omnibus omnia

History as Christian Vocation

In Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, Faith, God, History, Jesus, Logic, Opinion, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Society, Spirituality, Theology, Thomism, Thoughts, Tradition on August 11, 2007 at 14:26

Every Christian is by necessity a historian, a student and transmitter of history, for her Faith is at heart, a historical religion. At its core lies the affirmation that the eternal, trans-historical God, the Maker and Sustainer of human history, became a part of that history, a human being named Yehoshua (or Yeshua), Son of Miryam, in a specific place and time within a particular socio-cultural milieu –1st century Palestine, with its syncretism of Hebraist, Persian, and Greco-Hellenistic elements within the political framework of Roman clientship, Herodian dynasticism, and Judaeo-ecclesiastical power.

Christianity therefore calls her to believe not merely in a series of abstract intellectual principles and moral precepts–the existence of God, human dignity and freedom, the demand for justice–but in a constellation of historical assertions, centering on Yeshua, but extending to preceding Jewish and Gentile history, and to the subsequent history of the Church, the community of Christian believers.

So long as there is an unreserved “obedience of the understanding”, a knowledge of that history is not deemed absolutely essential to salvation, save as to the central facts of the life of Yeshua; but belief in every article of the Creed, obedience of every commandment, the conduct of every act of worship, is rooted in that history and contains an implicit affirmation of its truth; and every explanation, defense, deepening of Christian religious heritage requires, at some point, a return to the historical foundations of Christianity.

The vocation of the Christian historian, the believer who makes it a point to study and understand the temporal roots of her Faith, is therefore a vital munus, a mission and ministry, within the greater munus of the Apostolic Church. Being mission and ministry, it therefore implies a twofold dignity that is both freedom and responsibility: The Christian historian must remain a Christian, and must affirm the historical and trans-historical assertions upon which her Faith rests; this provides freedom from needless doubt, freedom from the need to speculate on the origin, meaning, and purpose of human life, but entails the concomitant responsibility to stand by that Faith and proclaim it without compromise or question.

At the same time, she must be truly a historian, basing her historical findings on the evidence and method of her research; this provides an intellectual freedom to speculate and explore, but also imposes the responsibility to adhere to historical methodology, and to stand by the historical conclusions that are thus reached. These are both based on her Faith, which calls her to fearlessly believe that its assertions will stand the test of inquiry, and that the conclusions of doctrinal tradition and historical science can therefore never truly be inconsistent.

These, in turn, are ultimately based on the ancient idea that truth cannot contradict truth, and on the likewise ancient Christian notion that the same God Who created the capacity to believe also created the capacity to think, that the same God, the source and standard of truth, revealed both the data of Faith and the facts gleaned by Reason, and that Faith and Reason can hence never truly be contradictory.

This does not mean, of course, that apparent contradictions will not come into view. Indeed, they have often appeared in the past, in those days when Babylon and Assyria were both believed to be myth for lack of independent (i.e., non-Biblical) verification, when Pontius Pilatus was considered a figment of Christian imagination, when St. Augustine’s theory of the evolution of germinal to higher forms was considered errant nonsense, when Creation from nothing contradicted the apparent eternity of the world.

Consistently, those doubts were later resolved in favor of the traditional Christian assertions, after archaeological, palaeontological and astrophysical exploration uncovered evidence-sand-covered cities, etched names, evolving animal forms, and cosmic expansion from a primeval Big Bang-that showed the lack of any real contradiction. There is no sinecure, however, in the triumphs of the past, for history moves forward, and new questions will arise to which Faith and Reason, following their respective methods, will initially give inconsistent answers.

In those times, the Christian historian must be faithful to the dual dignity she chose, and must strive to reconcile both; but when that is impossible with her methods and the facts at her disposal, as a Christian first, she must acknowledge the supremacy of Revelation: she must affirm the truths of Faith, which have the infallible guarantee of God’s direct revelation and guidance, over Reason, which is subject to human error in method, ignorance in premises, and prideful obstinacy or innocent mistake in conclusions.

At the same time, she must faithfully record her findings as a historian, explaining the methods of her search and the bases of her conclusions, explaining too that they apparently contradict the infallible content of her Faith, always confident that better methods, new data, and wiser minds will someday prove that history and Christian belief actually express the same truth. Till then she must bear with the criticisms of both her fellow historians and fellow believers, endure even the anguish of doubt in her soul. Such is the price of truth; and to be Christian is to affirm the truth even at the cost of death, in union with Yeshua, the Logos made human flesh, Who spoke truth even in the face of execution. Such would be the cross of the Christian historian; and given her task, such too would be her salvation.

 

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