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SIDIC Periodical III - 1970/1
The Desctruction of Jerusalem in 70 a. D. (Pages Cl.-E. Florival)

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The Heavenly Jerusalem in Christian Tradition
23 - 29


No study has yet been made on the heavenly Jerusalem in post-biblical tradition, and it is too complex a subject for adequate treatment in a short article. Taking for granted knowledge of its theological foundation in the two Testaments, we shall limit ourselves here to picking out the main arguments, while pointing out, as far as possible, the originality of the theme in relation to Jewish views.

I. The Christian "innovation".

Considered in its constitutive elements, the theme of the heavenly Jerusalem appears fully developed from the New Testament onwards (Ga 4:25 f.; Heb 12:22, 13:14; Rv 21:22). Christian tradition has constantly returned to it right up to the present day, without ever adding anything essential (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 6, 9, 13, 50; Sacrosanctum Concilium 6; Nostra Aetate 1, 4). However, as early as the 13th century it lost the spell-binding force of a symbol, and deteriorated into a stereotyped pious image, preserved as a lifeless deposit.

The New Testament presents nothing materially new on the subject in relation to Jewish tradition. There one meets again the historic Jerusalem, the political Jerusalem (David's City, capital of the Kingdom and of the People of the Alliance, elected from all nations: Pss 76; 132), and the priestly Jerusalem (Solomon's Temple which makes it the place of the twofold blessing: the Glory and the Shekhinah, Presence of God in the midst of his people, and Israel giving thanks and glory, and witnessing before the nations to the Holy One, as do the angels in heaven: Ps 121). There too is the messianic Jerusalem announced by the Prophets (Mount Sion, center of the world, manifestation of the Law and of God's glory to the ends of the earth for the ingathering of all peoples in the confession of the Name — Is 2; 49; 54; 60; Ezk 48; Ps 87) and, finally, the Jerusalem of the apocalypses, pre-existing, heavenly exemplar to which the earthly Jerusalem must ascend, or which must descend from heaven to supersede the latter (Hn 90:29; IV Esdr 10:29-54; II Bar 4:1-7; cf. Ex 25:40; Dn 7; Si 24). The very dynamics which, in the New Testament, link these different dimensions — heavenly and earthly — of the image of Jerusalem, are a continuation of Jewish representation. So, wherein lies the originality?

It is recognizable, first of all, in the tensions in the different aspects of the theme (eschatology is already at the heart of history, and the heavenly city is being built here on earth), and in its extension to connected themes (City-Woman: at one and the same time virgin, spouse, and mother); enclosed (Temple), or enclosing (Kingdom, Creation, Paradise, cf. Gn 1-2). However, both convergence and recapitulation are the expression of a more radical and decisive originality. The reality which Jerusalem expresses is no longer conceived as an actual city, City of David become the geographic and religious center of the Mosaic Alliance, "the hub of the world" where is reflected the City of "saints" who adore the Holy One in heaven (Dn 7:13 f.), but as the community of Christ's disciples here below, co-citizens with the saints in the heavenly city, through the Holy Spirit (Ep 2:19-22); mystic community, People of God, Spouse and Body of Christ, Temple of the Spirit which appears as the sacrament and the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It is on this score that it accomplishes the priestly and prophetic vocation of Jerusalem "restored. The city, one united whole!" (Ps 122); in Judaism a fundamental, concrete reality gradually elevated to the status of a symbol; in Christianity from the beginning one figure among others of another reality which is no longer a city, but communion with God in the Spirit of Christ.

Two facts account for this change. The first and fundamental one is Jesus himself. It is in the person of the Son of Man (Dn 7:13 f.) that the destiny of Jerusalem is accomplished — that Jerusalem which, orientated towards him, yet refused to accept him (Mt 27:21, 23, 39; Heb 13:12) — quite as much as his own destiny is accomplished in her (Lk 9:31: "... his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem"); but at the same time as she establishes him as the true Temple (Jn 2:21; Rv 21:22), his Passover constitutes him the cornerstone of the spiritual Temple which henceforth is the messianic and priestly community of his disciples (1 P 2:4-10). This he gathers together in his Body to give to his Father that worship which was no longer to be celebrated in an earthly Jerusalem, but "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:20-26). All the messianic titles which he personalized and resumed in his own person (or which are complementary to his: virgin, spouse, and mother) the Church, in her self-understanding through him and in him, inherits with him and in him. Jerusalem is precisely one of these.

