Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 2
Relationship of Human and Divine
In this lesson, you'll explore the origins of language and culture in the Greek world, focusing on the significance of ballads and the heroic culture that influenced society. As you delve into the evolution of Greek history and thought, you'll study city-states, colonization, and the emergence of historical figures like Thucydides and Socrates. You'll also examine the concept of the person and how figures such as Alexander the Great played into the growing importance of individualism. Transitioning into the discussion of Greek and Roman history, you'll learn about the porosity between the human and divine in Greek history, the fratricide in Roman history, and the pragmatism and ideology of the Romans. Lastly, you'll analyze Luke's writing style as a Roman historian and the unique blend of cosmic and intimate elements in Christian history.
Relationship of Human and Divine
I. Early Greek Language and Culture
A. Origin and Significance of Ballads
B. Porosity Between Human and Divine
C. Heroic Culture and Its Lessons
II. Evolution of Greek History and Thought
A. City States and Colonization
B. Thucydides and Chronology
C. Concept of the Person
D. Alexander the Great and Individualism
III. Greek and Roman History
A. Porosity Between Human and Divine in Greek History
B. Fratricide and Roman History
C. Roman Pragmatism and Ideology
IV. Luke as a Roman Historian
A. Luke's Writing Style
B. Cosmic and Intimate Nature of Christian History
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This course of lessons that we are recording on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity.
In the earliest Greek literature, the Homeric epics are really poetry. They’re not in any sense recording anything else than, through the ballad, the great heroes of the past. And perhaps what is interesting for us to recognise is that perhaps in the origin of man that man communicated with music before he communicated with words, with language. It’s interesting to realise that perhaps harmony between human beings was of prior importance to information or communication. And so it’s interesting then that the ballad is the first source of language that we have in the Greek world. The first source of language that we have in the earlier civilisations like the Minoan civilisation is the language of commerce, of what you’re storing and what you’re trading and what you’re exchanging. That’s a different kind of language. But the [mythopoetic 00:01:19] language is a language that’s much more of a soul. It’s much more concerned with the sense of inner peace in relating with the other.
And so when you’re living in a heroic culture, you’re living in a culture that has radical porosity between the human and the divine. It’s one of the things that makes us awed that we’re all made in the image and likeness of God, that in primitive man there was this profound porosity that the divine and the human were never separated. And they have a lot to teach us. So it’s ironic to think that in these prehistoric caves that I first visited after the war in the South of France and in the Cantabrians in Spain, that these cave drawings are aware of transcendence in a way that secular man is not aware today. We have to learn from cave dwellers a recovery of transcendence.
And when you’re living in such a culture with such radical porosity between the human and the divine, you recognise yourself to be half God and half human. You’re a [demigod 00:02:50]. Now, we, of course, in our theological understanding of the Imago Dei, that we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we are aware that we have a divine destiny. But we’re not gods because the biblical affirmation is that we’re made in the image and likeness of God and the likeness indicates that we should be godly, but not gods. So there’s a distinction there that we draw that, of course, the Greek world did not make in their understanding. And so the whole foundation of Greek culture is that you don’t know the difference between what is human and what is divine.
And when we resurrect in our popular culture the adulation of heroes, we’re doing the same thing as the Greeks. There’s no difference in the stadium, the football stadium, of what’s happening today as what happened in the Olympian games of Greece. We’re not knowing the difference between the I AM and all the creatures that God has created. We just don’t know that difference. We don’t understand what it is that God has created us. So history then is not a proper object of study when you’re dealing, as the philosopher does, with eternal ideas. But of course, what you’re dealing with is the reality of a God who’s personal, relating to us as persons. And so all our abstract truth that we think, which is abstract, is a denial of this grounding of things.
As the city states grew in the 8th century BC and then colonisation spread them in the 6th century onwards, we now have a new intellectual climate, a climate in which now we’re dealing with the deeds of living people, living the good life within the polis. Now we begin to see that they have a need of chronology and we want to interpret those events chronologically. And the best way of doing it is by their office bearers, who were the chief magistrates. And so they were named.
