In History but Not Of It
History is not the truth. But Truth is in history. This aphorism rings a bell, but now that I'm staring directly at it, the meaning eludes me. I'm going to let it stew for awhile in the right brain, and come back to it.
The Christian view would be that history requires a key, and that this key is Christ. Whatever else Christ is, he is the key to history. For example, think of how the early Christians read Christ into their own backstory, the Hebrew Bible. Christ was not only the key that illuminated it, but the telos toward which it had been heading all along.
Which brings to mind another Aphorism, that Everything in history begins before we think it begins, and ends after we think it ends.
Take again the example of Christ. Upon his death -- his "end" -- the disciples discovered that his "beginning" was not merely with his birth; rather, that he was prior to any physical beginning ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God"). The same principle allowed them to understand previously mysterious utterances such as "Before Abraham was, I Am."
And of course, his end was only a beginning, and this beginning has been handed off from person to person down to the present day. When does it end? "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." So in reality, he is before the beginning and after the end. No wonder history is not the truth -- for one thing, it is in time -- it is time -- whereas truth is timeless.
So, to say that truth is in history is another way of saying that the eternal is in time, and that this is what we call history. If the eternal is not in time, then history is indeed a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing more than tenure.
You might say that history is transfigured in and by Christ. Note that the reverse is not true -- that Christ is not transfigured by history.
But what exactly do we mean by transfiguration? It is "a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state." Surely history could never accomplish this to anyone, at any time. Nor could Darwin, for that matter -- which is why, for example, The laws of biology alone do not have fingers delicate enough to fashion the beauty of a face.
For what is beauty if not a kind of transfiguration of matter? From whence does this power come? From matter itself? How could that be? You might well say that "Truth is in matter, but matter is not the truth." For in beauty, the wall of matter is turned into a window of spirit, revealing a metaphysical transparency that surely transcends any version of vulgar materialism.
Beauty is here to teach us. Pay attention! For it is one of the primordial links between man and God. It begins before we think it begins -- in spirit -- and ends after we think it ends -- it has no expiration date.
How did we get here? Well, I have a pile of books on my desk which might go to the subject of Cosmic Principles (our recent cooncern), one of which is Christopher Dawson's Dynamics of World History, which I read about twelve years ago. I pulled it down because I thought it might shed some light on this path we've been exploring the last couple of weeks.
Dawson was a great historian, and a Christian historian. This does not mean that he was merely a "historian of Christianity" -- although he was that too -- but that for him, Christianity was the key that opened the whole existentialada; it is the truth of which history is the reflection (not to put words in his mouth; I'm sure he would express it differently).
Here are a few notes I scribbled to mysoph in the back of the book. They must be important, or I wouldn't have bothered plagiarizing with them).
"Every historian has a meta-history; the best ones know it."
"Secularism is religious emotion divorced from religious belief."
"Contempt for religion is a historically conditioned product of a particular historical time and place; worship of rationality is irrational."
"History is not complete; we participate in it. And yet, it is complete. It has an end."
"When contemplating the past, we see something unfolding in time. Or is it a timeless paradigm, an act of imagination in which elements of the past are held together in our imagination?"
That last one brings to mind an Aphorism: Authentic history is the transfiguration of the raw event by intelligence and imagination.
Here is something from the introduction, written by Dermot Quinn: "The fact does not tell the story; the story, as it were, tells the fact.... To see meaning beyond the local is to see it in the local."
And here we are again, seeing truth in the facts, even while facts are not the truth. So I guess my right brain figured it out.
To really round this off, we could agree with the well known gag that "the past is a foreign country." If so, then Christ would be the key to trancelighting it into terms we can understand.
"History and theology are nothing if not meditations on the nature of Time itself. Their shared object of inquiry is human time, sacred time, even that mysterious eternal moment that is Christ Himself" (Quinn).
And "to the Christian the mystery of history is not completely dark, since it is a veil which only partially conceals the creative activity of spiritual forces and the operation of spiritual laws" (Dawson). (All Aphorisms courtesy Nicolás Gómez Dávila.)