Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
by Robert D. Knudsen
The following material was used in connection with my course at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, "The Encounter of Christianity with Secular Science." It comprised some of the background reading for part VII of the course. It first appeared in mimeographed form. A printed version was prepared in 1975 and appeared the following year as History: The Encounter of Christ-ianity with Secular Science. Reformed Theological and Historical Studies (Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Mack Publishing Co., 1976). A somewhat revised version appeared in 1993 in spiral-bound form.
As class material the following is subject to continual revision. All rights are reserved. April 10, 1998
Historians-- at least those who rule in the domain of theological learning-- now display an air of confidence. They have outgrown, they believe, a narrow point of view, that historical studies can be under-taken without any presuppositions. Historians had been captivated by the ideal of the neutral historical observer. It was necessary, they thought, to stick to the facts without any prejudices. But have we not learned in the meanwhile-- and this must be classed as a most valuable discovery!-- that no historical investigation can be undertaken without assuming something or other? It is now widely believed that history without presuppositions is impossible.
Some theorists take the view that no significant probing of history can disengage itself entirely from the standpoint of the historian. Far from being able to attain complete objectivity, as the positivistic historian tried to do, the historian must understand that his own subjectivity plays an indispensable role in historical inquiry. Others take the position that historical study is deeply affected by forces that tower far above the historical investigator and that fundamentally influence the direction of his inquiries. Any historian, it is said, must take these into account, if he is not covertly to overestimate the objectivity of his own position and fall into ideology.
After a fashion, these trends are commendable. The abandonment of a narrow, positivistic emphasis on the neutrality of history is welcome. It reveals the fact that historians have been chastened. It opens up deeper perspectives for investigation. Indeed, it is impossible to have a presuppositionless approach to the study of history. As one approaches history, he will be guided by presuppositions. But it is not enough to say this. It will be necessary to add that, at bottom, these presuppositions will be religious. Indeed, as we shall observe, it is impossible to arrive at a true understanding of the facts of history apart from the interpretation that is given them by the revelation of God.
If this is so, how significant is it that historians are now admitting that the study of history is not neutral? What does it mean that historians now say that it is necesary to include the perspective of the historian in historical investigation or to tie in with supposedly overarching historical forces? Does this mean that historians now agree that they cannot be neutral with respect to divine revelation? Or does such an admission only signify that there has been a fall into irrationalism?
Clearly, an historian cannot allow himself to fall into a simple irrationalism. If he did so, he would immediately disqualify himself. Historical study demands theoretical thought. It requires method. Without method one would abandon the historian's craft and would render his statements of no more value from an historical point of view than voodoo incantation.
That an historian admits the necessity of including the perspective of the historical observer in the study of history need not mean, however, that he is ready to abandon the claim that the science of history as a science is neutral with respect to divine revelation. Instead, this shift might affect only the status or the value of his statements. Even a brief discussion can make this clear.
If one says that the standpoint of the historian is involved in his investigations, he might have one of the following things in mind: First, he might mean that within the confines of his scientific work the historian is neutral, without any subjective attitudes affecting his work essentially, that is to say, as to its scientific character. He might add, however, that as soon as an historian goes beyond the realm of history as a science and deals with more fundamental questions, for example, those of the unity and the meaning of history, his subjective attitudes are directly involved. Second, he might take a more subtle viewpoint and assert that the subjective attitudes of the historian may not be eliminated from the science of history itself. All of the supposedly "objective" statements the historian makes are at the same time "subjective." Nevertheless, he might go on to say that this means only that historical science cannot present us with ultimate truth. History as a science must be preserved if we are not to fall into a simple irrationalism; but the truth value of historical knowledge is pragmatic, operational, perspectival. History can provide us only with partial truth, no matter how well founded this truth may be.
Completely apart from the merits or demerits of the above positions, it is clear that neither of them has to abandon the pretended neutrality of historical research with respect to divine revelation. In the former instance, the statement is made outright that within his own sphere as a scientific historian the historian is neutral. Involvement of the subject is allowed only beyond the range of scientific historical method. In the latter case, it is admitted that there is an involvement of the subject in the science of history itself; but all that this concession need entail is the truth status of the science of history. Historical science might then be said to have pragmatic or operational significance. Or possibly it might be thought to have a transcendental legitimation.(1) In neither case, however, would human autonomy be basically challenged. On the contrary, what is discovered by the science of history would be effectively screened from the truth of divine revelation. Any supposed truth of revelation would pertain to something beyond the range of the science of history; it would have no immediate relevancy to the successful pursuit of that science itself.
The same must be said of the current influential view that the study of history is not neutral because it is rooted in a "situation" that towers far above the individuality and subjectivity of the historical investigator. Marxist thinking takes this tack. An historian does not come to the study of history neutrally. Instead, he must read the inner tendencies of history, which are interpreted to him by the party. According to the Marxist view, even the claim that the science of history is neutral is a reflection of bourgeois prejudice. The claim to neutrality itself, therefore, is not at all neutral; it is ideological, part of an elaborate scheme to justify bourgeois society. The historian can overcome ideology, the Marxist will say, only if he identifies himself with the "progressive" tendencies within history, which are playing themselves out in the historical arena.
In spite of its rejection of the idea of neutrality, it should be clear that the Marxist position in regard to historical study does not have to give attention to the Word of God. In fact, Marxist historiography ostensibly is built on a thoroughgoing secularized point of view. Marxist historiography need only state that views of history themselves depend on a taking-of-position in regard to basic tendencies or forces which themselves are of an historical character. These forces are completely immanent. History cannot be interpreted from a standpoint beyond history. Thus the Word of God is excluded. Even though it has entered history, it still comes to us from beyond history.
A. Foundation Problems
As I enter into this discussion, I shall attempt to keep its fundamental purpose clearly in mind. I do not intend to offer here a philosophy of history from a Christian point of view. That in itself would be a valuable undertaking, but I have a different purpose in mind. I wish to explore what is involved when the historian approaches the questions that pertain to his own field of investigation. What is involved, for instance, when he investigates what has happened in the past from the point of view of the science of history? How does he form the concepts that are involved in this inquiry? What deeper questions are touched upon as he forms these concepts? Even as he develops his concepts, an activity that is indispensable to the historian's craft, are there more profound, philosophical issues involved? Does the historian betray even here that he is dependent on a religious commitment?
Indeed, in discussing foundation problems, it will be my purpose to show that even when the historian restricts himself to the study of the facts of history, he will encounter problems that cannot be solved in terms of those facts themselves. A study of the facts of history will involve him in a study of the framework within which these facts have their meaning. Furthermore, in order to deal with the science of history adequately, he will have to go beyond the science of history. In fact, in his scientific historical investigations he will encounter problems that require for their solution the Word of God.
Certain questions arise inevitably when the historian formulates the concepts he uses in the course of his historical investigations. Among them are the following: Is history a science in its own right? What is the relationship of history to nature? What is the source of meaning in history?
1. Is History a Science in its Own Right?
Is history a science in its own right, with a method appropriate to it, or must it employ methods developed by other sciences? If it is the former, then what is its relationship to these other sciences? Are the other sciences to be understood from the standpoint of historical science, or must historical science understand itself as one among others in the encyclopedia of the sciences? Even when he restricts himself to examining the facts of history, the historian cannot avoid answering such questions, whether directly or by implication.
Since the decline of the rationalism characteristic of the Enlightenment, there is supposed to have been a discovery of the historical aspect of reality. Before this, it is said, the historical re-mained submerged. History was interpreted in a fashion appropriate to the natural sciences. This tendency is supposed to have reached as far back as classical views of history; it is also supposed to be found in typically modern interpretations of history.
We often hear that the classical views of history enmeshed history in nature and its cycles. History was viewed as a great, con-tinuous cyclical movement, without any development and progress.(2)
In modern times, we hear, there has also been a tendency to interpret history in naturalistic terms. Rationalism did not think that it could discover a source of meaning within history; for meaning it had to look to timeless truths of reason, which stood outside of history. These truths were grasped, not in a distinctively historical way, but by way of methods inspired by the mathematical sciences of nature.
In addition, the faith of modern rationalism in the power of reason to construct the world from nothing, on the order of divine creation, did not foster respect for historical tradition and historical continuity. This rationalistic faith issued in the program of the French Revolution (1787-1799), which sought to raze the existing social order to the ground, in order to build it up again according to rationally conceived principles.
A first approach to uniquely historical thinking in modern times was made by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744).(3) In conscious opposition to Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Vico said that history as well as nature is infused by divine substance (reason). Vico sought to develop a method appropriate to the study of history, with the confidence that man could understand the process of history, because it was he himself who had formed it, and that he could discover in history the reflection of himself.
At the time of the Restoration, after the French Revolution had shocked the naive confidence of the Enlightenment in the power of creative reason, there was a turn towards historical thinking. The concrete level of history was now placed in contrast to the abstract categories of the understanding.(4)
Once the historical dimension of reality had been unearthed, the question naturally arose whether this historical aspect lies at the foundation of all the rest or whether it is simply one among others. Initially, at the time of the Restoration, this new historical thinking moved in the former direction; it took a universalistic turn. History was thought to be the key to the interpretation of all reality. The latter position was taken only as history came to be placed sharply over against what was thought to be the abstract conceptions of the Enlightenment. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) has been called the philosopher of the Restoration. He reacted against what he considered to be the abstract, rationalistic thought of the Enlightenment and attempted to interpret reality concretely in terms of absolute spirit. The Absolute Spirit unfolds in the course of history. Indeed, history in its entire compass is the history of the self-disclosure of absolute spirit. The individual event, no matter how irrational it may appear when taken alone, is absolute, a reflection from its own point of view of the life of the Absolute Spirit. Each event is absolute when it is considered in its proper place within the whole.
Hegel's position was historicist, in the sense I have described. History had become all-embracing. The factual development of history was at bottom identical with the unfolding of the life of the Absolute. The all-embracing science was, in effect, the science of history.
The breakdown of Hegelianism in the latter part of the nineteenth century did not lead to the abandonment of the idea that history is a universal science. The universalistic view of history, how-ever, now turned in a naturalistic direction. The entire cosmos was now conceived of as being in a process of continuous change and development, which was understandable in terms of the operation of natural causes.
The modern, naturalistic theory of evolution arose in this context. History became the history of nature. Nature, man, and society were all regarded to be involved in a naturalistically explainable process of development that could lead them, perhaps by means of natural selection, to hitherto unknown heights. As he came to under-stand the laws of this historical process, man could enter into cooperation with it and further its advance.
Very characteristic traits of the Communistic view of history fall within this same pattern. Reality is taken up in a process of change and development, which is understandable in socio-economic terms. Thus Communistic theory has maintained that nature is infinitely variable, and it has sought to mold nature in cooperation with the necessary course of historical development.
