Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 82, “The Christian Sense of History”

Dear friend,

If you asked the average man on the street for his “sense of history,” what would he say? Even if you tried to explain yourself: Does human history have any order to it? Is it going anywhere? Or will “we” just muddle along (without “me” in a few years), trying our best to be just and to avoid nuclear and biochemical disaster until—what?—the sun explodes?

I used to worry about the sun exploding. The most chilling episode of “The Twilight Zone” I ever saw was about a boy who predicted the future on television and one day saw that the sun would become a supernova tomorrow. Is that your sense of history?

OK, I know that some of us used to be “Marxists,” back in the 1960s when we were reading Marcuse and nodding numbly at stuff we didn’t deeply understand. That gave us a pattern for how events unfold. But today, my friend—what do you think drives the story of mankind, and where is it driving us?

In the Book of Revelation, after the seven seals are opened, seven trumpets sound, unleashing a series of calamities. Then “the seventh angel sounded the trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’” This, writes Romano Guardini in the great book we have been reading together, “is the signal for the ultimate things, and for Christ to intervene.”

The Second Coming! Finally! And what a coming! There is the “great sign” in the heavens, of a woman clothed with the sun bearing a child, and a dreadful dragon with whom St. Michael does battle. These represent the Incarnation and the antithesis, the Antichrist. Next appears the Lamb on Mount Sion, then three angels, and a being “like to a son of man.” Seven more angels unleash the wrath of God from seven vessels; John has a vision of the so-called Whore of Babylon, which Guardini says “doubtless stood for the city of Rome: incarnation of sensuousness, violence, pride, and imperial power, culture in revolt against God.” He adds that it also represents “every earthly power that rebels against the divine.”

Babylon is destroyed, the dragon is vanquished, and a millennium of peace begins. A final struggle occurs, a great white throne appears, “and time comes to an end. The old passes; eternity is open. The new heaven and the new earth shine forth, and all that is God’s is united in the New Jerusalem.

“What we are beholding,” writes RG, “is the Christian conception of history . . . Can history’s meaning be recognized at all?” Man, he says, can give his own order to history by “ordering its chaos through his enlightenment, stamping it with his will.”

The true fulfillment of history, and its end, will come only when God’s will is done. For each of us, at the microcosmic level, that means deciding for or against Christ. The decision is ours, RG reminds us.

And we had better be ready. Who knows that the Antichrist cannot come in our lifetime? What is the Antichrist? “A human being who introduces and order of things in which rebellion against God will attain its ultimate power. He will be filled with enlightenment and strength. The ultimate aim of all aims will be to prove that existence without Christ is possible—no, that Christ is the enemy of existence, which can be fully realized only when all Christian values have been destroyed.”

Sound familiar, my friend? Isn’t it possible that this “rough beast” is already “slouching toward Bethlehem to be born”?

Watching and waiting,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s book The Lord continues here with chapter 83.

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