History, Church and History of the Church – (Part 2)


Tradition, the handing over from generation to generation of the deposit of faith, places us squarely, even more so, in the field of history. In the first place, because it is in the time where the content and knowledge of the revelation is being displayed, and we quote again the Dominus Iesus declaration :

“… the words, the works and the totality of the historical event of Jesus, even being limited as human realities, however, have as a source the divine Person of the Incarnate Word, true God and true man, and that is why they carry yes the definitiveness and the fullness of the revelation of the salvific ways of God, although the depth of the divine mystery in itself remains transcendent and inexhaustible (Dominus Iesus, I., 6).

“The Kingdom of God has, in effect, an eschatological dimension. It is a present reality in time, but its definitive realization will come with the end and fulfillment of History (Dominus Iesus., V, 18) “.

They are also human agents, and therefore, historical, those chosen to carry out this mission. Hence the mutability that affects various aspects of Catholic life: it changes our degree of knowledge of revelation (” the understanding of the words and institutions transmitted when the faithful contemplate and study them grows …” Dei Verbum, 8) , change the means, people, institutions, pastoral actions … only the object of faith remains unchanged. This is what has been called homogenous evolution of dogma, in which the revelation remains identical from the beginning, but it is being completed and understood better over time.

Given this temporal, historical condition, it can also be understood that human agents make mistakes. However, accepting historicity is one of the factors that makes possible the capacity for reaction, for correction. This seems especially interesting to us, since we can see in different situations how those confessions, not only the Christian ones, that reject the historical terrain as a manifestation of religious belief easily derive towards positions of fanaticism, clinging only to the immutable, as absolute, to the non-historical. That is, to something that ultimately has no direct connection with the human temporal substance. That is to say:

This interpretation of history, starting from the presuppositions of Catholic doctrine, can only be a finalist. It establishes a linear conception of human evolution (in front of the circular or cyclical vision, very widespread in other currents of thought), with a goal. Since that goal is salvation, for Christians history can not be more than the history of salvation. Identifying history and history of salvation, the doctrine will establish that human time is the terrain on which the content of revelation unfolds, and it is also the scene of the combat against the forces of evil, of which man must be saved. For Christianity and Catholicism, time is essentially eschatological, and the Church does not deny the difficulties that this superposition of realities poses, when it is recognized

“The difficulty of understanding and accepting in history the presence of definitive and eschatological events” (Dominus Iesus, Introduction, 4).

And from here, we would move to a second section:

1.b) It is the obligation of the Christian to know the history.

A first reference of the need to understand and know the history of dogma and its relationship with the general history of the church, although applied to the formation of priests, we find it already in the decree Optatam totius , Vatican II:

” 16 (…) explain to the students the contribution of the Fathers of the Church of the East and the West to the faithful transmission and development of each of the truths of the revelation, as well as the subsequent history of dogma -considered also its relation with the general history of the Church “.

But the knowledge of history does not only concern the priests. The letters of Paul are full of allusions to the need to exercise discernment about the times that touch us. And this is valid for all the faithful. Not only as a particular interest in salvation, but as the responsibility of an evangelizing mission, and, therefore, for all men. Let us give some examples taken from one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, the pastoral constitution on the Church in today’s world Gaudium et Spes :

“The course of present history is a challenge to the man who forces him to respond. (5)”.

“History itself is subject to such a process of acceleration that it is hardly possible for man to follow it. The human race runs the same fate and is no longer diversified into several scattered stories. Humanity thus passes from a rather static conception of reality to a more dynamic and evolutionary one, from which a new set of problems arises that requires new analyzes and new syntheses (5) “.

“The Church believes that in this way, through her children and through her entire community, she can offer great help to give a more human sense to man and history (40)”.

“The circumstances of modern man’s life in the social and cultural aspect have changed profoundly, so much so that one can speak with reason of a new epoch of human history (54).”

And we could multiply the appointments … because in the end what the document proposes is that the changes experienced in society since the Second World War place man squarely in a temporal, historical perspective, in which the perception is sharpened of the mutability of things, and of their finitude. In this plane, history, as a term associated with others such as time, finitude, death, mutation … is forcing us to propose our position in front of the deepest questions of man. The constitution Gaudium et SpesIt defines what the response of the Church must be to these challenges and questions. Now, how to respond, if you do not know the history?