A Time Must End before Another Time Begins

The cyclical nature of history is helpful in understanding the times we live in and those toward which we are transitioning.  An epic explanation of transitional trauma is found in Hermann Hesse's 1927 book Steppenwolf: "Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils.  Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap."  Human beings suffer terrible internal conflict especially during such periods, as if God and the devil are fighting for their souls, which they must suffer through with gallows humor to form a new unity from opposites (Heraclitus, ca 535-475 B.C.).  Such is mankind's condition today, with great acrimony among groups and a sense of decay, but it is not unique, being only the latest manifestation of the "eternal recurrence" envisioned by Nietzsche, where events repeat in different epochs.

There are several historians widely viewed as offering a cyclical theory for the rise and fall of civilizations, including GiambattistaVico (1668-1744); Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527); Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900); and, most notably, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936).  But the first cyclical theory of history is one layer of interpretation in the Book of Revelation.  Written around 96 A.D., the book is divided into a prologue, five major visions, and an epilogue, with each vision setting an emotional context conducive to a sense of urgency for the subsequent. 

The Book of Revelation can be interpreted as pertaining to events that had occurred or were occurring when it was written, but many of its themes of conflict between good and evil have relevance to contemporary Western civilization, as well as previous civilizations and those yet to appear.  L. Michael White presents a succinct summary of Revelation in which he notes, for example, that the second vision (Rev. 4.1-11.19) shows "the dire and precarious position in which the faithful are now standing ... as a time of famine, plague, oppression, and woe."  While the "desperation and suffering ... central to Vision II" most directly refer to the recent war of 66-70 A.D., such a description would apply to Christians, as well as Jews, in much of the world today, not only in terms of direct violence, including mass murder, rape, and forced slavery but also in culturally oppressive ways.  A public manifestation of the latter was an accusation by a congressman of the U.S. being like Nazi Germany, where swastikas were in churches.

The "woes and suffering" on Earth are a continuation of a cosmic war between God and Satan (Rev. 12.1-17).  After being flung to Earth, Satan and his evil angels bring war against the saints, enlisting secular authorities, personified by "the beast from the sea" (Rev. 13.1-10) and "the beast from the Land" (Rev. 13, 11-18) to impose his will.  Following manifestations of God's wrath, the evil forces are defeated at the "Battle of Armageddon, after which God's final [judgment] is made, the faithful rewarded, and Satan "bound ... for a thousand years[.] ... After that, he must be set free for a short time."

While most hold Revelation to be a historical narrative of Roman times, St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) believed that the thousand years refers to the "ever increasing influence of the church in overturning evil," before which Satan again returns for his final defeat.  This would roughly coincide with the Middle Ages, referred to also as the Medieval Period, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, ending in the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.

The best known secular proponent of the cyclical theory of history is Oswald Spengler, who believed that man is inherently evil and history recurs in patterns of birth, growth, maturity, and old age, as mankind pursues Nietzsche's "will to power."  Influential men, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and the South African colonialist Cecil Rhodes, manifest similar actions and achievements at similar points in this progression in separate civilizations.  Spengler believed that "high cultures," in their growth and maturity phases, have life spans of about one thousand years, strikingly similar to that in Revelation and Saint Augustine.  He drew that conclusion from studying eight civilizations: Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Chinese, Classical, Arabian, Mexican, and Western.  

Spengler's timeline differs from Augustine's in that Spengler traced the beginning of Western culture to around 900 A.D., but the two views overlap significantly, and both include the period of Gothic cathedral-building in the West.  Crucially, Spengler believed that religion provides the spiritual foundation of a culture and that Christianity esteemed the soul "as an eternal source of radiant energy ... captures the individualism, dynamism, transformative energy, and expansive power unique to the West."  To quote Thomas Leniham, "Spengler believes that everything in the West has direction and religion provides meaning and justification for people's actions" and that atheism is a spirituality of limited religious possibilities, lacking in core beliefs.

Spengler marks the transvaluation of the West from dynamically manifesting its inner possibilities in the form of culture to an all-encompassing rationalism as a civilization, with the French revolution of 1793.  Rationalism brings with it an obsession with quantification, measurement, and the worship of materialism, at the expense of spiritual values, quality, and endurance; the triumph of money over principle; the growth of metropolises with their concurrent anonymity; and the destruction of the social hierarchy and traditional values.  This is much of what we observe happening in modern America, with family breakdown; self-indulgence; hedonism; and the emergence of a kind of personal Gnosticism, whereby one defines oneself according to a feeling of the mind and not the physical characteristics of one's body.

While there is no notion of how long the "short time" of Satan's subsequent return will last, Spengler casts it in terms of centuries, having begun in the early 18th century with the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, as it is sometimes known, culminating in the French Revolution.  With reason as the primary source of authority, religion, traditional values, and the social hierarchy all came into question and appears to be crescendoing in our time.  Knowing the biblical and historical contexts within which our time exists provides understanding of the sense of anomie found in Steppenwolf, and the tenacity to cautiously but unwaveringly persevere.