And so we begin to see this chronological interpretation that takes place in history. And then we find that Thucydides then becomes more like the kind of historian that we think of history to be. He’s now counting the seasons of the year: it’s spring time; it’s winter; it’s summer. And he’s also looking at how the speeches that are made are having found effects on particular crowds on particular occasions. And so there is now a focus on the individual, not just the community. Now we hear of how Socrates is standing up for what he thinks is right, even drinking the hemlock—a terrific event that was never forgotten. And so this loosening of the civic to becoming more the individual or the personal becomes significant. And so it’s the Greeks who are really the first to introduce the concept of the person. And the person is not an individual. The person is a self for the other. Socrates was a self for the sake of the polis and his death was a death on behalf of the culture of those that he wanted to follow in his steps.
On the other hand, we find that this exaggeration of the individual goes to the lengths that we find with Alexander the Great, who exaggerates this whole tendency of the self to be a self for the self. So now we have a picture of the monument to what one man, a young man, can do in ten extraordinary deeds in ten years. But Diogenes, his mentor, says of Alexander, Alexander, you are your own worst enemy. It’s not the enemies that you face right through Asia, right through the heart of India. It’s your own sexual appetite. It’s your own addictions to drink and sex that have destroyed you at the age of 29. So now we realise that in the chronology of history, you have very different kinds of history. You have the history of that which is for the wellbeing of others and the history which is for myself.
But as we’ve said, to sum up, the significance of the Greek understanding of history is that truth belongs to both individual, human and divine actions. They’re never equated properly and, of course, they therefore have for us as Christians to be separated completely. But still, that porosity between the human and divine is what is the great offence of the New Testament to so many today: that God became man and the Word was made flesh. God entered into history. He entered into time. He has transformed the significance of time by His action.
When we come to the Romans, how did they begin their history? They began it like the Old Testament does with a fratricide. Rome is the story of two boys Romulus and Remus, where Romulus kills his brother and Rome is founded on that fratricide. As, in fact, Cain built his city, so Romulus created Rome. It’s the same thing. Not a very nice beginning for history. And the Romans were able to do what the Greeks never did. They weren’t idealists. Their thoughts were not philosophical. They were engineers. They were building Roman roads. They were pragmatic. They were not idealistic. And so when they talk about the pragmatism of history, they’re talking about their emperors and their enemies that were defeated and why the one was superior to the other. So Roman history is about the ideology of the superiority of Roman institutions: the character of their statesmen, their perseverance, their steadiness of purpose, their superior institutions, the Roman law. And also the historians were careful to understand that Roman policy which defeated enemies; you win over your enemy to be part of a dutiful [citizenry 00:11:30]. You don’t totally wipe them out. You incorporate them. So all this is now skilled diplomacy. And we find that Sallust and Cato and Cicero, Livy and Tacitus and then Josephus, all these historians, are gradually building up the picture of what is Roman history.
And it’s interesting for us as we read Luke’s double account of his Gospel, both in Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, he’s acting as a historian, a Roman historian. He’s trained in Classical history. And so we find that Luke gives us this blend of biographies and of events. It’s the character of individuals, of their consequent historic deeds, that create the events that then have to be traced so well. And so Luke is a Roman historian. Yes, he’s a Christian and he’s using that Roman model in his two volume work.
What Luke does, however, which is unique to the New Testament—it’s not found in the other Gospels—is his claim that this is a Caesar above all Caesars, that Christ is lord of all. He’s not lord of the Roman Empire. He’s the lord of all the cosmos. That’s the view that we find that Luke is giving to us. And yet, remarkably, Luke is one of the most personal of the writers of the New Testament. He’s writing in such an intimately personal way about particular events, about the particular emotions of those people that are caught up in their encounter with Jesus. So that’s one of the remarkable things about the Christian faith and the Christian understanding of the Gospel, that nothing is more cosmic, nothing is more intimately personal. That’s the reality of Christian history.