Theology of the Ages

Introduction

There is no need to inform the reader of the awful tragedy and sorrowful offense that stands before us in this current time of our Church—the terrible and despicable crimes committed against children, adolescents, and young persons as a result of an infusion of enemies into our Church beginning many decades ago. We are in pain, hurt, anguish, anger, and helplessness. To be sure, in part, it seems all that we can do for now is abandon ourselves and the tainted, wounded Bride of the Christ into God’s hands and pray that some sense of justice and healing can come to the poor and scarred victims, their loved ones, and all those who weep with and for them, saying, “Why?!”

Too, in another dimension, for about the same time that this surely diabolical activity has been taking place, the Church has had to face a world that largely regards her as dead, a world of the irrational and godless atheism, nihilism and relativism. It is a dark time indeed.

The Dying and Rising, the Darkness and the Light

In light of this dire situation, I write this book to bring some sort of spark of hope to us in this engulfing blackness that we find ourselves in, for we know that “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) More specifically, from EWTN scholarship, [i] which researched a great subset of fully approved private revelation, the most likely conclusion is that we are in no wise at the end of the Church’s sojourn, for, even if now the self-same gloom is deep and horrendous, even to push us to a point of despair, we know that it is in moments of the worst trial that God brings light far greater than the sorrow that existed at the then present time. That is, let us not despair, for the church has died and risen many times.

This, in fact, brings us to the noble, soon-to-be Blessed Fulton Sheen. He had seen, in one view of our legacy, four pivotal times in Church history, each separated by a span of five centuries, in which the Church died a great death of some sort, only to emerge once again with life and vitality. His four historical hinges were: [ii]

  • The fall of Rome in A.D. 500
  • The Great Schism and invasion of Europe by Islam in A.D. 1000~
  • The Protestant Rebellion in A.D. 1500~
  • The modern time of worldliness [effectively secular, apostate culture] in the 20th century

Venerable Sheen points out that in each of these, sparing our modern age, which had yet to be resolved, the Church suffered great loss and trial but bounced back in a virile come-back. Moreover, the same EWTN scholarship reference above provides the hope we need to realize that, if the best estimates from the plethora of fully approved private revelations are correct, an incomprehensible resurrection of the Church is on our horizon:

Approved Catholic mystics (Venerables, Blessed and Saints, approved apparitions) throw considerable light on this order, by prophesying a minor apostasy and tribulation toward the end of the world, after which will occur the reunion of Christians. Only later will the entire world fall away from Christ (the great apostasy) and the personal Antichrist arise and the Tribulation of the End occur.

Although this is not Catholic doctrine, arising as it does from private revelation, it conforms to what is occurring in our time, especially in light of Our Lady of Fátima's promise of an "Era of Peace." This "Triumph of the Immaculate Heart" (other saints have spoken of a social reign of Jesus Christ when Jesus will reign in the hearts of men) would seem to occur prior to the rise of the Antichrist. The optimism of the Pope for the "New Evangelization" and a "Civilization of Love" in the Third Millennium of Christianity fits here, as well. This would place us, therefore, in the period just before the events spoken of in the Catechism, that is, on the verge of the evangelization of the entire world. Other interpretations are possible, but none seem to fit the facts as well, especially when approved mystics are studied, instead of merely alleged ones.[iii]

This beautiful light that seems to be imminent is, in fact, what will appear to be the most glorious aura to ever shine in human history, sparing the First Coming of Our Lord and the light beyond the eschaton itself, the Second Coming and New Creation. Indeed, what is remarkable is that, as we may not realize, except subconsciously, this dying and rising phenomenon which our dear Venerable Sheen intelligently finds seems intrinsic not merely to Church history but to the entirety of salvation history itself—even something that is implied by supreme biblical metaphors. 

A “Theology of the Ages”

And actually, this profound theology of alternating darkness and light, like the allegorical days of creation, will be one of the great ventures of this theological work! Toward that end, this brings us to a more pointed consideration of this collection of writings. What is meant by “Theology of the Ages,” why should it matter, and why should it even be written?

