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Metacosmesis Mundi Per Incarnationem

The Kingdom of God in Time and Eternity

A Meditation by F. Hastings Smyth, Ph.D., Superior

For the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth, Gloucester, Massachusetts

A Meditation

John I:10. He was in the world and the world was made by him.

John III: 13. No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven.

No one can read passages of this sort without getting a strange sense that our Lord, who is the subject of both, is being spoken of as present in two levels of being simultaneously. He was  in the world--at that definite time and place, in what has been called the scandal of particularity. Yet the world was made by Him. He who was in the world, enmeshed in the time process, at the same time transcends that process, for He is its Creator. He sits eternally serene, unmoved, transcendent, [3/4] timeless, at the right hand of God the Father.

Again: He descends from heaven that He may again ascend thither: Yet all the while--to use this word--He is in heaven, unchanging, unmoving, the Source and only Mover of all created being.

This is the paramount characteristic of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Son Incarnate has His Being, as it were, on the borderline between time and eternity; and (to borrow a phrase of His own in another context) He continuingly "goes in and out" between heaven and earth.

This two-level quality of our Lord's Being has appeared a flat contradiction to some thinkers. He must be either this or that, it is said, either in eternity or in time, but not both simultaneously. But for those of us who understand the dynamic dialectic of the Incarnation, this concept presents no insuperable mental difficulty. In our Lord, time and eternity meet and interpenetrate. This is one way of speaking of the Hypostatic Union of the Divine and human Natures in Him. And the seeming paradox is resolved when we look upon the actual life and hear the actual words of the Man Jesus.

In Jewish tradition, God had ever been thought of as both immanent and transcendent, as both in and above His creation. As immanent He becomes manifestly particularized in the Son of Mary. Yet at the same time, as St. Thomas writes, "The [4/5] Word remaining on high, proceeds forth; yet leaves not the Father's side." Time issues forth from eternity, but only that it may realize itself in its appointed successions and then convey its thus acquired content and perfections back into eternity again. In our Lord this dynamic mutual interpenetration of time with eternity is laid open to the eyes and apprehension of men. Our Lord was in the world, even while the world was created in and through Him; He ascends and descends between earth and heaven, even while He is eternally in heaven.

Our Lord's Kingdom, which is the extension of His individual Incarnation, and into which we are invited to enter, is presented to us in correspondingly two-level and dialectically paradoxical terms. The Kingdom appears as having its timeless--or, as it were, its immediately instantaneous--aspect. It is also in time and waits upon history for its fulfillment and completion. The Kingdom of Heaven is in the midst of you, exclaims our Lord; and, No doubt the Kingdom of Heaven is come upon you. Yet at the same time He teaches us to pray: Thy Kingdom come, as if this would happen after a considerable lapse of time. Then, there are the parables of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is like a pearl beyond price. There it is. It only awaits finding and purchasing. All the world's wealth is insignificant in comparison. It is a treasure fully complete, ready made and hid in a field. [5/6] All we need to do is to purchase the field, dig it up and enjoy the hitherto hidden wealth!

On the other hand, it is a tiny little seed which must take a long time to grow into a tree; it is a little leaven still hid in a mass of unrisen dough; it is like a dragnet which, over a long time, gathers in much that is worthless along with the good, and which will need to be sorted out at the end; it is like money which has to be used in business over the years before it will increase in value for its owner. The Kingdom of God clearly is in all its glory; yet at the same time it is only a potentiality, a small seed, an obscure beginning, for whose fruition the whole of future history may be required.

How shall we hold these two necessary truths together in our minds and experience? How shall we achieve a genuine synthesis within our common life? We may live on the borderline between time and eternity in the Incarnation; but existentially we seem so very much creatures of the time-process alone. In our Lord, in His Life and words, eternity appears constantly to be dialectic ally breaking through into time. How do we participate in this living experience?

I suggest that first of all, we must learn, as it were, to recognize eternity when we see it! For us, while we remain in the time--process, eternity appears like a little bit of, an enclave of, the future, [6/7] but come entirely true here and now! Our experience of eternity in the Kingdom is under the form of prophecy!

