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Toward a postmodern Christian historical hermeneutic.

HERMENEUTICS AS THE STUDY of interpretation theory has been understood in many different ways and applied to many different practices. One article can cover only a small portion of a vast subject: our concern here is with the relationship between living religious traditions and their task of engaging in an ongoing way with the wider cultures to whose historical formation they have made significant contributions. (1) This article, written by a historian, presumes the general inadequacy of Enlightenment and modern understandings of history, and turns to the question of what should replace these to foster Christian engagement in the future. (2) It asks what one's hermeneutics, so far as they apply to the interpretation of history, would look like if we significantly abandoned Enlightenment categories, but did not simply return to premodern ideas. As is often the case, in order to overcome problems that arose in modernity, this article returns to developments that existed before the modern period, but were not at that time fully explored. The goal is to rethink our past, to the end of addressing our present.

First an overview. I will restrict myself to theWest, but a good deal of recent writing on such things as "Global systems theory" suggests that things were not that different elsewhere. (3) Around the world, most people used some form of cosmological framework ("Fire, Water, Earth, and Sky") into which they placed whatever more localized story they had to tell. About 700 B.C., the Greek Hesiod presented history as descending from or beginning with the gods: the title of one of his works, Theogony, which narrates the story of how the cosmos took form, bringing this down to the creation of humans and human history, can be translated "The Descent of the Gods." By the time of Thucydides (c. 460-c. 404 B.C.), the larger cosmological framework could be dispensed with in favor of an essentially political interpretive or "this-worldly" framework. How much one lived in "the time of the gods" or in "the time of man" varied from writer to writer and culture to culture, and, where the Western Enlightenment has little penetrated, some have continued "a life among the gods" to the present. (4)

In a book of enduring significance, Karl Lowith stressed that, though the strong tendency of nineteenth-century thought was to label such interpretive frameworks "philosophies of history," they were generally more theological than philosophical in nature. (5) Christopher Dawson went a step further, and suggested that the Christian view of history not be called a "philosophy of history" at all, but a "theology of history." (6) In any case, from the beginning cosmologies were used to frame historical narratives, and, outside the Jewish and Christian traditions, without much attention to what hermeneutically speaking was involved in so doing. Thucydides, for instance, did not prove that history of its very nature should be a political narrative, but assumed this. It was his "faith," or what passed as faith in an apparently secularized writer. One might say that he wanted to provide a storyline for his time, and though he could see from the evidence that the history of the Peloponnesian war could provide one, he could not find in this evidence that a narrative political frame is intrinsically better than Hesiod's old god-oriented line. Thucydides's approach could show the utility of seeing history as centrally about politics, but it could not show that the political was a more important category for understanding than, say, the economical. In the writings of Thucydides, the idea that history is essentially political is something brought to the historical record rather than something rising from it. Among ancient thinkers, he was not alone in making such an assumption: no ancient really recognized that the historical framework he used was more assumed than philosophically grounded.

Greater clarity concerning such issues emerged when Christianity came to center stage. Christianity, following Judaism, saw history as the great events performed by God in time. Its frame was explicitly theological, based on trust in God's revelation about what he was doing and not derived from observing humans in history. Here God was viewed as creator, providentially forming a people and leading them through time to an end not yet known, that is, to an end they grasped through belief rather than saw through the evidence of historical occurrences. Politics as a framework for historical narration was significantly replaced by revelation; and from the late Roman Empire this was made plausible by the fact that increasingly the Empire itself withered. The world had gotten used to a unified narrative framework of the kind we still find in the fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcelinus, but if the story of a vibrant Empire less and less could provide this framework, the story of forming Christendom could. (7) Standing between the two was a writer such as Gregory of Tours (c. ?538/ 39-594?), realistic in his portrayal of current events, but unsure of any larger frame they might have. (8)

Increasingly history was organized around the story of how various gentes or nationes had entered the Christian fold, and now continued the history (although not exactly the formation) of the City of God as Augustine understood it. Thus the greatest historian of the early middle ages, the Venerable Bede (c. ?672/73-735), along with Dionysius Exiguus, taught the West to reckon all events from the Incarnation. In the eighth century, Bede built his telling of the story of the English church around a description of his own people as entering the Church and continuing its spread. A century later, in the time of Charlemagne, the learned saw the Franks as the successors to the Romans in a story stretching back to the Garden of Eden, and forward to the Heavenly Jerusalem. (9) These had not been the markers of pre-Christian narration, but now such concepts showed that with the coming of Christianity theology tended to replace politics in framing history.

Much medieval historiography was built around the poles received from the ancients via early Christianity. On the one hand, history remained political narrative, though now generally arranged around the story of the nation. On the other hand, his history had a scientific dimension in the sense that the historian made some attempt to establish details and discern the causation present in events. If he was mightily tempted to see this causation as a working out of providence or as a judgment in which the good received their reward, and the bad theirs, he also was curious about the limits or capacities of human reason. Thus there was a continuing struggle to find the boundaries between the natural and supernatural, to determine the nature and place of the miraculous in history. (10) The concept of miracle understood as expressing belief in an omnipotent and eternal God willing to intervene in human affairs is part and parcel of any Christian worldview. (11) But because of the difficulty of distinguishing the miraculous from the nonmiraculous, we do not necessarily find attestation of miracles in any given Christian historian, but we may expect at least openness to the possibility of miracle.