This faith in historical development was linked with an ideal of science. It was firmly believed that man, by means of his advancing knowledge and increasing technological prowess, would be able to contribute to the evolution of nature, man, and society. He could enter as a responsible agent into the process of the gradual emancipation of man from his personal and environmental limitations.
The question as to the universality or speciality of the science of history, however, has also been answered in another way. History has been regarded as one science among others, with the need to set its particular method clearly over against other scientific methods. Thus the methods used in historical research have been contrasted, even sharply, with the methods employed in natural science.
Heinrich Rickert (1863-1936), to name one outstanding figure, set the individualizing method of historical science over against the generalizing methods of the natural sciences. Cultural science has as its subject matter an historical material which as to its essence is cultural life filled with meaning.(5) Thus Rickert sought a criterion to distinguish culture as the realm of meaning from nature, which can gain meaning only by being related to culture.
2. History and Nature
Facing up to the question whether the science of history is a universal discipline or one discipline among others has already involved us in the problem of the relationship of history to nature. If one is familiar with the more recent discussions of the problem of history, he should find this most natural. It is now almost commonplace to contrast the generalizing methods of the natural sciences with the individualizing methods of historical science. Such a distinction pre-supposes a certain idea of the relationship between history and nature.
In forming the concepts with which he must work in his field of study, the historian is compelled to answer in some fashion the question of the relationship of history to nature. He will have to decide, for instance, what can function as an historical agent. What is an historical cause? Is there such a thing, in contrast to other kinds of cause? Can a natural phenomenon, such as a landslide, affect the course of history? If so, how? Is such a natural event able to function historically on its own? Is it able to function causally in history only when human historical agents are involved? Can a landslide, for example, have historical effects when no one is present, or can it be taken up in an historical constellation only when at least one person is involved with it who is himself an historical agent? The historian will also be faced with the question as to how much is involved in an historical event. Does the sphere of influence of the historical event, what we may refer to theoretically as its historical extension, have any relationship, let us say, to national boundaries? Is it likely to overflow a national boundary, or does it stop at a national boundary? Speaking in general terms, is the concept of space used in historical science the same as that employed in geography?
3. The Meaning of History
I have said that a scientific historian, in forming the concepts he must use in carrying out his investigations, will be inevitably concerned with the problem of meaning in history. Such a claim is likely to meet with stern opposition. Here certainly, it will be objected, is a question that should be reserved for the philosopher or perhaps only for the theologian and should not be allowed to trouble the scientific historian, as long as he remains within the bounds of his field of investigation. One might even find here an attitude of condescension. Let the metaphysically inclined philosopher and the imaginative theologian ponder the question of meaning! They may safely be left to their speculative hobbies, while the real work of historical investigation goes on elsewhere!
The problem of meaning in history, however, is intimately tied in with the questions we have just discussed. Inevitably, the historian must consider whether the source of the meaning of history lies outside history or within history. The historian will have to answer this question either explicitly or implicitly. He might well be thought to have provided an implicit answer already by insisting on the strictly "scientific," i. e., neutral, character of his historical inquiries.
The problem of the meaning of history is often posed in the form of the question concerning the center of history? What is the center of history? This question can be asked significantly only if history in some fashion has meaning. If history is simply "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury" (Macbeth), there is certainly little point in asking where its center might lie. Furthermore, if history does not have a source of meaning within itself but obtains meaning only by being related to a timeless source of meaning outside of itself, can history be thought to have a center at all? The idea of a center of history appears to be intimately connected with the problem whether the source of meaning lies outside of history or within history.
4. The Status of the Foundation Problems
My purpose has not been to discuss the questions of the uniqueness of the science of history, the relationship of history and nature, and the meaning of history for their own sakes. In posing them I have had a different purpose in mind. I have presented these questions with the understanding that they will force themselves, whether directly or indirectly, on the attention of the historian, even when he remains strictly within the bounds of the science of history. They and questions like them will require the historian to look beyond the study of the "facts" or the "data" of history. As he answers such questions, he will be led beyond the scope of the science of history. As one answers the questions, either implicitly or explicitly, these answers will affect the way in which he forms the concepts with which he works in the science of history. Indeed, I shall attempt to show that a proper answer to these questions is necessary if the historian is to form the concepts within his field adequately. In this fashion, I shall attempt to display the inner connection that pertains between the actual conduct of the science of history and the presuppositions on which this science is based.
B. The Problem of the Secularization of History
The problem of the neutrality of historical investigation is often discussed under the heading "the secularization of history." We can better understand what is meant by this secularization if we trace some outlines of the development of the philosophy of history.
1. Aurelius Augustine (354-430)
The Christian approach to history that was to dominate the thinking of the Middle Ages was inititated by the great church father Augustine.
Because of the nature of the Christian revelation itself, the writings of the early church fathers were strongly oriented to history. They reflected on the meaning of history in the sense that they (1) interpreted the past events of redemptive history; (2) set forth prophecies concerning the future; (3) commented on the worldly cultures. The church fathers were more or less aware that their Christian message did not rhyme with the cyclical conception of history that had been propounded by the Greeks. But there is little evidence in the writings of the fathers that they had developed an articulated philosophy of history.
Augustine was the first church father to reflect on the nature of time and history in a fashion that might be called philosophy of history. Against the classical idea that history is cyclical and in opposition to the doctrine of reincarnation, Augustine insisted on the once-for-allness (ephapax) of the events of God's redemptive plan.(6) God once created the world. Christ was once and for all delivered for our sins. There will be a single consummation, when the City of God will be separated from the City of This World.
The meaning of history, according to Augustine, is found in the conflict of the City of God with the City of This World. This conflict began before the creation of the world, with the fall of the angels. It was introduced into the world itself with the fall of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. Although Augustine did not teach that there is a one-to-one correlation of the empires of the world with reprobate men and of the institutional church with those who are saved, he believed nevertheless that this conflict corresponded roughly with the conflict between the institutional church and the great kingdoms of the world such as Babylon and Rome.
In Augustine's thought the City of God is identified too closely with the institutional church. At first sight this might appear to be harmless. It allows, however, for a distinction between a "secular" realm, which is not directly related to God and his revelation, and the church, which is the peculiar instrument of God's gracious dealings with men. A truly Christian view should not distinguish between the church and the world in this way. Instead, it should distinguish be-tween the church as an institution and the kingdom of God.(7) The latter is a much broader concept, allowing for the direct participation of the entire creation in the redemptive plan of God. Augustine brought into being, on the contrary, a style of thought that was to dominate the Middle Ages, a pattern of nature and grace, which was ruled by the distinction between the natural, earthly powers and the supernatural, ecclesiastical powers.
2. The Secularization of History
In its original meaning, "secularization" referred to a transferral from such a presumed holy, ecclesiastical sphere to a profane, worldly sphere. The term was used, for instance, to refer to the appropriation of something belonging to the church and its being brought under the control of the "temporal" powers. The laicization of persons belonging to "religious" orders was also called "secularization." Further, the term was used for the change of status from regular to lay clergy.
It is acknowledged that one's interpretation and evaluation of secularization will depend very much on his view of religion. For example, if one has not identified the sphere of the Christian religion with that of the institutional church, he may have little difficulty with what was called the "secularization" of church property. Indeed, Reformed thinkers like Abraham Kuyper have approved of secularization in this sense. They have agreed that there are spheres of life that should not be under the aegis of the church. The "secularization" of these spheres, therefore, was legitimate. This does not mean, however, that these spheres were deprived thereby of their religious meaning, because every sphere of life has its meaning in terms of the kingdom of Christ. As Abraham Kuyper said, all of life is religion.(8)
It is more common, however, to continue associating religion with a particular sphere and to understand secularization as the process by which persons and things are divested of their religious significance and are brought into a realm that is supposed to be independent of all religion.(9) In this view, removal from the aegis of the church means consignment to what is devoid of religious significance-- namely, to the "secular" realm. The Christian faith is even said to have aided the process of secularization in this latter sense.
Christianity is said to have pushed back the power of the demons, so that history, e. g., was no longer thought to be half-divine and half-demonic. It was enabled to become the bearer of meaning. It became possible for history to be a terrain for the deployment of autonomous human powers.
Especially the rapid development of the sciences, it is said, brought man to trust in his powers of disposing over the stuff of history, to bring order and meaning into it. As a consequence, the idea of history underwent a secularization. The belief that history is influenced by religious forces gave way to the faith that history is subject to the sovereign powers of autonomous man, as he bends it to his formative will.
From their modern, secularized viewpoint, many historians have been unwilling to admit that Augustine had a philosophy of history. Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) insisted that Augustine was not an historian. Quite the contrary! He did not have a truly historical method. He constructed a framework for historical events that was composed of miracle and the convention of the schools.(10) According to Troeltsch, philosophy of history in the true sense of the word, began with Voltaire.(11)
The modern, secularized view of history has identified history with the results of the application of historical method or with the application of that method itself. The secularized historian will not allow anything to qualify as history that does not pass muster according to this historical methodology. One must sift all tradition, exploring its sources, drawing analogies with other events, and seeking to establish general historical laws. In the only sense in which it is admissible, history must begin with the presence of written documents, which can be subjected to historical investigation.
Within the secularized viewpoint, therefore, the tendency has been to view history within a theoretical framework, thus viewing it abstractly. As we shall observe, there has been a powerful reaction to this tendency.
According to the secularized view, whatever does not qualify according to such historical criteria is banned from history as "myth," "legend," etc. What is called "myth" need not be deprived thereby of all significance; it is, however, denied the right to have any constitutive meaning for history.
According to the modern view of history, human reason, possibly more than ever before, was considered to be the source of meaning of the cosmos. Thus, history was expected to show the traces of reason. Both from the side of method and from the side of the "object" of historical research history was expected to answer to the rationalistic demands of universality. In early rationalism this meant that truth was supposed to be open to all men by virtue of their powers of reason. This was a position characteristic of deism, for instance. In later rationalism it meant that all events were relativized by being related to historical method. No historical event might be excluded. No historical event could be allowed to stick out above the historical stream. The individual historical event was as such denied any right to have universal, what is sometimes called "cosmic," significance. That is to say, it was not allowed to have decisive significance for one's deepest existence. According to the demands of this later rationalism, every historical event was ranged alongside of other historical events. Each was a product of history itself, completely dependent upon immanent historical causes. Every historical event was thought to be analogous in principle to other possible historical occurrences.
3. Problems of the Secularized View of History
As we have seen, early rationalism held that there is an idea of reason transcending history. History, it is complained, was thereby downgraded. It could obtain meaning only by way of being related to a source beyond it. This, we saw, was a source of complaint for Vico, who attempted to find a source of meaning within history itself.
