The Lord of History
We often treat Christmas as another occasion for a Hallmark greeting card. Is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem historical, or is it a pious myth? Here are several points for consideration.
History is serious entertainment.
History books fill personal and public libraries. The great men of history help us understand the direction of historical events. The humble appreciation of history undergirds self-understanding and our destiny.
The arrogance of individuals distorts the path of history.
Sinful pride places a disproportionate emphasis on personal, tribal, and national history. Vice often accompanies the virtues of great men. In leadership, one man’s steely resolve is another man’s arrogant and misdirected vice. General George Patton may have been arrogant, but his military genius and resolve helped win the war in Europe. U.S. Grant’s military genius and resolve finished off Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, but his arrogant and futile assault on Cold Harbor outside of Richmond delayed the victory until 1865.
Cultural and national arrogance abound throughout history.
Our rulers necessarily appeal to our self-interests and history. National self-interest and strategic objectives are essential and not necessarily evil. Even the inability of most Americans to appreciate how others see our country is natural and understandable. The division between healthy national interest and cultural arrogance is elusive. Unrestrained cultural and national arrogance begins with economic exploitation and often ends in war. The honest study of history is an examination of conscience.
We need an understanding of history to grasp the meaning of words.
The Woke movement attempts to cancel history and tears down reminders of our past. Many essential terms-—isolated from historical context—have lost their defining impact. So most young adults do not understand the meaning of words such as “gulag” because many schools severed the history of Communist tyranny from textbooks. The growing inability to grasp the meaning of words helps us understand that a “fundamental transformation” of our history threatens our liberty and civilization.
A common phrase encapsulates cultural arrogance.
We often use a simple phrase to justify immorality and reject history: “This is the 21st Century!” Even high-ranking Church officials suggest, with breath-taking arrogance, that modern anthropological studies will change historical Church teaching. The human price of severing ourselves from history is steep. We have space travel, computers, and health care that kings and queens of centuries past would envy. But we do not know who we are. How else can we explain this now-routine question on medical questionnaires: What is your sex assigned at birth? The claim of politically-correct cultural supremacy undermines self-understanding.
History is like an irregular heartbeat.
History often needs shock treatment to get it back into the correct rhythm. Marxism promises a solution to historical woes: Cancel the past and replace it with a glorious future according to the dictates of powerful elites. It’s happening today across the world and within the Church. The proposal is utopian and ends in tyranny. So we must look elsewhere for a solution that protects human dignity.
Christianity offers us a view of history to evaluate all historical developments.
The evangelists and early Christians were humble and honest historians. They fearlessly reported the genealogy of Jesus, which included saints and sinners, and accurately depicted his messengers—the Apostles—including their sins. The Cross is hardly the stuff of huckster advertising.
Yet the Resurrection fulfills all of Scripture. In the Gospels, we hear a litany-like repetition of the phrase, “So that Scriptures may be fulfilled.” Portions of Mary’s Magnificat prayer of joy are rooted in Old Testament prayers. Jesus prays the Psalms on the Cross. The references reinforce the unity of the Old Testament with the New Testament and restore the integrity of salvation history from start to finish.
The humility of the early Christians enhances the reliability of Biblical history.
“So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’” (Acts 17:22-23) The early Christians didn’t cancel history but evaluated the past by the Word.
Ancient civilizations challenge modern arrogance.
Among the discolored ruins in Athens ravaged by time, the custodians provide a bright white recently-hewn block of marble. The unweathered stone provokes the imagination and allows us to visualize the glorious remnants as brightly elegant, unique structures that rival the splendor of modern skyscrapers. The ancients were hardly our inferiors in construction management. Confidence in ancient history helps us dismiss the false promises of Marxism that place faith in relentless human progress. History teaches: Been there, done that.
An anecdotal argument, to be sure.
However, that bright white piece of marble also suggests that ancient Gospel historians were not, by default, inferior to modern progressives. The truth of honest testimony is immutable. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)
The Church safeguards the integrity of salvation history.
The deposit of faith of the Church—rooted in Scripture and Sacred Tradition—guarantees the unity of all of history and carefully guards the eternal truths of the Gospel. The Apostles’ Creed summarizes history from start to finish. The “one, holy, Catholic Church” delivers the Word until the end of time. Jesus is the Lord of history. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. (cf. Rev. 22:13)
The saving history of Jesus critiques all of history—individual and collective. Confident in the Word, we encounter Him throughout history in the Sacraments and realize our worth in His eyes. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
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