The cyclical nature of history is helpful in understanding the times we live in and those toward which we are transitioning.  An epic explanation of transitional trauma is found in Hermann Hesse's 1927 book Steppenwolf: "Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils.  Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap."  Human beings suffer terrible internal conflict especially during such periods, as if God and the devil are fighting for their souls, which they must suffer through with gallows humor to form a new unity from opposites (Heraclitus, ca 535-475 B.C.).  Such is mankind's condition today, with great acrimony among groups and a sense of decay, but it is not unique, being only the latest manifestation of the "eternal recurrence" envisioned by Nietzsche, where events repeat in different epochs.

There are several historians widely viewed as offering a cyclical theory for the rise and fall of civilizations, including GiambattistaVico (1668-1744); Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527); Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900); and, most notably, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936).  But the first cyclical theory of history is one layer of interpretation in the Book of Revelation.  Written around 96 A.D., the book is divided into a prologue, five major visions, and an epilogue, with each vision setting an emotional context conducive to a sense of urgency for the subsequent. 

The Book of Revelation can be interpreted as pertaining to events that had occurred or were occurring when it was written, but many of its themes of conflict between good and evil have relevance to contemporary Western civilization, as well as previous civilizations and those yet to appear.  L. Michael White presents a succinct summary of Revelation in which he notes, for example, that the second vision (Rev. 4.1-11.19) shows "the dire and precarious position in which the faithful are now standing ... as a time of famine, plague, oppression, and woe."  While the "desperation and suffering ... central to Vision II" most directly refer to the recent war of 66-70 A.D., such a description would apply to Christians, as well as Jews, in much of the world today, not only in terms of direct violence, including mass murder, rape, and forced slavery but also in culturally oppressive ways.  A public manifestation of the latter was an accusation by a congressman of the U.S. being like Nazi Germany, where swastikas were in churches.

The "woes and suffering" on Earth are a continuation of a cosmic war between God and Satan (Rev. 12.1-17).  After being flung to Earth, Satan and his evil angels bring war against the saints, enlisting secular authorities, personified by "the beast from the sea" (Rev. 13.1-10) and "the beast from the Land" (Rev. 13, 11-18) to impose his will.  Following manifestations of God's wrath, the evil forces are defeated at the "Battle of Armageddon, after which God's final [judgment] is made, the faithful rewarded, and Satan "bound ... for a thousand years[.] ... After that, he must be set free for a short time."

While most hold Revelation to be a historical narrative of Roman times, St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) believed that the thousand years refers to the "ever increasing influence of the church in overturning evil," before which Satan again returns for his final defeat.  This would roughly coincide with the Middle Ages, referred to also as the Medieval Period, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, ending in the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.

The best known secular proponent of the cyclical theory of history is Oswald Spengler, who believed that man is inherently evil and history recurs in patterns of birth, growth, maturity, and old age, as mankind pursues Nietzsche's "will to power."  Influential men, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and the South African colonialist Cecil Rhodes, manifest similar actions and achievements at similar points in this progression in separate civilizations.  Spengler believed that "high cultures," in their growth and maturity phases, have life spans of about one thousand years, strikingly similar to that in Revelation and Saint Augustine.  He drew that conclusion from studying eight civilizations: Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Chinese, Classical, Arabian, Mexican, and Western.  

Spengler's timeline differs from Augustine's in that Spengler traced the beginning of Western culture to around 900 A.D., but the two views overlap significantly, and both include the period of Gothic cathedral-building in the West.  Crucially, Spengler believed that religion provides the spiritual foundation of a culture and that Christianity esteemed the soul "as an eternal source of radiant energy ... captures the individualism, dynamism, transformative energy, and expansive power unique to the West."  To quote Thomas Leniham, "Spengler believes that everything in the West has direction and religion provides meaning and justification for people's actions" and that atheism is a spirituality of limited religious possibilities, lacking in core beliefs.

Spengler marks the transvaluation of the West from dynamically manifesting its inner possibilities in the form of culture to an all-encompassing rationalism as a civilization, with the French revolution of 1793.  Rationalism brings with it an obsession with quantification, measurement, and the worship of materialism, at the expense of spiritual values, quality, and endurance; the triumph of money over principle; the growth of metropolises with their concurrent anonymity; and the destruction of the social hierarchy and traditional values.  This is much of what we observe happening in modern America, with family breakdown; self-indulgence; hedonism; and the emergence of a kind of personal Gnosticism, whereby one defines oneself according to a feeling of the mind and not the physical characteristics of one's body.

While there is no notion of how long the "short time" of Satan's subsequent return will last, Spengler casts it in terms of centuries, having begun in the early 18th century with the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, as it is sometimes known, culminating in the French Revolution.  With reason as the primary source of authority, religion, traditional values, and the social hierarchy all came into question and appears to be crescendoing in our time.  Knowing the biblical and historical contexts within which our time exists provides understanding of the sense of anomie found in Steppenwolf, and the tenacity to cautiously but unwaveringly persevere.