Monday, November 12, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 69, “Lord of History”

Dear friend,

In boarding school I stumbled through history: Greek and Roman in lower year; then in upper year the dreaded American, with its super-dreaded term paper that all the seniors warned us about. In light of the forthcoming film “Lincoln,” with its team-of-rivals view of the Lincoln administration, it amuses me that I wrote my essay on “William Henry Seward and the Republican Nominating Convention of 1864.” I will have to see the movie to remember who Seward (left) even was. In the movie he is played by David Straithairn (right).

The thing about history was, I wanted an overarching theory. I thought there might be a few sentences, maybe a short essay at most, that could sum it up—what drives humankind. But I was so poorly read, such an amateur just struggling to complete my homework assignments (Herodotus? Thucydides? Who were they again?) that this desire to grasp history in the palm of my hand was a pipe dream.

And all along the Catholic Church had done it!

This is something I didn’t hear in Protestant Sunday school. There was talk of the old and new covenants, and a sense that something in the relationship between God and man changed with the coming of Jesus Christ. But that all history was Christ-centered, including the history of the Jewish people from Adam; that Jesus was in fact the “Lord of History”—this is an idea that I have only begun to focus on since becoming a Catholic five years ago.

Maybe it was the old English names that distracted me. In the Episcopal Church I was aware of a day called Whitsunday, with a distinctly pagan sound to it. I never gave a second thought to the etymology—White Sunday, the day on which the Holy Ghost descended—although I enjoyed studying the derivations of words. Pentecost, by contrast, roots this holy day in the old Jewish calendar, fifty days after Passover.

Pentecost is the day, writes Guardini, when faith was born. While Christ lived, no one, including the Apostles, succeeded in understanding Him. It was on Pentecost, after they prayed for nine days in the Upper Room, that Peter and the others were “converted.” Finally, they understood, thanks to the “downpouring superabundance” of the Holy Spirit. Here is the very “birth of Christian existence”!

I have always taken a particular, if casual interest in the Acts of Apostles, because it’s here that we read about the Church—originally only the Catholic Church, of course—coming into being and beginning its miraculous spread throughout the known world. Unlike Islam, which did the same thing six hundred years later, Christianity spread through faith and martyrdom not violence to others. Now, thanks to this chapter, I understand that there would have been no such miracle without Pentecost, without the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

Pentecost is a critical hinge in history, a subject I am coming to appreciate more now that I am a Catholic.

Your old friend,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 70.

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