History Is Forgotten

The task of the apologist was to gradually trans-form his culture from "within." In the hellenistic empire the apologist was surrounded with a whole panoply of logical tools.3 But gradually the historical dimension of theological thought was forgotten; theology became more and more a kind of logical argumentation.

In his Stromata, Clement of Alexandria talks very ex-

plicidy about this science (Greek episteme) that he wants to put together. He has in mind a type of reflection that will be on the level of scientific knowledge, that will be Aristotelian in cast. It is to be a theology based on logical argumentation. It starts out with reflection on first principles; this is followed by logical argument which leads to a theological conclusion. Thus people begin to bypass and overlook the kind of theological reflection which takes history as its point of departure.

To be sure, reflection on history is not abandoned completely. Now, however, it is not really on the theological level any more; it is simply a commentary on Scripture. Such commentaries on Scripture now begin to proliferate alongside theological tracts of a logical cast. What remains of historical reflection in theology is to be found in the scriptural commentaries. During the Middle Ages, the latter become so scholastic that they lose all sense of history. The biblical commentaries of Saint Augustine, however, are an important exception to the general trend.

Above I mentioned Clement of Alexandria and his desire to fashion a Christian episteme, but he is not the first to start this tradition. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, was the first major theologian to propound a systematic theology based on the model of Greek logic. Gradually the Christian sense of history was lost, and so was the Christian sense of prophecy. I remember talking to Pere Pierre Benoit in Jerusalem one day. He said to me that the scriptural exe-getes are the prophets of today, because they are the ones who are interpreting the word of God today. But I think this view is very limited, reducing prophecy to something much less than it really is. The prophet does not simply interpret the "written word"; he also must interpret present history, the "word as lived today. "The exegete simply tries to become acquainted with God's "written word"-up to the first century A.D. But doesn't the history of God's people continue after that? Doesn't it remain as real and lofty as it was before? Isn't Jesus still present in his Church through his Spirit?

The sacred history of Cod's people and the "written word" of the New Testament have their continuation in the history of the Church, and exegesis of Church history is a task incumbent on the prophet. The prophet is the prototype of the Church historian. It is he who discovers the serue and meaning of the present-not on the basis of some "happening" but on the basis of faith and its logic, that is, on the basis of the revelation that Cod grants us about history, about here-and-now history.

When this prophetic sense is lost, all one can do is engage in philological exegesis of the Bible. At the same time theology becomes more and more a process of ratiocination. Attention is focused on the inner coherence of dogma; all its parts have to fit together logically and consistently. But this may easily lead to mere logicizing, and in fact it did. The various facets of a statement or argument may be perfectly coherent and consistent, but sidestep or overlook reality completely. Today, for example, there is a brand of geometry that is non-Euclidean. It "operates" perfectly without in any way being "real." The same approach has sometimes occurred in theology. Taking over certain axioms from the past, axioms which had a very different sense and import in that past, we have fashioned a whole panoply of theological argumentation that leaves present reality completely to one side.

The prophet is a person who "touches" or "puts his finger on" here-and-now reality. He takes it as the point of departure for further reflection. The theologian, on the other hand, may get tied up in his crystal ball and fall prey to merely abstract logicizing, somewhat in the manner of Hegel. Hegel propounds his view of the world process and absolute spirit in a system that is logically coherent but unreal. In like manner a theologian may analyze the various facets of the Old and New Testament in an axiomatic way which strips them of all historical import and reduces them to hellenistic logicizing.

That tendency is now on the wane. But you should see how biblical texts were used by theologians right up to recent times. Scriptural verses were turned into first principles for a theology that was totally out of touch with reality, that showed no interest in history or the task of prophecy. Concrete history, which should have served as the starting point, was confined to the realm of hagiog-raphy. The end result in that realm was stereotyped accounts of the lives of the saints.

In the Middle Ages, then, we find little more than anecdotal history. Historical chronicles reported when a certain convent or bishopric was founded. Alongside these chronicles, we find various accounts of the lives of the saints riddled with fantasy and myth and totally out of touch with reality; they completely lacked any fundamentum in re.

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