As we have observed, the Restoration produced a powerful impetus towards the historicizing of reality. In Hegel's thought, the idea of reason became identical with the actual course of historical development. This position eventuated in historicism. Absolute meaning was discovered in the positive historical fact. At the same time, the particular fact was related to the final synthesis in the Absolute Spirit, as the absolute source of meaning.
With the collapse of Hegel's elaborate attempt to reconcile the meanest positive facts of history with the ultimate meaning of the Absolute, there was again a separation of the absolute and historical fact. There was indeed justification for this retreat from Hegel's position. The meaning of history cannot be found simply within history itself, in the sum total of its actual development. Nevertheless, as it worked itself out, the collapse of the Hegelian synthesis had a destructive effect. Historicism now displayed its inner tendencies in a clearer way. There was a complete relativization of history. Without any recourse to an origin of meaning in absolute spirit (which, according to post-Hegelian thinking, would have to lie beyond history), there was a complete surrender to the historical situation.(12)
The breakdown of the Hegelian synthesis paved the way for an historical positivism. History was deprived of meaning. It became a congeries of historically qualified facts, which were completely enmeshed in the historical nexus without any inner relatedness, without any coherence and unity of meaning.
Understandably, this development has awakened widespread concern. It has been a major concern of liberal Christian views of history, for example, to rediscover a source of meaning in history.(13) The attempt has been made to find such a source of meaning without abandoning, on the one hand, the secular viewpoint as to the science of history and without searching for a way out, on the other hand, by jettisoning history for some transhistorical norm, e. g., in a natural law doctrine.
4. "Historie" and "Geschichte"
We have followed the development of a complete historical relativism and skepticism. Related to a secularized historical consciousness, everything came to be regarded as a phenomenon of history. That is, everything was thought to have its origin and its destiny within the historical matrix. No longer could one attach ultimate significance to a particular historical moment. Nor was it thought possible to appeal to a transhistorical source of meaning for history.
This historical relativism belongs to what is currently signified by the term "historic" (geschichtlich). Something is "historic" when it is completely immersed in the stream of history and is given over to historical relativity, without any hope of appeal to something beyond history.
In its deeper signification, however, the term "historic" has been introduced into contemporary theology and philosophy in a renewed attempt to disclose an absolute point of reference, in which one can discover absolute meaning, without taking refuge in a non-temporal, transhistorical idea. On this view, every such idea has been disqualified. Every such idea is said to be a reflection of a real, historically qualified situation and thus to be devoid of transcendent meaning. One's ultimate point of reference is supposed to be an original, concrete "level" of experiencing of an historic character.
In this latter sense, the historic must be distinguished both from a transhistorical point of reference, such as that which is found in idealism or in a natural law doctrine, and from the simple, relative historical fact as understood by positivism.(14)
The idea of the historic has been conceived, therefore, to escape the dilemma: historical/transhistorical. It seeks to avoid the assertion, on the one hand, that there is an absolute point of meaning in history; it wants also to avoid the assertion, on the other hand, that there is no absolute point of meaning in history. It is freely admitted that on the "surface," the level of generalizing thought, one will always be impaled on the horns of this dilemma. Nevertheless, the attempt is made to relativize these contraries. They are understood to arise from a more fundamental (act of) objectification (Vergegenstndlichung). In reflecting on this disqualification of the foreground antinomy, one is able as it were to "step back" into a more original, concrete level, in contrast to the level of generality in the foreground.
Whether this "stepping back" involves taking an actual step from one kind of experiencing to another and whether this "concrete" level can at any time actually be occupied is a matter of debate among dialectical thinkers.(15) Whateverever solutions dialectical philosophers and theologians may give in detail, however, this general scheme is very widespread in their thinking.
The idea of the historic was prepared for and was virtually present in late German idealism. It was, however, set forth in a radical form by the Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), whose thought has strongly influenced contemporary philosophy, theology, and literature.
How is one to evaluate this idea? Does existential thought truly point the way toward stepping back into a more original, concrete level of existence?
This is one of the major questions confronting evangelical and Reformed thinking today. Even the Reformed community is divided in its answer to this question.
Indeed, the contemporary dialectical views of history, with their appeal to an idea of the once-for-all-ness (Einmaligkeit) of historical event, might appear to show us the way to escape the rationalistic, universalistic ideas of history and to bring us close to the position of Augustine. Liberal Christian philosophers of history often draw this very parallel.(16)
The contemporary idea of the once-for-all-ness of historical event, however, unlike that of Augustine, has its place within the framework of an irrationalistic, dialectical pattern of thought that has arisen in an effort to solve problems within the modern, secularized view of history. Indeed, the idea of the historic was developed in an attempt to overcome the consequences of this secularism; nevertheless, it is characteristic of this position that it does not abandon secularism in favor of something else. To the degree that one is consistent with this dialectical point of view, one does not simply exchange a secularized position for a concrete, historical one. On the contrary, he holds that the solution must be discerned through the tensions within the secularist position itself, a position that is always retained as a moment in the dialectical movement of thought.
In spite of its repeated claim that it has exchanged the ideal of the autonomy of thought for "existential" involvement, the dialectical viewpoint, upon close scrutiny, is observed to require the idea of autonomy, as an essential moment. Furthermore, one should also observe that the supposed concrete, historic level of experience is not original or concrete at all. It is, in point of fact, a fabrication of autonomous thought.(17)
I find myself in agreement, therefore, with those Reformed thinkers who have repudiated the notion of the historic as a means of overcoming dilemmas posed in the contemporary philosophy and theology of history.
In the above dialectical position, once-for-all-ness remains in sharp antithesis to the course of ordinary history, understood as particular historical events that can be grasped in a general way. The level of ordinary history has been reduced to the status of being completely relative, having meaning only in terms of subjective valuing. Far from being dependent upon divine revelation, it is completely opaque to it. It is only when all history has been secularized and has been declared to be ordinary history without any "cosmic" meaning that it is possible to say that here, in spite of it all, there is revelation of the absolute. This revelation, therefore, is supposed not to come directly but dialectically.(18) That is to say, revelation takes place in spite of the fact that ordinary history cannot at all receive it.
The idea of the historic, therefore, is placed within a framework that is fundamentally antinomic. It is supposed to refer to a concrete level "beyond" the antinomy. If one is consistent with this dialectical scheme, however, be must admit that this "level" is not a level at all. It is impossible to step from the level which is dominated by the antinomy to a level that is free from it. One can discern this historic "level" only through the antinomy.
From a Reformed point of view any such attempt to sanction the antinomy is always suspect. One of the cornerstones of the Reformed world-and-life view is that God has created our world as a cosmos of meaning, without the contradictoriness in the law that is the hallmark of antinomy. The idea of the historic, on the contrary, falls to the ground if one eliminates the tension between the historical and the unhistorical, and the deeper tension between history and the historic.
In spite of the fact that this antithesis is indispensable to it, dialectical thinking cannot ultimately tolerate a simple disjunction between the so-called concrete level of the historic and the general level of history. It must eventually seek a reconcilation between them. In fact, very recent tendencies in philosophy and theology are moving in this direction.(19) The Christian may regard this need, which is reflected in these most recent developments, as a testimony to the fact that God's creation does not lend itself to such bifurcation. It must be added, however, that such a reconciliation can never truly be effected on the foundation of autonomous thought. The disjunction will always remain.
The contemporary distinction between concrete history and general history has not solved the problem it was conceived to deal with. In refutation of its own claims, it does not open up an original level of concrete existence. It has not truly escaped the cul-de-sacs introduced by neutral historical thinking. It is rather a product than a solution of the problems inherent in the neutral science of history.
C. Outlines of a Christian View of History
As I now turn to offer a sketch of a Christian view of history, I again offer a reminder that it is not my purpose here to develop a Christian philosophy of history. I want to focus our attention on the inability of the science of history to arrive at an adequate understanding of its own field of investigation apart from presuppositions, more particularly, the revelation of God which has been given us in the Scriptures. If I take this position, indeed, I cannot avoid questions that bear on the philosophy of history; nevertheless, I am interested, first of all, in showing the indispensability of a Christian starting point, even for the scientific investigation of history.
1. Historical Concept-Formation
It is often said that the work of the historian is to ascertain what has happened in the past. Employing such a definition, it is possible to say that everything that is known to have happened in the past is "historical."
It is not difficult to see, however, that not everything that has happened in the past has historical significance.(20) May everything that has occurred-- a battle, the fall of an empire, the death of a baby, the felling of a tree, or the fact that one barked his shins on the furniture while getting up in the dark-- be called "historical" in the same sense of the word? If one called "historical" everything that is known to have happened in the past, he could answer in the affirmative. Yet, it is a simple matter to discern that one event has historical significance while another does not.
An important number of Reformed thinkers, therefore, employ the term "historical" in a more restricted sense as well. They use it to refer to one aspect among others of our experiencing. In this sense, what is historical is not simply what is known to have happened in the past. Instead, historical events are those which are qualified in a certain fashion, in a peculiar way, i. e., according to the meaning of the historical mode of our experiencing. Or "historical" refers to an aspect of everything that has happened, as it is seen from a particular point of view, as it participates in the historical aspect of our experiencing.
When it is used thus, the term "historical" has a technical, scientific meaning. It is no longer applicable in an indiscriminate fashion to everything that has occurred; instead, it refers to a particular aspect of things that have happened or to certain events that are characterized or qualified by this aspect.
At first sight the latter use of the term "historical" might appear not only unusual but also suspect. Indeed, as a theory, this view of history must be scrutinized just as carefully as any other. Nevertheless, a close analysis of the way in which the historian goes about to form the concepts with which he works evinces the fruitfulness of this theory. It is indeed proper to distinguish an historical aspect from other aspects of our experiencing.
In viewing the past, an historian is not equally concerned with everything that has occurred. As an historian, he is interested specifically with what is taken up in an historical constellation of events. Thus, the outcome of a major battle that "changes the course of history" has a different significance for him than the fact that he barked his shins on the furniture while getting up in the dark. If this is true, what catches his interest must have historical individuality, a particular quality that establishes it as "historical."
Already we have hit upon one of the concepts an historian must employ in his investigations. In one way or another he must ask as to the unity of the event he is investigating. What gives the various constitutive moments of an historical constellation their peculiar characteristics?
