Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is History?

For centuries mankind has taken account of events in its history. These events and their impact have been passed down by word of mouth, have been recorded and studied, and have shaped the way we view ourselves and our culture. History is not just a combination of dates and facts, but rather it is the story of humanity where dates serve as benchmarks or milestones.

Is it possible to have both an unbiased and an accurate history?
Writers of History are limited by the perspective from which they view history. We discussed the events during and following October of 1492 as an example. From the perspective of a European, 1492 marked the “discovery” of America, which was soon viewed as an exotic land full of promise, adventure, and wealth. However, from the perspective of the native civilizations, 1492 began a long and destructive relationship with Europeans which included war, enslavement, disease, and oppression.

Historians must then try their best to incorporate various perspectives into a history that provides a “big picture”.

What is a Saint? Are the saints a biased lens through which to view the history of the Church?
Saints are simply individuals of heroic virtue that have led Christ-like lives. The Church holds them up of examples of how to follow Christ in every age and every place. For years the Church has used a formal canonization process to proclaim saints, but in he early Church sainthood was largely a matter of popular devotion rather than official declaration.

It should be noted that the Church does not “make” saints of people. Rather, she publicly recognizes that someone has become a saint. (Just like me recognizing that your uniform is red does not make it red, but rather points out what is already true.) Technically all those who are in heaven enjoying the beatific vision of God are saints – we may never know most of their names.

One might assume that saints will present only the “rosy” side of the Church and overlook any dark chapters in the Church’s history. They are, after all, the “heroes” of the Church. However, we must keep in mind that we are examining the writings of individuals who were simply members of the Church at the time of writing. No one is declared a saint until well after his or her death. Many saints (St. Joan of Arc, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and even St. Paul) were openly critical of the Church and often suffered ridicule for it. Yet their conviction was in loyalty to the Gospel and faithfully adhering to the example set by Jesus Christ.

Next time we will examine the notion of Salvation History vs. Secular History. Until then,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B.

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