Secondly, the rupture with Judaism and the accompanying repercussions in the Judeo-Christian crisis and the fall of Jerusalem in which, a posteriori, the Church believes she recognizes the accomplishment of the eschatological judgment of Jesus (Mt 21:40-43; 22:7-10; 24 and parallels), in her eyes manifest the substitution, in God's plan, of the Christian community for "Jerusalem according to the flesh", as a concrete and present realization of God's reign. When, according to the will of the risen Jesus, the mission began at Pentecost in Jerusalem (indeed the Holy Spirit comes down there from heaven: Ac 2:2) to extend "throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth" (Ac 1:8, and the very framework of Ac 1-28) Christians became a pilgrim community "outside the camp", in the likeness of Christ crucified "outside the gate"; they had here no eternal city, but went their way seeking the city that is to come (Heb 13: 12-14), already established in it by faith (Heb 12:22; Ep 2:19-22; Ph 3:20 f.). In this paradoxical perspective, the dialectic of the earth and the heavenly Jerusalem embraces that of the flesh and the spirit, of slavery to the Law and the liberty of faith, outmoded Judaism and Christian innovation. New Eve, Mother of the living, the Church is the Jerusalem from on high (Ga 4:25-31; cf. Gn 3:20; Ps 87:5).

As the mission spread to the nations — into the political center (Rome) and as far as the geographical extremes of the Oikoumene (the inhabited world) the Church discovered her "catholic" role and her liberty in regard to Israel as a country. At the same time, the city which confronted and persecuted her was no longer the earthly Jerusalem, but Babylon (1 P 5:13; Rv 17 f.) figure of the Empire, the World, and Satan. Thus accomplishing the confessional and missionary tradition of Israel, from Abraham to the apocalypses (Heb 11-12), she is engaged in a new dialectic which to the Great Prostitute and the Beast, the earthly city, idolatrous and proud of its carnal power, opposes the city from on high, a virgin adorned as a bride for the Lamb, clothed in the victorious power of God (Rv 21:2). Here we have the opposition of the two cities and the two banners which represent the flesh and spirit (Rv 12-14; 17-22).

However, under the twofold symbolic antithesis which situates the Church in relation to the world — the one primarily relative to her origins, the other relative to the present time — a third manifests itself which defines the Church from within by placing it in relation to its essential mystery (Rm 16:25 f.; Ep 3:4-11), or, more precisely, in relation to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom within which she is called to self-fulfilment, and which, at the same time, is from now on being constructed within her. This third dialectic of the Church and the Kingdom underlies the other two. The spiritual Jerusalem, developed in history, is confronted by the flesh from within the actual Christian community which constantly relives the crisis of its origins in its members (cf. the Judeo-Christian crisis: Ga 3:1-5) and the temptations of the world which surrounds it (Rv 2-3). This is to say that the earthly Jerusalem and Babylon make the Church reflect on herself; exterior figures (like the speck and the beam in the eye: Mt 7:3) of what still prevents (2 Th 2:7) the historic community of the People of God from being the consummate expression of the City of God, Heaven on earth, the immaculate Bride of the Lamb. This explains the Church's pilgrimage, struggle and upbuilding while in the world but not of the world (Jn 17:14-19).

II. The Christian variations on the heavenly Jerusalem.

It is in terms of Jerusalem that Cassian, at the beginning of the 5th century, sums up the already classic doctrine of the four senses of Scripture: the historic or material sense refers to the Jewish city. The spiritual sense is subdivided into three parts: the allegorical, revealing the mystery, is the Church of Christ; the anagogical ("leading upwards") interpretation expanding into eschatology is "the heavenly city which is our mother"; the tropological or figurative interpretation, making moral liberty a reality, is "the human soul which is often praisedor admonished by the Lord" (Coll. 14. 8) — a type of exegesis henceforth so generally accepted as to be found as late as Luther (in Ga 4:25).

