Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Kant Get No Satisfaction

We must look briefly at the two essential stages in the political realization of this hope, because they are of great importance for the development of Christian hope, for a proper understanding of it and of the reasons for its persistence. First there is the French Revolution—an attempt to establish the rule of reason and freedom as a political reality. To begin with, the Europe of the Enlightenment looked on with fascination at these events, but then, as they developed, had cause to reflect anew on reason and freedom.
A good illustration of these two phases in the reception of events in France is found in two essays by Immanuel Kant in which he reflects on what had taken place. In 1792 he wrote Der Sieg des guten Prinzips über das böse und die Gründung eines Reiches Gottes auf Erden (“The Victory of the Good over the Evil Principle and the Founding of a Kingdom of God on Earth”). In this text he says the following: “The gradual transition of ecclesiastical faith to the exclusive sovereignty of pure religious faith is the coming of the Kingdom of God.”
He also tells us that revolutions can accelerate this transition from ecclesiastical faith to rational faith. The “Kingdom of God” proclaimed by Jesus receives a new definition here and takes on a new mode of presence; a new “imminent expectation”, so to speak, comes into existence: the “Kingdom of God” arrives where “ecclesiastical faith” is vanquished and superseded by “religious faith”, that is to say, by simple rational faith. In 1795, in the text Das Ende aller Dinge (“The End of All Things”) a changed image appears. Now Kant considers the possibility that as well as the natural end of all things there may be another that is unnatural, a perverse end. He writes in this connection: “If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love ... then the prevailing mode in human thought would be rejection and opposition to it; and the Antichrist ... would begin his—albeit short—regime (presumably based on fear and self-interest); but then, because Christianity, though destined to be the world religion, would not in fact be favored by destiny to become so, then, in a moral respect, this could lead to the (perverted) end of all things.”
Spe Salvi 19
Reflection – OK, so that’s a mouthful. Pope Benedict goes on in the next paragraph of the encyclical to describe how this revolutionary spirit and the transferring of the ‘Kingdom of God’ from the realm of eschatological hope to imminent expectation resulted in Marxism and all the horrors of communist tyranny that it engendered.
So this is all a bit complicated and historical and philosophical and… ‘I never studied all this stuff! I’m totally at sea here! I’m going to go look at cute cat videos on YouTube!’ you might be saying.
Relax. This is actually not all that complicated and not all that hard to understand. In fact, most of us can look into our own hearts and easily identify with this passage.
Why are you a Christian? (Assuming you are, oh mysterious readers who visit this blog but rarely if ever leave comments… who are all you people anyhow? But I digress…) For at least some people, and maybe a little bit for most of us, there is a little bit of the above attitude in us. I’m a Christian because I want the Kingdom of God in my life. And the Kingdom of God means that my life is going to work out just fine. I’m a Christian because being a Christian is going to yield me peace, joy, satisfaction, the good things of the earth and promise of eternal Good Things in heaven.
Almost all of this is valid… so long as we understand that it is God’s Kingdom we desire. Not ours. And that He will indeed bring us peace, joy, satisfaction, good things on heaven and earth… in His time, His way, according to His ideas of what all these are. Not ours.
When we seek to ‘immanentize the eschaton’ (big words for I want it all now!) we are set on a course that will, if we follow it, take us out of the Church, away from Christ, away from God, and straight into the realm of the anti-Christ.
That’s putting it dramatically, but so be it. Life is dramatic. Today we celebrate the presentation of the Lord in the temple. God is a baby, carried in his mother’s arms. He is prophesied to be a sign due to be rejected, and a sword will pierce his mother’s heart, too. All of this pertains directly to the life of the Christian in the world. We are not in the kingdom, yet. We are a sign of contradiction, pierced by a sword. But out of that, content to follow our crucified Lord and wait on his action of grace and mercy, we do know peace, joy, love, mercy, and rest secure in his love. And that is our share in his kingdom, now. Not ours, but His.


  1. Typically Fr. Denis has illuminated verse from His Holiness that I would not have understood on my own. Really didn't want to resort to cat videos on YouTube. Dogs maybe. Thanks Father.


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