For centuries, but especially since the nineteenth century, a contrast has been drawn between the so-called circular historical views of all peoples outside the Jewish and Christian traditions and the claimed linear view of the history of the latter two. This was and is a gross simplification. (12) Neither the Jewish nor Christian Scriptures suggest that the human story is in any simple sense linear or progressive. After the coming of Christ, he can be seen as fulfilling much in the Old Testament, but this is not by some simple linear progress, but by a kind of periodic deepening in which the implications of what was said and done earlier is more fully understood later. God is educating humanity, but as Augustine saw, this does not mean that humans from generation to generation are progressing; it implies, rather, that, among other things, God is always at work educating humans and bringing good from evil. Humans are not forced to become Godlike or to progress, and they have no certain means by which to transmit the achievements of any individual or any generation. There is no guarantee that they will choose well, or that the fulfillment achieved by any one person, even in becoming a saint, will be passed on to future generations.

It was modern Jewish and Christian theologians, proud of their heritage and eager to show the superiority of a biblical view of history over pagan views, who suggested that Jewish and Christian history have the form of general progress, and therefore can be contrasted to the relatively centerless and repetitive "circular" history of pagan times. The contrast between circular and linear accounts of history showed the influence on these theologians of an Enlightenment eager to see history as a story of human progress. The view explicitly based on revelation--that God is always at work in time--was secularized so that history itself, God aside, was seen as progressive or the bearer of progress. Such a view could in time be associated with world history, or with some more local form of history, especially with that of the nation-state. A chief point is that modern Jewish and Christian historians typically gave the earlier idea that history is essentially salvation history the form of a liberal progressive history, so that the story being told was one of human progress. (13)

Typically such "visions of progress" have been a work of the Left or of the liberal tradition. (14) These visions have reintroduced some ancient confusions, for they once more suggest that history of its nature has a narrative frame, but without acknowledgment that the frame used in the modern period had come from Jewish-Christian revelation rather than from an examination of the details of history in themselves. Hegel (1770-1831), for example, claimed that history was about the realization of freedom. But the briefest examination of the historical record reveals roughly the opposite: the idea of freedom was more an interpretive frame Hegel brought to history than something one could deduce from an examination of history, which to the present moment is full of suffering, gross evil, and various forms of servitude. Yet, with its almost infinite capacity for denial, liberal modernity continues to value individual autonomy above all. (15) That is why Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) saw modernity as "the time of realized nihilism," in which the will to power, rooted of course in the autonomous will, became the source of all values. (16) If it is really true that we are defined by our autonomy, then we are capable of defining everything as we wish, and must be in the world as its masters. Thus the temptation to operate by the narrowest calculus of utility, and, Heidegger thought, to forget to wonder at the things that are. Severed from a tradition that carries the laws of thought and before which reason itself must bow down, our reason less and less contemplates, and more and more only calculates. We become technicians. No longer do we stand with pre-Cartesian thinkers and see the ground of truth as outside ourselves: we are the ground. To only a few does the thought occur that the only way out of this situation is a metaphysics of transcendent being. (17) Even the historian can make contributions to bolstering such a metaphysics, and one of the tasks of the postmodern historian is to write about the world as a source of wonder.

To the present most historians, especially in English-speaking countries, have retained a commonsense empiricism rooted in assumptions taken over from the physical sciences as they existed at the birth of the professionalization of history, a process that began in the German universities of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These assumptions have formed an epistemological and political consensus built on commonsense empiricism as the "epistemology most appropriate to liberal modernity." (18) Central to this professionalization has been the concept, also central to the modern physical sciences, that the ideal of history is objectivity. This ideal gave a new kind of authority and truth to the writing of history, for now the trustworthiness of one's account depended not on its conformity to revelation or religious authority, but on whether it could pass the test of being a conclusion that anyone who had examined the evidence could reach. From the first, this ideal was deeply problematic. Indeed, it was an unrecognized form of relativism, for in spite of the claim of truth, it was rooted in unexamined premises of modern science. (19) The authority and truth of salvation history, the idea that revelation gives history its form, effectively was replaced with the authority of the scholarly community of historians. They were the ones with the training to judge the objectivity of historical claims. Primary sources were "the moral equivalent of nature," it was believed, and empirical research based on them reveals causality at work in history. (20) The question, however, was whether such "causality" was something arising from the examination of primary sources, or, rather, something, like Hegel's concept of "freedom," brought to the sources.

