” … every great political question always involves a great theological question.” — Juan Donoso Cortés, (1809-1853) An Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, Considered in their Fundamental Principles.
Human history can be described as man’s quest for order. That elusive goal is at the root of all changes in human society. What is order? We could call a stable order desired by all men as a solution for all human problems, or perhaps a solution to the present human condition. Now, if order is being sought, what is disordered? If a solution is necessary, what is the problem?
Since the onset of modernity there seems to be a consensus that the problem is the system. Almost anyone will argue in favor of the application of a system that will (in theory) greatly improve life for all: Monarchy, Democracy, Republicanism, Marxism, Anarchism, Communism, Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism, Libertarianism, etc. So far the results have been mixed at best. We continue to be born, strive, and die while happiness remains elusive.
The majority (if not all) of those proposals share also a common element: they try to discover, and some try to assert, the direction of human history. In doing so they unwittingly admit an impulse that drives history to an end. I believe that is the essential reason why Donoso Cortés affirmed that a form of theology is hidden within every great political preoccupation.
We learn from Christian theology that the problem is original sin, the fall of man from our earlier state of grace. Sin is nothing but a fundamental disorder that renders futile every human effort to restore the original order. Sin is the main reason why mankind is separated from God. To return to our original perfect condition we should align our will perfectly to the Creator’s will. We cannot do it because sin clouds our reason. At one point mankind was comparable to a sailor lost in the middle of the ocean. A sailor armed only with a faulty compass and a radio that no longer allowed him to send a distress signal.
If the impulse driving history to its natural end was mankind then we would be in real trouble. Fortunately, the flow of history does not depend on us. The good news is that God is the force behind human history. He is a God of love, the same God that gave us the free will we often misuse to cause our own demise.
The Last Supper discourse
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5 NIV)
Reading Jesus’ words at the Last Supper we can see clearly that Christ’s mission originates with God the Father. God is “the gardener,” the one in charge of the vine of history. God is supervising the action and will make sure we reach the intended destination. Christ is coming to us to make sure obedient mankind “remains” in Him and “bears much fruit” by remaining “in the vine” –that is in God’s plan, reaching the Kingdom. That is the system that will remain forever: not a fruitless human idea condemned to futility but the Kingdom born of God’s infallible mind.
This lesson of Christ is pronounced in the “upper room” which can be considered analogically as a figure of Heaven. Judas Iscariot is gone “into the night” to pursue his own ideas. The traitor is going to deliver the author of human history to those who do not want Him as king, to the enemies of the Kingdom of God. Those men had their own ideas of what a Messiah should be. Christ did not fit in their model for their kingdom. From that moment on the Passion of Christ is in motion. The agony of Gethsemane will serve mysteriously as a counterpoint to that other garden, the Garden of Eden prepared by God for the pleasure of man’s family. This time, an obedient Adam will proceed all the way to the Cross of Calvary to a sacrifice that will turn away from the deadly path of Adam to the straight and narrow path of salvation in Christ.
Now we can take a step back and see the hand of God preparing the stage for this magnificent act of salvation. Calvary is the center of history. Rome was given the power to pacify the world to prepare the way for the arrival of the Christ in Bethlehem. Every actor played a part perfectly to complete God’s purpose, the mighty Roman Empire included. Donoso Cortés explains:
“Rome succumbed because its gods succumbed; her empire ended because her theology ended. In this way, History comes to highlight the great principle that is in the depths of the abyss of human consciousness.” Juan Donoso Cortés. An Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism (Spanish Kindle Edition.)
We can add that Rome became an empty husk without a purpose in history after the Christ was born. When the time was ripe for the arrival of Christendom, that dried up husk that once was Rome gave way to a new Christian world.
In Christ’s Parable of the Vine we find two branches that do not remain in Him. One is the branch of the Revolutionaries, the ones that continue pursuing a world without Christ. The other is the order initiated by Rome but condemned to futility by its own human origin. The branch that will remain is the faithful Church.
But … in the same manner that Judas Iscariot failed to remain in Christ there will be a part of the Church that will quickly dry up. Separated from Christ in the time of the end, those unfaithful false Christians will trigger the Passion of the Church. It will be a time of terrible persecution. Jesus prophesies about those times to the women of Jerusalem. As he climbs to the heights of Calvary, He says, almost continuing with the Parable of the Vine:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” [see Hosea 10:8] For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)
We do not know what the coming days hold for us but we know that we are approaching the target intended by God when history was changed in the First Century. Mankind is approaching a time of redemption. False solutions will be offered to us, disorder will be presented to us as order, a “new system” or “a global order” may be presented to us as the end of history. But those who know better will hold fast to the vine.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18, NIV)