The Temporal Dialectic

Another dialectic involved here is the temporal dialectic, the dialectic interplay of past, present, and future. Some people, living in the present, think that the past was much better. In their homes they practically enshrine their memories of the good old days, and they try at all costs to conserve and even mimic the past. They believe in "pure tradition," which in fact is not living tradition at all but her "traditionalism." Religious doctrine, for example, is something from the past that must be preserved wholly and integrally. Hans Urs von Balthasar has referred to such people as "integralists": i.e., people who want to hold on to past tradition in its entirety, just as it has come down to them. Such people tend to move towards the right and towards some abstract past.

Another group looks towards an equally abstract future. They deny and reject the past, feeling that history will really begin after the revolution. Like the rebellious adolescent, they wash their hands of their forefathers' misdeeds. They look forward to an impracticable and impossible utopia. Such is the attitude of many revolutionary leftists.

In Latin America we also find another strain: the pro-gressivism of the liberal positivist. Many Christians must be included here, for they think that Christianity can carry out its mission while still remaining a component of the dominant elite. These people think they can be two-headed: Marxists in some respects, Christians in other respects; or bourgeois liberals in some respects, Christians in other respects. Both try to blot out any memory of the colonial past, and they rush headlong towards some totally abstract future.

Finally, I would include here the stance of those who take a populist view of the extreme sort. They live in an abstract present, accepting everything that happens without entertaining any plans or principles. Refusing to explore the present in the context of our past, they accept anything spectacular that happens; but they do so in a very superficial way. They thus fall prey to opportunism, and fail to advance a truly revolutionary program. The people, they say, possess the solution to every question. They feel no need to exercise liberative critical judgment on day-to-day events, and so they are swept along by the tide of events. I think that a truly realistic position must come from an integrated view of our history as a whole. We must be willing and able to shoulder the burden of our real past, so that we can form a meaningful view of the present and formulate a meaningful plan for the future. It would not be simply a centrist position. It would be the pointed thrust of a prophetic vanguard.

Such a prophetic stance is the true one for Christian faith. The Christian prophet operates out of the authentic past of the Church, not to imitate that past but to open up wholly to the possibilities of the future. Merely static imitation of the past is heresy. If one simply repeats the past today, then he is not even repeating the same thing; for the world has changed and repetition of the "same" message means that one is actually propounding a "different" message today. The only way to proclaim the same message today is to enunciate it in a new way, for all the mutable elements ofit have changed in the course of history; i.e., the addressee, the idiom, the import. Authentic tradition keeps opening up to an ever new world, proclaiming the ever new message of God to that world. God keeps on revealing himself, explicitating what had been only implicit. Everything has been revealed and realized in Christ, to be sure, but in history we keep on growing and maturing in our understanding of that revelation as we move towards the parousla.

The mere repetition of a past formula is a lie. The only way to speak God's eternal truth is to reiterate it in fresh terms for every new age and generation. God's eternal truth has no past or present or future, but man's history does. In every age God reveals himself to the Church, and the Christians of that age must proclaim what God has revealed to them. If I am living here in Latin America in the twentieth century, then I must interpret and proclaim God's revelation from the historical context in which I live.

The person who merely apes the past is dead. He is entangled in a petrified traditionalism rather than immersed in the vital flow of tradition. Only the person who is truly alive can hear God's summons amid the concrete flow of daily history. People entangled in dead traditionalism have always misinterpreted the prophets. They have never understood Jesus' remark: "Let the dead bury their dead. Come, follow me." To truly follow Jesus is to set out on the uncharted pathways of history. Life must keep opening up to the new and unexpected. Life is creativity and risk, moving into an uncertain future with all the enthusiasm of committed liberty. Life is journeying towards the cross on Golgotha, not staying behind in Jerusalem to commemorate the great events of the past. Life is passing critic al judgment on events and the dominating influence of sin, and hence it cannot help but arouse the resentment of those who are wedded to the existing order of injustice.

The Church must be a prophetic community forging a critical, liberative ecclesiology. It must allow people to rethink every stage of its past history, as well as every stage of human history. Thus the economic situation and past history of the underdeveloped nations cannot be regarded as meaningless events in profane history. They must be seen as the result of human sinfulness. Theology has a role to play, therefore, because it can point out the sinfulness in political, economic, educational, and cultural structures.

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