That this conception of history was rooted in unexamined premises was especially revealed from 1962 by Thomas Kuhn, who argued that the discoveries commonly associated with the birth of modern science were not a linear advance over earlier science, but "a fundamental shift in structures of perception and categories of thought." (21) Put briefly, the qualitative science of the ancient and medieval periods was replaced with a quantitative science built on the unproved assumption that reality is at heart mathematical. (22) Although Kuhn was not the first to study the role of communities of scholars in producing scientific truth, it has become very popular from his time to study such communities as "creators of structures of inquiry normative for our study of the past: deductive reasoning must give way to empirical inquiry; the grace of God and personal moral responsibility must give way to mechanistic causality." (23) Thus, though liberal historiography has been full of comments beginning with the words "history teaches" and of moral judgments of men and periods strikingly similar to those formed by ancient and medieval historians, it became popular to attack any kind of idea that one of the functions of the historian was to stand in judgment of the past. The historian was simply to present the past as it had been--as if he had direct access through primary sources to an objective reconstruction and judgment of this past. (24) The American historian Christopher Shannon will have none of this, and tellingly comments: "Those who insist that historians can write about the past apart from some sort of moral advocacy are simply in denial about the nature of historical writing....The very passion with which liberal historians defend modern values belies the profession's stated commitment to the primacy of technique." (25)

The way for some of the modern abuses of history had been partly prepared here by the Christians themselves, specifically by those Christian historians, beginning with Eusebius (c. 263-339), who understood the doctrine of Providence to mean that believers could see and chronicle the hand of God in history. These historians had thought that the Christian had access to the ways of God the pagan did not, that Christianity provided a vantage point or "method" or "hermeneutic" to read what was happening in history. This anticipated such modern ideas as those of Hegel or Marx, already mentioned, that history is about the realization of freedom or the withering away of the state. It is not that there was no truth at all in such ideas, but that they lacked differentiation. Frequently they failed to distinguish the claim based on Christian revelation that God was at work in all things from the claim of certitude, that, at this moment, one knew what God was doing. As Augustine put it in dissenting from Eusebius, we know what God is doing insofar as the Scriptures tell us that. Thus we can know that he wishes all saved, and that Christ will come again. But whereas some of the prophecies of the Old Testament look forward to fulfillment in New Testament events, the Bible does not tell us in any clear or specific way the significance of what happens from the close of Scripture to the return of Christ. We may presume, for instance, that God is on the side of properly conducted missionary work, but not that some given event is a judgment or a reward in a way of which we may be certain. (26)

We have thus far used the word "Enlightenment" with little more than contextual definition. In fact, especially among historians, this has become a contested term. Many historians now habitually use the term in the plural, indicating thereby that there was not one common Enlightenment, but a large variety of Enlightenments, the French Enlightenment, for instance, differing significantly from the English or Scottish. (27) Some Enlightenments, such as the English, were culturally conservative; some, such as the French, radical. (28) More paradoxically, Daniel Brewer argues for what we may call a redating of the Enlightenment. (29) What has been called anti-Enlightenment thought, itself existing in great variety, was really a marker of how far ideas of leading eighteenth-century thinkers were not accepted in their own time. In France it took more than a century for much Enlightenment thought to enter the mainstream, for it to lose its controversial edge, for it to receive common definition and be identified with the ideals of the French state. As a univocal term, the "Enlightenment" is as much the product of the Third Republic (1870-1940) and of the late nineteenth century, as of the eighteenth, Brewer concludes.

In significant part, the Enlightenment represents the victory of the ideals of "progress, liberalism, and republicanism," which by 1900 could be found almost any place. Indeed, the story of Enlightenment is itself less progressive or linear than often thought. But there was in a general way an Enlightenment anthropology, much more optimistic about human nature than classical Protestantism had been. Greater optimism about the prospects of human life in this world was only part of this anthropology. Ancient and medieval people had largely thought in qualitative categories, but in the wake of Descartes (1596-1650) and Newton (1643-1727), as already suggested, there was a growing tendency to think in quantitative terms, to apply mathematics to ever more areas of life. This is seen not only in the growing interest in efficiency in eighteenth-century life, but in the appearance of almost-new sciences, such as economics.

Some of the ancients had studied household economy, but now Adam Smith (1723-1790) reconceived the subject, placing the concept of the economically self-interested, rational individual at its center. Though there has been ongoing dissent from such a view of what humans are, economics largely remains a discipline centered on rational choice, marking the victory of a science arranged around autonomous individuals. The world in which such a science could flourish was very different from that of earlier, Christian centuries, and just as economics became par excellence an Enlightenment field of study, history was profoundly reshaped. For as the enlightened economist usually did not think of himself as "gazing in a mirror, darkly," so most historians were drawn to a story in which there were no miracles, and the historian could speak confidently about what was the cause of what, as if he were the master of the things that are known. (30) Even the prose of the historian tended toward certainty and toward conveying the idea that reason could control life. Already present was some idea that, if threatened, we can fall back on technology, rather than on God. Further, there was in the Enlightenment practice of granting high value to equality, a temptation to present people as not so different from one another, that is, without the tremendous variety to be found among humans if we believe some are actually saints, practicing a sacrificial mode of life, and others depraved, some smart, some stupid, and so on.

Using then the term Enlightenment as it was commonly understood by the later nineteenth century, one of the chief goals of the Enlightenment description of humans in history was to offer an optimistic history in which nothing finally could stand in the way of human progress. This implied the problematization of evil and the devil, so that their reality as traditionally portrayed in Christian writing was to be reduced. (31) All along there were objections to this Enlightenment project. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), for instance, would have nothing to do with the notion that history is aiming toward some kind of internal happy ending. In fact, in many ways the twentieth was one of the worst centuries humankind has experienced. But in spite of the World Wars, the Holocaust, and millions of displaced persons, belief in general progress persists.

