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V: The Problem of Eschatology (B) 1

V: The Problem of Eschatology (B)1
The Secularising of Eschatology in Idealism. The Secularising of Eschatology in Materialism. The Belief in Progress.

We have now to speak about the secularising of eschatology in Idealism and Materialism and about the belief in progress. But first we must survey the preceding ages in which all this was prepared.

(1) The longer the parousia failed to come and the end of the world was removed to an indefinite distance the longer the Church had a history in this world the more an interest in history developed.
(a) The interest of the Church in its own history had a further special cause. The Church claims to be founded by the Apostles and the bishops claimed to be the successors of the Apostles. This claim had to be justified and therefore catalogues of bishops stretching back to the Apostles had to be compiled. The Church's consciousness of being the Apostolical Church is expressed in the words with which Eusebius of Caesarea begins his Church-history: ‘I have proposed to write about the successors of the Holy Apostles and about the years which have passed from the time of our Saviour till our present time all important events which have happened in the history of the Church and especially what concerns all persons who were guides and leaders in the prominent communities and have preached the divine word by word of mouth or by writings’. Then the description of the heresies and of the fate of the Jews is to demonstrate the independence and purity of the Church and its superiority is to be proved by the description of the persecutions and martyrdoms. In his Chronicle Eusebius had already set Church-history in the frame of world-history. In this he had predecessors of whose works only fragments are preserved. Theophilus of Antioch must be regarded as the oldest {in the last third of the second century). He wrote about the beginnings of human history. In A.D. 221 Julius Africanus composed a Chronicle of the World beginning with its creation. He dated the incarnation of Christ in the year 5500 and expected his return in A.D. 500 at the end of the whole world-year of 6000 years. Hippolytus of Rome (born about A.D. 160/70) composed a chronicle which began with the creation of the world and extended to A.D. 234. He reckoned that of the 6000 years from the beginning until the end of the world 5738 years have now passed and therefore the last day should be expected in 262 years. All these chronicles use the material of the Biblical tradition. Julius Africanus also makes use of Greek time calculations. But the basis of all these chronologies is the apocalyptic scheme of Daniel. Only Eusebius abandoned this apocalyptic reckoning and begins his history with Abraham because only from Abraham's time onward can a trustworthy chronology be given. Eusebius combines erudition with scientific method and works scrupulously according to the documents (the sources).
With this world-history in a strict sense comes into being for the first time. To the ancient historians for whom Greece or Rome was the point of orientation it was still unknown. It is symptomatic that a chronology now arose which comprehended the whole of history whereas the Greeks dated events according to the Olympiads and the Romans according to the Consuls. For the new Christian chronology the birth of Christ is the centre of history from which time is reckoned backwards and forwards. The whole history of the world is divided into two parts and within those it is structured in epochs. Of course the scheme of the apocalyptic reckoning operates in this but is now taken over in a scientific interest. Moreover a basic divergence from the apocalyptic view is that the two halves of history are no longer distinguished as the Aeon of evil ruled by the Satan and the Aeon of salvation. This distinction was of course impossible because the history of Israel recorded in the Old Testament belonged to the first half and also because the second half is not removed from earthly conditions but is a time mixed with wrong a time in which the Church has to suffer under political hostility and persecutions and through heresies.
The time before Christ was now understood as a time of preparation for the appearing of Christ and the Church a time standing under divine providence. God sent his Son at a moment when the time was prepared by the Old Testament religion as well as by Greek philosophy. And a precondition for the coming of Christ and the propagation of the Gospel was the empire of Augustus with its ‘Pax Romana’.
The whole course of history has now a meaning. Of course the conception of a divine plan in history originated in the Old Testament in the apocalyptic writings and in the theology of Paul. But there is now a decisive difference. In the Old Testament every event has a meaning because it signifies divine blessing or chastisement and the whole process of history has its meaning as the education of the people. But one cannot speak of the course of history as an organic unity. That holds also for the apocalyptic view for although apocalyptic regards the historical process as a unity it does not see it as a unity of historical development. Certainly even for the Christian historians we cannot speak of a meaning which is immanent in the process of history. The meaning is imposed on history by the divine providence. But in fact the historians now believe that they can know the meaning of the historical actions and events within the historical process which is understood as an organic unity. And they are convinced that scientific historical study can detect the meaning in every case. A ideological view of history appears and it only requires the secularising of the concept of providence for the meaning in history to be thought of as immanent.
This teleological view of history is something new and with it is connected a new understanding of time. Time and history were understood by the Ancients by analogy with the process of nature. The historical process runs in the eternal circle of time like the natural process in which the same phenomena ever return. It is with this view that Augustine principally comes into dispute on the ground of belief in creation. According to him time and history are not an eternal cyclical movement; time has a beginning for it is created by God and it has an end which God sets to it.