And this prophecy is not just a kind of foretelling the future. This is not what I here mean at all. Prophecy in the Kingdom is participation in an assured future at this present moment, realizing the future before in actual history it has so much as dawned. Pentecost itself was like that. In actual time, Pentecost was just the beginning of Christian history; but it gave the impression to the Disciples of being the very consummation of all history. The full climax, the New Age, the end of the old order had come then and there. Eternity in such cases breaks into time, and the pearl of price, the treasure of the field, stands fully revealed and, furthermore, fully available to all who would participate in it.

Hence, a group of prophets or a privileged prophetic group always has a special cultural atmosphere of its own--its own peculiar ethos and mode of behaviour. It looks like, gives the appearance of, what we have came to call a sect. It possesses the future, lived here and now, apocalyptically. It brings eternity into time. It realizes here and now that for which history may have to wait through countless future aeons.

We may have been taught to look askance at this sort of social phenomenon. The very name of [7/8] "sect" carries opprobrium. However, the word itself has an honourable derivation. It does not derive from the Latin secare, meaning "cut off" (from the Catholic Church.) On the contrary, "sect" comes from the Latin sequor, "to follow." Sectarians are all-out followers of the truth or of some prophet who is believed to re-proclaim the genuine truth.

Therefore, that which is an entirely right and proper witness in the sectarian spirit is to assert afresh that Christians do not have to compromise with the fallen world around them. Sects, for this reason, are explosive, revolutionary. The great Church in history, on the other hand, tends to be reformist and evolutionary. Sects witness to the qualitative distinction of the Kingdom of God from the world and all its works. The Church works for gradual quantitative approach to the fulfillment of the Kingdom. The Church is always laying foundations; the sect flies its banners from the highest pinnacle of the already builded New Jerusalem, the Holy City come down here and now as a bride adorned for her husband. The sect proclaims that the Kingdom of God is in your midst; the Church prays, "Thy Kingdom come." This is the seeming paradox of Christianity; yet it is no static contradiction but, rather, a dynamic relation manifesting the dialectic of time with eternity.

[9] We may approach our own vocation as a Society as one of seeking a fresh synthesis between Sect and Church, between the Prophet and the Priest, in our time. For eventually such a synthesis must be found if Christianity is to be its real self. For our Lord appears to have told us that it is quite possible to move in upon the consummated Kingdom here and now in all its fullness and to join the company of the saints and the elect in a state of being transcending time, even before the latter's end. He also teaches us that His Kingdom must be concurrently a school for sinners, a company of potential saints still much in the making!

These two aspects of the actual Kingdom of God have not been historically altogether moved into a proper synthesis. The Church has been intolerant of the Sect. The Sect has been arrogantly contemptuous of the Church. The sects, in announcing that it is possible to experience salvation here and now have sometimes given the impression of unpleasant, not to say unrealistic, pride. George Fox, the Founder-Quaker, averred that he was come to be entirely free from sin and in the state of Adam before the Fall! So tremendous was his conviction of being saved by our Lord here and now!

Because of this almost exclusive insistence upon the eternal term of the Christian dialectic, the irruption of transcendent eternity into time, and a full earthly consummation of the Kingdom, the [9/10] sects tend to look upon themselves as the whole and only true Church. They scorn the slow and lumbering time-process Church in history. They do not see that the Kingdom of God is not only given and here, but that it must also be built by men through God's abiding grace. Yet, I think the sects have scarcely ever left the Church of their own accord. The Church has usually thrown them out. When this occurred, the sects have continued to aver that they then remained the only true Church in existence. The Bishops of the eighteenth century refused to allow Methodists to hold meetings in parish Churches, although Wesley would have wished this. The Bishops were against enthusiasm. [In justice to the Bishops, it should be noted that prejudice against "enthusiasm" was not confined to them, but was in the temper of the age. The Earl of Shaftsbury decried it in every field of human interest and endeavor.] The Bishops were not against any dogma peculiar to Methodism. There were no such special dogmas connected with Methodism. They were against "enthusiasm" in itself. And in a way, they were quite right; for enthusiasm in the sectarian sense is just another earthly apocalyptic or revolutionary manifestation: the manifestation of the consummation of all things at the end of time, right here and now in time.