It is characteristic that the Church, even as the apostolic community of Jerusalem, should not appear in the first sense. In applying the title of Jerusalem to herself, the Church understands it solely as a symbol. This did not however prevent the temptation of awaiting the Parousia in the very place of the Ascension, and the establishment of the Kingdom under the form of a restoration of the earthly Jerusalem for a messianic era of 1,000 years (chiliasm of Cerinthus, Irenaeus, Montanus, Tertullian, Melito in 2nd and 3rd centuries). But Jesus had foreseen such ideas. The Parousia of the Son of Man, for the definitive establishment of his Kingdom, will be as unpredictable and universal as the lightning which flashes from east to west (Lk 17:20-23; Mt 24:23-27). Therefore, in referring to the actual Jerusalem, the Church is not identifying herself with the city, so much as recognizing her own origins in it; but these origins are essentially Christian, either holy places connected with the life, Passion, and "Exodus" of Jesus —memorials of his "Passover" such as- the Holy Sepulchre, or the apostolic community commemorated by the post-Constantinian Church of Jerusalem, "Mother of all the Churches" (Council of Constantinople, A.D. 382; cf. Irenaeus).

It is in the spiritual sense that Jerusalem signifies the Church — an essentially symbolic representation, which explains why its development coincides in Christian tradition with the era of symbolism which finds in Plato the "naturally Christian" exegete of biblical typology. Still alive in the Orient even today, it faded in the West from the 13th century with the coming of causality, conceptuality and positivism.

The central thread of this interpretation follows a suitably ecclesial line in which the allegorical and the anagogical tend to mingle: "This city is the Holy Church, which, called to reign in the heavens, is still working on earth" (Gregory the Great, in Ez 2. 1. 5). It gathers up all the biblical themes which, from Isaiah and the Psalms to Revelations, converge towards the messianic Jerusalem, virgin, spouse, mother who gives birth (baptism), nourishes (preaching, Eucharist), "educates" (conversion, faith, charity, search for God), tower, city where all gather together in peace "where all together form one body", Paradise of the new creation, angelic and priestly city (liturgical worship). In this convergence she initiates humanity into the celebration of the cosmic and eschatological liturgy, spiritual resume of all men and all things in Christ and of Christ in God. From the Apostolic Fathers (Papias, Hermas) to the Middle Ages, and in the East up to the present day, this interpretation is found among all the great witnesses of patristic tradition: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, the Cappadocians, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bede, Bernard of Clairvaux. The liturgy carries it on to our day through the medium of architecture and iconography, Byzantine, Roman, or Gothic and (to the time of Angelico at least) makes of the Church a microcosm of redeemed creation, symbol on earth — built in stone, space, and light —, of the Church as the heavenly Jerusalem: square, circle, and cross of plan, building, cupola, starry vault, columns, precious stones, stained glass windows, rose windows radiating the glory of the Rising Sun; procession of the Old and New Testaments gathering together the People of God, and with the hymns and celebration of this mystery sending them on their way to the Lamb and the Pantocrator surrounded by the court of angels and saints built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. While the liturgy interprets this creation of stone in the light of city of God (Office of the dedication and especially the hymn Urbs Hierusalem beata which summarizes all the themes in an admirable theological and mystical synthesis), it brings the Christian assembly into line with it by turning its eyes towards Jerusalem from the beginning of Advent to the final procession to the tomb (In Paradisum).

Another thread, however, takes up the firs While gladly making use of an allegorical method it develops the figurative sense in the more pe sonal way of the soul seeking a "supra-celestil city" (Gregory of Nyssa), or the soul itself virgil spouse, city, and temple of Christ, of the Worlc of God. Adapting Philo to Christian tradition it describes the search for God in a mystic perspective of progress and ascent. Of mainl Platonist inspiration and anthropology (parts c the soul, Eros, degrees of purification and "cor templation"), it is, however, developed on th foundation of the Christian experience of cor version to the Living God, and, according to bit lical symbolism, of the Spouse, of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, However, in the tradition of Clem ent of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyss and Denys, the theme of Jerusalem tends ti become abstract and to move outside the ream of time in the city of angels, the ascent of th, holy mountain, the return to Paradise where till espousals of the soul and the Word are sealed the contemplation of God tries to find a wal beyond all created things. It is understandable that the monastic quest should fall into line witl this perspective, but in a form less tinged wit' platonic intellectualism. Western monasticism especially was to benefit by the distinctly affec. tive tonality of Augustine and Gregory the Great in the search for God. The former succeeded in maintaining a close union between ecclesial interpretation and personal search for God, and in this latter, the part played by the heart and mind in contemplation. But it is above all tc Gregory that medieval monasticism owes the note of sustained tension, of tender nostalgia and never-failing lyricism which so spontaneously express his search for God in such terms aE hunger, thirst, and desire — the desire to set Jerusalem, to dwell there in spirit, and becoming even here below a co-citizen with the angels in the contemplation, fulfilment, and endless praise of God's beauty. Like the Church, the monas. tery prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem, the holy city of angels at the heart of Paradise. It is not by chance that The Quest of the Holy Grail was written by a monk.