The Christian understanding of man is the decisive reason for this view. Augustine has taken it over from Paul and he unfolds it mainly in opposition to the ancient manner of thinking. For ancient thought man is an organic member of the cosmos whereas for Augustine man has to be distinguished in principle from the world. The human soul the human Ego is now discovered in a sense unknown to the Ancients. Erich Frank has pointed out in a brilliant essay that Augustine's understanding of the soul finds its expression in the shape of monologue which replaces the older dialogue.2 For this the beginning of the ‘Soliloquia’ is characteristic. Reason asks the Soul: ‘What do you wish to understand?’ ‘I wish to understand God and the Soul.’ ‘Nothing else?’ ‘No nothing else.’ With Augustine genuine autobiography comes into being.3 His ‘Confessions’ are basically a monologue a confession before God. Man as a being distinct from the world aims at the future and strives after something ultimate. He is an individuality a free person. The problem of free will unknown to the Ancients now appears for the first time in philosophical discussion. In his own will man has the possibility of opposing himself to the good will of God. He is free in his decisions for good and evil and therewith he has his own history. ‘Thereby every deed every act of volition or feeling acquired an importance which had been unthought of before.’4
The conception of history which now appears is determined by this understanding of man. First there occur in history events which are new and decisive. Of course the ultimately decisive event is the appearance of Christ. Nothing is comparable with it but after it the question at issue in history is the acceptance or the refusal of Christian faith. Secondly just as the life of the individual goes onwards through decisions so also does the process of history. History begins with the fall of Adam who claimed to be independent of God. And since the time of Cain who killed his brother and who founded the earthly empires history is the struggle between theCivitas terrenaand theCivitas Dei’ between unbelief and faith. The struggle will not end until the consummation.5 To be sure Augustine does not think of this struggle as a historical development moving with historical necessity to the goal of the victory of the ‘Civitas Dei’. He does not think of the ‘Civitas Dei’ as a factor of world-history as identical with the visible constitutional Church but as an invisible transcendent entity an entity of the beyond to which man belongs by rebirth. The struggle between the ‘Civitas terrena’ and the ‘Civitas Dei’ therefore is enacted in the history of individuals. For them history is the field of the testing of their obedience. But nevertheless because the history of the ‘Civitas Dei’ is enacted invisibly within world-history history gains a meaning as the field of decision.
The teleological view of history could be secularised as could also Augustine's conception of the struggle between the ‘Civitas terrena’ and the ‘Civitas Dei’. The concept of teleology made it possible to understand the struggle in secular terms as the struggle between the dark powers of nature and unreasonableness on the one hand and the enlightened reason on the other. Even the idea of the fall of Adam as the origin of history could be taken over if the fall was no longer understood as a unique historical event but interpreted as a symbol of the fall of men from the good. The idea of the eschatological consummation could be interpreted as the victory of reason regarded as the necessary end of the historical development.
(b) Medieval historiography did not as yet realise these possibilities. In its technical method it imitated the model of the Hellenistic and Roman historians; in its conception of history it retained the outlook of the universalistic world-history and believed that the meaning of history could be known by detecting the divine plan within it. This meaning however is thought of not as immanent in history but as imposed on it by the transcendent divine counsel which uses human volitions and actions as its instruments. Therefore the history of the world is at the same time the history of salvation.
Medieval historiography also retains the conception of the eschatological goal of history and in consequence of this it divides the historical process into epochs. Joachim of Fiore (1131–1202) divides it into three epochs according to the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost. The knowledge of the historian therefore comprehends not only the past but also the future. According to Joachim of Fiore the last epoch that of the Holy Ghost will begin in the year 1260 and will last until the return of Christ.
The medieval view of history also contains the possibility of secularisation—a secularisation which can take place after an epoch of critical historical research interested only in establishing historical facts when the question about meaning in history awakes anew and with it an interest in interpreting the facts. Collingwood says: ‘Nowadays when we are less obsessed by the demand for critical accuracy and more interested in interpreting facts we can look at it (sc. the medieval historiography) with a more friendly eye. We have so far gone back to the medieval view of history that we think of nations and civilisations as rising and falling in obedience to a law that has little to do with the purposes of the human beings that compose them and we are perhaps not altogether ill-disposed to theories which teach that large-scale historical changes are due to some kind of dialectic working objectively and shaping the historical process by a necessity that does not depend on the human will.’6 But this is an anticipation and we must return to our context.