Herman Dooyeweerd has illustrated this point in an interesting fashion. He says,
The battle of Waterloo is a unity if we consider it as an historically qualified fact, that is to say, if we consider it in terms of historical power as a decisive test of military strength between Napoleon and the allied powers which opposed him. Should we try to give an account, however, of everything that really took place there, we should also have to include the moral, juridical, economical, lingual, and social aspects of the event, the organic life-processes and the physical-chemical processes in the bodies of the fighting soldiers, the emotions, impressions, and thought-associations that took place in each one of them during the battle, the changes in the atmosphere, the trajectories of the bullets, the reactions in the animal world, etc. In its concrete reality the battle of Waterloo, of course, also had its aspect of sensory experience; but looking at it exclusively from this point of view we should not be able to say what belonged and what did not belong to this historical event.(21)
Asking about the unity of an historical event brings one to ask also concerning the extent of this event. How much is included within its scope?
If that which belongs to the historical event of the battle of Waterloo, for instance, is to be distinguished from what surrounds but does not belong intrinsically to it, there is need for a criterion to distinguish the historical aspect.
If this is true, it is impossible to think that an historian is confronted simply with brute facts, which are able to be grouped according to convenience and which have no inner structure of their own. Inevitably one will have to introduce considerations which cannot be dealt with by means of collecting facts but will have to be viewed in terms of the framework in which these facts appear and which makes them possible.
One can illustrate the same point by considering the problem of causation as it bears on the science of history. I have already referred to the widespread notion that there is a fundamental distinction between history and nature. This view often takes the form that nature is the realm of necessity, ruled by cause, and history is the realm of freedom, to which the idea of causality does not apply, except perhaps metaphorically. In spite of its popularity, this way of distinguishing history and nature is inadequate. Indeed, there is in history a freedom that is lacking in nature; action in history will always be related to the activity of free agents. But if a legitimate distinction is allowed to become an antithesis, so that there is a bifurcation between history and nature, freedom and determination, it is impossible to give an account, on the one hand, of how events in history are causally related, and, on the other hand, how events in nature can participate in an historical constellation.
It is the case, however, that some who distinguish between the realm of history and that of nature allow for causation in history but of a different kind.(22) It is pointed out, for instance, that what results from an historical act will never correspond on a one-to-one basis with the subjective intention of the historical agent. That is, what eventuates never coincides completely with what the history-former wanted to accomplish. Within the framework of historical causality, therefore, there is what has come to be called a "heterogeneity of purpose." Some even go so far as to say that this heterogeneity of purpose is a law within the historical aspect itself.(23) Thus within the historical matrix it will be a foregone conclusion that the consequences of historical action will never correspond exactly to what was intended by the historical agent.
The use of such concepts as "historical cause" and "historical space" has involved us already in a view of history. This view makes it necessary to give an account of the connection between history and nature.
A natural event, such as a landslide, an earthquake, or a lightning flash, can participate causally in an historical constellation. It can do this, however, only if it can introduce a change, bring something new, into this historical situation; and it can do the latter only if it is related to historical subjects, i. e., to persons or groups which can act historically.
By way of example, let us suppose that a relief column is marching to the rescue of a beleaguered army, which still has the possibility of being saved if reinforcements arrive in time. Let us also suppose that the battle can change the course of history. As the relief column advances through a gorge in the mountains, a huge avalanche blocks its path. The column is delayed long enough in its attempt to go around the slide that it arrives at the scene of conflict too late. The battle is lost and the course of history is affected.
The fact that there was a landslide, we observe, did not of itself affect the course of history. It had the indicated effect only because it interfered with the movement of the relief column. It had this historical effect, furthermore, only because, without this impediment, the relief column had the possibility of reaching the beleaguered army in time. If this time factor had not been present, the landslide could not have functioned causally in the historical constellation just described; it could have had only a nuisance value.
One can say, therefore, that the landslide had the objective possibility of participating in the developing historical situation. It had the possibility of functioning within the historical constellation, in connection with the historical subjects involved in it.(24)
A natural event has the possibility of participating in an historical causal situation; but it has this only in an objective fashion. If no objective historical possibility exists, an event of nature cannot function causally in an historical constellation. Its occurrence or non-occurrence will make no historical difference. That is to say, it will have no historical effect.
The above illustration gives us a clue to answering the question whether it is proper to employ the concept "cause" in regard to history. I have described a particular kind of causality relevant to the historical aspect of our experiencing, and I have pointed out that natural events can function in an objective way in historical causal situations.
Throughout the above discussion, however, it has only been assumed that there is a unique sense of the historical mode of our experiencing. This has not yet been identified. If, however, the causal can be qualified by the historical, so that we can speak of "historical causation," it is necessary to have a criterion by which to distinguish the historical aspect from the other aspects. What is the meaning of the historical aspect?
Herman Dooyeweerd has identified the meaning of the historical aspect as controlling forming according to a free project.(25) An historical act will be an act that forms history, that introduces a change into history according to the free project of an historical agent.
In an historical situation, an historical agent will not be just anyone who happens to be present. It will be one who, in a particular constellation of events, exercises controlling power, bringing something into being that otherwise would not have existed, something that modifies human social life on a continuing basis.
When we inquire as to who is an historical agent, as to who is an actor on the stage of history, we again encounter a question an historian cannot avoid as he carries on his work as a scientific historian. Discussion of this question will involve a philosophical anthropology, a theoretical description of who man is.
The questions that force themselves on the historian as he forms the concepts he must use in his scientific investigations will lead him of necessity to reflect on what transcends the scope of these inquiries. He will be required to ask who man is. One's idea of man will of necessity guide his historical investigations; but this idea will not arise simply out of these historical investigations themselves.
When one reflects on historical action, he is drawn to reflect further on who man is; for, in his totality, man is not taken up completely in any of his particular acts, no matter how they are qualified. That is also true of man's participation in an historical act.
When one speaks of an historical agent, therefore, he does not speak of a man in his totality. Historical agency is a specially qualified human activity, either individual or group.
Nor is it the case that every human activity will be historically qualified. As I have already pointed out, an actor on the stage of history will have to be a human being or group that in a particular historical constellation comes into the position where it can enter in a controlling fashion into the historical situation and change it.
With these understandings it is even more clear that not everything that has happened in the past, or every aspect of what is occurring in the present, can be denominated "historical." That one sits down with his family to eat is itself not an historical act, in the narrower sense of the word "historical" as I have described it. Using the same criterion, Hannibal's crossing the Alps, the Battle of Waterloo, the invasion of Normandy, and Israel's crossing the Red Sea were definitely historical acts.
Even though they may not be qualified by the historical aspect, all human acts, however, have an historical side to them. Sitting with one's family at the table is most likely not an historical act. This act, however, has an historical aspect, for the very fact that the persons at the table are sitting and not reclining is the result of historical forming. At the occasion of the Last Supper the disciples reclined at table. As one sits with his family at the table, the style of the dinnerware, the language used in conversation, etc., etc., are all results of free forming activity. They are products of cultural change and development.
As an historian pursues his craft, he must inevitably give account of such concepts as "culture" and "style." These, furthermore, must lead him inevitably to ask about the former of culture and the maker of style.
An historian will be brought inevitably to ask the question of man.
2. Historical Calling
As one comes into a position where he can enter in a controlling fashion into an historical situation and become a former of history, he must respond to what has been named a "call." Whether he shall or shall not be a former of history depends upon his response to this challenge.(26)
This state of affairs has been apprehended especially by the advocates of the universalistic views of history. Within historicism there is a tendency to seek an historically qualified group in which the individual is taken up and in terms of which he has his meaning. Thus the individual is not considered alone. Neither is historical action understood in terms of his isolated willing. Instead, the historical agent is supposed to be the all-embracing group. The individual performer on the stage of history is thought to be one who has responded to an historical calling and whose individual efforts gain their meaning only in terms of guidance from an historically qualified source beyond himself. An individual is carried along in an historical stream, guided by an historical destiny which establishes what shall be the course of historical development and what shall be the style of responsible action.
Allowing for his view that the decisive factors of historical change are social and economic, the Marxist's idea of historical calling, like that of the absolute idealist, falls within the above pattern of thought. This accounts for his rejection of what he calls "the ideal of personality," which holds that the isolated individual can form history according to his will. In the Marxist view, considered in its original form, the individual is regarded to be dependent upon the course of history, which unfolds in a way that transcends his individual willing. He must be able to read history; he must seek to act in a responsible fashion, i. e., in a way that corresponds with history's ongoing development. His own will must be subject to its "necessities." Thus action is branded "reactionary" that does not read this historical development and that consequently sets itself against its inner logic; action is called "progressive," on the contrary, that cooperates with the development of history.
Indeed, it is characteristic in general of positions influenced by the Romantic-idealistic movement that the idea of calling has received an historical cachet. This is the case, as I have suggested, even when the idealistic direction has been abandoned and thought has turned in a materialistic direction, as in Marxism.
According to these theories, one is supposed to respond "concretely" to the "call" of history, not imposing an abstract, rational (transhistorical) standard upon history but doing what is dictated by the "necessities" of history. Thus history is not supposed to be subjected to a "heteronomous" standard, one that arises from a source outside of history; it is supposed to be subjected to a "normativity" that arises autonomously out of history itself. This is the background of the currently influential position called "historical realism."
As I have already suggested, the universalistic views have been able to preserve elements of truth concerning historical calling. One who has the possibility of being an historical agent has historical responsibility. He can sense this responsbility as a calling. In a particular historical situation, he can sense his responsibility to step in and to modify the course of historical development. For him not to do so is an abandonment of his God-given task.
This calling should not be understood, however, in terms of a superordinated destiny, an unfathomable source, but in terms of historical agency and historical causation. An historical call will come only to an individual who has the qualifications and who is placed in the proper circumstances to become an historical leader. He is one who possesses the self-awareness and self-mastery, as well as an awareness of the historical situation, that will allow him to enter into this situation in a controlling fashion. If such a person, faced with an historical challenge, does not rise to meet it, he derelicts his duty. We can illustrate this point even in terms of a story in the Old Testament. Saul is a ludicrous figure when, called to lead the Israelite nation, he hides behind the baggage and must be sought out in order to be proclaimed king by the prophet Samuel.
3. Beyond History
The universalistic, historicistic positions think of history as embracing the historical subject. They are, however, unable to escape the notion that in some fashion the historical subject stands outside of history. Indeed, historicism thinks that everything can be understood from the standpoint of the historical; nevertheless, it will be forced to the conclusion that this is impossible. The historical subject or agent, for example, cannot itself be simply a phenomenon of history. In its deepest sense it cannot itself be a product of history, because it is involved in forming the historical process and thus in a certain respect must be able to encounter it from the outside.(27)
That the historical subject itself cannot be a product of the historical stream is testified to by the kairos philosophy of history. According to this view, absolute meaning is supposed to invade the historical moment, creating a decisive time or time of decision (the kairos). This decisive time is supposed to arise by way of a destiny beyond the reach of individual willing. Nevertheless, there must inevitably be the calculation of when this historical turn (Wendung) will take place. In some sense, therefore, the historical agent must stand outside the historical stream.