[11] But prophecy cannot be dammed back merely by shutting it out of official buildings. Wesley led his people into private homes--and as their numbers grew, into public squares. Separation of the Wesleyan antithetical and prophetic groups (however inadequate we may judge some of their insights) was not the sin of Wesley, but of the Church of England. And a like judgment must be passed upon the Church in connection with other apocalyptic groups; for example, the followers of Huss or of Waldo.

All this is preliminary to the principal suggestion I wish to make in this meditative survey. I suggest that the real and genuine resolution of the hitherto seemingly unresolved tension between the eternal and temporal aspects of the Kingdom of God, between its complete and apocalyptic realization here and now, at this very instant in our midst, and its long term growth in time, between the Sect witness and the Church-type witness, will be found in the Catholic Religious Orders integrated firmly within the structure of the historic Church.

It is this resolution, this synthesis, which our Society sets out to establish, for in one of our aspects we are a Sect. Amongst ourselves, by God's grace, we have true and immediate access to the pearl of great price; we have been guided to and have dug up the buried treasure. The [11/12] Kingdom of God is in our midst; we begin here and now to realize the community of the saved, the communion of saints, whenever we draw together for the specifically exclusive meetings of our Society. For we are not a mere study group, certainly not merely a secular activist group, not a mere group of Liturgical experts. It is not for the edification of others or of ourselves that we draw together. We come together because we are among those chosen out of the world to witness to the immediate immanence of the Kingdom.

In this witness we are definitely over against the world; we are a Sect, a group of followers of our Lord whom we find standing personally, sacramentally really, in our midst. In a genuine sense, we are even over against the Church in history; for we denounce and reject many historic errors and theological heresies. We dare to advertise our sectarianism in this regard. At our centre is a group of Vowed Religious, who by their vows spurn all normal worldly relationships, even those which the Church approves for others. These Religious even wear special attire to demonstrate that they defy the slow trammels of worldly integration and dare to put on garments which in outward show make them a peculiar people in prophetic defiance of the tame social conventions of history.

[13] And in our Liturgy we boldly stand over against the erratic and faltering, the compromising, yes, and politically time-serving, Liturgy of our Church-in-time. Our Liturgy itself witnesses to the fact that we can leap over the time process; that we can consummate a truly Christian Sacrifice with dogmatic intellectual clarity and with united conviction, even while the Church-in-history must slowly, perhaps clumsily, grope to this consummation in some future age or at the end of time. This is our joy, our life, our common glory.

And, yet, we do not withdraw from the Church (as has unfortunately happened so often in similar cases in the past;) and by God's grace, we will refuse to be put out of it. It is conceivable that in our out-and-out prophetic work, in word and deed and Liturgy, we may be confined by authority to our Society's own private Oratories and Chapels--or even to private houses of friends! Hut it is the function of our Members Secular-- a status so far as I know hitherto unseen in Catholic Religious Orders--to prevent all break of the Society with the Church in time. Our Regular Life and our clearly defined Liturgy, which we all possess together, proclaim that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. Our Secular Members, patiently integrated with the Church in this age as it is, both accept the fact and work [13/14] for its achievement, that the Kingdom of God is still to come in history; they integrate our sectarian witness with the actualities of the Catholic Church as a whole in time; they identify them selves and our Society altogether with the leaven in the lump, with the content of the dragnet, whose good is mixed with so much that is worthless and bad.

Thus, our sectarian revolutionary prophecy is never isolated and left to spend itself in a vacuum. And our leavening work, our slow drudging historical work that the Kingdom of God may come in time, is never staled by discouragement; for the Kingdom of God is in our midst even now, and periodically we may repair to it for renewed joy and strength; our Christian hearts can never become embittered through hope for the Kingdom too long deferred for our human frailty to bear.

We must realize, therefore, that we are an apocalyptically prophetic Sect--type of Religious Order; yet neither now nor later to be cut off from the Church in time. This may be well expressed by a brief play on the Latin words of this status, a slogan which we should make our own. The Society of the Catholic Commonwealth is:




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