One does not have to be a Christian to disbelieve in general progress. My friend, the medievalist Caroline Bynum, has written an autobiographical piece in which the story of her life does not culminate in a "happy ending." No longer a Christian, she nevertheless draws many sober conclusions, understanding along with some of the postmodernists that history is neither linear nor simple. Bynum understands the historian to write in "the comic mode." (32) History is always perspectival and partial. It is written by a human being who is finite and must view things from some limited point of view, not from all points of view simultaneously as if he or she were God. That is, of its nature history cannot be objective, if by that it is meant that it can be all-encompassing, or that the historian can weigh all the factors necessary to achieve fair judgment. And history is not necessarily pleasant. Bynum writes: (33)
   The comic is not necessarily the pleasant, or at least it is the
   pleasant snatched from the horrible by artifice and with acute
   self-consciousness and humility. In comedy, the happy ending is
   contrived. Thus, a comic stance toward doing history is aware
   of contrivance, of risk. It always admits that we may be wrong.
   A comic stance knows that there is, in actuality, no ending
   (happy or otherwise)--that doing history is, for the historian,
   telling a story that could be told in another way. For this
   reason, a comic stance welcomes voices hitherto left outside,
   not to absorb or mute them but to allow them to object and
   contradict. Its goal is the pluralistic, not the total. It embraces
   the partial as partial. And, in such historical writing as in the
   best comedy, the author is also a character. Authorial presence
   and authorial asides are therefore welcome; methodological
   musing ... is a part of, not a substitute for, doing history.

Thus a non-Christian historian reaches a conclusion that is congruent with my own analysis.

Fr. Matthew L. Lamb has observed that for Augustine and his successors until the Enlightenment, history consisted of a continuous procession (creation) and return (redemption) in which God was present and his presence felt. (34) But past generations were felt as still present. Such attachment to the living past is sometimes today called "conservative," but in any case it expresses both the idea of attachment to a tradition, and the idea that this tradition is still living and attractive. This was part of Alasdair McIntyre's argument--and Benedict XVI's--that reason is always rooted in a tradition. (35) To be rooted in a tradition is to be rooted in a language, and reason must express itself in language. A tradition forms, refines, and passes on the rules by which reason communicates. This was J. G. Hamann's point in his criticism of the Enlightenment: reason only flourishes when connected through language to the past. To sever past and present is to make it impossible for reason to bear meaning, to make it impossible for it to order common life. (36)

However, the Catholic view, developed particularly in the High Middle Ages, is that though the past is owed reverence, it cannot be the only measure of what we are to be. The present is always in dialogue and competition with the past, not just appropriating what is by its own best light useful, but to the end of deepening insight. (37) The age always moves on; the Church ponders and weighs this moving on, sometimes to give authoritative judgment on this or that point. There is an obvious danger in uncritical attachment to the past, to what is sometimes called the tyranny of the past, in so understanding one's identity as defined by past quarrels that one keeps reliving the quandaries of the past without new insight. (38) But the present can only be understood by viewing it within tradition. The Enlightenment device of "objectivity," the abstracting from tradition mentioned above, is neither possible nor even a worthy goal. (39) Without denying the advances made by the professionalization of history, too often this advance offered the delusion of objectivity, the implicit claim that the historian, godlike, was not in the same changing flux he or she studied. The limits of such professionalization must be recognized, and the claim to objectivity be reformulated into the more modest demand that the historian be fair.

Lamb argues that today history is not experienced as presence. Rather, what some call "historicism" appeared with the Enlightenment, applying to history the view of many scientists that reality is no more than matter in motion. (40) Under this reading, history is no longer presence, but "measurable extrinsic movement." (41) Such a view remains common today. It applies to history the atomistic, mechanistic, and nominalist world-view that originated in the Scientific Revolution, emphasizing parts rather than the whole, and individuals rather than connections. Perhaps a spreading recognition that everything is related to everything, that for instance the "environment" is one vast whole, eventually will return us to a medieval sense that individuals cannot be understood except as a part of larger wholes, but that consciousness is not yet widespread. (42)

In the early modern period a new sense of human identity appeared, in which a form of dualism--some call this Cartesian dualism (in which personal identity was distinguished from exterior space and time) flourished. When expressed in the writing of history, this dualism emphasized history not as the work of the Spirit, or the presence of God, but by devoting attention to such data as dates and places, as something scientific. The medieval historian often had not been very careful about giving dates or detail--much more important was to show how God was at work in time. The Enlightenment historian, no longer sensing God as present to history, and trying to free himself from the burden of the generations, turned to the material world around him and the material changes in it, which became "history." Whereas in the old view history could be seen as an interpersonal and intergenerational and human-divine conversation working out the meaning of life, now history, like science, was to be empirical and "individualistic" in the sense of allowing only what observation noted. (43) I would want to emphasize more than does Lamb that the shift to "historicism" was far from universal, and that the secularized but implicitly theological historical views studied by Lowith and noted above also flourished in and after the Enlightenment, especially in Germany.