(c) The historiography of the Renaissance furthers the process of secularisation only indirectly in so far as it adopts a profane understanding of history after the example of the Ancients. According to this it is man not God who sets the historical process going. The apocalyptic tradition with its scheme of the four world-empires of Daniel is abandoned and the idea of the eschatological end of history is dropped. In general criticism of the legendary tradition is a main interest of the historians of the Renaissance but no new understanding of the essence of history arose.
(d) In 1681 appeared the famous ‘Discours sur l'histoire universelle’ of J. B. Bossuet once more a world-history standing in the tradition of teleological historiography. Bossuet strives to defend against the ‘free-thinkers’ the thesis that the divine wisdom rules the world in spite of the disorder which the human eye may perceive in history. For faith the seeming disorder shows itself as an order in which all events are directed by the divine providence to carry history onwards to its end. This seems to be no more than the traditional view but it must be recorded in our context because Bossuet especially stresses the fact that the actions of men have to serve the divine plan without their knowing of it. He says:
Therefore it is that all who govern find themselves subject to a greater power. They do more or less than they intend and their counsels have never failed to have unforeseen effects. Neither are they masters of the dispositions which past ages have given affairs nor can they foresee what course futurity will take; far less are they able to force it.… In a word there is no human power that does not minister whether it will or not to other designs than its own. God only knows how to bring everything about to His will: and therefore everything is surprising to consider only particular causes; and yet everything goes on with a regular progression.7
It is astonishing how akin this view of history is to the modern view and it is easily comprehensible that Bossuet's conception could be secularised in the Hegelian notion of the ‘Cunning of Reason’ (‘List der Vernunft’)
(2) (a) In 1725 and 1730 appeared the ‘Scienza nuova’ (New Science) of Giovanni Battista Vico. In this work the theological teleology of history is transformed in a decisive manner. In our context we have to deal with it only from this point of view. In a later context it has to be considered in another aspect.
Vico who was a loyal Catholic was also convinced that history is guided by divine providence. But ultimately he neutralises the conception of providence as a transcendent power for he understands the historical process as a development which is natural as well as providential. He calls his new ‘science’ a rational theology of divine providence and he is convinced that providence works as lumen naturale (natural light) or sensus communis (common sense). The course of history has its own inner necessity given to it by God; therefore God need not interfere with it. It is precisely in the historical decisions and free actions of men that history obeys this inner necessity. Here too appears the thought secularised by Hegel with his conception of the ‘Cunning of Reason’. The world ‘has issued from a mind “often diverse at times quite contrary and always superior” to the particular ends that men have proposed to themselves’. ‘In history men do not know what they will for something different from their selfish will is willed with them.’8
The idea of eschatology of a goal and consummation of history is eliminated by Vico's understanding of the historical development. For according to him the course of history is a cyclical one running in the rhythm of corso and ricorso (course and recurrence); but about this we have to speak later. Here it is to be stressed that the cyclical course of history is according to Vico distinguished from the old idea of the return of all things9 by the fact that the cycles follow each other in spiral progression. Although the stages of each cycle are parallel to each other the cycles are by no means identical. The Christian barbarism out of which the Middle Ages grew is different from the ancient barbarism and so on. Therefore the historian cannot predict the future for new events are always occurring in spite of the cyclical movement. But there never occurs a final definitive happening an eschatological perfection. If there is a salvation then it is only within history in so far as a new cycle follows after the decay of an old one.
(b) The eighteenth century to the beginning of which Vico belongs is the century of Enlightenment. Here we cannot deal with its forerunners in the seventeenth century such as Locke and Berkeley nor need we speak of Hume and the French philosophers of Enlightenment nor Rousseau either. In our context our interest is directed only to the secularising of the theological teleology of history.
The general character of Enlightenment is the secularising of the whole of human life and thinking. The idea of teleology however remains and with it the question about meaning in history. The course of history is understood as progress from the dark era of the Middle Ages to enlightened thinking or what means the same thing from religion as superstition to science. In this view real history begins for the first time with scientific thinking and therefore the interest in history is not directed upon the pre-scientific time and scientific thinking is not understood as growing out of the earlier time but appears so to speak as a miracle. The idea of real historical development is therefore not conceived—or only in so far as the era of science is at the same time the era of erudition and civilisation. In this respect there is a progress which is to lead to a Utopian state of perfection the state of universal enlightenment under the rule of reason. To this extent the idea of eschatological perfection is retained in a secularised form.
