Historicism and teleology

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Historicism, with its incapacity to distinguish natural from historical teleology, will always tend to confuse the goodness of natural structures with sin and disorder. For if all teleology is historical teleology, and the natural structures have no integrity as totalities within themselves, then actual good and evil alike stand together under the judgment of historical fulfilment, as ‘imperfect’. With creation cut loose from its beginnings and treated merely as another name for history, the beginnings are left without positive characterization; they are merely the unfinishedness from which the end calls us forward. And with sin no longer defined against the criterion of a good natural order, and with only the future as its judge, evil has no definite characterization either. It, too, is merely the historical imperfection from which we are to advance. But one type of imperfection is very much like another. Thus historicism betrays resemblances, both to the old gnostic dualism which called creation evil, and to the idealism which denied the reality of evil altogether. The characterization of history as process replaces the categories of good and evil with those of past and future. Instead of the Christian threefold metaphysic of a good creation, an evil fall and an end of history which negates the evil and transcends the created good, we have in historicism a dualist opposition between a historical ‘from’ and ‘towards’, in accordance with which all the traditional language of good and evil is reinterpreted. (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 63)

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