History is Christ Written Large

St. Thomas has asked the question and sharpened it to its critical point: he asks “whether Christ be the head of all men” (ST III.8.2), and answers unequivocally that he is the head of all men, indeed, and that consequently the mystical body of the church consists of all men who have, and will have, existed from the beginning of the world to its end.

Philosophically, the proposition implies that Christ is both the “historical Christ,” with a “pre-” and “post-” in time, and the divine timelessness, omnipresent in the flow of history, with neither a “pre-” nor a “post-.” In the light of these implications, then, the symbolism of incarnation would express the experience, with a date in history, of God reaching into man and revealing him as the Presence that is the flow of presence from the beginning of the world to its end. History is Christ written large.

This last formulation is not in conflict with the Platonic “man written large.” To be sure, the two symbolisms differ, because the first one is engendered by a pneumatic experience in the context of Judaic-Christian revelation, while the second one is engendered by a noetic experience in the context of Hellenic philosophy; but they do not differ with regard to the structure of the reality symbolized.

In order to confirm the sameness of structure expressed in different symbolisms, I shall quote the essential passage from the Definition of Chalcedon ( A.D. 451), concerning the union of the two natures in the one person of Christ: “Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . truly God and truly man . . . recognized in two natures . . . The distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence.”

This valiant attempt of the patres to express the two-in-one reality of God’s participation in man, without either compromising the separateness of the two or splitting the one, concerns the same structure of intermediate reality, of the metaxy, the philosopher encounters when he analyzes man’s consciousness of participation in the divine ground of his existence. The reality of the Mediator and the intermediate reality of consciousness have the same structure.

In the intellectual climate of the age, our analysis of equivalent symbols may lead to misunderstanding. Let me caution therefore: the philosopher can help to make revelation intelligible, but no more than that: a philosophy of consciousness is not a substitute for revelation. For the philosopher is a man in search of truth; he is not God revealing truth. . . .

Published Essays 1966-1985
Immortality: Experience and Symbol
pp 78-79.