Universal Regeneration

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Pierre Leroux

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We all admit, without hesitation, that the Jews before the coming of Jesus, were expecting the Messiah. But we form no definite idea of what they imagined the Messiah to be. The truth is, they looked for a Sabbatical or Messiacal epoch, and not a Messiah merely. The idea of a king who was coming to save them, was only the secondary form of their thought. What they expected was the end of the world and the renewal of the world. Their expectation of the Messiah was based upon the old doctrine of periodical ages of the world. If we would know what their faith was, in its primitive form and its true limits, we may read it very clearly expressed in the epistle ascribed to St. Barnabas, one of the disciples of St. Paul, and like him, a pupil of Gamaliel. "Observe, my children, what Moses says: God finished the world in six days. By this, Moses signifies that God will finish the world in six thousand years. For to him a day is a thousand years. He himself is my witness when he says 'a thousand years in my sight are as one day.' Whence you should conclude that all things will be finished in six thousand years."

The foundation, then, of the Jews' faith, that the final consummation of all things would arrive at the end of six thousand years, was that God had created the world in six days, and had rested on the seventh, called on that account the Sabbath or the day of rest; that, according to the Scriptures, a thousand years were in his sight but as one day; that, consequently, in the world's history, there would be six thousand years for the works of this life, and then the day of rest would come, the Lord's day, the kingdom of God, the Great Sabbath, the Great Jubilee. But how long was this Sabbath to last? On this point they differed, and some continuing the analogy, said, that it would only last a thousand years. But the majority did not carry out the idea beyond their first regeneration or messiacal epoch, which had been foretold as the end of the sixth millenium, and of the seventh millenium they made eternity. At the end, then, of these six thousand years, and following upon this end of the world, was to come the resurrection, the restoration, the renewal of all things, the regeneration, as it is called by the Evangelists, and in the writings attributed to the Apostles.

Undoubtedly all these imaginings of the Jews, who lived contemporary with Jesus, respecting the resurrection or regeneration, were fed by the pictures the ancient prophets had so often painted of a resurrection of the Jewish people, understood in a political and temporal sense. But the idea of these prophets, being itself drawn from the religious teachings of Moses, and his doctrine of unity, these pictures were capable of being understood also as relating to the resurrection or regeneration of the world. The prophets had promised the Jews that God would collect them together from among all nations, and that, while he should pass his judgments upon all their enemies, they should enjoy perfect happiness upon the earth. But in the mouth of the prophets this prediction seemed to extend over and cover the world: as for example, in Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Almighty, while saying that he will save the Jews, announces that he will create new heavens and a new earth. The inspiration of the prophets is drawn from such a depth in the very sentiment of life, that, while they wish to speak only of precise and definite events, they are the echo of the divine life at the bottom of their hearts, the expression of an everlasting doctrine, the organs of God, one and infinite, whose oracles, like his nature, are clothed in unity and variety.

We must not, then, separate the opinion which gave birth to Christianity, that is, the opinion of a Saviour of the world, or a Messiah, from the idea which had begotten this opinion, and was indissolubly connected with it, to wit: that the world was to be regenerated at the end of six thousand years. The regeneration promised to Israel, and all the prophecies concerning the Messiah, the son of David, the man of Unity, who was to come to save the Jews, could themselves only be regarded as another phase of the astrological regeneration, a doctrine still more ancient, which has its character stamped upon the Genesis and all the Institutions of Moses.

A Jew could not think of the prediction of a sabbatical period of the world, without the idea of Moses' doctrine at the same time taking posession of his mind. His connection, as an individual, with other Jews, their brotherhood in God, and through God in Adam, in Abraham, in Isaac, in Jacob, in Moses, came at the same moment to enlighten his heart. The misfortunes of his race and the promised destinies of this race, which God had chosen, agitated his whole being. If the world was to be renewed, it was his race that was to bloom again. Had not the world, the universe been created for man, for Adam; and was not the race of Abraham humanity? To the eyes of the Jews was not God's government of the universe, and his government of the Jewish society, one great whole; was their any difference to them between the exodus from Egypt, for example, and the miracle of the Red Sea? Had not God arrested the Sun in his course when they fought with the Philistines? The Jews then, by the fact of their religion, of their legislation, of their history, could not separate the idea of the regeneration of the world from that of their own regeneration, whether as members of one nation or as individuals.