An historicist has difficulty ascribing historical significance to this calculating activity. Facing up to this problem, Paul Tillich related calculating activity to history, as its inevitable accompaniment; but he did not allow it to pertain to the inner sense of history. When it stands in a dominating, controlling relationship to the material of history, the subject is isolated, valuing in terms of something that is at heart non-historical. Even though this calculation occurs inevitably and is even required if the inner sense of history is to be realized, it does not belong to that inner sense itself.(28) Thus controlling forming, which I, following Dooyeweerd, have identified with the nucleus of meaning of the historical aspect, is disassociated from the historical in its most intimate sense.(29)
In the line of irrational historicism, Tillich thought of the historical agent in the most fundamental sense of the word as a group, which is brought into being and is carried along by the power of the new being in Christ. In terms of this group ultimate meaning is found in history. By participating in it an individual comes to realize himself.
From the above discussion we can see that in the irrational, historicistic view of history there is a reflection on the self and its relationship to the inner sense of history. The self cannot simply be taken up in the historical stream; consideration of the course of history leads, on the contrary, to reflection on the self. In this reflection the self is faced squarely with the question concerning its own unity and the unity of its historical action. Is there a conflict between the self as it is taken up in the historical stream and the self as it inevitably stands outside of that stream in its controlling forming? This question, we found, is a crucial one for historicism. Is it possible, on the basis of historicism, to arrive at a unified view of history and of historical action?
4. The Ultimate Source of Meaning in History
It is at this point, at the intersection of the questions concerning the self and the ultimate source of meaning in history, that the contrast of the Christian position with that of unbelieving historical method comes into sharpest focus.
Inseparable from the Christian view is the confession of the absolute sovereignty of God over history. Everything that takes place is subject to his sovereign will. Furthermore, the Christian view demands the elimination of any ultimate dualism within the historical process. It takes seriously the divine declaration, at the creation, that the creation was good. It confesses the radical and universal penetration of the historical process by the creative will of the sovereign God. Even though there are contrary forces within history, and even though history involves the development of the kingdom of this world as well as the kingdom of God, there is no ultimate dualism. Nothing may be thought to occur apart from God's will and from his plan.
That a Christian confesses the all-sovereignty of God over history, that everything that comes to be proceeds from his almighty Creator-will, means that this is for him the point where the strands of his life are gathered together.(30) He responds as one who stands in a covenant relationship to God in a full-orbed, religious devotion, answering with his entire being to the one who has called him into his fellowship. In this response he possesses his freedom, moving in the environment that is properly his. This devotion does not constitute a limitation of his own freedom; it is the soil within which true freedom can find root and flourish.
It is a cardinal error to place the sovereignty of God over against the free response of man, as if God's activity were a determination fundamentally in opposition to man's freedom, and as if man's freedom could be realized only in conflict with divine sovereignty.(31)
In spite of many valuable insights he presents with regard to the Christian view of history, Alan Farris makes this error in his essay "The Relation of the Bible to History."(32) On the one hand, he equates the sovereignty of God with historical necessity.(33) This leads him to restrict the scope of divine sovereignty. If one is to avoid fatalism, he says, emphasis on the sovereignty of God must be balanced by emphasis on the freedom and responsibility of man. Thus Farris becomes entangled in either-or thinking. His thought moves on a sliding scale between determinism and indeterminism.(34) One must avoid both of these, discovering the golden mean between them.(35) The truth lies between extremes.
There is only one point in his essay at which Farris appears to rise above this pattern of thought. As one tries to decide whether necessity or human freedom is the master, it is necessary, he concludes, to hold that the Master of creation is not within creation.(36) If I interpret Farris correctly,(37) he intends to say here that one cannot set off divine sovereignty and human freedom from each other, as if they were on the same level and as if they delimited each other. In stating this view, Farris himself offers the needed corrective. Indeed, he says, human freedom is not won at the expense of divine sovereignty. It has its true meaning only against the background of God's sovereign Creator-will.(38)
To take the position that human freedom of itself entails a limitation of divine sovereignty is not in the interests of true freedom at all; it is destructive of freedom.
It was an outstanding contribution of Augustine that he clearly set forth that the Christian view of history has its ultimate point of reference in the sovereign God, whose counsel embraces all things.
This is indeed the ultimate perspective from which the unity of history must be understood. It cannot be understood immanently; it cannot be grasped in terms of anything within the cosmos itself. As outstanding Reformed thinkers have taught us,(39) we must attain a standpoint that is really transcendent if we are to understand the unity of our experience in general.
In his authoritative revelation, God discloses to us the only vantage point from which we can survey all of our experience in its ultimate unity. That is the case because the biblical message reveals man to himself in the root of his existence, in his relationship to his Creator, to other men, and to the world. Man is revealed as having been created by God in an integral, harmonious relationship in these three directions, as having fallen into sin in Adam, and as having been redeemed in Christ Jesus. Because the biblical message discloses the point at which all the lines of man's life converge in the center of his being upon the sovereign, Creator God, it is possible to attain a standpoint from which the entirety of experience can be seen in its unity. All other views, rejecting the biblical revelation, fall into an idolatrous elevation of one part of the cosmos at the expense of another, and in the resulting conflict the unity of perspective is lost.
That a Christian has the key to solving the problem of the unity of history because of what has been revealed to him in God's Word does not relieve him, if he would be an historian, of the need to build the conceptual framework of a Christian view of history. In carrying this out, he must take care how he relates these concepts to the truths he has received by divine revelation. For instance, that he confesses that everything that comes to pass is embraced in God's counsel and plan, so that there is nothing new for God, should not stand in the way of his acknowledging that an historical act is an expression of free-forming activity that brings something new into the course of history.(40) To cite another example, he may not conclude from the fact that God's counsel is all-embracing that everything that comes to pass is logical. Hegel, as is well known, made this connection. Conclusions may not be simplistically drawn from God's revelation in forming the concepts of a Christian view of history.
On the other hand, the criteria developed for a Christian theory of history must be shown to be dependent at every point on what God has revealed. In his description of the peculiar qualification of an historical act, for example, the Christian historian will be drawn inexorably to ask the question about the relationship of the historical aspect to other aspects of experience. Further, he will be drawn equally to ask the question of the deeper unity of his experience as it is related to God in his sovereign control over all things.
Every historian without exception will find that he is involved in such problems. He will be engaged, as I have already noted, with the problem of delineating conceptually what is constitutive of history and historical method; and in this conceptual delineation he will be involved as well with answering the questions concerning the unity and the origin of meaning in history. It is for this reason that we can say that the Christian position is relevant to every theory of history without exception. For it is only from the Christian transcendence standpoint that this questioning and the answers can be seen in their true proportions.
The point of view from which I have approached this discussion has not been taken arbitrarily. It conforms to the world view as a whole that controls our attitude towards history. According to this view, the law, to which all thought is subject, is the boundary between God and the cosmos. Thought cannot transcend this boundary in its own right. Science, including historical science, must remain within the horizon of the divinely given structure of law in the cosmos. Transgressing this boundary by its own autonomous power will lead thought into speculation, a cast of mind that is not truly faithful to the Word of God and that is useless for the proper conduct of the science of history. On the other hand, it is within this very structure of law that there is a spiral (centripetal) movement that makes inevitable the concentrating of thought on the coherence, the deeper unity, and the origin of the cosmos. The issue of neutrality of the science of history, therefore, is not that of the supposed involvement of the subjective standpoint of the historian in his historical investigations; it is that of a religious concentration discernible in the formation of the very concepts of the science of history.
In forming the concepts he needs for his investigation of history, the Christian historian ought to proceed along scientifically responsible paths, employing theoretically significant criteria, pointing out all the while the fundamental dependence of his enterprise on Christian presuppositions.
The sovereignty of God does not itself offer us a theoretical criterion; nevertheless, it is the fundamental reference point for all of life. Everything-- whether logical or illogical, whether normative or anti-normative in an historical sense-- must be referred to God's sovereign will. All things, whether open to the finite human understanding or not, are considered to have their ultimate source of meaning in the divine Creator-will.
Nevertheless, God's sovereignty offers the background against which immanent, theoretically relevant criteria can be developed. God, who is the sovereign Creator, is himself not subject to the law order of the cosmos; he is its author. The cosmos, however, is subject to the divine law in all of its parts, a law that is a coherence which is brought to a focus in the heart of man, who has been placed by God as his vicegerent at the head of his creation. The Scriptures present authoritative information about man and his world, which itself is not able to be derived from science but which must guide the scientific enterprise in every field.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a tendency within non-Christian as well as Christian views of history to bring the data within the framework of an ultimate view of things-- to consider history in terms of its origin, its deeper unity, and its coherence. I have attempted to show that the historian cannot pursue his craft without giving attention to the questions we have discussed. The simple chronicling of events that have happened in the past cannot offer a criterion of what is historically relevant. To view historical events only a truly historical criterion will suffice. Not only so. One will also need an idea of the relationship between the historical aspect and the other aspects of reality. As we have observed, one might seek this coherence in terms of the unity of some origin, whether within the historical aspect itself or in terms of something outside the historical. To attempt to avoid this genetic direction towards the origin is of no avail. For one will still be faced with the question of the relationship of the historical aspect to the other aspects of reality. How is one to distinguish the historical aspect from the others? By what method of definition can this distinction be made? Such questions inevitably bring one to reflect on the cosmos in its origin, deeper unity, and coherence.
There is, therefore, within the science of history itself the tendency to view the positive facts of history within the framework of a deeper and broader context of meaning. This cannot simply be laid at the door of an unfortunate penchant of the human mind for speculation; it is a tendency that manifests itself even within the process of the scientific formation of concepts.
5. The Norm of History
A human act participates, in one way or another, in all of the aspects of the cosmos. It cannot be restricted to any one or to any combination of aspects. This is true even of an act that is qualified by a particular aspect. Every such act is a concrete act and participates in all of the aspects of the cosmos. Thus, even though an act may be qualified as "historical," it can by no means be torn out of its context. It is an act of a man who himself acts as a subject in all of the aspects of our experience and who always stands as a covenant being before God.
Nevertheless, there are norms that pertain especially to the historical aspect. Among those who emphasize the historical it is uncommon to speak of historical norms. As we have seen, these speak instead of a "call" issuing from the unfathomable depths of history. The sense of the historical aspect, together with the relationship to the other aspects of reality, give the Christian, on the contrary, an opportunity to develop scientifically some norms in terms of which to understand historical action.
One may indeed speak of norms of history. The law for history is not itself transhistorical, an "eternal" criterion that hovers above history, in contrast to the historical plane, which is supposed to be the level of flux (change). History has its own law-side; it has its own norms.