This nostalgia for the heavenly Jerusalem, moreover, allows us to understand the longing for its earthly fulfilment. If the material representations of chiliasm have been abandoned, there still remains a haunting desire to contemplate the earthly Jerusalem as its inspiration and its prophecy. It is owing to this preoccupation with the holy places rendered sacred by Jesus, that from the time of Constantine's conversion, great basilicas have been built in the Holy Land. This was the inspiration behind Etheria's pilgrimage, just as Jerome, Paula, and the two Melanies were inspired to lay the foundation of their monastic search there. The liturgy of the places connected with Christ's victory develops in the Church the expectation of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. the conclusions of the last Catechetical Oration of Cyril of Jerusalem, 18. 34, and the discourse with which Eusebius' Church History, 10. 43 ends). Did it have to be a deep and persistent nostalgia to let loose the First Crusade and found the Latin kingdom in Jerusalem as soon as the Turkish invasion had compromised the liberty of pilgrims that the Arab conquest had not affected? Because she is the "center of the world, royal city at the center of the universe" Pope Urban II called the Christian world to crusade in a holy war, which on the sacred places of this earthly Jerusalem would carry the victory of the Kingdom of God against the powers of the world. Preached by a monk, and better than pilgrimages, the Crusades wanted to outdo Christ in hastening the accomplishment of the Reign, returning to the ideal of witness by blood, at the heart of the mystic search. In the Quest of the Holy Grail the knight takes up where the monk left off, just as the humanity of Jesus gradually took precedence over his divinity in popular piety.

This return to origins is also a return to the sources of "apostolic life" (cf. Ac 2:42-47; 4:32-35) — birth of the mendicant orders, Francis of Assisi and the "spirituals" — and this evangelism for a time gave rise once more to theold millenarian dream of which Joachim of Flora was the last charismatic witness before the revival of the sects. This dream, symbolic of the medieval theocratic ideal, in its own way transposes it to the heart of immediate reality, confusing the Kingdom of God, the institutional Church, and Christian society, whose identification was to be achieved by the conquest of the earthly Jerusalem. Politics themselves were not to be understood without the messianic myth of Christianity: "If I forget thee, Jerusalem...!" (Ps 137:5).

Yet less than a century after its conquest by the Crusades, the fall of Jerusalem sealed, more effectively than a military defeat, a secret disaffection of heart and mind. From this time the evolution of mentality and society in the West froze what had been a living symbolism and desacralized the world of secondary causes, logic, and politics. The spread of juridical and scholastic thought inaugurated a new language, and the birth of nations turned minds away from the theocratic and messianic ideal of the City of God and of Christianity. In theology the doctrine of the four senses was formally kept, but became only an instrument of witness. The dialectic of the heavenly Jerusalem and of the historic Church gave place to the very impoverished distinction of the Church militant and triumphant (St. Thomas in Ga 4:25) or the visible and invisible Church (Calvin, Inst. 10. 4. 7), the accent being always increasingly on the earthly reality of the Church. The catechism of Trent and dogmatic treatises hardly evoke the remembrance of Jerusalem, merely mentioning it in a list of images of the Church. On the institutional level, the displacement of the ideal of Christianity had no effect on the interpretation of the millenarian myth in relation to the earthly development of the Church, which is identified by Catholics with the progressive coming of the Kingdom of God on earth (Nicholas of Lyra). As for protestants, they undoubtedly make a clear distinction between the Church and the Kingdom, but only to submit the Church to the State (Luther) or to organize it as a citadel (Calvin). As far as the ideal figure of Zion still survives, it is marginal to theology and to the institution of the established Churches, in the popular piety of chorales and negro spirituals, or in the exuberance of sects. As to the real Jerusalem, it is a long time since it was in the hands of the Turks.