In this context we need not deal with the opposition to the Enlightenment on the part of Rousseau and Herder. But a few words must be said about the view of history of Kant who derives from the Enlightenment because in his critical philosophy the truths of the Christian faith and its view of history are secularised by being interpreted as philosophical truths. Kant preserves the idea of world-history as a teleological process. For according to him history is to be understood in the same way as nature as an unfolding according to a plan. The goal of this process is the realisation of the human being as rational and moral. This realisation will come about not only for the individual but also for mankind. History is necessary as the education of mankind for freedom for all mankind will become free rational and moral. History therefore is the progress to rationality to rational religion to moral faith. ‘Kant interprets the whole history of Christianity as a gradual advance from a religion of revelation to a religion of reason by which the Kingdom of God is realised as an ethical state on earth.’10 The goal is the Kingdom of God not as a state of welfare outside history but as an ethical community on earth.
But Kant also preserved in a secularised form the Christian idea that history originated in the fall of Adam and that it consists in the struggle between Good and Evil. According to him it is Evil which brings the historical process into movement. The conversion of man to Christian faith is the inversion of his motives. For this to happen he requires divine power because otherwise he would be thrown into fear and despair in face of the majesty of the moral law. It must be said that Kant's view of history is a moralistic secularising of the Christian teleology of history and its eschatology.
I need not deal with the continuation and modification of Kant's view of history by Fichte and Schelling. For their readiness to understand the historical process as a logical and necessary process or as the self-realisation of the Absolute is perfectly developed by Hegel. The secularising of Christian faith is carried out by him consciously and consistently. The history of salvation is projected on to the level of world-history. Hegel thinks that in this way the truth of Christian faith can definitively be validated. Philosophy has to bring to the purity of pure thinking what religion expresses in the form of images. Hegel preserves the Christian idea of the unity of world-history but he abandons the idea of providence as inadequate for philosophical thinking. The divine plan which gives history its unity must be understood as the ‘absolute Mind’ (‘Geist’). This ‘absolute Mind’ realises itself in history according to the law of dialectic namely through the opposition of thesis and antithesis striving to unification in synthesis.
The historical process ruled by reason is a development which unfolds with logical necessity without removing human freedom and human passions. For it is precisely the ‘Cunning of Reason’ (‘List der Vernunft’) that free human actions which are subjectively motivated not by reason but by passion have to serve the universal development. Whereas according to Christian thinking men often do not know the real goal of their actions because it is God who guides history this happens according to Hegel because in all actions it is reason which prevails. The goal of history is not an eschatological future but is the historical process itself by which the absolute Mind comes to itself in philosophical thinking. In a certain sense it may be said that the eschatological consummation is realised by the Christian religion. For according to Hegel the absolute Mind is not something static outside history but is itself within the historical development. Therefore Hegel can not only distinguish historical epochs but he can concede to the Christian religion of course in its secularised form that it is the absolute religion. The Christian epoch is the decisive epoch in which man free from all external authority has gained his own relation to the absolute Mind. With Christ the time is fulfilled.
(3) The Hegelian dialectic of history was altered into dialectical materialism by Karl Marx. He was convinced that he had brought the philosophy of Hegel to its perfection. In fact he took over from Hegel the idea of the historical process as a dialectical movement which runs with logical necessity through the opposites of thesis and antithesis. But the moving power according to him is not Mind but Matter in the sense of the powers which are immanent in economic life. All historical phenomena originate in economic-social conditions. The social structure corresponds to the conditions of production. Political systems art religion and philosophy are nothing but ideological superstructure. The movement of history stems from the opposition of economic classes it proceeds as the struggle between these opposing groups and therefore through crises and catastrophes according to the law of necessity. The ‘Cunning of Reason’ is to intensify the opposition and thereby lead to catastrophe. Every ruling society already contains the forces which are to overcome it or it develops them. This is true of the present capitalistic society within which the opposition between bourgeoisie and proletariat has become so great that a revolution must come. The very development of capitalism itself has dissolved the ties of the old tradition and invalidated all patriarchal and human relationships. The proletariat is the carrier of the future. Its dictatorship will lead from an epoch of necessity into the realm of freedom into the Kingdom of God without God. Then all oppositions of classes all differences between oppressors and oppressed will vanish. The ‘Communist Manifesto’ of 1848 is a messianic message—as has been well said a secularised eschatology.
The Christian teleology of history and its eschatology are completely secularised in the outlook of historical materialism. It may even be said that the Christian view of history as the struggle between Good and Evil is secularised in so far as the economic opposition between oppressors and oppressed between exploiters and exploited brings about the historical movement. Exploitation is the original sin.
(4) Another kind of secularising of the Christian teleology of history with which we now have to deal is the belief in progress. Certainly belief in progress has one root in Idealism and Materialism. But the shape in which it came to reign in the nineteenth century does not derive from Hegel or Marx but from the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.