Lamb turns to how Vatican II has been presented in historical scholarship to illustrate his views. For the progressive or liberal school of historians, the Council has been presented more as an earthshaking or disruptive event than as a set of texts updating tradition. (44) Here the goal has been to see the Council as discontinuous, as marking a break in tradition and freeing us from the past. The actual conciliar texts are to be read within that interpretive framework. Another school, represented by Agostino Marchetto, finds such views superficial. (45) This school wishes to emphasize the essential continuity of Church teaching. It does not wish aggiornamento (updating) to be separated from ressourcement (return to sources), and sees no legitimate alternative to updating as a continuation of the dialogue that constitutes the tradition. Returning to themes he has pursued before, Lamb, thinking that for decades the study of theology has been deformed by "science" pursued with little regard to tradition, wishes the reintegration "of wisdom and holiness with science, scholarship, and art." (46) This is the point of view of the present article.

The question of the hermeneutics of tradition is closely tied to the question of how the Scriptures are to be read, the hermeneutics of exegesis. (47) This was a subject of much concern in Judaism, and then from the beginning of the Christian tradition. Already in the second century A.D. Marcion, viewing the teachings of Christ as incompatible with Judaism, proposed that the Christians reject the Jewish Scriptures (what was becoming the Christian Old Testament). This was not a tack most Christians wished to take: instead they followed a typological principle by which the Jewish Scriptures were to be read in the light of the Gospel, of who Christ was. (48) This principle in fact was not invented by the Christians, but was an appropriation of how Jews already read their Scriptures. To oversimplify, as Jews periodically "reread" their Scriptures, say in the case of the priestly reorganization of Judaism after return from the Babylonian Captivity, so Christians reread their (Jewish) Scriptures in the light of Christ's life and teaching. Christ or some "New Testament" event became the "antitype" or key by which some Old Testament event ("type') was to be understood. Since God as the author of history is behind all events, what the Christians came to see as rooted in the Old Testament really was rooted there. God had from the beginning intended both the ("literal") meaning that the Jews found in some Scriptural event, and the ("typological") meaning that in the light of Christ the Christians saw in the same event. That the Christians could view passing through the Red Sea by the Israelites as a type foreshadowing Christian baptism was not something arbitrary, but something written into history by God. It was not enough for Christians to read the (Jewish) Scriptures literally, for it was the "spiritual" or "typological" meaning of these Scriptures, what in them foreshadowed or looked forward to the Christian message that was finally most important. Thus, though the Christian exegete had to begin by establishing the literal sense, he aimed finally at a spiritual or typological sense. Various exegetes proposed various schemas as to exactly how the literal and spiritual senses should be understood and classified, the most common of which for the Latins was the triad of one literal and two spiritual senses, the allegorical and tropological. The history of the world itself was divided into three periods, before and under the Law, and under Grace, and in turn into seven ages and four empires.

Christopher Shannon ends the article referenced above by saying:
   The kind of history we write will look very different
   depending on which story we follow, but we will always
   be following some story. Catholic Christianity is not the
   only alternative to modern liberalism; however, given the
   continued power of an Enlightenment narrative that has
   demonized Catholicism as the root of all evil in history,
   the ability of Enlightenment institutions like the modern
   history profession to open themselves to distinctly Catholic
   interpretive traditions will be a good test of their ability to
   include other nonliberal traditions, particularly those from
   outside the West. Professional historical inquiry would
   then cease being a monologue on modernity and become
   a dialogue between modernity and alternative truths. This
   dialogue would require a new norm for historical inquiry, one
   less geared to the industrial production of information about
   the past and more directed toward a philosophical reflection
   on human nature through the study of the past.

      ... The turn to traditions would only require modern
   liberals to accept a pluralism and tolerance beyond the
   current limits set by liberal modernity. (49)

Recent developments in Crusade studies illustrate the kind of hermeneutic that the Christian historian should follow. (50) Traditionally, the Crusades, along with such things as the Inquisition or the struggle between science and religion, have been presented as markers of a liberal and progressive history. That is, in much traditional progressive narrative, the story of the Crusades is told as a cautionary tale, illustrating what can go wrong if illiberal values--in this case those of the Catholic Church--are embraced. The result of the widespread influence of such a point of view is that even Catholics, even popes, have come to feel that they should be embarrassed by the Crusades. These are seen to have held back the progress of civilization and to have done unjust things. We can almost presume that everyone will understand that they are a dark spot on the historical record.

Thus the Crusades have been narrated as if they were an early expression of something bad, European colonialism. They have been given a materialistic causal explanation so that they are presented as an exercise in domination. After the Europeans had lost most of the Mediterranean to the Moslems in the early Middle Ages, the story goes, recovering European power expressed itself in the Crusades, in quest of material gain. It is not that there is no truth in such a perspective. The problem is its utter neglect of or insensitivity to things a Christian should ask or think about, such as the spiritual factors at play in the Crusades. We would hardly expect such factors to be much explored in the historiography coming from a country, such as England, in which until the recent past many of the most celebrated historians have been Marxists or materialists. But things are radically shifting. In 1980 Jonathan Riley-Smith wrote an article, "Crusading as an Act of Love," which has achieved considerable notoriety. (51) Basically Riley-Smith proposes that we take seriously the reasons given by both those recruiting and those recruited for crusade. These reasons were mostly of an intellectual or spiritual order, and viewed the act of crusading as an act of love or charity. Though of course baser motives also were in play, the Crusaders, holds Riley-Smith, generally saw what they were doing as expressing a form of love.