Well, allow me to elaborate. Firstly, and once again, the Church is in a great crisis and at a very significant turning point! Quite veritably, history, having already dealt her the epic stresses of the twentieth century—with what our late SJPII has coined, “the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel” [iv]—is now thrusting upon us a new trial within the Church herself, a veritable flurry of scandals that might actually approach the terrible abuses antecedent to the Protestant Rebellion. Persons are deserting the faith and losing hope. Dare we say, some might even be despairing of any meaning, the very reasons for human existence and its ages-old drama. Yes, human history is in crisis in itself and for its meaning for so many poor souls.

Consequently, as the author of these works, I feel called to share ideas and ponderings that have developed over many years, ideas that seek to expand and complement our existing theology in the faith for the epochs of human history, for the journey of God’s divine plan for salvation itself. Here, what is intended is not merely the what but the why: Are there necessary ages of salvation history, ages that simply need to happen because of the fall or to bring about the greatest possible good in the end? Could such ages form a mystical template for a fallen world that is to be redeemed? Why were the Old Testament ages what they were, and not just that they were what they were? Why did Christ come when He came?  Why will He come again when He comes again? Why will the Jews convert, and not merely that they will convert?  Is there a deeper understanding of the Church’s ages of doctrinal development than currently exists?  Will Christians ever be reunited, and if so, why, or why not? What degree of faith and love will the fullness of the Gentiles be? Does any New-Testament-era spiritual history fulfill Old Testament history, and if so, in what senses? Are there insightful sacramental interpretations possible for many Scriptures? Does a theology of the ages provide doorways into deep, thoughtful, and positive solutions to many difficult passages of Scripture? And finally, are there reflective analogies for the multiple theologies of this book in New Testament Scripture, including the Gospels and especially the Apocalypse?

If any of these questions sound intriguing, then this book could be for you.

The Apocalypse, Oh No!

Now, regarding the meaning of human history, which will be heavily pondered forthcoming, we naturally come to the perennial Scripture of Scriptures with regards to the depth and significance of God’s Plan, the Apocalypse.   This Book of Revelation from St. John is indeed a can of worms, let us not deny.  Yet, as can now most likely be foreseen, any treatment of the meaning of God’s Plan must lean heavily on Apocalypse. This then, a substantial challenge to the author, becomes a great second reason for this book. But, my goodness, what will we do now?!  Run for the hills! It is a fundamentalist we have here! A Hal Lindsay! An Ellen Gould White!   Ok, ok!  I hear ya! But wait, where are you going?  Don’t miss! History of the World! Parts 0 – 4! Seriously though, it is a legitimate concern. In short, I can say this, and then fill in the blanks: Apocalypse will be looked at as a complete panoramic scope of God’s Plan, integrating and synthesizing the ages of Old and New into a medley of theology and meaning.  This is most certainly NOT fundamentalism. BUT, it really isn’t the common Catholic approach either.  An alert light is coming on, yes, I understand.  Now, let me explain:

Futurism, Preterism, or Something Better?

There are varied and different approaches to the Apocalypse today, especially the well-known fundamentalist, or futurist, modes. To be sure, these literalist viewpoints largely miss the mystical and transcendent nature of this profound Scripture, and seek rather to impose geo-political war scenarios, and literal times and dates, amongst other things, precisely where Christ indicated that we are not meant to know such things, and this, also because they do no service to the meaning of salvation history. “It is not for you to know times or seasons” (Acts 1:7), and the Gospel of Matthew teaches us that:

And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places. Now all these are the beginnings of sorrows (Mt 24:6-8).

The extreme contrary to such futurism is known as preterism, and fairs a little better. Here, as we realize that the fundamentalists are seeing the very end of Church history in most of Revelation, the preterist sees most of the book fulfilled in the very beginning of Church history, relating to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple as an image of the destruction of the world at the end. To be sure, the Church’s wisdom teaches that we should first read a book as it is directed to its immediate audience and time, before we consider other layers. In this regard, there can be no real dispute to this being an initial layer of meaning. It also is a sign of the reality that the last vestiges of the Old Covenant are swept away in this self-same destruction of the ancient city and Temple, bringing into being the conquering of the old world by Christ through the New Covenant. Too, the diabolical imagery of beast and dragon, along with other images, is reflected in the immediate horror against the early Christians, the pagan Roman Empire. In this regard, the Book of Revelation serves ultimately not as a gloom and doom prophecy of permanent darkness, but as a stirring inspiration and comfort to the early Christians suffering under those turbulent and trying times.  They can, therefore, take hope that, in the end, Christ is victorious, no matter what pains and agony the Church goes through.

