Article ”Nostalgia and Exilic Christianity”

As in the expression “to leave is to die a little,” exile shares with death the sadness of bereavement, of losing a part of oneself or being drained of the very essence of life. The Merriam-Webster dictionary concisely defines exile as either a forced or voluntary “absence from one’s country or home.” But there remains the question of what it means for a person to have a home, both as an individual and as a member of a family or nation, and what it is that one has lost when being forced into exile. After all, it could mean a rather comfortable existence in another country or on the margins of a far-flung empire.

The story of the Jewish tribes in the Old Testament is woven on the theme of exile and homecoming, paradigmatic narratives for both Judaism and Christianity. But the biblical theme of exile is also common to the whole of humanity by the primordial expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the invitation to a restored and perfect communion with God.

The increasingly acute sense of the loss of Christendom is a source of pain to most Christian believers who take the heavenly Jerusalem seriously and who have not settled in Babylon as their permanent home. But a true Christian civilization is not an empire meant to control as much territory as possible. According to its own principles, it is the good diffused when individuals and groups labour to reach the city built by gold clear as crystal and gleaming with the splendour of God. It cannot be realised on earth, except at the end of times by divine intervention. Empires, kingdoms, and republics are only temporary approximations. Every victory and grand achievement of culture is, therefore, mingled with a particular sense of sadness. The realisation of the fleeting nature of human accomplishments is heightened by the longing for eternal perfection: the true home.

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