Is There Faith Without History?


As I look through the internet, newspapers, blogs and forums, I see what people think Catholicism is and what they think the Church has said. Many have no clue what it really is and what the Church has actually said, because they can’t see or speak about the Church in historical and cultural context. In their mind, the separation between the Church and secularism is defined as a chasm between the Church and human history.

Many of self-proclaimed remnant Christians and Catholics blame the world’s demoralization on Vatican II and post Vatican II popes. World War II, the rise of the USA and USSR to super powers, and the empowerment of the young had nothing to do with contraception, abortion, promiscuity, schizophrenic political ideologies, “the death of God theory” and many more moral evils.

About 800 years ago, St. Bonaventure taught us that history is tangibly real and has to be approached with theological reflection and practical action. There is an inseparable connection between salvation history and Revelation. God discloses himself within human history, because

St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure

he’s speaking to human beings. However, the battle between good and evil also takes place within human history involving all of society, not just Catholics or any single religious tradition. Sin and salvation both involve everything that affects man, not just his religious practices. Sin and salvation influence history. History influences man’s understanding of the former and the latter and man’s choices. Influence is not the same a choice. Man’s freedom to choose is not the same as influence.

John Henry Newman demonstrated why Bonaventure was right in his great work Development of Doctrine. One cannot separate the Church from human history. Without that historical perspective Catholicism is nothing but a bunch of rituals, isms, and rules of deportment. Salvation history speaks through human history, it is both abstract Truth and lived experience. We receive truth from its source, which is God himself. He has spoken through prophets, scriptures, Sacred NEWMANTradition and the Magisterium. But we do not limit God’s self disclosure to those few words that we read in the Bible or on another piece of writing. On the contrary, throughout history we live through a series of experiences that lead us to conclusions about those words, conclusions that build on the one that came before it, that may compliment it, or that may use more modern language.

These conclusions do not contradict previous conclusions. However, new conclusions often pose a problem, because the more we think about a point, the more complex the system becomes. Nonetheless, it’s the same system. One could say that the present helps us explain Truth that was revealed from the beginning. At the same time, today’s explanations are not a concrete as the original words appeared to be.

We cannot separate history from God, nor the present from the past. We must look at the present and ask ourselves what does it tell us about what was handed down to us by the prophets and apostles. We must ask ourselves, what is it adding to what we already understand about sin and salvation.

All public revelation is complete; but we are still working on understanding. We need a hermeneutic of continuity. The present without the past makes no sense and the past without the present blocks the development of our understanding. For example, had not the early Church thought about what Christ had said that he and the Father were one, we would not have arrived at the hypostatic union. The hypostatic union was not understood until the fourth and fifth century. It was an explanation of what had been revealed by Christ himself. The conclusion was based on what Christ had revealed about himself and what the Church had experienced in her encounter with Christ. Both took place in time, not outside of time.

We cannot yank the Church out of time in order to stop her from moving forward. We cannot reverse the clock and you cannot push her forward in time with complete disregard for her past. The human element of the Church is an historical element. What the Church is and believes has to be looked at in light of what has been revealed by prophets, Christ and apostles. Our experiences throughout history help us draw conclusions about salvation history and Revelation.

Published in: on August 3, 2014 at 10:54 PM  Leave a Comment  

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