Ok, so preterism is a little better, but in several significant elements, not all is as good as it could be.  How so?   Well, let us start with preterism’s approach to the five months of the fifth trumpet, the first great woe, of Apocalypse 9.  Here, the meaning is seen as a literal period of five months that it took for Rome to completely eradicate the city of Jerusalem. This is fine, in and of itself, but it is intrinsically useless to the meaning of salvation history, for if the time here had been two months rather than five, or seven, or ten, or six, what difference would it make? Would salvation history be drastically altered if the time frame of the destruction of Jerusalem were varied? Of course, while the general event of the destruction of Jerusalem is important to salvation history, how long it takes is not relevant the general importance of the age. “It is not for you to know times or seasons.”

Similarly, preterism leaves those seeking profound wisdom less than satiated with the delineated kings of the beast in Apocalypse 17:9-11. Here, the same kings are seen as merely Roman emperors: five died before St. John wrote the Apocalypse (“Five have fallen”), one lived during his writing (“One is”), and one, and possibly two, came afterward (“And the other has not yet come. …And the beast which was and is not, even he is the eighth.”). Okay, fine. But would salvation history be drastically altered if only three emperors had fallen before St John wrote, that two concurrently reigned during his writing, and that three of four came after? I think not, for in the end, all that matters in this first great period of Church history, the age of the martyrs, is that these emperors, however enumerated, all share the same nature: to blasphemously claim divinity and put to death any Christians not willing to pinch them incense. Yes, if specific nations are not part of prophecy in New Testament Divine Revelation (again, [Matt. 24:6-8]), how much more will particular rulers not be counted.

Hence, the point is not to dismiss preterism by itself, but to suggest that beyond this left-minded construct, deeper meanings may be possible in a more middle-of-the-road context, so to speak, meaning, in particular, idealism, or consideration of spiritual phases of Church history, if it were possible. Indeed, the Church is a middle of the road religion. She is not fully on the right or on the left. “We need to have the mind of a conservative but the heart of a liberal,” noted Peter Kreeft. 

 

Spiritual Conditions and Ages are What Matters

With this examination of Apocalypse in mind, the purpose of this discussion is to illustrate the fact that certain aspects of history are clearly more important than others. In fact, the discussions above lead us to contemplate the notion that the greater spiritual conditions of the ages are a more important consideration than the "wiggle room statistics" [like five months or eight roman emperors] that populate the various ages. In that regard, we come to see that, while not rejecting that certain Biblical texts may deal with “wiggle room statistics” in their immediate context and audience, the person with wisdom must accept that where God intends greater meaning, we must seek to go beyond the merely arbitrary details and explore the implications of what could veritably be far deeper meanings, meanings that look at a bigger picture.

Toward this end, if we return to the text on the beast, we do not need to reject preterism as a layer unto itself. For certainly, the sacred authors many times address an immediate audience, so that certain details of the text may veritably speak to the times in which they are written. But we must also understand that God can intend deeper meanings to arise later in history that have greater relevance, and, in general, the Church does not discount the reality that the question of salvation history in its overall sense is a subject of Divine Revelation that is meant to be deepened, which is to say, that the People of God are predestined to have a fuller understanding of the bigger picture of God's Plan than merely the crisis felt by God's People in the Early Church.

In this regard, we come to discover what truly matters in history: since God's purpose of creating us is to populate heaven, to give us a share of His divine life for all eternity, we see that salvation is what matters. Further, our salvation depends on our relationship with God. Our relationship with God depends on the condition of our two faculties of soul, intellect and will. Our intellect needs to know and understand God's truth, and our wills need help and life [grace!] to carry out, and live faithful to, the truths we know. Hence, what matters at any point in history is not the “wiggle room statistics” like roman emperors or time frames for physical events but the spiritual conditions of the ages, which is to say, history needs to be seen in light how the world relates to God, His Truth, and His grace, that what matters in any given age is how well the world around the People of God both accepts the truths of God and His graces.