Still we may affirm, that in a degree much smaller, it is true, something analogous to this did, about the period of Christ's appearance, finally manifest itself among the Gentiles. About the time of Jesus, all the old faith of the Greeks and Romans, and of the nations which they had conquered quered and reduced to subjection, was worn out and decayed; philosophical opinions of the most opposite characters, all in turn, produced, combatted and destroyed each other; scepticism and incredulity were the results; but at the same time was also felt the necessity of a new con- ception of life and of a new life. The reunion of so many nations in one had begun to excite a suspicion of the unity of nature, of the unity of the species, a suspicion of the oneness of the human race. We know with what applause the passage of Terence, in which this unity of humanity is hinted at, was received at the theatre. And Cicero speaks of a bond of love which should unite all men; and Seneca, in relation to the brotherhood of mankind, says a number of good things, closely resembling the precepts of Christianity. So that the nations of the earth, by a sort of spontaneity, or if you will, in consequence of the changes which revolutions, wars and conquests had introduced into their ideas, came by degrees to this very doctrine of Adam or of unity, which was the foundation that Moses had established, as the very idea of life itself, for the religion of the Jews. So that if the most religious and profound of the Jews, joined to the ancient prophecy of a cosmical regeneration, the equally ancient prophecy of a regeneration of man; if, so to speak, they saw with the same glance, though it may have been dimly, the human soul, (intelligence, sentiment, activity,) renew itself simultaneously with the whole universe, we must allow that, at the same time, the most religious and profound of the Gentiles finally arrived at a glimpse of this same transformation, this regeneration of man, by the light of the mixed and confused rays which the ancient masters of philosophy, the Pythagorases, the Socrates, the Platos, the Zenos, were still pouring upon them.

About the time of the coming of Jesus, then, there was in fact every where, as well among the Gentiles as the Jews, a presentiment that man, society, the universe, were about to be renewed by a regeneration. If the Jews believed in a sabbatical period, when the world was to be changed by a miracle, the Greeks and Romans believed the same thing under the name of the great year. If the Jews believed in the coming of a prophet or king, who would rally them again in one mass, and restore to them the old happiness of Zion, multiplied an hundred fold, so had the Greeks and Romans the idea of a new sceptre which was to extend over the entire world and bring back the golden age, by fusing and uniting together the many nations, which had been swallowed up in the empire but had not as yet become identified with it.

Finally, if the Jews, or at least the most philosophical and most religious of them, anticipated a kind of resurrection to be fulfilled in Adam, that is, in man, in human nature, and that as Adam, or man, had gone forth from Eden and fallen into suffering and sin by self-love, in connexion with knowledge, so man would be restored to Eden to life, true life, eternal and divine life, by being renewed with charity in connexion with knowledge; so did the most religious of the Greeks and Romans sensibly incline to this great and sublime doctrine. For again, neither the philosophy of Pythogoras, nor that of Socrates and Plato, nor that of Zeno, nor that of any other, had been able, it is true, to establish itself on a solid foundation; but from all these old sources arose, as it were, the perfume of a new morality and of humanity. Besides the recollection of so many evils, which so many wars during so many centuries had inflicted, and the consequences, too, of these wars, invited to this new morality, which would embrace in its bosom conquerors and conquered, and even slaves. Who, indeed, was not at that time a slave — a slave and conquered in a world where all the races were gathered together in vague confusion, and where all were reduced to a sort of level of impotence under one man, the emperor? In every way, then, this messiacal reign existed in embryo among the Gentiles as well as among the Jews, though the latter were evidently the nucleus that was to serve as the central point of this great revolution of the human mind and of human society. With them, indeed, what to the Gentiles was obscure and misty, had a precise and determinate form. If the question was concerning regeneration in its metaphysical and moral sense, had not Moses taught the only God, the true God? Had he not taught the doctrine of the unity of the human race? So that among the Jews to come back to unity, to comprehend the "solidarite" of mankind, to admit the brotherhood of men, was only to comprehend Moses, come back to Moses, explain and fulfil Moses. This doctrine, after which the most profound sages of pagan antiquity aspired, was written in the books of the Jews, and graven there for eternity. As the Jews in their bondage in Egypt built for their masters pyramids which have outlived the empire of the Pharoahs, so, by the hands of Moses, did they build a metaphysical and moral pyramid, which their several successive masters, the Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Romans, or Greeks, were unable to overthrow, and on which was graven forever the law of humanity. In the second place, political unity, the idea of a world which would re-unite all men, was as strongly impressed upon the Jews, and was as clear to their eyes, as it was obscure and misty to the warlike people, who had continually built their city by means of subjection and conquest. It is true, that mankind, to the mind of a Jew, was confined to the people that God had chosen and distinguished from the rest of the nations. Moses had made God say, when addressing Abraham, "Thou shalt be the man people, while at the same time thou art the man humanity." The Jews could not comprehend this last prophecy; but the idea of unity came to them with no less force on that account; they did not see it less clearly because they only saw it in their nation. They identified this nation with the nations father, and so had in the highest degree a precise and clear idea of unity. Then to return to political unity, was for them to return to the law, to return to Moses. Let any one, as Jesus did, extend this unity to all nations, and this again was only to unfold and confirm the teachings of Moses. And lastly, as to the idea of a regeneration of the universe; had not Moses founded all his institutions upon a certain relation between God's government of the universe, and the government which, according to him, God wished to see rule over men? Was not the Bible in perfect harmony with the old astrology, which gave to the world ages of ending and of renewing? So that where the sages, the natural philosophers, and the moral teachers of the Gentiles had to be guided by induction and argument, the Jews read on every page of their sacred books, and in every one of their sacred rites, the clear and certain prophecy of this same renewal of the universe.

