Monday, March 2, 2009
Pieper's Hope and History
Notes on Pieper's Hope and History
Man can hope for temporal fulfillment (eg. good.* . weather)and fundamental fulfillment (salvation). After initially seeking satisfaction through the goods of this world, a man may suffer a collapse of his entire world. He may be confined to a hospital bed with the full knowledge that he will not recover. Yet, it is this situation that frees man and grounds him in the fundamental hope. While he is unable to hope to regain the pleasures he had experienced in his youth, he does not cease to hope. His hopes in the world were ultimately illusionary and not really hope at all. Free from these illusions he is now able to hope in the one true hope, the beatific vision. Separate from this hope no true hope exists. A man who sees the future likelihood of his own nonexistence can hope for fulfillment of his life's plans, but he has not the fundamental hope.
Although the natural world has changed as time has progressed, these physical events in themselves are not history. History always refers to man and necessarily contains the human element (responsibility, freedom, decisions, mistakes, and guilt all have a part). Historical events cannot be predicted (not even by angels as St. Thomas writes) because they are a product of the free action of man.
Modern theologians have examined the subject and have likewise found that history cannot be reduced to a formula that could be used to interpret the past or predict the future. History is not then absurd, rather it is a mystery. The history experienced by individual men finds its meaning in its relationship with the eternal, through this connection man can understand his role in the world.
Pieper challenges Kant's ordering of history by focusing on Kant's assumption that humanity is constantly progressing to the better. Kant's historical theory rests upon this premise by claiming that experience, a particular historical event, mandates it. Kant points to the French Revolution and the sympathy of all mankind for it as the one event. The future can be predicted because mankind is then in a constant state of advancement. Pieper's difficulty with Kant centers upon this assumption, is there really evidence to indicate that man is in this state of advancement. The dangerous reality of nuclear weapons with the possibility of the destruction of man lead us to question whether mankind is indeed advancing. Since Kant's assumption can be doubted, his historical proposal must be held in doubt. Can a philosopher play the part of the prophet and predict the future through use of his reason? Pieper suggests that a better solution to the question of the progression of history is resignation, we do not really know what tomorrow will bring.
As Christians, what can we hope for in history? We cannot wish to know the exact hour of the end of the world or seek salvation through political change. We have hope in the triumph of truth that will come only after evil enjoys its strongest reign. Evil will become entrenched in the world's political systems that will attack the Church, individual Christians, and all people of good will. Hope is not lost in this suffering but endures through to the triumph of the good.
Pieper's argument is simply stated, direct, and coherent. He searches the foundations of various philosophical interpretations of the progression of history and shows that the evidence presented for the theory is weak or nonexistent. A true statement predicting future world activities must rest on a foundation that exists in reality and not merely in the mind. Such a prediction is more difficult given that it must account for all the factors that make the action of man free.
The Gospel calls believers to help the poor although poverty will never be eliminated. Christ said, in he poor you will always have with you... (Mk 14:7)." We may attempt to help the poor escape their situation, but we will never totally abolish poverty. Ideas presented to politicians never seem to understand the totality of poverty and continuously simple programs are proposed attempting to achieve unrealistic goals. Unrealistic political solutions do little more than seek to eliminate the symptoms of poverty while ignoring its causes. Salvation will not come from political activity. Although modern philosophy has adopted the goal of changing the world, what world will come through the changes? What we have experienced so far has left little to hope in.