Order and History: The Ecumenic Age

Order and History: The Ecumenic Age

Order and History: The Ecumenic Age

Order and History: The Ecumenic Age


Order and History, a comprehensive study of the order of human existence in society from ancient to modern times, has been widely acclaimed as one of the great intellectual achievements of our age.

In the fourth volume, The Ecumenic Age, Eric Voegelin breaks with the course he originally charted, in which man's existence in society and the corresponding symbolism of order were presented in historical succession. The analyses in the three previous volumes are valid as far as they go, Voegelin explains, but "the conception was untenable because it had not taken proper account of the important lines of meaning in history that did not run along lines of time".

The present volume treats history not as a stream of human beings and their actions in time, but as the process of man's participation in a flux of divine presence that has eschatological direction. "The process of history, and such order as can be discerned in it", says Voegelin, "is not a story to be told from the beginning to its happy, or unhappy,,end; it is a mystery in process of revelation".

The Ecumenic Age -- the age when the great religions, especially Christianity, originated -- denotes a period in the history of mankind that roughly extends from the rise of the Persian Empire to the fall of the Roman. "An epoch in history was marked indeed when the societies which had differentiated the truth of existence through revelation and philosophy succumbed, in pragmatic history, to new societies of the imperial type".


In the civilizations of the Ancient Orient, the student will encounter a peculiar type of speculation on the order of society, its origin, and its course in time.

The symbolists who develop the type let governance spring into existence at an absolute point of origin, as part of the cosmic order itself, and from that point down they let the history of their society descend to the present in which they live. On closer inspection, however, the story of the events between the origin and the present is not the homogeneous tale it pretends to be; rather, it proves to consist of two parts of widely different character. For only the later part of the story, the part that issues into the author's present, can claim to relate res gestae in the pragmatic sense; the earlier part, covering an immense time span of thousands and sometimes hundred thousands of years, is filled with legendary and mythical events. Although they had a certain amount of historical materials at their disposition, the symbolists were clearly not satisfied with merely relating them; they wanted to link them, through an act of mythopoesis, with the emergence of order in the cosmos, so that the events would have a meaning that made them worthy of transmission to posterity. By this method of mythopoetic extrapolation, which does not break the form of the myth, they achieved a speculation on the origin of a specific realm of being, not differing on principle from the noetic speculation on the arche, on the ground and beginning of all being, in which the Ionian philosophers engaged. Historiography, mythopoesis, and noetic speculation thus can be distinguished as components in this rather complex symbolism.

The close resemblance between the several instances of the type as they occur in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel has not escaped attention. Moreover, since they are a treasure house for historians . . .

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