In the popular media or in the schools one likely still finds the older picture of the Crusades, but Riley-Smith's views now command the respect and assent of many historians. Witness an excellent book by one of his followers, William J. Purkis, Crusading Spirituality in the Holy Land and Iberia, c. 1095-c. 11 87, which studies what it meant to be a crusader. (52) What it meant paralleled belonging to any religious order. That is, the Crusader most commonly saw himself as vowed to a charitable religious task, the understanding of which evolved over time. Initially it was understood as one of the ways of following Christ. By the thirteenth century the emphasis had shifted from taking up the cross (hence "Crusaders") to suffering the wounds of Christ. In both cases Crusaders were seen to be sacrificing themselves for a worthy cause. Of course, although probably most suffered financial loss, some profited in a material way. The point is that the older historiography, assuming that Crusaders were on "the wrong side of history," hardly looked for such spiritual motivation. It is not even that it is necessary to be a Catholic historian to take the evidence of motives of charity seriously, it is that such evidence was discounted because of the "colonial" controlling master narrative. How the story of the Crusades was told was the result of a kind of blindness that did not much think of the great variety of humans there are, from saints to sinners, but made everyone into a "colonialist." Virtually no one was thought to have operated from upright reasons.

The point then is that in a postmodern or postliberal narrative the historian entertains seriously that, as Christianity teaches, this world is a great threshing floor in which wheat is being separated from chaff. Some truly are becoming more godlike and are discovering things unknown since the beginning of time; some are giving themselves over to the Evil One. The prose and the sense of wonder and humility conveyed by the historian must capture all this.


(1.) Of a number of essays in which I have treated Christopher Dawson's idea that culture is embodied religion, see most recently "Christopher Dawson and the Renewal of Catholic Education: The Proposal that Catholic Culture and History, not Philosophy, Should Order the Catholic Curriculum," Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 13: 3 (Summer 2010): 14-35.

(2.) Haram Kleuting, "Catholic Enlightenment--Self-Secularization, Strategy of Defense, or Aggiornamento? Some Reflections One Hundred Years after Sebastian Merkle," Zeitschrft fur Kirchengeschichte 121 (1, 2010): 1-10, gives an idea of how complicated the issues are.

(3.) Alan T. Wood, "Fire, Water, Earth, and Sky: Global Systems History and the Human Prospect," The Journal of the Historical Society 10, 3 (September 2010): 287-318. This article gathers together much recent historiography.

(4.) On the question of the desacralization and resacralization of life see my "Cultural Dynamics: Secularization and Sacralization," Christianity andWestern Civilization, ed. Wethersfield Institute (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 97-122, and The Turn to Transcendence: The Role of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010). This book is followed up by my On the Road to Emmaus: The Catholic Dialogue with America and Modernity (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012). See also Charly Coleman, "Resacralizing the World: The Fate of Secularization in Enlightenment Historiography," Journal of Modern History 82 (June 2010): 368-905.

(5.) Karl Lowith, Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949). I would prefer to restrict the expression "philosophy of history" to matters such as the nature of causation, about which unaided reason has something to say.

(6.) Christopher Dawson, The Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1956), 232.

(7.) See the classic exposition by Eric Auerbach, framing the larger analysis, Mimesis:The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, tr. Willard R. Trask (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 50-76, 94. Then also see on Ammianus, Timothy D. Barnes, Ammianus

Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), which begins by considering Auerbach.

(8.) Auerbach, Mimesis, 77-95.

(9.) Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), ch. 4.

(10.) Treated for twelfth-century England (Anglo-Norman historians) by C. S. Wattkins, History and the Supernatural in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. ch. 1.

(11.) Deirdre Jackson, Marvellous to Behold: Miracles in Medieval Manuscripts (London: British Library, 2007), 6.

(12.) On the following see my "Problems with the Contrast between Circular and Linear Concepts of Time in the Interpretation of Ancient and Early Medieval History," Fides Quaerens Intellectum I (2001): 41-65.

(13.) See the articles gathered in "Questioning the Assumptions of Academic History: A Forum," Historically Speaking 12, I (January 2011): 10-20, used in what follows.

(14.) Doug Rossinow, Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America (Philadelphia, PA.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).

(15.) Christopher Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions: A New Paradigm in the Study of the Past," 10-13 at 11, the first article in the Forum "Questioning the Assumptions," referred to in note 13 above, uses the writings of John Boswell on gay history to illustrate this. I will not take this up here, since I have published Of Sodomites, Effeminates, Hermaphrodites, and Androgynes: Sodomy in the Age of Peter Damian (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2011), which discusses Boswell. Since in the 1980s Boswell was the champion of "essentialism," the claim that sexual identities are fixed, he is perhaps not the best example of the goal of liberal autonomy.

