Christianity is, always, the redemption of a point, of one particular point. “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” In this sense there is nothing but now; there is no duration. We have nothing to do with duration, and yet (being mortal) we have to do with nothing but duration; between those contrasts also all the history and doctrine of Christendom lies. . . .
The Epistles of St. Paul carry that Now to the highest point of exploration and of expression. But already in the Epistles themselves something else has come in. “It is!” they said, but then they had to go on Saying “It is!” Time existed, and time itself had, as it were to be converted, to be rededicated towards the thing out of time. Not only so, but it had to be converted in the case of every individual Christian. We have often been told how the Church expected the Second Coming of Christ immediately, and no doubt this was so in the ordinary literal sense. But it was certainly expected also in another sense. The converts in all the cities of Asia and (soon) of Europe where the small groups were founded had known, in their conversion, one way or another, a first Coming of their Redeemer. And then? And then! That was the consequent task and trouble—the then. He had come, and they adored and believed, they communicated and practised, and waited for his further exhibition of himself. The then lasted, and there seemed to be no farther equivalent Now. Time became the individual and Catholic problem. The Church had to become as catholic—as universal and as durable—as time.
Time has been said to be the great problem for philosophers; nor is it otherwise with the believers. How, and with what, do we fill time? How, and how far, do we pass out of time? The apostates are only those who abandon the problem; the saints are only those who solve it. The prayer for final perseverance which the Church so urgently recommends is but her passion for remaining faithful, at least, to the problem—of refusing to give it up. What are the relations between that Now and the consequent Then? what are the conditions of the relation–not what ought to be, but what are? “The conversion of time by the Holy Ghost” is the title of the grand activity of the Church.
In the first century, in the Apostolic age itself, that time which the Church was to redeem was already becoming the bane of the Church. The first division between the Church and what has been called the Kingdom began to exist. The Kingdom—or, apocalyptically, the City—is the state into which Christendom is called; but, except in vision, she is not yet the City. The City is the state which the Church is to become. In the impact of Messias, in the evocation of her elements, in the impact of the Spirit, in the promulgation of her unity, she for a moment, was one with her state. But she was too soon all but divided from her state. It was inevitable; had it not been so, she would have had no reason for existing. Her reason is not only in the error of the world; it is in her own error. Her error is her very opportunity for being. That is what she is about.
Time then existed, and she reconciled herself to it.