Historical law, furthermore, has indeed a normative character. It does not realize itself automatically; it comes to expression only by means of the actions of responsible historical agents.
I shall not attempt to present a complete exposition of the historical norm; I shall only present a few insights, treating them more suggestively than systematically.
a. Continuity and Change
As one deals with phenomena of history, he will have to face the question of historical continuity and historical change. As we have seen, an historical act brings something new into history. That is not to say that this newness in history takes place apart from God's counsel; it is only to say that it belongs to the very meaning of the historical that events take place that incorporate something new, a new "style," as the result of historical forming activity. If this is so, then one is faced with the question of how what is new in history relates to what is already established in history. One is faced with the question of tradition. In historical inquiry one must consider the relationship of historical continuity to historical change.
b. Progressive and Reactionary
The norm of history will express itself in the need to be progressive.(41) One who obeys the historical norm will have to take into account the newness that has entered history. Not to do this-- to attempt, for instance, simply to repristinate an era of the past-- must be labeled "reactionary."
One may not, of course, support every movement claiming to be progressive. The terms "progressive" and "reactionary" are often used with a political purpose in mind. They are used as slogans instead of as concepts by means of which to understand historical action. Thus, many who follow a party line are called by definition "progressive," while their opponents are branded "reactionary."
Action that is truly progressive must take into account the continuity as well as the newness within history. It must have an eye for what is living within a tradition as it attempts to make a fresh evaluation of the historical situations as they arise.
c. Differentiation and Unity
Especially within an advanced stage of cultural development, there is a marked tendency towards differentation. We observe this today in the so-called "information explosion." In our industrial civilization it has been present in the increasing specialization of labor. But, contrary to widespread opinion, differentiation need not of itself be a problem. A culture does not lose its unity simply because it becomes differentiated. Any process of differentiation, however, always brings up the question of unification. The loss of a central direction and a fundamental purpose is a mark of our time, which, at least in terms of technological prowess, has the most advanced of all civilizations in history. A sense of direction and purpose, however, cannot be regained simply on the level of the historical norm. It involves a fundamentally religious orientation, and unification will be attained only in terms of an all-embracing faith, either in terms of the revelation of God or in terms of a myth, the product of apostate imagination.
6. The Norm of History and the Meaning of History
The above norms of history indeed relate to the historical aspect of our experiencing. They do not function as superhistorical norms that, as it were, hover above history and then relate to history as something impinging on it from outside. They appear in the course of history and in the process of the scientific study of history. In considering the historical from a normative point of view, one will ob-serve that historical figures will always be involved with historical continuity and change, with progressive or reactionary actions, and with the question of differentation and unity. These norms (criteria) are always relevant in regard to historical action and scientific historical inquiry.
That this is the case, however, does not mean that these norms establish the meaning of history. If they are taken out of context and if they are made the be-all and end-all of history, they assume proportions that are disruptive rather than supportive of historical inquiry. This happens, to be specific, under the influence of historicism. Historicism, as we saw, elevates history to the center. It has no room, therefore, for considering history within its context. It thinks that history can be understood on its own. Therefore, within historicism, norms such as progressive and regressive take on a position that is unwarranted. We find this in the position of Marxism, which is historicistic in character. The same may be said of the other norms of history. In regard to historical study, historical continuity and change are very important; but they do not constitute history and history cannot be understood in terms of the problem of continuity and change. The same may be said of differentiation and unity. In the historical context, one will always be faced with the question of differentation and unity, but history cannot be understood simply in terms of this problem.
In order to address the meaning of the historical, one must go beyond these considerations. He will have to go beyond the consideration of history as an aspect and consider history in a broader and deeper context. In fact, the Christian says that one does not understand the meaning of history unless he sees that Christ is the center of history.
7. Christ and the Center of History
The ultimate norm of human life is found in Christ, who is God manifest in the flesh and the head of the new humanity.
Christianity teaches that the one who is the head of the new creation appeared in history at a dateable time, as the second Adam. That Christ is the second Adam does not mean, however, that he realized within himself all of the potentialities of humankind. The ideal of personality, in the sense of the realization of the maximum of human possibilities in a single personality, is an ideal of the Renaissance, not of the Christian faith. That Christ is the second Adam means that in him there was the realization of the complete obedience to the Father which was expected of the first man (and woman). True humanity has been realized in Christ, in that he answered perfectly to the demand that he serve the Father with all his heart, soul, and mind. Through him humanity has been restored in principle at its root. Through him restored humanity will inherit the new heavens and the new earth.
To be sure, Christ is not a concrete absolute, if by that is meant that in him were realized all human possibilities. In this connection, it is sometimes observed that Christ did not enter into marriage. In him, however, the meaning of the creation is fully realized at its root, in its complete dependence on and service of the Creator. Christ learned obedience, the Scriptures say, through the things that he suffered. He became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. In this connection, it was not necessary for Christ to obey all of the possible expressions of the law of God distributively; he fulfilled the law perfectly in its central meaning of complete love for God and for one's neighbor. Christ restored the creation at its root, a restoration that will extend to all of its parts.
In this sense Christ is the ultimate norm of history. It is in Christ that the meaning of history in its deepest sense is fulfilled.
Contemporary neo-liberal theological views of history also claim that Christ is the center of history. The neo-liberal theologians can say this, however, only because they hold that the picture of Jesus as the Christ, which is the source of the real power of redemption in history, expresses most fully the inner dialectical meaning of the historical process.
According to a biblical, Reformed view, Christ is the fountainhead of all grace. Even God's preserving ("common") grace is centered in Christ.
8. Christianity as an Historical Religion
It is commonly acknowledged that Christianity is an historical religion. It is not a presentation of ethical ideals. It does not advocate a mystical absorption in an history-annihilating abyss. Christianity is founded on events that happened in the past, and it looks forward to events that will occur in the future. In contrast to ethical or mystical religion, it is an historical religion.
It is precisely at this point, however, that much modern discussion has centered. The historical foundation of Christianity has been severely attacked, and much effort has been expended either to defend this historical foundation or to suggest ways in which Christianity can be restated in order to evade the force of negative historical criticism.
Higher criticism claims that the historical foundations of Christianity have been undermined. Radical, i. e., rigorous, application of neutral historical method is supposed to have deprived Christianity of the claim to be anything but one religion among others. The higher critics declared that Christianity is a phenomenon of history, and they deprived Christianity of any support in history for its claim to uniqueness.
As we have observed, dialectical theology attempted to provide again a foundation for the uniqueness of Christianity, but only after having accepted to the full the claim to neutrality of historical method. As we have seen, it looked for the uniqueness of Christianity, not with reference to history "in general," but with reference to a "higher" kind of history, namely, the historic (Geschichte).
Attempts to salvage the uniqueness of Christianity will fail, however, as long as there is an acceptance of the ideas of neutral, secularized history. The effect of such acceptance is a theoreticization of history, as we have remarked. History is seen through the eyes of neutral historical method. I have claimed, on the contrary, that any historical method will depend upon pretheoretical presuppositions which are at bottom religious. The sense of history, as an aspect, which demands to be related to the unity of the cosmos vis--vis its origin, is not itself theoretical. It is meaning, which points to its religious root of meaning.
Recently the distinction between history (Historie) and historicness (Geschichte) has been under attack. This attack has come not only from the side of Reformed philosophers and theologians, many of whom have never been congenial to this distinction; it has also come from the side of contemporary theologians who wish to view the entire historical process in terms of what constituted for their predecessors the historic (geschichtliche) realm. History is said to be a universal process, of historic (geschichtliche) character, with the resurrection of Christ as the cornerstone.(42) Here there is at least a surface break with dialectical theology. There is no sign, however, that this theological movement has broken its ties with a neutral view of history. Even though it holds that the historical process centers in Christ and his resurrection, it still maintains a neutral stance concerning the foundations of the science of history.
Evangelicals too have had difficulty thinking of Christianity as an historical religion. Indeed, the evangelical has courageously defended the truths of the "historical" death and the "historical" resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, because of his pietism, the evangelical has had a distinct tendency to think of the Christian faith as a drama played out on the stage of his inner life. His is a religion of the "heart," in the sense of his psychical life (his feeling life), in contrast to his intellect. He is easily swept up into a state of mind where he is preoccupied with his "spiritual" joys and depressions, his inner victories and defeats, his sense of communion with God and his experiences of antipathy to the world and of fellowship with the saints. Apparently, the evangelical does not recognize that the very distinction between the life of feeling and the life of the intellect is an abstraction and does not at all answer to life itself. It is a distinction that has established itself in rationalistic thought. It does not at all have a Christian origin.
It would indeed be a cold and drab Christian life-- scarcely a Christian life at all-- that did not share these feelings of communion, joy, and triumph. It would be an unreal evaluation of the Christian's condition, furthermore, to think that he is beyond the possibilty of falling into deep depression or of experiencing a gnawing sense of defeat. The Christian life is strongly emotional, or, at least, emotion is certainly not foreign to it.
What is at stake, however, is not what should or should not be included in the bag of what a Christian experiences as a matter of fact. What is at stake is the orientation of the Christian life. Where should the attention of a Christian be focused? Where does a Christian find his ultimate source of assurance? Has he or has he not attained the perspective from which his entire Christian experience can be seen, as a whole and not as a part wrenched out of context?
A Christian should discover his point of reference in the work of Christ for him. He should be aware of the great drama of the plan of God, as it is being worked out in history. This is much more than a drama of the inner life. In the way I am now using the term "history," in the pretheoretical sense I allowed early in our discussion, Christianity is founded upon a history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte), upon the mighty acts of God in behalf of his people. Understanding this history, a Christian is not thrown back on his own experiences; he is brought to understand his solidarity with all men as creatures of God, his solidarity with them in sin, and the need to take the gospel of redemption which he has received and which he confesses together with the body of Christ, Christ's church, into the world in active participation in its various spheres. Although he there encounters the distortions of sin, and although he experiences even within himself these distortions, he does not despair because he knows whom he has believed and is confident that that one will be able to keep him until the day of his coming.
Even though the early church fathers had a tendency to appeal to a supposedly timeless logos, there was among them a powerful orientation to history. These church fathers did not possess a scientific historical method; nevertheless, they were sure that the Christian faith was anchored in the great saving acts of God for his people. They reached back into the past in order to understand what God had done, and they looked ahead into the future towards the fulfillment of the divine promises.
