Relations of internal and External History

Though we may be persuaded that there is a valid distinction between history as lived and history as observed by the external spectator; though we may recognize a relative validity in either type while noting the close relation of faith and the life of selves to the practical knowledge of our destiny; yet questions about the relations of the two types of history are bound to arise in our minds. When we have understood that revelation must be looked for in the events that have happened to us, which live in our memory, we cannot refrain from asking ourselves how this history is related to the external accounts of our life. To such questions we must give some attention before we can proceed to a closer definition of the meaning of revelation.

The two-aspect theory of history, like the two-aspect theory of body and mind, may be made necessary by the recognition that all knowing is conditioned by the point of view, that the exaltation of differences of understanding into differences of being raises more problems than it solves, that the intimate relations of subjective and objective truth require the rejection of every extreme dualism. But it is evident that the theory does not solve the problem of unity in duality and duality in unity. It only states the paradox in a new form and every paradox is the statement of a dilemma rather than an escape from it. It is important, of course, that a paradox be correctly stated and that false simplicity be avoided. We have made some advance toward a correct statement of our dilemma, we believe, when we have recognized that the duality of the history in which there is revelation and of the history in which there is none, is not the duality of different groups or communities, or when we have understood that this dualism runs right through Christian history itself. We are enabled to see why we can speak of revelation only in connection with our own history without affirming or denying its reality in the history of other communities into whose inner life we cannot penetrate without abandoning ourselves and our community. The two-aspect theory allows us to understand how revelation can be in history and yet not be identifiable with miraculous events as visible to an external observer and how events that are revelatory in our history, sources of unconquerable certainty for us, can yet be analyzed in profane fashion by the observer. But the paradox remains. It is but another form of the two-world thinking in which Christianity is forever involved and we need not expect that in thinking about history we shall be able to escape the dilemma that confronts our faith in every other sphere. One-world thinking, whether as this-worldliness or as otherworldliness, has always betrayed Christianity into the denial of some of its fundamental convictions. It will do so in the case of history no less than in metaphysics and ethics. But how to think in two-worldly terms without lapsing into ditheism remains a problem of great import for faith.

There is no speculative escape from the dilemma, that is to say we cannot absorb internal history into external history nor yet transcend both practical and objective points of view in such a way as to gain a knowledge of history superior to both and able to unite them into a new whole. If we begin with the spectator's knowledge of events we cannot proceed to the participant's apprehension. There is no continuous movement from an objective inquiry into the life of Jesus to a knowledge of him as the Christ who is our Lord. Only a decision of the self, a leap of faith, a metanoia or revolution of the mind can lead from observation to participation and from observed to lived history. And this is true of all other events in sacred history.

It may be thought that the problem of the relation of inner and outer history can be solved by a determination of what the events, visible in two aspects, really are in themselves. But the idea of events-in-themselves like that of things-in- themselves is an exceedingly difficult one. The ultimate nature of an event is not what it is in its isolation only but what it is in its connection with all other events, not what it is for itself but also what it is from an inclusive point of view. The event, as it really is, is the event as it is for God who knows it at the same time and in one act from within as well as from without, in its isolation as well as in its community with all other events. Such knowledge of the nature of events is beyond the possibility of the finite point of view. Being finite souls with finite minds in finite bodies men are confined to a double and partial knowledge which is yet not knowledge of double reality.

Though there be no metaphysical or meta-historical solution of the problem of historical dualism there is a practical solution. Though we cannot speak of the way in which the two aspects of historical events are ultimately related in the event-for-God we can describe their functional relation-ship for us. Such a description must once more be given confessionally, not as a statement of what all men ought to do but as statement of what we have found it necessary to do in the Christian community on the basis of the faith which is our starting point.

In the first place, beginning with internal knowledge of the destiny of self and community, we have found it necessary in the Christian church to accept the external views of ourselves which others have set forth and to make these external histories events of spiritual significance. To see ourselves as others see us, or to have others communicate to us what they see when they regard our lives from the outside is to have a moral experience. Every external history of ourselves, communicated to us, becomes an event in inner history. So the outside view of democracy offered by Marxists has become an event in the inner history of democracy. It has responded to that external view with defense but also with self-criticism and reformation. External histories of Christianity have become important events in its inner history. Celsus' description of the sources of Christian belief and his criticism of miraculous super-naturalism, Gibbon's, Feuerbach's and Kautsky's accounts of Christianity, other surveys made from the points of view of idealistic or positivistic philosophy, of Judaism or of the history of religion -- these have all been events in the internal history of Christianity. The church has had to respond to them. Though it knew that such stories were not the truth about it, it willingly or unwillingly, sooner or later, recognized a truth about it in each one. In so far as it apprehended these events in its history, these descriptions and criticisms of itself, with the aid of faith in the God of Jesus Christ it discerned God's judgment in them and made them occasions for active repentance. Such external histories have helped to keep the church from exalting itself as though its inner life rather than the God of that inner life were the center of its attention and the ground of its faith. They have reminded the church of the earthen nature of the vessel in which the treasure of faith existed. In this practical way external history has not been incompatible with inner life but directly contributory to it.