(16.) David Bentley Hart, "A Philosopher in the Twilight," First Things (January 2011): 44-51 at 45, on this and the following.

(17.) Hart, "A Philosopher in the Twilight," 50, with my Turn to Transcendence. Antonio Lopez, "Growing Human: The Experience of God and of Man in the Work 0f Luigi Giussani," Communio: International Catholic Review 47 (2010): 209-42 at 223-24, excellently comments on the nature of Enlightenment reason.

(18.) Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," 10. A "Response to Christopher Shannon" by Daniel Wickberg, 1-15 at 14, in the above noted Forum in agreeing with Shannon lists further scholars who have criticized central concepts of mainline history, including Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

(19.) This ideal is splendidly traced and criticized by Peter Novick, That Noble Dream:The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

(20.) Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," 10.

(21.) The Structure of Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), with Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," 10. Clearly there had been a paradigm shift, but one can wonder if Kuhn caught the full range of shifts and continuities. Much recent research on the relations between medieval and early modern science is on the side of continuities: for orientation see Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, ed. David C. Lindberg and Robert S. Westman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), and the articles gathered in When Science and Christianity Meet, ed. David Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), "The Mythology of the Secular Age: Modernity's Rewriting of the Christian Past," attempts to correct many misunderstandings.

(22.) I have worked this out in "The Return of Purpose," Communio 33 (2006): 666-81, and "The Natural Law: The First Grace," Communio 35 (2008): 354-73.

(23.) Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," 10. Ian F. McNeely and Lisa Wolverton, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet (NewYork: Norton, 2008), esp. ch. 4, considers the history of scholarly communities.

(24.) Or as Mark Weiner, "Liberal History and Historical Style After Virtue," 15-17 puts it in a response to Shannon in the above-mentioned forum, "The debate concerns how historians can gain 'meaningful knowledge' of the past, mere information being meaningless without a framework through which it is gathered and understood. Should historians conduct their work from the perspective of the natural sciences of the 19th century and so conceive of their discipline as a relatively straightforward form of empirical research dedicated to revealing patterns of causality? Or should the fact that historians approach the past only within language and by using categories from their own historical time influence in a fundamental way what and how they write?" Wiener, 16, notes that Shannon here passes over the Marxist and New Left historians, whom he treats extensively elsewhere, who do make moral judgments, but these of course typically are distanced from the ideal of commonsense empiricism. Weiner, 17, also proposes using some of the strongly evaluative nineteenth-century historians who were marginalized by the professionalization of history.

(25.) Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," ii.

(26.) I have worked out some of this in "Christian Philosophy, Christian History: Parallel Ideas?" in Eternity in Time: Christopher Dawson and the Catholic Idea of History, ed. Stratford Caldecott and John Morrill (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997), 131-50 (a slightly different version is found in The Catholic as Historian, ed. Donald J. D'Elia and Patrick Foley [Naples, FL: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 2006], 81-96, 225-26.

(27.) Olsen, Turn to Transcendence, index under "Enlightenment(s)." See also Dan Edelstein, The Enlightenment:A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

(28.) Thus the comparison of Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (New York: Knopf, 2004). See also Elena Russo, Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics, and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

(29.) Daniel Brewer, The Enlightenment Past: Reconstructing Eighteenth-Century French Thought (NewYork: Cambridge University Press, 22008).

(30.) Francis Martin, "Sacred Scripture in the Thought of Joseph Ratzinger-Pope Benedict XVI," in The Thought of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Kenneth D. Whitehead (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2009), 99-120 at 112 writes: "Enlightenment historiography tends to look at agents rather than subjects and thus restricts its enquiry to a level of causality that, because it seems to imitate that of the physical sciences, has no interior and no genuinely human dimension. But this is not history. History is the action of human subjects and thus necessarily has an interior dimension.... Rather than a mechanical process moving from past to present and measured by production and progress, history, with the Body of Christ at its center, is a mystery of presence."

(31.) Louis Bouyer, "The Two Economies of Divine Government: Satan and Christ in the New Testament and Early Christian Tradition," Letter & Spirit 5 (2009): 239-64, originally published in God and His Creation, ed. A. M. Henry (Chicago: Fides, 1955). William L. Portier, "What Kind of a World of Grace? Henri de Lubac and the Council's Christological Center," Communio: International Catholic Review, 39 (2012): 136-51 at 145-48, has a useful discussion of Henri de Lubac's sometimes naive treatment of progress and technology. There has been of course no single way in which the role of the devil in history has been portrayed, but for one example, see Alan V. Murray, "The Devil in Flanders: Galbert of Bruges and the Eschatology of Political Crisis," in Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders, ed. Jeff Rider and Alan V. Murray (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2009), 183-99. In the Middle Ages, much attention was given to the ways in which the devil attacks: see for instance Benedictine reflection on how silence keeps the Evil One at bay so that sanctioned speech (the lectio of the lector) may bring the community to Christ, Lynda L. Coon, Dark Age Bodies: Gender and Monastic Practice in the Early MedievalWest (Philadelphia, 2011), 70.

(32.) Caroline Bynum, "Curriculum Vitae: An Authorial Aside," Common Knowledge 9:1: 1-12 at 11.