A Christian may well investigate history, and be may construct scientific methods of historical research. He should never think, however, that historical research and historical method are neutral. For him, furthermore, what is historical may never be limited to what is the result of historical research. Instead, historical research must itself depend upon the insights proceeding from the revelation of God, who created all things and who in the last days sent forth his Son. Like the apostle Luke, he must take into consideration the things that are most surely believed, and he must take into consideration the record that has been given of these things. History may not be identified with the method of historical research nor with the results of that method. In its concrete sense, "history," is a drama under divine providence, according to the divine plan, and it is subject to divinely given laws. Further, "history" has a sense provided by the historical aspect. Historical research may not usurp the place of this divinely given order; instead, it must take this order into consideration as the foundation of its own possibility.
Robert D. Knudsen was born in Oakland, CA, he studied philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, apologetics under Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary, and spent two years at Union Theolological Seminary, where he studied under Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. Then in the Netherlands, he met his wife and did doctoral work under Prof. S. U. Zuidema at the Free University, Amsterdam. In 1958, he returned to teach apologetics at Westminster. Bob retired in 1995, and was active in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for most of his life. In January 1999, fluent in Dutch, he taught "A Christian Worldview" in Suriname under an OPC mission there. Knudsen was a member of the editorial board of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and had been an executive committee member. The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Knudsen passed into glory on Monday, February 21, 2000
HISTORY IN THE EARLY
The early church fathers do not present a philosophy of history in the technical sense of the term; nevertheless, they make statements that bear on the problem of history from the Christian point of view. In their writings we discover many confirmations of biblical teachings concerning history and God's activity within history.
A. There is a confirmation and elaboration of the New Testament confession of the electing love and the providential guidance of God.
1. There is reference to the plan of God (Ignatius: Ephesians 20: 1), to his power (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2: 1), and to his sovereignty (1 Clement 21: 8-9; 28: 2 f.).
2. There is a strong emphasis on the biblical teaching that Christians are elect from the foundation of the world and that they are an elect people. They are called "elect" (1 Clement 2: 5: 6: 1; 59: 2; 58: 2; 59: 3; 64: 1) and the "chosen portion" (1 Clement 29: 1). Ignatius also speaks of the election of the Christian (Ephesians, greeting). They are, he says, "predestined from eternity to enjoy forever continual and unfading glory" (Ephesians, greeting; cf. Ignatius: Trallians, greeting). The election of the Christian is brought into connection with his suffering. As he greets his Ephesian readers, Ignatius says that the source of the unity and election of believers is genuine suffering.
3. God knows the activities of men, even the secret things (Ignatius: Magnesians 3: 2).
4. God is the ruler over the nations, setting their bounds. He also overrules their plans (1 Clement 59: 3).
5. God is the judge of the nations and of individual men. He is not a respecter of persons (Didache 4: 10).
B. Like the New Testament, the early church fathers teach that Christians are the spiritual heirs of the Old Testament saints. There are many references to the example of the heroes of the faith. Especially 1 Clement abounds with them. Compare also the Martyrdom of Polycarp 1: 1-2; 2: 1.
C. Like the New Testament, the early church fathers anchor the Christian message in an interpretation of the Old Testament events and prophecies. Clement finds prophecy exemplified in the story of Rahab: the scarlet thread hung from the window signified salvation by the blood of Christ (1 Clement 12: 7-8). Interpretation sometimes goes beyond the authority of the Scriptures and a legitimate homiletical use of them. For example, Clement uses the legend of the phoenix to illustrate the resurrection of the body from the grave.
Clement also uses illustrations from nature. Ignatius believes that the authority of church officers is an earthly antitype of a heavenly pattern (Richardson, Early Church Fathers, p. 76). Richardson holds that this is an example of Platonic teaching in Ignatius.
D. The early church fathers assert, nevertheless, that the Christian church is separate from Israel. Ignatius says that Christ is not dependent on the fathers; instead, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enter the gate of salvation through Christ (Ignatius: Romans 9: 1).
E. Ignatius speaks of Christ as the "new man," echoing the biblical teaching about the new Adam (Ignatius: Ephesians 20: 1).
F. Throughout there is an emphasis on the lowliness and the suffering of the Christian and on his conflict with the world. Ignatius says that suffering is the way to true discipleship (Ephesians, greeting). One who is identified with Christ in his sufferings, carrying on the example that he set, will also be glorified with him in his resurrection. Ignatius not only refers to the suffering of Christ but also to his glorification beyond suffering (Ephesians 7: 2).
Christianity is viewed as something which is not congenial to the world but which is in antithesis to it. Ignatius writes, "The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it" (Romans 6: 2; cf. 7: 2; 8: 1; Martyrdom of Polycarp 7: 1). The wisdom of the world is rejected. Where is the wise? (Ignatius: Ephesians 18: 1; cf. Trallians 11: 2).
It is the humble man, not the great, who is favored by God. Christ belongs to the humble, not to those who exalt themselves (1 Clement 16: 1).
In the early church fathers as well as in the New Testament there is the problem of the relation of the Christian message to culture. As I have remarked, the attitude of the early church fathers is generally negative; nevertheless, the biblical theme is present that we should pray for those who are in authority over us, for magistrates (Polycarp: Philippians 12: 3).
G. The early church fathers also reflect the eschatological teachings of the New Testament.
1. As I remarked earlier, there is the idea that one who is united with Christ in his suffering will also be glorified with him (Ignatius: Trallians 9: 2). We shall be raised (Ignatius: Romans 2: 2; 4: 3). The resurrection is called a "birth" (Ignatius: Martyrdom of Polycarp 14: 2; cf. Polycarp: Philippians 2: 2; 9: 2).
2. Jesus Christ is represented as having appeared at the end of the world (Ignatius: Magnesians 6: 1). Hermas speaks of Christ's having been revealed in the "last days." The gate of salvation is new, having been revealed in the last days, so that those who are to be saved may enter in (Hermas: Sim. IX 12: 1-3).
3. Mention is made of the imminence of Christ's coming, the nearness of the end. "Yes, everything is coming to an end, and we stand before this choice-- death or life..." (Ignatius: Magnesians 5: 1). The end is imminent (Didache 16: 2).
Does the idea of the end and its imminence affect the sense of history? Attention is often drawn to a double possibility here. The pressure created by the expectation of the end can give weight to the historical moment. The tenuousness of this idea, however, appears in the fact that the imminence of the end can also be thought to empty history of meaning. Imminence, taken by itself [abstractly] does not appear to suffice; one must ask concerning the content of the expectation involved.
Clement says that this age is evil. The things beyond are incorruptible (2 Clement 6; Hermas Vis. IV 3; Hermas Sim. I). Hermas takes up the theme that the Christians are dwelling in a foreign land. Why then should they prepare their fields, make expensive displays, and have dwellings?
4. There will be a sure judgment, with unquenchable fire (Ignatius: Ephesians 16: 2; cf. Martyrdom of Polycarp 11: 2). The saints will judge the world (Polycarp: Philippians 11: 3).
5. We should stand in awe of the patience of God, lest it mean our condemnation (Ignatius: Ephesians 11: 1).
Although the coming of Christ is imminent, the Didache refers to the signs of his coming (Didache 16: 3).
1. Aron, Raymond. Introduction à la philosophie de l'histoire. Paris: Gallimard, 1948.
2. Augustine, The City of God.
3. Bavinck, Herman. The Philosophy of Revelation. New York: Longmans Green and Co., 1909.
4. Berdyaev, Nicolas. The Meaning of History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.
5. Bergin, Thomas Goddard and Fisch, Max Harold, trans. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948.
6. Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Tr. Ronald Gregor Smith. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1944.
7. Butterfield, H. Christianity and History. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1949.
8. Cochrane, A. Christianity and Classical Civilization. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940.
9. Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946.
10. Dooyeweerd, Herman. De analogische grondbegrippen der vakwetenschappen en hun betrekking tot de structuur van den menselijken ervaringshorizon. Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. Letterkunde. Nieuwe reeks, deel 17, no. 6. Amsterdam: Noord-Holland-sche Uitgevers Maatschappij, 1954. Tr. Robert D. Knudsen, "The Analogical Concepts" (mimeographed, 1968).
11. Dooyeweerd, Herman. "Mouvements progressifs en regressifs dans l'histoire." La revue Reforme, X, no. 36, 1958, pp. 1-13. Eng. trans., "The Criteria of Progressive and Reactionary Tendencies in History" (mimeographed).
12. Dooyeweerd, Herman. A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Vol. II (1955), pp. 192-298.
13. Dooyeweerd, Herman. Reformatie en Scholastiek in de Wijs-begeerte, I. Franeker: T. Wever, 1949.
14. Dooyeweerd, Herman. Verkenningen in de wijsbegeerte, de sociologie en de rechtsgeschiedenis. Ed. J. Stellingwerff, Christelijk Perspectief, I. Amsterdam: Buijten en Schipper-heijn, 1962.
15. Dooyeweerd, Herman. "The Sense of History and the Historicistic World and Life View." In the Twilight of Western Thought (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1960). Lecture I, pp. 62-82. Lecture II, pp. 83-112.
16. Farris, A. L. "The Relation of the Bible to History." Christian Perspectives 1960. Pella, Iowa: Pella Publishing, Inc., 1960.
17. Jaspers, Karl. The Origin and Goal of History. Tr. Michael Bullock. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953.
18. Knudsen, Robert D. "The Ambiguity of Human Autonomy and Freedom in the Thought of Paul Tillich." Philosophia Reformata. I: XXXII (1967), 55-67; II: XXXIII (1968), 32-44; III: XXXIV (1969), 38-51; IV: XXXVII (1972), 3-25.
19. Knudsen, Robert D. The Idea of Transcendence in the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers. Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1958.
20. Knudsen, Robert D. "Karl Jaspers on the Meaning of Science." Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Vol. X, no. 1 (Mar. 1958), pp. 25-26; vol. X, no. 3 (Sept. 1958), pp. 18-19; vol. X, no. 4 (Dec. 1958), pp. 23-24.
21. Marsden, George F. and Roberts, Frank, eds. A Christian View of History? Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975.
22. Mc Intyre, C. T. "The Ongoing Task of Christian Historiography." A Christian View of History, pp. 51-74.
23. Nash, Ronald, ed. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968.
24. Niebuhr, Reinhold. Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937.
25. Niebuhr, Reinhold. Faith and History. New York: Charles Scrib-ner's Sons, 1949.
26. Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Nature and Destiny of Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943.
27. Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Self and the Dramas of History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955.
28. Niebuhr, Richard R. Resurrection and Historical Reason. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957.
29. Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. Tr. John W. Harvey. London: Oxford University Press, 1925.
30. Popma, K. J. Calvinistische geschiedsbeschouwing. Franeker: T. Wever, 1945.
31. Rookmaker, H. R. "De constituerende factoren ener historische daad." Philosophia Reformata, XIX (1954), 41-48; 96-136; 169-186.
