For fuller reference and prerequisite, see the essays before this one similarly titled this week, daily installations.
STUDENT: Yes, that fits perfectly. I would like, however, to look into these possibly 3 ages remaining. That is, for the days of creation, as St. Augustine testified toward five ages for the Old Testament, he designates the sixth to the Church. The seventh is in some sense a Sabbath, but there is no eighth, which is to say, when we complete the beast king passage, it is not clear how to look at its eighth king either, like the eighth day of the resurrection of Our Christ. Toward that end, I must ask, whereas we have 5 ages in the Old Testament, how many are there really in the New Testament, by our models? That is, is there just the sixth, or also a seventh? No eighth?
TEACHER: Excellent question! It will turn out that there really are eight total ages in history, that is, our five already in the Old Testament, and then three in the New Testament.
Toward that end, let us work out the ages of the New Testament now that we are here. Well, again, the pattern is sunset, sunrise, and so forth. Which is to say, darkness, light, darkness, light...
Therefore, the sixth age must be comprised a primary New Testament age of darkness, followed by light.
STUDENT: Right, and it would seem that right after Jesus came, the great age of darkness that we are aiming at is pagan Rome and its vicious persecutions of Christians. Indeed, the pagans resisted conversion for a great time, some three centuries.
TEACHER: You are exactly correct! The one king that “is”, mentioned right after the five that have “fallen”, is clearly pagan Rome, and you accurately described its nature: an Empire that misunderstands Christians and lashes out against them, resisting conversion. Of course, this gave way to light: Constantine, and the conversion of the Empire.
STUDENT: I agree! The Edict of Milan constitutes an incomprehensible transition of all human history. At this juncture, much of the known world will be transformed from the darkness of paganism into the light of the Gospel. Here, however, the question remains: we speak of the light of the sixth day, and if, as you say, two more darknesses remain, what are they, and how can we really delineate them? By that I mean, the Church has faced innumerable obstacles since Rome was converted. At what point can we say that the light of the sixth day has set and it is darkness again, the seventh day, or beyond?
TEACHER: Excellent question. In short, what we will find is that the sun does not set again til our modern time, roughly the 20th century. The way to look at it is, “light” does not necessarily mean bright and unobscured. After all, imperfect days have rain, clouds, etc.
STUDENT: Ah, yes, so in other words, if there is still gray in the sky, or even twilight, it is still light.
TEACHER: Yep, you got it. Hence, as we move through Church history, we can say that as long there is still some light, if even natural, in her primary spiritual oppositions of any age, we are still in the sixth day.
STUDENT: Good, so what would we say the major oppositions have been since pagan Rome?
TEACHER: Well, that is a good question. I would say that the key is to look at the bigger picture of the ages and not get distracted. When we do that, a definitive pattern emerges: the devil is taking pot shots at the least evident source of Catholic truth and moving down to the most evident source. In that way, truth peels off little by little, like knocking off layers of a pyramid.
STUDENT: Sounds interesting. What are these sources and how they are stacked?
TEACHER: They are stacked as follows: at the top, truth is greater, but evidence is weaker. As you go down, truth decreases but evidence for legitimacy increases:
1. Trinity and Incarnation
2. Supreme Apostolic Successor [the Pope]
3. General Apostolic Succession [the Bishops] and Sacred Tradition [the Oral Word of God]
4. Scripture [the Written Word of God]
5. Reason [unaided Natural Philosophy]
STUDENT: You are absolutely right, for as I journey through history and think of the primary doctrinal attacks on the Church, they simply DO go right down the line, as follows:
1. After Pagan Rome, the majority of the primary heresies afflicting the Church until the Schism were mainly attacking God in His special nature as Triune and Incarnate: Arianism, Monophysitism, Monothelyte heresy, Nestorianism. Too, Islam culminated these: it totally denied the Trinity and Incarnation and if that were not enough, it went on to suggest a Revelation beyond Jesus, the Quran, which Arianism, while also denying the Trinity and Incarnation, did not. Too, even iconoclasm is an affront to God, since, it involves the interpretation of the First Commandment which is to have no other gods before Him, sacred images. Yes, it definitely fits.
2. Then, the next great attack was clearly the Great Schism, which assaulted Peter, just down underneath God.
3. As for the next great attack, really, in the Middle Ages, Albigensianism or the Catharsist heresy are minor. Clearly, the next great disturbance is the moral fall of the clergy in the late Middle Ages, paving the way for the big one, the Protestant Rebelllion, and lo and behold, the ultimate thing that all Protestants have in common is in contesting the General Bishops and Sacred Tradition.
4. By golly, it just keeps going: the Protestants confounding of the Scriptures only served to make humanity doubt the veracity of Scripture, which gave rise to a general climate of solo-Ratio, the natural digression from the Protestants’ counterpart rallying-cry, sola-Scriptura.
5. Finally, in the 20th century, even Reason dives, and we have total apostasy, as in atheism [which is irrational since it denies God, who can be known from Reason alone, Vatican I] in the East and relativism [which is irrational since it denies objective truth] and materialism in the West.
It all fits!
TEACHER: Yes, it does, like I said. Too, note that in all but the last, there is some light, even if only natural.
STUDENT: Yes. We can go through it:
The heresies against God’s special nature still leave much light: All but Islam still have Scripture and Tradition in some senses. As heretics, they would still have two sacraments: Baptism and Marriage. Even Islam is supernatural light: a Judeo-Christian shell and belief in the necessity of revelation and assistance. Schism? Ditto, the Orthodox are practically Catholic, like a bright sun with a little cloud to the side. Protestantism is bringing in rain and sadness, but still much supernatural light: most of Scripture and two sacraments: Baptism and Marriage. Protestants, for all the rhetoric some may spout at us, are NOT devil’s children; they are God’s children, and just misguided. Even, too, in the Enlightenment and the general age characterized merely by natural light, especially reason, it is like a dim twilight: deists and rationalists still hold to a Creator and some sense of natural law, usually. And even when Reason later became diverted away from supernaturally dead infidelity and towards merely this world, still Reason directed toward science, math, psychology and economics, is aimed at truths and things that concern a reflection of the divine, for the Created order and its laws and relationships were made by God and so reflect the Divine Wisdom. Hence, man’s pursuit of the truths of chemistry, and biology, and geology, and economic theory, the maths, and the psychological order, are already approaching God. Hence, only when man, in the 20th century, sheds reason in diabolical horror with atheism in the East and relativism in the West, was there no longer any light left in the sky, sparing the nightly luminaries.
So you were right; after the sun rises with Constantine, it does not set until our modern time.
(for full reference, see Theology of the Ages - The Joyful Mysteries as Image of the Whole of Salvation History)