(33.) Fr. Matthew Lamb, Ibid.

(34.) "Wisdom and Joy in the Truth: Catechesis in the Third Millennium," Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly 33, 3 (Fall 2010): 12-20 at 13.

(35.) See my Turn to Transcendence, esp. 12-13, 49 n. 47, 151 n. 249, 211, on McIntyre, with Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," ii, and Mark Wiener, "Liberal History and Historical Style After Virtue," in the Forum "Questioning the Assumptions of Academic History: A Forum," Historically Speaking 12, i (January 2011): 15-17 at 16. Wiener says of Benedict, "In Benedict's view, reason is threatened by a conception of academic inquiry in which 'only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific,'" and says his Regensburg speech of 2006 "could be described as a critique of technical rationality."

(36.) Robert Louis Wilken, "Culture and the Light of Faith," FT #210 (February 2011): 31-36 at 35.

(37.) See the essays gathered in Le passe a l'epreuve du present:Appropriations et usages du passe du moyen age a la Renaissance, ed. Pierre Chastang (Paris: Presses de l'Universite Paris-Sorbonne, 2008).

(38.) Alon Confino, "On the Liberation from the Tyranny of the Past: Arabs and Jews in Israel," Historically Speaking 11, 5 (November 2010): 30-32 at 30, has mostly wise things to say against too strong attachment to tradition.

(39.) See the review of Le passe, ed. Chastang, by Gabriellle Spiegel in Speculum 84 (2009): 684-86.

(40.) Lamb, "Wisdom and Joy," 20 n. 7, gives as an example of good criticism of the type of historicism he is criticizing, Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Hermeneutik und Historismus," in Wahrheit und Methode: Band II Ergdnzungen (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1986), 387-424.

(41.) Lamb, "Wisdom and Joy," 13. Hugh Trevor-Roper, History and the Enlightenment (New Haven:Yale University Press, 2010), treats many aspects of the development of Enlightenment history I cannot broach here. See the critique of historical reason presented in Thomas J. McParland, Lonergan and Historiography: The Epistemological Philosophy of History (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010).

(42.) Wood, "Fire, Water, Earth, and Sky," 289-90. Wood suggests that the worldview of the Scientific Revolution intrinsically looks on the world in adversarial terms (individual vs. community, etc.), rather than under the heading of cooperation and complementarity. See also 292-99, 302-06, 310-18, on the whole as more than the sum of its parts, mutuality between living beings, and other organic themes. Unfortunately, in his advocacy of democracy, Wood, 296, says such things as "hunting/gathering societies were inherently egalitarian and democratic," and he views the Internet as fostering democracy, rather than making it even more impossible. Much better is his, 299-300, statement, "Rather than seeing ... contemplative meditation (and prayer) as marginal activities pursued by a small minority of individuals out of personal taste, we might better see them as coherent parts of a fully integrated and satisfying human life."

(43.) Weiner, "Liberal History and Historical Style," 17, quotes Leszek Kolakowski, "We learn history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to know who we are."

(44.) Thus the various studies on the Council of Giuseppe Dossetti and Giuseppe Alberigo, or of the American John O'Malley.

(45.) The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council, tr. Kenneth D. Whitehead (Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2010).

(46.) Lamb, "Wisdom and Joy," 19.

(47.) For orientation to a number of studies I have written on exegesis, see "The Spiritual Sense(s) Today," in The Bible and the University, ed. David Lyle Jeffrey and C. Stephen

Evans, 116-38, Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007).

(48.) In addition to the following citations of my own writings, see the very fine exposition of Augustine's position on these issues by Paula Fredriksen, Augustine and the Jews:A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (New York: Doubleday, 2008). For orientation see John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno, SanctifiedVision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). Alan J. Hauser and Duane F. Watson, The History of Biblical Interpretation, 2 vols. to date (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), is very good. The history of liturgical exegesis parallels that of scriptural exegesis: see on the allegorical and mystical senses, Claude Barthe, "Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Organic Development of the Liturgy," in The Genius of the Roman Rite: Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives on Catholic Liturgy, ed. Uwe Michael Lang (Chicago: HillenbrandBooks, 2009).

(49.) Shannon, "From Histories to Traditions," 12. Wickberg, "Response to Christopher Shannon" 14, develops this point, noting, 15, that what Shannon proposes is a "return of the humanistic version of history above and beyond the scientistic version ... [which has been] part of a debate that has been going on since the mid-19th century." Cf. my "The Middle Ages in the History of Toleration: A Prolegomena," Mediterranean Studies 16 (2008): 1-20, to what Shannon says about the varieties of toleration.

(50.) In addition to what is said here, see my "Christian Philosophy, Christian History," and Thomas Allen, "Moments of Faith," American Literary History 20 (2008): 766-87.

(51.) Jonathan Riley-Smith, "Crusading as an Act of Love," History 65, issue 214 (June 1980): 177-92.

(52.) (Woodbridge, Eng.: Boydell and Brewer, 2008). For a good review of this book, used in the present article, see Christdopher MacEvitt, Speculum 85 (2010): 454-56.
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Author:Olsen, Glenn W.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
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Date:Mar 22, 2014
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