“In reinterpreting the New Testament idea of the parousia (and, as we shall see later, all other ideas dealing with the relation of history and super-history, such as resurrection and judgment) it is important to take Biblical symbols seriously but not literally. If they are taken literally the Biblical conception of a dialectical relation between history and superhistory is imperiled; for in that case the fulfillment of history becomes merely another kind of time-history. If the symbols are not taken seriously the Biblical dialectic is destroyed, because in that case concepts of an eternity are connoted in which history is destroyed and not fulfilled.”
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), 2:50.
Parousia – Ancient Greek for presence, arrival, or official visit.
Dialectical relation – The concept of dialectics was given new life by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (following Fichte), whose dialectically dynamic model of nature and of history made it, as it were, a fundamental aspect of the nature of reality. On the other hand, Hegel did use a three-valued logical model that is very similar to the antithesis model, but Hegel’s most usual terms were: Abstract-Negative-Concrete. Hegel used this writing model as a backbone to accompany his points in many of his works. The formula, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, does not explain why the thesis requires an Antithesis. However, the formula, abstract-negative-concrete, suggests a flaw in any initial thesis—it is too abstract and lacks the negative of trial, error and experience. For Hegel, the concrete, the synthesis, the absolute, must always pass through the phase of the negative, that is, mediation. This is the actual essence of what is popularly called Hegelian Dialectics.
Given what I have written about previously between physical and psychic truths in science and religion, Niebuhr’s history and superhistory relational dialectic seems to map in this way:
History –> Physical Truth
Superhistory –> Psychic Truth
Spiritual truths are a set of particular psychic truths. Those psychic truths derived from the Biblical history-superhistory dialectic may be called biblical spiritual truths.
Within the symbolic narrative of the Bible, history is sublated (negated/overcome) by a superhistory providing a higher order narrative encoding spiritual truths.
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