its worth in the eyes of God….Providence, too, however, is always new in the ways it adapts to preserve and protect the world, making use of both its own forces and the good deeds of humans, whether these latter are supporting the good invariable or only intermittently. Through the multiplication of human beings as factors of good and evil, always original but endowed with memory of the past, God is leading the world toward ever new phases.
Thus, even through a providence whose main task is preservation, the world is being led forward. In other words, it is hard to distinguish between the providence that acts to preserve and the providence that acts to lead.
This dynamic sense of the providence that preserves is activated more intensely in the sphere proper to the history of conscious human beings and their development. Providence helps the forces of good not only to maintain themselves – and consequently humankind too – in the same forms, but also to obstruct and thwart evil’s own new forms of action.
Thus, a balance is maintained between the forces of good and evil, which at the same time accords with progress in conscious beings….
More can be said: this leading forward of the world, understood as the work of providence, which is being accomplished in collaboration with the world, cannot be separated off wholly from a certain creative and progressive activity on the part of God, although this differs from creation as such, since it uses the foundation that has been laid through the act of creation. For example, it is also through synergic providence that God brings matter up to that phase in which the human being can be created and given his place in the world. The very act of bringing of more and more humans into existence is itself a further creative work of God and goes beyond merely guiding the world toward the goal of perfection in communion with him…
This action of opening certain essentially new levels and of leading humankind toward them also enters into the framework of providence, which is identifies here with the plan of salvation and deification of the world. For in the absence of these new levels, and if creation were not being led toward them and raised up to them, there would be no meaning to a providence that both preserves an takes leadership.
Christian teaching holds that divine providence plays a large role in the progress of history through the agency of these new levels that God opens up in the conscious creature, as also by his leading creation toward them and raising it up to reach them. Plainly in this action, too, God does not work alone, but in collaboration with human action….
This action casts into high relief the fact that God is not a God who merely preserves the world in certain essentially cyclic forms, but a God whose world has been called to perfection of life in union with him…. God has indeed been at work in acts of the past, but these acts moved the world forward. This is why we must believe that he is also at work now in modes adequate to our own time and that he will be at work in the time to come as well, as so to disclose himself completely in the eschatological future….
Can we all say “Amen” to these wonderful life-giving words of Father Dimitru Staniloae?
You’ve offered a 2,000 word response to Michael – mostly offering a tutorial in freshman logic. It’s a bit much.
On linearity. It is merely a way of thinking and picturing time. Time is not a line, and is only “like” a line if you a describing how you experience it personally. Time is space-time – a particular point in space. The earth and all that is on it was at such-and-such a point in what we call “the past.” If I’m standing on another planet somewhere out there and looking at the sky, the “present” is not a “time” present – but what appears to me at that time. I don’t need to explain all that. It’s just to say that time lines are nice for decorating classroom walls, but they don’t do a very good job of describing reality.
Linearity also suggests that what is past is gone – but that is not actually correct – at least not when viewed in present space-time understanding. It really depends on where you’re standing.
We also have the utterly contradicting reality of, for example, how we speak of certain events: Pascha. The Lamb was slain before the Foundation. He is slain at a particular space-time point on Calvary. He is slain (not re-slain) in the Eucharist at every Divine Liturgy, etc., etc. We do not describe these things as “past” exactly, but most often speak of them in the present tense. We speak of the Second Coming in the past tense in Chrysostom’s Liturgy.
All of that suggests that linearity is insufficient as a way of speaking – unless all of those statements are somehow reduced to metaphors and mere “ways of speaking.” The nature of Orthodox theology – in the sense that it is described as “mystical,” is to treat such statements as factual, not as metaphorical, just as we do the Eucharist.
But, I do not want to belabor this.
I agree viz. our acts of virtue, etc. I would refrain (and do) from describing them as “progressing” and “building.” They are simply words that I think are misleading in the nature of God’s providence and its work. I think it is on this point that we disagree. You find it helpful in your life to employ that metaphor – others may as well. I do not, and for reasons stated repeatedly in my writings on that subject. I think it will lead to wrong-thinking. I’m not sure what more to say. I have nowhere suggested cyclic forms, by the way, nor has anyone else here.
I certainly say “Amen” to Fr. Staniloae’s words.
It seems to me that you do not listen to understand what and why I have said what I have said. You insist that the metaphors of linearity, progress, and building should be dominant and correct anything else. Each of them could be used in a correct sense. But each of them can be used in an incorrect sense. In our modern setting, “progress” and its associated terms have been coopted in a fairly heretical manner as dominant culture images and speech. They permeate how we think. I challenge that and write in a corrective manner. I find it a slippery slope and, because the culture’s misuse of the terms are so dominant, almost impossible for a Christian to employ without going down the slope. They are also not necessary.