Regeneration, as the Evangelists call it, regeneration under all its forms, new birth, renewal, new creation, this was the watch-word of the world, at the time of Jesus Christ. This regeneration was seen in the universe, in civil and political society, in man. It has three forms; one physical or cosmical, another social or political, another spiritual or psychological. It referred to the individual who was to be renewed, die and be born again in his being, in his most intimate nature, in his knowledge, love, and activity. It referred to men in general, or society, which must equally be renewed, die and be born again, and suffer a change therefore in its very social principle. And finally, it referred to the universe, for a miracle beyond man, a miracle in all nature, in the sun, in the stars, in all bodies, was to accompany this grand miracle of the resurrection of human nature, and of human society.

But this triple regeneration did not strike all minds equally with its three rays. Some were more impressed with a physical miracle, others attached themselves rather to political prophecies, and contemplative minds were more filled with the religious and metaphysical idea. It is the synthesis of these three forms of the idea of regeneration; it is their mixture, and in some respects their confusion, which gives to the Gospels that character of sublimity, and at the same time of marvelousness, which has struck, astonished, and drawn along with it so many generations. The Gospel is a web woven with a skill, as natural as it is prodigious, with three different threads, which not only blend together and cross one another, but as though they were endued with life, change and transform one another, while the eye is fixed upon them. You follow attentively the cosmological idea of a general regeneration of the universe, you distinguish it clearly, and are going to say, "That is what the Messiah came to teach." But at that very moment the political idea rises, an idea of regeneration also, but political and Jewish. The subject is not, it appears, the old predictions of astrologers as to the world's duration, but the question is of the Jews and of their empire. It is through the pictures of the prophets, pictures referring to the Jewish people, that regeneration now is seen. A Messiah, a king, was promised to the Jews. He was to descend from David, and was to establish unity among the people of Israel. It is this king, who, from the commencement of the Gospel, Herod is trying to cut off; and it is this king, whom at the close, Pilate crowns upon the crow, with the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." You believe, then, that now you are in the way to an explanation; from one end of the Gospels to the other, a thousand hints seem to refer to this royalty, and in fact do refer to it. Again you are going to say, "This is the idea the Messiah came to represent, when at that very moment a third view takes possession of you. No longer is the question one of a cosmical regeneration, or of a political renovation of the Jewish nation. Listen to the words which flow from this Messiah's mouth; it is the doctrine of life, of unity, that he preaches. He has come into the world to teach what life is. It is the human heart he desires to change, the human understanding he desires to enlighten. It is a philosopher, a metaphysician, and moralist, who speaks. He wishes to make God known, whom he calls Father; he is the Son, and he is one with the Father; and he wishes his disciples, and all who will come to the truth through his disciples, to be one with him and with his Father. If the Jews comprehend the truth, he will rejoice, for they are the eldest of the family, foreordained by Moses for this teaching. But if they close their ears to the word of God, he has only reproofs for them and a sentence of condemnation for their leaders. God will be able to find his children elsewhere, of stones God will be able to raise up children unto Abraham. Samaritans and Jews are equal in the sight of this man. The Gentiles themselves, the Syrians, the Greeks, are already accepted by him, while his disciple St. Paul undertakes on a larger scale the formation of this new people, in whose bosom the Hebrew nationality is to be mingled into one, with all other nations. It is no longer, then, the prophet, who was to change the world whom the old astrology had predicted, nor the Jewish king, whom the Jewish seers had promised, that stands before you. It is a being, more elevated, more divine, inspired with the sentiment of the Infinite, penetrated with the true divine and human nature, and consequently man and God together, speaking in the name of God, and announcing to men, that a new man must be born in them if they would live and not die. The regeneration, which Jesus represents in this form, is then a spiritual renovation of man, a psychological resurrection. Return into unity, into charity, into brotherly love, and you shall live. Understand the profound sense of the doctrine of Moses, and you shall live. Love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself, and you shall live. To all who ask Jesus how they shall attain to eternal life, he answers, "Enter into life." Life, in the divine sense in which he understands it, is identical with eternal life.

Thus it is according to the point of view where the mind places itself in the contemplation of this remarkable book which we call the Gospel, that Messiacal regeneration, or the kingdom of God, assumes three different forms which, so to speak, entwine one another, and although very distinct, if one separates them analytically, mingle synthetically together.

W. C. R.

  • Pierre Leroux and W. C. R. (translator), “Universal Regeneration,” The Present 1, no. 7-8 (January 15, 1844): 237-242.