Existence under God——The Central Problem of Order

Regarding the question of this tension between the broad Thomasic definition of the corpus mysticum and the very narrow ideas of churches as made up of persons who through the sacrament are received into a community, and which do not extend beyond this circle of persons, there is the general problem that mankind in history is not egalitarian, but has a history. And that means that men, insofar as their history is known at all, are always under God and express this knowledge of their existence under God through corresponding organizational and ritual institutions.

But in the insight into the nature of man's existence under God there are developments from relatively compact conceptions of this order of existence of individual men and of society under God to the highly differentiated ones. And the unfolding of this problem of existence under God as the central problem of order—that is history. Please note this definition; it is very carefully considered. The problem of history lies here, not anywhere else. So there is history insofar as the presence under God and the knowledge of such presence under God runs through phases of compactness and differentiation.

In this historical process of increasing transparency for the central problem of order, Christianity takes a special place, insofar as in it, through the symbolism of the incarnation, the presence of God in man in society and in history is thoroughly formulated. That happened nowhere else. Only in terms of this problematic of incarnation, which then had as a consequence the whole problematic of the Trinity and the dogma of the Trinity, is it unequivocally said what man is. That is to say, man is man insofar as he is imago Dei, and insofar as he is imago Dei are all men equal as participating in the reality of God and thus united with God, who historically has become flesh in the process of history.

This is precisely what is characteristic of Christianity, its unique achievement. Every attempt to withdraw from this achievement is a regression in differentiation and an attempt to reintroduce more compact ideas of the existence of man and of his order. To such regressions, however, also belongs, now in a sociological sense, the attempt within the church at restricting Christianity or the membership of Christ to members of a historical church.

The second point to notice is the following. These advances in differentiation do not occur in the sense that suddenly, through a kind of biological mutation all over the world, all men pass on from a more compact to a more differentiated insight into their order. Rather, these insights occur in determinate men, who, again, are in determinate societies, and very often they do not immediately penetrate beyond the bounds of the given society. Very often they are ineffective even within the bounds of this society, for the one who is immediately understanding is always only one individual human being, and whether he is a prophet or a philosopher makes no difference.

And so we have a remarkable structuralization of history insofar as the insights that are representative because they more sharply differentiate and make clearer the nature of man are bound to determinate historical points and are only gradually able to spread out from such centers.

From this structure of history, that insights are found to be representative for the whole of humanity, there now arises a whole series of encumbrances upon this insight. Think for the moment about the problems of philosophy. It is in Greek philosophy that an insight into the nature of man was attained, one which indeed was representative for all men, insofar as there, too, all men were recognized as being under God and recognized as being in an order that is to be determined in terms of its transcendent type of openness.

But these ideas——think for example of classic politics in Plato and Aristotle——were at the same time bound up with the order of the society in which they were found, so that politics, in its first formulation, for example, in Aristotelian politics, then become the politics of a determinate type of society, that is to say, of the polis. The ideas of the order of man and of society were not expanded beyond the polis and, within the paradigm of the polis as sketched in the seventh and eighth books of the Aristotelian Politics, remain as the pattern of order of a society that naturally cannot be used anymore today, because we do not have a polis anymore.[ fn 1 ]

Exactly the same problem occurs in the pneumatic sphere, if it is to be distinguished as such from the noetic sphere of philosophy. The insights into the presence under God, as they were found in Israel, especially by Moses, are immediately connected with the idea of the chosen people, that is; of the people in which this insight was found through one of its members, Moses, and then crystallized in the covenant of Sinai.

Now, these orders under God are primary, and that applies above all to the pneumatic sphere. They are primarily clarifications of the relation of man to God, and secondarily of man to man. The Decalogue, which contains the essence of the Sinaitic covenant, thus contains rules for the behavior of man to God and to his fellowman. It does not contain any determinations of any kind as to how a society should be organized, not even that of the chosen people. This is because the internal social organization according to clans or families is presupposed and will be questioned by no one. There now arise, therefore, remarkable problems. The clan society as such, which is not put in question, exists under God. That is the situation that Martin Buber denoted by the expression "theopolity."[ fn 2 ]

The same problematic repeated itself in early Christian times. What is in question is the further clarification of the relationship of the existence of men under God through Christ, and again the emphasis is on the problematic of right order in relationship to God and to the fellowman. But once again, there are no statements regarding the organization of a society for duration in the world.

Now, in one passage in the sacred scripture, these problems do become explicit. When the tribal constitution (Israel in its old form), under the pressure of external political events in the wars of the Philistines, is compelled to transform itself into an organization under a king like the other nations, then there arises the problem of the king, who emerges now as ruler in competition with the ruler who up to then was the ruler of the chosen people, namely, God.

FN 1. See Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle , vol. 3 of Order and History (1957; available Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 281, 295-96, 299, 350-55. BACK TO TEXT

FN 2. See Martin Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Harper and Row, 1958), under index references to "Theopolitical Idea," and Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, vol. I of Order and History (1956; available Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), under index references to "Theopolity." BACK TO TEXT

CW VOL 31,
Descent into the Ecclesiastical Abyss
The Catholic Church,
pp 205-207.