Order and History, Eric Voegelin's five-volume study of how human and divine order are intertwined and manifested in history, has been widely acclaimed as one of the great intellectual achievements of our age.
In the fourth volume, The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin breaks with the course he originally charted for the series, in which human existence in society and the corresponding symbolism of order were to be presented in historical succession. The analyses in the three previous volumes remain valid as far as they go, Voegelin explains, but the original conception proved "untenable because it had not taken proper account of the important lines of meaning in history that did not run along lines of time."
The Ecumenic Age treats history not as a stream of human beings and their actions in time, but as the process of man's participation in a flux of divine presence that has eschatological direction. "The process of history, and such order as can be discerned in it," Voegelin writes, "is not a story to be told from the beginning to its happy, or unhappy, end; it is a mystery in process of revelation."
In the present volume, Voegelin applies his revised conception of historical analysis to the "Ecumenic Age," a pivotal period that extends roughly from the rise of the Persian Empire to the fall of the Roman. The age is marked by the advent of a new type of political unit—the ecumenic empire—achieved at the cost of unprecedented destruction. Yet the pragmatic destructiveness of the age is paralleled by equally unprecedented spiritual creativity, born from the need to make sense of existence in the wake of imperial conquest. These spiritual outbursts gave rise to the great ecumenic religions and raised fundamental questions for human self- understanding that extend into our historical present.