“There is no one philosophy of history; the main positions may be grouped under the following headings: (1) classical cyclicism, which envisions an eternal universe featuring a continuous recurrence of historical experience; (2) providential history, which sees the historical process as initiated by a divine creative act and proceeding meaningfully to a conclusion—being theological in character, this is better named theology of history (7:26b); (3) explanatory laws, which claims the existence of laws or keys revealing the metaphysic of the historical process, among which might be mentioned destiny, factors such as race, geography, or economics, and apocalyptic events such as the invention of printing; (4) interpretative history, which recognizes the unpredictable character of free human choice and so is non-deterministic, yet discerns patterns or trends in the historical process as a whole; (5) philosophically oriented history, which concentrates on relations and causes, epistemological problems, and a philosophy of man with emphasis on human freedom; and (6) progressivist theories, which are based on the idea that progress (11:834a) is a law of nature which finds application in the cultural development of man. Christian thinkers do not reject the possibility of progress but they question its inevitability; they see the endless cyclic recurrences as finally meaningless; and they favor an interpretative history that discerns a linear theological development toward an eternal goal that is beyond the temporal order and so is metahistorical.” (The Elements of Philosophy by Father William A. Wallace, O.P.; PART II. // CHAPTER 9. PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMANITIES // [Section] §59. PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY // [paragraph] 3 // [pages] 184 and 185)
Obiter Dicta: Poetry of ancient, pre-Christian, Greece evidenced a culture which was pathologically concerned with ephemerality; the daily grind, the same old same old, the eternal return of the same. Human existence was perceived as a never ending spirit numbing circle; an eternity without hope. The predominant question in this culture, preoccupied and weighed down with ephemerality, was how to escape this dailyness. The answer to this problem which was adopted by this ancient culture was fame. The solution of fame can be seen in the Iliad of Homer in the person of Achilles. Achilles would only fight in the war with Troy if his fighting would result in fame. Fame, it was hoped, provided an immortal memory of honor and glory.
Unfortunately, this answer was no solution to the problem of ephemerality. Fame is like ash or snowflakes on the tongue; it eventually dissolves and its flavor is soon after forgotten.
Christianity provides a solution which is adopted throughout Greek culture and much of the rest of the world. That solution is salvation to an eternity of bliss filled happiness in communion with God in heaven. The Christian sees human existence not as an ephemeral circle but as a line of reasonably happy living ever spiraling upward to an ever-lasting happiness.
In every human era and still today, people become pathologically pre-occupied with ephemerality and seek some type of fame to escape it. A person begins to feel the tedium of life as a long held career ends, as aging reveals few future joys, as a life of tedious labor seems to stretch on with no end. Becoming pre-occupied with this vision of ephemeral dullness, s/he might grasp at some attempted significance; writing a block-buster book, marketing of some new thing to acquire wealth, pushing oneself toward the front in various associations, one last cosmetic or chemical attempt at a more youthful beauty or energy. In the end, these too are seen as ash on the tongue. And then, to this sorrow filled person, Christianity provides the solution of letting go of the attempt to acquire fame, accepting one’s life on life’s terms, and embracing oneself as one is. One no longer has to attempt to be-more by doing-more. The clarity provided by this letting-go and acceptance then allows one to see the solution to ephemerality which Christianity offers. By uniting one’s own letting-go and acceptance with the self-emptying of Christ, one is led to a reasonable happiness in one’s remaining life here below and to eternal bliss in the here-after.
Key: For an explanation of the reference and cross reference forms used in this book (e.g. [§19.6] and (11:292c), see previous posts in this blog entitled “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (7)” and “The Elements of Philosophy: Preface (8)”.