You are on page 1of 16
| ANAKAINOSIS ! ewsletter For Reformational Thought Volume Three, No. 4 June 1981 Editorial: Professor Meijer C. Smit, 1912 - 1981 On Thursday, July 16, 1981, Dr. Meijer Cornelius Smit, for many years professor of the philosophy of history at the Free University of Am- sterdam, passed away in Aerdenhout, The Netherlands. He was sixty- nine years old. Professor Smit was a reformational scholar of encyclopedic learning who left a deep impression on those who studied under him. The scope of his scholarship was legendary; not duly in history proper (where his interests were truly world-historical), but also in philosophy, theology, art and the social sciences. In both academic range and Christian-foundational depth he was the equal of his much better known mentor and colleague, Hernan Dooye- weerd, but unfortunately his literary output was relatively meagre. Happily, a volume of his sertpta minora, in English translation, is presently being prepared. This will include a good part of his dis-, sertation, which dealt with contemporary Roman Catholic views of history. An earlier essay which has appeared in English, Zhe Divine Myetery in History, deals with one of the central themes of his thought: that there is always an inexplicable dimension to historical events which cannot be reduced to antecedent factors. Smit had a great appreciation for the surprising and the unaccoun- table in history, and inculcated in his students a sense of wonder closely allied to faith. Even as we mourn the passing of this in- tellectual giant, who never sought to separate his personal faith in the historical and risen Christ from his daily vocation as historian, we look forward to the English publication of his essays, thankful that history and tradition allow for the good that men do to live after them, (A.W.) The Nature of History and the History Teacher’s Task by Harry Van Dyke I History’ History is the all-embracing context and the all-pervading medium in which man lives out his life on earth. A reliable perspective on history can only be learned from the Bible, The inception of history dates from the days of Creation (Gen. 1:28) and its end will be marked by the return of Christ. After a good start (Gen. 2:14), man fell into sin (Gen. 3:6). Scrip- ture testifies and history bears out that since the Fall man is sinful and prone to all manner of evil. Knowing this makes the history tea~ cher avoid both inordinate praise and undue optimism concerning man. fiowever, since the Gospel came into the world (from Gen. 3:15 onward) man is also addressed with the call to repent and change his ways in conformity with God's will. Knowing this makes the history teacher avoid excessive pessimism and cynical despair concerning man, In his judgement of men and movements he will keep his eyes open for the re- deeming work of the Spirit and endeavour to be cautious and fair, uncompromising yet also merciful (E.H. Harbison) . Il History and God Three agents are at work in history: a sovereign Cod who continuously upholds and governs it, responsible humans who continually give shape to it, and an Enemy who constantly secks to spoil it. Of these three, it is God who retains the initiative, who remains in control, and who achieves His end, In the modern world, inhabited by man living in the closed world of the secular city with an illusion of autonomy and self-determination, the history teacher can do no better than to open students’ eyes to the total dependence of historical reality upon God, who is both im- manently at work in it and transcendently holds it in His hands, guiding it to its appointed end. Thus from the point of view of the creature, history is always going on "next-door to mystery” (H. Butterfield). God's hand is in history ‘at every moment and at every point. Kho is not awed by God's presence jn spectacular turns of events, in gradual processes over time without Apparent human direction, in seeming abrogations of natural laws, in fortuitous confluences of events and in cataclysms of judgmental di- mensions? But we should never forget that God is no less actively present in the ordinary everyday happenings, in the regular stuff that life is made of and run by, in all the opportunities and institutions, structures and relations that humans daily receive from His hand and must give form to (M.C. Smit). 2 Accordingly, the history teacher must avoid creating the impression that history is primarily the work of man. Historical reality--its order, intricacy, complexity and rich diversity--far exceeds what could ever be consciously devised, planned and executed by human beings, let alone by its own inner dynamics, Clearly, history is anything but a seif-crea- ting, self-evolving process that can be explained solely in terms of itself, Its fundamental non-selfsufficiency must be acknowledged at every step in the study of history and must form the starting-point and guideline for all historical explanation rather than the closing con- Clusion in the form of a (provisional) concession. To foster sensiti- vity in the student for this state of affairs is an indispensable part of the history teacher's task. Although he is eager to note acts of obedient response throughout the course of history, the Christian student of history is careful never to identify or equate any earthly venture with the Kingdom of God: the Kingdom of God is the enduring norm for historical formgiving, always remaining distinct from it and judging it. Similarly, although God's nearness to history, His involvement in it, may tempt’us to “discover,” apart from an evaluation normed by God's Word, signs of His favour in actual events, structures, development, historical "accidents" and the like, nevertheless we must not seek assurance of divine approval from the Concrete events of history: what God wants of man He has shown him elsewhere (cf. Micah 6:8). III History and meaning History is ruled from heaven by Christ who has been given all power in heaven and on earth. The meaning of history is the establishment of His kingship on earth, as it is in heaven. Since man's fall into sin two rival loyalties or basic orientations exist side by side till the end of time, locked in conflict and con- petition for the hearts of men. The issue will not be decided until the Last Judgment, although the outcome is sure. People and institutions are meant to bow to the rule of Christ; they become agents and instru- ments of evil when they oppose His reign. They then serve the Ruler of this world, who is engaged in mortal combat with Christ and His followers. Since the entry into the world of this spiritual antithesis, God's beach- head on occupied Earth is the Church, the community of His people. Cru- cial in the story of this people is its institution of the Church as the community for prayer, praise and proclamation. It should accordingly be considered an essential part of the history teacher's task to deal with church history, both as a specialty and in its interwovenness with the other branches of history, Furthermore, he should promote inter- disciplinary co-operation with theology, in particular the history of loctrine, The spiritual contest for the allegiance of men's hearts comes out in a special way in the world of ideas, philosophies and worldviews, where men and women consciously reflect upon their place and task in life and articulate the fundamental principles to guide them. The history tea- cher should therefore pay special attention, alongside political, socio- economic and other histories, to intellectual history as an important