Catholic Church History
Pagan Imperialism (49 B.C.-313 A.D.) I. Preparation for the Church
Introduction: The Philosophy of History
Theme: "To emerge from that dust of detail in which special histories are as it were
enwrapped, and to soar up to the primary law which governs the movement of human destiny, to
contemplate from that eminence the catastrophes of falling realms, the ebb and flow of peoples
who come and go, and to regard these as mere incidents in the general view of the universe; to
pursue with an eagle's eye the course of humanity across the centuries, and to show the general
causes of those great upheavals which stand out from afar as steps marked in the kingdom of
time- this is what one calls the philosophy of history" (Alfred Nettement).
Philosophic bases. Mere recording of facts, laborious and necessary though it may be,
gives nothing but the flesh of history. Arrangement into chronological sequence affords some
insight into its skeletal structure. Yet if the historian pauses here, he has missed the soul of
history, he has failed to perceive its inner meaning. He has not plumbed the nature and
potentialities of historical factors. Though he may have amassed a formidable array of facts,
even if he may have welded these together by apt physical and psychological explanations, he
has at most made but an isolated contribution to human science. He has failed to integrate his
science with that synthesis of human knowledge afforded by the study of metaphysics. As Allies
has said, "it may be termed a necessity of modern history that it should be Philosophic. It must
give not only the course of things, but their results; not only the facts, but their reasons." Or as
Chevalier has remarked, "neither sociology, nor economics, nor even psychology can provide
history with its principle; it is metaphysics alone, and in a metaphysics based on facts, that history
can find it. And it is because history is the most metaphysical that it is the most real of sciences,
that science which introduces us the most directly to the very heart of the facts."
Theological import. Perhaps such enthusiasm should be tempered with the observation
that history also owes a debt to theology. And in some respects, indeed, every Catholic
philosophy of history verges on becoming a "theology of history." For as Pope Leo XIII pointed out
in his encyclical on historical studies, Saepenumero, "All history in a way shouts out that it is God
whose providence governs the varied and continual changes of mortal affairs, and adapts them,
even in spite of human opposition, to the growth of His Church." And to perceive the theological-
philosophical overtones of history, the Sovereign Pontiff bade historians take St. Augustine as
their guide; we shall see that the latter's De Civitate Dei ("The City of God") affords the clue for a
"Tale of Two Cities" told and retold by men through centuries of history. Pope Pius XII returned to
this idea in his allocution to historians during 1955: "As the great St. Augustine said with classical
precision: what God proposes, 'that comes about, that happens, even though it happens slowly, it
happens ceaselessly.' God is truly the Lord of history."
The created factor. History, as social memory and experience, is properly of the past, though pertinent for present and future. Alzog, a pioneer of modern Church history, has said: "History represents the development of the human mind as it is manifested in the organization
and public functions of the state. Considered as a science, it is a knowledge of the various facts
of this development and their relations to each other, and, as an art, it is the application to current
events of the lessons furnished by scientific investigation." But even when history is considered
as a science, it is ever difficult to define its postulates exactly, or to lay down for it permanent
canons, for history implies change. History primarily has to do with man, a rational animal
endowed with a free will that escapes exact statistical measurement. In one sense men change
because they can and do react to environment, to education, to truth, and to error. Yet in another
respect they do not inasmuch as their adaptation to their surroundings and their reaction to
training are not capable of infinite progress, but are limited by an unchanging human essence.
Still it cannot be denied that what is most in evidence in history is mutation. This should not be
surprising to a philosophic historian, for he has to do with dynamic progress toward realization of
an end. Esse est propter operari, and that essence which would not operate and develop toward
a goal would convict itself of inutility and accuse nature of frustration.
The uncreated factor. Yet amid this constant movement revealed by history, there is at
least one immutable phenomenon. In religion, once careful distinction has been made between
dogma and discipline, between revealed truth and its human expression and explication, it
becomes evident that before, and especially after the lifetime of Jesus Christ there has been a
permanent body of dogmas and morals successively presented by the Mosaic Law and Society,
and through the New Testament as vitally continued in the Catholic Church. Something emerges
as certain, then, not merely with the inductive certitude of history itself, but with a deductive
certitude borrowed from philosophy and theology: there is an immutable factor as well as mutable
ones in history. The former is God; the latter, His creatures. It is often difficult to determine
precisely when God acts; indeed, His intervention in human events ought not to be asserted
apodictically in the absence of revelation. St. Thomas has indicated this in regard to the most
important historical event, the Incarnation: "Those things which proceed from the divine will alone
above all natural exigence cannot become known to us except insofar as they are revealed in
Holy Scripture through which the divine will is revealed to us" (Summa theol., IIIa, q. 1, a. 3). It is
not easy, then, to ascertain when and how far God acts directly, or when man operates with His
inspiration or permission. But long observation of events should make clear that if a good thing
has permanence, it is of God; if it changes, it is of man. History, however, deals with succession,
not with simultaneity. Since God is the uncaused, eternal, immutable Pure Act, there can be no
history of God. He will be a factor in human history but will Himself be without "change or shadow
Divine intervention. History is compounded of potency and act, of latent potentialities
resident in man which cannot be realized except through some being already in act. Such
reduction by way of causality belongs primarily by priority of nature and time to the First Cause
uncaused, who in creating men capable of successive, rational, free acts, created history. God
has been pleased not to board His causality; He deigned to grant creatures a secondary,
subordinate causality. Yet He reserved to Himself the execution through these second causes of
His, and none but His, ultimate designs. Bossuet has eloquently described this divine influence;
"From heavenly heights God holds the reins of all kingdoms; He has all hearts in His bands; now
He restrains their passions; now He loosens the bit; and thus directs the entire human race.