Secondly, just because the Christian community remembers the revelatory moment in its own history it is required to regard all events, even though it can see most of them only from an external point of view, as workings of the God who reveals himself and so to trace with piety and disinterestedness, so far as its own fate is concerned, the ways of God in the lives of men. It is necessary for the Christian community, living in faith, to look upon all the events of time and to try to find in them the workings of one mind and will. This is necessary because the God who is found in inner history, or rather who reveals himself there, is not the spiritual life but universal God, the creator not only of the events through which he discloses himself but also of all other happenings. The standpoint of the Christian community is limited, being in history, faith and sin. But what is seen from this standpoint is unlimited. Faith cannot get to God save through historic experience as reason cannot get to nature save through sense-experience. But as reason, having learned through limited experience an intelligible pattern of reality, can seek the evidence of a like pattern in all other experience, so faith having apprehended the divine self in its own history, can and must look for the manifestation of the same self in all other events. Thus prophets, for whom the revelation of God was connected with his mighty acts in the deliverance of Israel from bondage, found the marks of that God's working in the histories of all the nations. The Christian community must turn in like manner from the revelation of the universal God in a limited history to the recognition of his rule and providence in all events of all times and communities. Such histories must be regarded from the outside to be sure; in events so regarded the meeting of human and divine selves cannot be recorded, but all the secondary causes, all the factors of political and social life can be approached with the firm conviction of an underlying unity due to the pervasive presence of the one divine self. It is not possible to describe external history by reference to miraculous deeds but the revelation of the one God makes it possible and necessary to approach the multiplicity of events in all times with the confidence that unity may be found, however hard the quest for it. Where faith is directed to many gods only pluralistic and unconnected histories can be written, if indeed there is any impulsion to understand or write history.

Where, through a particular set of historical experiences, the conviction has been established that all events have one source and goal it becomes possible to seek out the uniformities, the dependable patterns of process. That such history, though a product of piety, is not pious history, designed to exalt the inner life of the religious community or to emphasize the importance of religious factors in social life, must be evident. A faithful external history is not interested in faith but in the ways of God, and the more faithful it is the less it may need to mention his name or refer to the revelation in which he was first apprehended, or rather in which he first apprehended the believer. In this sense an external history finds its starting point or impulsion in an internal history.

Not only is the external history of other selves and communities a necessary and possible work of faith on the part of Christians but an external history of itself is its inescapable duty for two reasons. The revelation of God in history is, as we shall see, the revelation of a self. To know God is to be known of him, and therefore also to know the self as it is reflected in God. The church's external history of itself may be described as an effort to see itself with the eyes of God. The simultaneous, unified knowledge from within and from without that we may ascribe to God is indeed impossible to men, but what is simultaneous in his case can in a measure be successive for us. The church cannot attain an inclusive, universal point of view but it can attempt to see the reflection of itself in the eyes of God. What it sees in that reflection is finite, created, limited, corporeal being, alike in every respect to all the other beings of creations. To describe that vision in detail, to see the limited, human character of its founder, the connections between itself and a Judaism to which it often, in false pride, feels superior, between its sacraments and mystery faiths, between Catholicism and feudalism, Protestantism and capitalism, to know itself as the chief of sinners and the most mortal of societies -- all this is required of it by a revelation that has come to it through its history.

Moreover, though there is no transition from external observation to internal participation save by decision and faith, yet it is also true that the internal life does not exist without external embodiment. The memory which we know within ourselves as pure activity must have some static aspect which an objective science, we may believe, will in time discover in the very structure of the neural system. What the neural system is to the memory of an individual self that books and monuments are to a common memory. Without the Bible and the rites of the institutional church the inner history of the Christian community could not continue, however impossible it is to identify the memory of that community with the documents. Though we cannot point to what we mean by revelation by directing attention to the historic facts as embodied and as regarded from without, we can have no continuing inner history through which to point without embodiment. "Words without thoughts never to heaven go" but thoughts without words never remain on earth. Moreover such is the alternation of our life that the thought which becomes a word can become thought again only through the mediation of the word; the word which becomes flesh can become word for us again only through the flesh. External history is the medium in which internal history exists and comes to life. Hence knowledge of its external history remains a duty of the church.

In all this we have only repeated the paradox of Chalcedonian Christology and of the two-world ethics of Christianity. But it is necessary to repeat it in our time, especially in view of the all too simple definitions of history and revelation that fail to take account of the duality in union which is the nature of Christian life and history.

We have not yet succeeded in saying what we mean by revelation but have indicated the sphere in which revelation is to be found. That sphere is internal history, the story of what happened to us, the living memory of the community. Our further efforts must be directed to a somewhat more precise determination of the area in which the revelatory event is to be found.

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