Thus, in order to learn to live joyfully in the present, adhering to Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (“sufficient to the day”), I have labored to help people rethink these things in a manner that frees them from the culture’s domination – “taking captive every thought”. Many find it helpful.
Let’s agree that Staniloae is correct. I think I would read him in a manner whose nuance you would not share.
Robin: everything we do, think and feel; everything we do not do affects everything and everybody else.
That is a short summation of my father’s philosophy. He put it this way (constantly): “Ecology is not the relation between an organism and its environment! Ecology is the interrelationship between an organism and its environment.”
He looked upon his work of public health as bringing healing and wholeness to his community. Any small healing he brought to someone made everyone else healthier too. It is a constant interaction. My mother added the beauty of dance to the mix. She hated gravity and fought time. She wanted to choreograph in four dimensions.
Indeed when she spent a summer in Taos, NM in the arts colony there in the early 1930’s she met a Native American man who called himself Adam. He became a friend and mentor. When she talked of him a look of wonder always transfigured her face decades later. She was making him present. As I think of him, both he and my mother are with me.
1. Because she had great leaping ability and he called her “My little daughter who dances in the sky”
2. In the great expanse of NM the horizon was always visible. He taught her to look at it, focus on it and soon it will start to pulse–eventually the pulsation will “bust” the horizon and she would break through into something new. So when my brother and I were growing up she would often ask us if we had any “horizon busters” that day.
3. Adam (whomever he is) also told her she “would have two strong sons who would push out the horizon all around”
This was years before she met my dad. Decades before either my brother or I were conceived. My brother and I can only fulfill that prophecy in the Church by the grace of Christ who is everywhere present filling all things.
4. My mother also learned some of the Native American tribal dances. She especially remembered the group dances done to the beat of the drum in the rhythm of human heart. Spiritually and physiologically each participant’s heart begins to beat in the same rhythm which is the heart beat of the earth and the ancestors. Later I learned that those dances are sacramental prayers.
So I grew up in a household where time and space were not exactly fixed points. Man was both larger and smaller than we typically think and there is no such thing as being alone. We are all interconnected. Seen and unseen. Past and present. R
There is a premise in all of this somewhere but it is interwoven into the mystical fabric of creation and the particularity of my life and existence. The other end explodes into the stars and beyond, world without end.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Robin I am deeply grateful to you for asking your question because it allows me to reenter and more fully articulate life with my family and be grateful for all of it and for each person. That life is changed for the better both then and now. You too, following my father’s paradigm, are transformed a little bit too even if you do not yet know it.
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. May the horizon always bust open before you.b
Robin I also invite you to contemplate John 8:58 in the context of an Incarnate God/man.
Something interesting to consider when thinking about history being linear (or something more). The motto of the Carthusians is:
“The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”
To me this seems to bend time and history itself and declare that it revolves around the Cross, similar to how the planets revolve around the sun. History or time not being linear is not meant to be some sci-fi theory espousing time travel, but a recognition (as Father Stephen has said time and again), that the Lamb is slain from the foundations of the earth.
“[A]nd I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
The “process” or “movement” seems to me, to be that of being drawn into the Cross, not along a trajectory in a linear sense of progression. To quote St. Isaac the Syrian, “The Cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the mind makes entrance into the knowledge of heavenly mysteries.” The movement is one of entrance, not one of linear progression.
Our forefathers in the faith reckoned Jerusalem to be the center of the world. It is certainly the case that Pascha is the center of time. And how does a line have a center? One of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in the past few years was the novel, Laurus, translated from the Russian. The author does wonderful things with time – far more consonant with Orthodox thought and experience. Linearity is blown away.
Thank you for the book recommendation. I just ordered it!
Dan, indeed the Cross is at the center and, often, the Cross is a stumbling block.
It may be beside the fact, but I tend to wonder where paradox fits in all of this? Orthodoxy, and the Scriptures, have no issue with such a thing but it seems to me that paradox simply repels linear thinking.
Generally speaking, I find Robin’s analysis to be similar to what I was attempting back in my Baptist days. I spent a great deal of time “figuring it out”–how God worked in the world, why, and what we were to do. The Great Pattern of History, where everything fit together. It only led me to the realization that I had built my own theological island and was surrounded by others who had done the same. A patchwork of individuals on islands in a large ocean.
The realization that this led to a loss of communion with others is one of the things that God used to lead me to Orthodoxy.