Consequently, this book was written precisely to explore in greater depth the theologies of Apocalypse and overall New Testament Scripture according to idealism and spiritual historicism as a, hopefully, deeper and more profound complement to the typical extremes of preterism and futurism. 

Now, as one final consideration, one might interject, so what?  So what if we explore Apocalypse and NT Scripture on another level than is common today.  How does this help us, really?

To answer this, I simply implore the reader to consider what we have just perused: we have these extremes of details in the beginning phase of Church history with preterism and then with details of the very end of Church history in futurism, and yet, it leaves so much profound and moving history untouched. What about the early heresies against Trinity and Incarnation and Islam? What about the Great Schism of East and West? What about the temporary flourishing in the Middle Ages with Scholasticism and Sacred Art, the moral decline of the clergy in late Middle Ages, the Protestant Rebellion, and the so-called Enlightenment, which claimed death for supernatural religion, retaining only natural religion in reason?

And what about the secular apostasy of today? The godlessness, the near total moral collapse in the European societies and their derivatives? Will Our Lady triumph over these horrors, reunite Christendom and bring peace for a great time? Or is this the beginning of the end? How can all these spiritual developments not be foreseen in Scripture, even Apocalypse?

As I indicated earlier, I have been pondering these questions for many years. I would have left it behind, but the reflections and appropriateness of all kinds of Scripture and of analogies and Catholic doctrine just continued to come together, in a synthesis, in a whole, like the faith itself. The meanings were so wonderfully appropriate, that I just couldn’t get over them.

This book is an attempt to share these meditations. Are these meditations guaranteed to be true? And am I suggesting that they must be true? Well, of course, no! But I am offering them to be considered. I am suggesting them, to the faithful, to the Church. Moreover, I have felt called to share them, and encouraged by so many dear friends who are faithful, beautiful Catholics, that I feel that I must finally put them in writing, as a synthesized whole. 

To this end, I would offer another wonderful reason that such probing can find usefulness in our current age: love!  Love of God!  How so?  Well, to the degree that we know someone, we are able to love them to a greater degree. And knowing a possible greater treasure that God has veiled in Scriptures about the meaning of His divine plan than currently exists opens doors to a much more profound and beautiful appreciation of what God has left us in the Deposit. In this way, through our increase in knowledge and understanding, we grow closer to our Infinite Maker who is immeasurable love Himself.

And one more point: if these ponderings can gain a wider acceptance among the faithful, it will enable the Catholic to respond to fundamentalism with a much richer and more insightful rebuttal on Apocalypse than to simply redirect the conservative Protestant’s mostly legitimate concerns of our beast- and whore-like world away from our current crisis and back only to the early Church of many centuries ago.  Moreover, as we will discover, this Catholic response will actually enable the faithful to answer with proactive power back, namely, that precisely because the Apocalypse will be viewed across the entire spectrum of Church history, it will include the epic Christian divisions and, therefore, give their meaning in Scripture from a Catholic viewpoint, enabling the faithful to return a potent aggression into authentic ecumenism: no longer  merely coming together on what we have in common, but challenging the non-Catholic religions on the reality that Christ established only One Church to teach and to guide, and that divisions, of whatever form, serve to wound the Body of Christ and harm the witness of Christians to the Gospel of Our Savior.

With this in mind, I hope that you will enjoy this journey as much as I have.  So, when you are ready, let’s turn to the next chapter.


[i] Susan Brinkmann, “Are We Living in the End Times?”, https://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=24182, Women of Grace Blog, Sep 16, 2013

[ii] Joseph Pronechen, “Archbishop Sheen’s Warning of a Crisis in Christendom,” National Catholic Register, July 29, 2018, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/joseph-pronechen/fulton-sheen-answers-for-a-christendom-crisis

[iii] Susan Brinkmann, “Are We Living in the End Times?”, https://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=24182, Women of Grace Blog, Sep 16, 2013

[iv] Paul Kengor, " John Paul II’s Warning on ‘Final Confrontation’ With the ‘Anti-Church’", http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/john-paul-iis-warning-on-final-confrontation-with-the-anti-church, National Catholic Register, Oct 5, 2018




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