Finally, the signification of Jerusalem exhibits four levels: the heavenly city, practically synonymous with kingdom or paradise, all mankind in communion with God. But this heavenly city is being built now on earth in a metaphorical earthly city which is the historical Church, actual community of the faithful, or institution responsible for gathering them together in Christ. As regards the city of Jerusalem, it is undoubtedly a city in Palestine, the geographical and religious capital of Israel (today political capital too); but from the point of view of faith, it is for the Christian above all the place where salvation was accomplished at the dawn of the Church; the Jerusalem of Jesus and the Apostles and full of their memories — the holy places of the Passion, Resurrection, and Pentecost. However, to the eyes of faith, Jerusalem is still the City of David and of the people of Israel, the site of the Temple, a city in the Holy Land. But it is a fact that Christian tradition recognizes it as such only in the past, and an outgrown past at that. The Jewish Jerusalem disappeared with the Temple at the dawn of the Christian era, which took life in her, to develop into worldwide dimensions.

III. A new perspective.

Two events, more or less recent, have sparked off a renewal of topical interest in the theological theme of Jerusalem, especially the Jewish Jerusalem. The first arises from the revival of biblical theology with the attention now being given to the "Old Testament", to the primary character of Jewish belief, the reality of Jewish existence as it emerges not only from the canonical books, but from the living tradition of Israel as it appears at the beginnings of Christianity, and which in witness to its first election, like it or not, never ceased to be present to Christian consciousness. The Nazi massacres and the appeal of Jules Isaac called the Christian communities to an examination of conscience which led to a second series of events which found expression in discussions on the conciliar text on the Jews, in the pilgrimage of Pope Paul VI to Jerusalem, and were hastened by the Six Days War and its consequences, both political and ideological. For the first time since the Judeo-Christian crisis, Jerusalem does not pose for the Christian conscience a mere question of dialectics on the heavenly city and the historical institutional, sacramental, and mystical Church, but one of relations between the Church and the earthly Jerusalem, to the extent that this remains, by the grace of God, symbolic of the first-born people of the election and the promise.

A new question arises for Christians which is not met with in polemical texts of the New Testament or of patristic tradition, but included in the substance, the flesh itself of Christian existence and of Jesus where the Christian tradition of faith constantly finds its root and its nourishment: if the 'City of God recalls the mystery and the very destiny of the Church, why should it then hold to the name of City of David? The universal symbolism of the city finds itself illuminated in its origins as in its eschatology by this proper name. Why that name which was marked from the beginning by the Davidic alliance? Can eschatology be accomplished without conversion, and can this latter be considered without a return to its sources? In recognizing herself as the Spouse of Christ, can the Church dispense with having recourse to Zion "Mother, since all were born in her" (Ps 87:5) any more than she can with welcoming Mary in gratitude for her maternity (cf. Jn 19:26 f.; Rv 12)? In such a parallel what is in question is not the sin of Jerusalem which refers us to our own, for the same divine grace which acts in Mary triumphs over our misfortunes "whether Jews or Greeks" (cf. Rm 2:1); the question lies rather in the fact that the permanent significance of Judaism for the Church remains in the living people of the promise, and not, directly at least, in a city or land, no matter how important they may be. However,, in its fundamental relationship with the people of Israel, can the Church ignore the fact that for this people (and for herself through them) the Land of Israel and the City of Zion are the "sacramental" expression of their essential vocation and destiny? Is it not by suth reflections that the Church must constantly rediscover herself in the continuity and in the newness of her own vocation and destiny by the grace of her Lord, Son of David and Son of God? In short, the need of the Church of Christ to be rooted in a Church of Jerusalem which can represent to her in concrete terms her own roots in the tradition of the apostolic community (a community of Jewish origin) — is not this reflection beginning to make itself deeply felt? The answer to these questions can be given only by him who calls us to himself from one extremity of the earth to the other, to gather us all together in the Holy City, of which he is the architect, the foundation-stone, the light, and the glory: "Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is rising on you... The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness" (Is 60:2,3).


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