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7 The Kingdom of God and History THE DEVELOPMENT OF an historical sense-a distinct consciousness of the essential characteristics of different ages and civilizations-is a relatively recent achievement; in fact it hardly existed before the nineteenth century. It is above all the product of the Romantic movement which first taught men to respect the diversity of human life, and to regard culture not as an abstract ideal but as the vital product of an organic social tradition. No doubt, as Nietzsche pointed out, the acquisition of this sixth sense is not all pure gain, since it involves the loss of that noble self-sufficiency and maturity in which the great ages of civilization culminate-"the moment of smooth sea and halcyon self-sufficiency, the goldenness and coldness which all things show that have perfected themselves." It was rendered possible only by the "democratic mingling of classes and races" which is characteristic of modern European civilization. "Owing to this mingling the past of every form and mode of life and of cultures which were formerly juxtaposed with or superimposed on one another flow forth into us," so that "we have secret access above all to the labyrinth of imperfect civilizations and 195 Selected Essays to every form of semi-barbarity that has at any time existed on earth."l Yet it is impossible to believe that the vast widening of the range and scope of consciousness that the historical sense has brought to the human race is an ignoble thing, as Nietzsche would have us believe. It is as though man had at last climbed from the desert and the forest and the fertile plain onto the bare mountain slopes whence he can look back and see the course of his journey and the whole extent of his kingdom. And to the Christian, at least, this widening vision and these far horizons should bring not doubt and disillusionment, but a firmer faith in the divine power that has guided him and a stronger desire for the divine kingdom which is the journey's end. It is in fact through Christianity above all that man first acquired that sense of a unity and a purpose in history without which the spectacle of the unending change becomes meaningless and oppressive. "The rational soul," writes Marcus Aurelius, "traverses the whole universe and the surrounding void, and surveys its form, and it extends itself with the infinity of time and embraces and comprehends the periodical revolutions of all things, and it comprehends that those who come after us will see nothing new, nor have those before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by virtue of the uniformity that prevails all things that have been or that will be."2 This denial of the significance of history is the rule rather than the exception among philosophers and religious teachers throughout the ages from India to Greece and from China to Northern Europe. Even Nietzsche, who grew up in the tradition of the modern historical movement and himself possessed so delicate and profound an historical sense, could not escape the terrifying vision of The Return of All Things, even though it seemed to nullify his own evolutionary gospel of the superman. 1. F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 224. 2. Marcus Aurelius, xi, i, trans. G. Long. The Kingdom of God and History 197 "Behold," he wrote, "this moment. Two roads meet here and none has ever reached their end...." "From this gateway a long eternal road runs back: behind us lies an eternity. Must not all things that can run have run this road? Must not all that can happen have already happened, have already been done and passed through? And if all has already been, what . . . of this moment? Must not this gateway also have been before? And are not all things knotted together in such a way that this moment draws after it all that is to come, and therefore also itself? For all that can run-even in this long road behind, must run it yet again. "And this slow spider that crawls in the moonlight and this moonlight itself, and you and I whispering together in the gateway , must we not all have been before? "And must we not come again and run that other long road before us-that long shadowy road-must we not return eternally ?"3 As St. Augustine said...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813220420
Related ISBN
9780813209142
MARC Record
OCLC
815969435
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2013-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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