32. Shinn, Roger. Christianity and the Problem of History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953.
33. Skilton, John H., ed. Scripture and Confession: A Book about Confessions Old and New. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973.
34. Smit, M. C. Het goddelijk geheim in de geschiedenis. Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1955.
35. Tillich, Paul. "Kairos." The Protestant Era. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948.
36. Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology, III. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
37. Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History. London: Oxford University Press, 1935-1961.
38. Troeltsch, Ernst. Der Historismus und seine Probleme. Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1922.
39. Van der Hoeven, Johan. The Rise and Development of the Phenomenological Movement. Hamilton, Ont.: Association for Reformed Scientific Studies, 1964.
40. Van Til, Cornelius. Common Grace. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1947.
41. Van Til, Cornelius. "Toynbee on History" (mimeographed).
1. 1 The Swiss philosopher Karl Jaspers denied that science can give us ultimate truth; nevertheless, he did not want to ascribe to science only a pragmatic or operational meaning. Science, he said, is transcendentally foun-ded, in the encompassing (Umgreifende) of consciousness in general. Cf. Robert D. Knudsen, "Karl Jaspers on the Meaning of Science," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, I (vol. X, no. 1, Mar. 1958); II (vol. X, no. 3, Sept. 1958); III (vol. X, no. 4, Dec. 1958).
2. 2 In evaluating this interpretation, it must be remembered that the "cycle" meant something quite different to the Greek mind. For a major line of Greek thought, the form of the circle or the globe was the expression of wholeness and perfection. Circular motion was perfect, standing in contrast to the randomness of the movement of things available to the immediate experience of sense. Discussion of the "cyclic" view of history of the Greeks generally leaves this out of consideration. The Greek view is interpreted in terms of a distinctively modern view of the "cycles of nature."
3. 3 Cf. trans. Thomas Goddard Begin and Max Harold Fisch, The New Science of Giambattista Vico (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948). Cf. also Isaiah Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (London: The Hogarth Press, 1976).
4. 4 "Concrete" in the sense that in it all of the relevant factors are bound to-gether from the outset into a unity.
5. 5 Cf. Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.), II (1955), 207. Rickert's influence has been felt strongly within contemporary theology, e. g., in the distinction between the ideogrammatic and the generalizing. Cf. the work of the influential philosopher of religion Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (Trans. John W. Harvey; London: Oxford University Press, 1925), pp. 19, 20, passim.
6. 6 Augustine, The City of God, XII, viii, x, xiv, xvii, xx; X, xxx. Cf. Roger Shinn, Christianity and the Problem of History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), p. 37.
7. 7 This distinction is widely held within the Reformed community. We are used to attaching it to the name of Geerhardus Vos.
8. 8 This is an important thesis of what is called "reformational" thought. It is a keystone of Abraham Kuyper's position and also of those who follow him in his views concerning the relationship of Christianity and culture.
9. The secularization process is often called "de-divinization" or "disen-chantment." These terms, however, strongly suggest that a religious interpre-tation of history is at its foundation quasi-magical. It is in need, therefore, of secularization before it is compatible with any scientific conception of his-tory. This view is very widespread, nearly dominating contemporary theo-logy. In terms of my own approach, according to which all historical inves-tigation is religiously conditioned, I must reject this notion.
10. 10 Ernst Troeltsch, Der Historismus und seine Probleme (Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1922), p. 15.
11. 11 Ibid, p. 17.
12. 12 The term "situation" here has a technical sense. It refers to the moment of history that has been deprived of meaning and that stands over against one as an incomprehensible surd, or even as a threat.
13. 13 We remember the formula of Reinhold Niebuhr, used in his Gifford lec-tures, The Nature and Destiny of Man: "History has meaning, but the source of meaning is not found in history."
14. 14 Note the discussion in my doctoral dissertation, The Idea of Tran-scendence in the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (Kampen: J. H. Kok. 1958), pp. 94 ff., and in my "Roots of the New Theology," Scripture and Confession (ed. John H. Skilton; Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 257-268.
15. 15 Martin Buber, for example, speaks as if one could step into an "I-thou" relationship in contrast to an "I-it" relationship and that he could occupy this transcendent level at least for a time. It is, as it were, that one can enter its orbit, like a space shuttle, but that he must eventually come to earth because the atmosphere is too rarified to sustain him. The Russian emigr Nicolas Berdyaev speaks in similar terms. Martin Heidegger, on the contrary, speaks as if this "stepping back" cannot be an actual step and that one cannot actually occupy the transcendent standpoint. As I understand the situation, he would have to deny that anyone who thought this could be an actual step was truly taking the "step backwards." I can only conclude that Heidegger has grasped better than others the complexities of dialectical thinking.
16. 16 E. g., Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1943); and Roger L. Shinn, op. cit. Both Niebuhr and Shinn, who is his successor at Union Theological Seminary, consider themselves to be neo-Augustinian in their views of history.
17. 17 This is in essence the argument of Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Cri-tique of Theoretical Thought (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub-lishing Co.), I (1953), 424; cf. p. 53; and Verkenningen in de wijsbegeerte, de sociologie, en de rechtsgeschiedenis (Amsterdam: Buijten en Schipper-heijn, 1962), p. 19. See also Johan Van der Hoeven, The Rise and Development of the Phenomenological Movement (Hamilton, Ont.: Associa-tion for Reformed Scientific Studies, 1964).
18. 18 The terms "directly" and "dialectically" are frequently used in this way, as contraries. Revelation, thus understood, is also said to occur "paradoxi-cally."
19. 19 One may refer to the work of the theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, who has attacked the distinction between history and the historic and who has attempted to develop a universalistic view of history, where meaning in his-tory is again tied in with rational criteria.
20. 20 This point is admitted, at least by implication, by Gordon H. Clark in his Wheaton lectures, published in Ronald Nash, ed., The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968), p. 104. Clark writes, "... the reason Washington's crossing [the Dela-ware] is regarded as historical, while no one cares who crossed on the ferry between Camden and Philadelphia on August 15, 1910, is its connection with many other known and unknown events in a Revolutionary War that patriotic Americans regard with admiration."
21. 21 Herman Dooyeweerd, "The Analogical Concepts" (Tr. Robert D. Knud-sen; mimeographed, 1968), p. 4.
22. 22 Ernst Troeltsch says that historical method does not eliminate the concept of causality; it demands, however, a conception of causality that differs from the one employed in natural science. In nature, he says, there is an equivalency of cause and effect, what he calls a "quantitative equi-valency"; historical causality, on the contrary, involves non-equivalency. One must allow for the dynamic of the new and the augmentation of reality (Wirklichkeitsvermehrung). Ernst Troeltsch, op. cit., p. 48. Without accep-ting either his view of history or that of cause, we can appreciate Troeltsch's insight that there is a difference between historical and natural causality.
23. 23 The neo-liberal theologian Paul Tillich, for instance, speaks of the heterogeneity of purpose in his Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), II (1957), 302. Herman Dooyeweerd does not view this heterogeneity of purpose, as some would, as an exception to rational law. He considers it to be a divinely ordained element of the law-structure of the historical aspect of our experiencing. One might think of the frustration of those who seek to attain greatness by an act of will on the historical stage. Much like the ill-fated Icarus, they fly too high and their wings are melted by the sun! This insight was able to be expressed within the irrational historical philosophy of Hegel, etc.
24. 24 Here we have an illustration of the historical subject-object relationship. I refer to this relationship as it has been set forth in the philosophies of D. H. Th. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd. According to this position, an "object" can function only in relationship with a "subject." In our hypo-thetical case, we see that the landslide has the "objective" possibility of functioning in the historical constellation, as it relates to the activity of his-torical "subjects."
25. 25 Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, II, 69. Cf. II, 192 ff., "The Modal Meaning-Nucleus of History."
26. 26 The motif of challenge and response is important in the philosophy of history of Arnold Toynbee. He obtained it, he says, from Robert Browning, whose use of it, in turn, went back to the Old Testament writers. In the Old Testament, Browning thought, there is a series of successive acts in which God presents a challenge to some individual or community.
27. 27 The Dutch aesthetician H. R. Rookmaker claims that the formative will of the historical agent cannot be explained causally in terms of the historical situation, because it intrudes formatively into it. H. R. Rookmaker, "De con-stituerende factoren ener historische daad," Philosophia Reformata, XIX (1954), 98.
28. 28 Cf. Robert D. Knudsen, "The Ambiguity of Human Autonomy and Freedom in the Thought of Paul Tillich," III, Philosophia Reformata, XXXIV (1969), 41 f.
29. 29 Herman Dooyeweerd has rightly complained that the historicistic position eliminates the sense of history. As we have observed, it cannot iden-tify free, controlling forming with the inner sense of history. Thus it is understandable that Dooyeweerd also says that recognizing what is the nuc-leus of meaning of the historical aspect is tantamount to abandoning the his-toricistic world view. Cf. Herman Dooyeweerd, "The Criteria of Progressive and Reactionary Tendencies in History" (mimeographed), pp. 4-5. Cf. also H. J. Van Eikema Hommes, De elementaire grondbegrippen der rechts-wetenschap, pp. 324 f.
30. 30 In faith a Christian confesses that "...in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8: 28 (NIV).
31. 31 Contemporary dialectical philosophers and theologians take this posi-tion. Freedom involves a "defiance" of the divine ground, an element of "resistance," etc. Karl Jaspers spoke of defiance as a constituent element of the relation to the transcendent. Cf. my The Idea of Transcendence in the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers, p. 143. It is characteristic of Arminian positions that an element of autonomy is given to the human spirit; it is allowed acti-vity that is not included within the scope of the divine sovereignty. A biblical, Reformed position shies away from any such infringement of the divine sovereignty, even though it confesses that it cannot light up the rela-tionship between divine sovereignty and human freedom by means of human speculation. It must simply listen the the teaching of the Word of God.
32. 32 Alan Farris, "The Relation of the Bible to History," Christian Perspe-ctives 1960 (Pella, Iowa: Pella Publishing, Inc., 1960).
33. 33 Ibid., p. 59.
34. 34 Ibid., p. 64.
35. 35 Ibid., p. 75.
36. 36 Ibid., p. 62.
37. 37 This statement, however, might also be rooted in a dialectical theologi-cal view of history, for example, the position of Reinhold Niebuhr.
38. 38 The late professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary Dr. Cornelius Van Til, grasped this reformational insight very well and made it a keystone of his apologetical method.
39. 39 I mention Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, C. Van Til, D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, and Herman Dooyeweerd.
40. 40 One might consider the statement of H. G. Stoker, that history is characterized by the bringing into being of new events.
41. 41 Herman Dooyeweerd, op. cit., passim.
42. 42 I refer to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg and the so-called Pannen-berg school.