Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The transcendence of man and the limits of history

In my post yesterday concerning Chiaromonte and Camus I quoted what Gustaw Herling wrote about how the thoughts of the two converged on important points, specifically about "the transcendence of man over history" and the "truth that no social imperatives can obliterate." Man transcends history because Christ is the Lord of history. This became clear to me this evening as I was once again reading Joseph Mangina's fine theological commentary on Revelation, specifically his comment on Chapter 21, verse 2, where we read about the new Jerusalem that comes "down out of heaven from God." The key point, as N.T. Wright makes clear in his book Surprised by Hope, is that heaven is not someplace we go up to, but the city that comes "down out of heaven from God."

The New Jerusalem, Gustave Doré

Apropos of both Herling's insights about Chiaromonte and Camus as well as of the new Jerusalem, Mangina writes that the heavenly city is not the product "of any human scientific or technological achievement." This new city that comes "down out of heaven from God," Mangina insists, is "sheer miracle," that is, "a gift apocalyptically bestowed at the end of history and not the outcome of history itself" (underlining emphasis mine).

Mangina is emphatic that this does not render history meaningless, or even "that God does not invite human beings to build their cities with as much ingenuity and creativity," even while honoring God by acting justly towards their neighbors.
There is a place in Christian theology for saying that "grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it" (Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae 1.1.8 §2). This is as true on the social and political level as it is in individual life. Yet such language has its limits, and the Apocalypse provides us with some sense of what those limits are

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