Would He have conquerors? He creates consternation before them and inspires them and their
soldiers with invincible courage. Would He have legislators? He causes them to foresee the
evils menacing states, and to Jay the foundations of public tranquillity. He knows human wisdom,
ever short-sighted in every respect: He enlightens it, He broadens its views, and then He
abandons it to its own ignorance. He blinds it, He hurries it on, He confounds it by itself; it
becomes entangled, embarrassed by its own subtlety; and its own precautions form a trap for it.
By these means God executes His awesome judgments, according to the rules of His ever
infallible justice. He it is who prepares effects in the remotest causes, and strikes those great
blows, whose rebound carries so far."
Human co-operation. God's ultimate design we know. It is the salvation of the human
race. His particular part in each act and every event related to this end we may not understand.
But we need not thereby despair of a relatively adequate formulation of causes and effects in
history. God acts within His own eternal order while man proceeds on his temporal plane, in such
wise that the effect is wholly from the First Cause and wholly from the second cause, but in a
different manner. Since human freedom survives, and is even caused by this intimate
relationship, we can hope by human science to examine a total cause of events, the human, even
if comprehension of the divine exceeds our capacity.
History considered actively. "Objectively, history is the development of the human spirit
and life in their various relationships, presented in a succession of events and deeds"
(Hergenroether). History, then, considered actively is a created participation in God's causality.
Such is the making of history. Insofar as the second cause ordinates his causality in obedience
to that of the First Cause, in that degree does he make the more lasting history. He who alone
adequately approximated the divine causality, Jesus Christ, the God-man, made history for all
eternity. Those whose limited activity approaches the more His causality, will also partake of its
permanence. Though of their reputations it may be true that "the evil men do lives after them; the
good is oft interred with their bones," yet of their works it is the good that longest endures, and the
evil that perishes. The work of Athanasius survives, that of Arius is dead; Borromeo's influence
continues while Luther's wanes; unheralded seeds of Catholic Action today will in future bear fruit
unmatched by Communist dynamics, for the apostle confesses: "I have planted, Apollos watered,
but God has given the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6).
Tale of Two Cities. But do all created factors thus identify their causality with the divine?
Obviously not. Contrast between human reactions has produced two divergent streams of history
which will reach their destination only on judgment day. St. Augustine's penetrating analysis of
these mainsprings of created activity is that "two loves have created two cities: namely, the
earthly love of self pushed to the contempt of God, and the heavenly love of God exalted to the
contempt of self. The former glories in itself; the latter in God. The former seeks glory from man;
God, witness of the latter's conscience, is its greatest glory" (The City of God, XIV, 28). The
founder of the first of these cities is Lucifer, whose craving for autonomy has found human
imitators in every century. The cornerstone of this city is an inordinate desire for the imitation of
God; we can sum it up in the word: Mi-ka-el: "who is like God?"- horrified retort of the leader of
God's legions against this first blasphemous revolt. The second city was established by Christ,
who because He was both God and man, could satisfy man's ordinate aspiration to be like God.
His followers have sought and are seeking that imitation on the model He sketched for them and
with means He merited for them. The basis of this city, then, is an ordinate desire to be like God;
its standard is E-ma-nu-el: "God with us."
To sum up, the key to human activity is the concept of its ends, and of the latter the most
influential will be the ultimate end. Men can have only one legitimate ultimate end, the eternal
contemplation of God, anticipated through temporal knowledge, love, and service. To the degree
they comprehend and desire effectively its attainment, they will order all their activity to conform
to it, or at least so as not to contradict it. Men, however, can reject this ultimate end and abuse
their gift of efficiency. This constitutes them but deficient causes, incapable indeed of entitative
concreation, but proficient by default in erecting themselves into the moral monstrosity of their
own ultimate end. Thus the reward for true making of history will be an inexhaustible object for
man's highest faculties; the penalty for a definitive refusal will be a lasting ban on purposeful
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