According to Hegel progress is the course of history moving with logical necessity and it has its meaning in the increasing rule of reason. According to Marx progress is the result of crisis and revolutions and has a concrete goal in an ideal economic state. The faith in progress which in the nineteenth century became a universal world-view replacing the Christian faith in large measure is the faith in progress without limits. This progress takes place as though of itself through the development of science and technics and by the progressive mastery over nature rendered possible by them. Its meaning is the bringing about of ever-increasing welfare.
This belief in progress is not in accord with the Christian faith indeed it is opposed to it. It originated in the polemics against the Christian belief in providence. Voltaire who intended to sketch a philosophy of history as a deliverance from the Christian teleology of history begins with an argument against Bossuet.11 Then he disputes in opposition to Leibniz the possibility of a theodicy. It is according to him impossible to justify God in the face of events as for instance the earthquake of Lisbon (1755) proves. But there is of course a progress in history namely the progress of knowledge; and the meaning in history is the fact that men become richer in knowledge and thereby in welfare. Voltaire expected only a moderate rate of progress and did not foster enthusiastic hopes. Yet he saw the eighteenth century as an almost ideal state; only the fight against the Church and Christian superstition had now to be taken up. To this belongs the criticism of the Bible. The traditional chronology based partly upon Biblical statements is shaken by the discovery of China and its literature as are also the traditional division of world-history into epochs and the idea of the unity of world-history.
Turgot disciple of Voltaire is also an advocate of a purely secular faith in progress. He concedes to Christianity the merit of inspiring the movement of progress. But he too replaces the divine providence by the natural law of progress. In him there is already something like the Hegelian ‘Cunning of Reason’ to be found for he is convinced that unreasonableness and human passions have also to serve progress. His optimistic faith in progress leads him to the opinion that commerce and politics will ‘reunite finally all the parts of the globe and the whole mass of humankind’. Progress ‘alternating between calm and agitation good and bad marches constantly though slowly toward greater perfection’.12
Condorcet also believes in the unlimited perfectibility of man and in progress which is accelerated by the perfection of knowledge and will lead to the welfare of humanity.13 Truth freedom and equality are synonyms according to him and a victory of truth is at the same time a step to political freedom and equality. Certainly the way goes through revolutions and the goal can be realised only step by step by education. The stage of progress already reached allows a prediction of the future in which even the natural constitution of man will be perfected to such a degree that death itself will be postponed. Historiography also belongs to the knowledge which must be developed and it has to be an exact science by analogy with natural science. Historiography transformed into sociology allows for human foresight and replaces divine providence.
Auguste Comte was a disciple of Condorcet. He called his philosophy philosophie positive because he wished to distinguish it from every theological and metaphysical theory. It should be based only upon positive facts. According to him the task of historiography as well as of natural science is to establish pure facts and to know their causal connection by laws discovered by induction. In this way historiography is to be transformed into sociology. According to him the idea of evolution is validated by history because it teaches us to understand nature as Darwin has shown. So the positive philosophy of Comte points to a continuous teleological evolution of humanity whose law plays the rôle of providence. La marche fondamentale du développement humain goes in three steps: (1) The stage of childhood is the stage of theology; it is the Christian epoch; (2) The stage of youth is the stage of metaphysics or abstract thinking; (3) The stage of manhood is the stage of science or positive philosophy beginning with Bacon Galileo and Descartes. In this context Comte ascribes a special importance not to the Christian religion but to the Catholic Church so long as it was striving for independence of political powers through its organisation. For order is necessary for progress. By means of the positive philosophy mankind will take a fundamental step towards welfare and a splendid picture of the future is painted: the end of militarism and wars the rule of industrialism led by science. A universal religion of humanity will reign. The task is réorganiser sans Dieu ni rot par le culte systématique de l'humanité.
In a similar way Proudhon replaces the Christian religion by human atheism as the last step of mental and moral freedom. He also believes in natural progress and fights against belief in providence. According to him what is called providence is nothing but the collective instinct the universal reason. However he abstains from enthusiastic predictions. For the way will go through crisis and the present is according to him a time of dissolution.
To sum up. We have travelled a long way through the centuries and we have seen how the Christian view of history became secularised. The main points are the following:
(1) The idea of the unity of history is retained at least in general.
(2) Likewise the idea of the teleological course of history is retained but the concept of providence is replaced by the idea of progress promoted by science.
(3) The idea of eschatological perfection is transformed into that of the ever-increasing welfare of humanity.
But this optimistic faith in progress is threatened and the facts which are to destroy it are already at the door.

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