Mike Aquilina

Why Study Christian History? (Part 1)

Sunday July 02nd 2006, 1:40 am

I’m planning to direct your attention, every now and then, to the great contemporary historians who are urging us to turn to the past, to study the past, to learn from the past, and to be grateful for our past. What they say about American history or world history applies all the more to early Church history. Consider Victor Davis Hanson, who last year published a little essay titled “What Happened to History?” The following are outtakes. Their application to the study of the Fathers should be self-evident.

Our society suffers from the tyranny of the present. Presentism is the strange affliction of assuming that all our good things were created by ourselves — as if those without our technology who came before us lacked our superior knowledge and morality…

We rarely mention our forebears … Public acknowledgment of prior generations characterized the best orations of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, who looked for guidance from, and gave thanks to, their ancestors…

To appreciate the value of history, we must also accept that human nature is constant and fixed across time and space. Our kindred forefathers in very dissimilar landscapes were nevertheless subject to the same emotions of fear, envy, honor and shame as our own…

Reverence for those who came before us ensures humility about our own limitations. It restores confidence that far worse crises than our own … were endured by those with far less resources at their disposal. By pondering those now dead, we create a certain pact: that we, too, will do our part for another generation not yet born to enjoy the same privilege … which at such great cost was given to us by others whom we have all but now forgotten.