Why study the Past?
As one who has a great love of history, I was delighted to delve into Church History while at college. At the time I had just a vague idea of people who had played their part in the Church, and in all honesty, a Christian does not need a deep understanding of how the Church developed after the time of the Acts of the Apostles.
Yet in his book ‘Why Study the Past?’, Rowan Williams gives some insight about how it can expand our understanding of our faith and the Body of Christ as we know it today. He says, ‘The Church claims to be the most comprehensive human society there is …. because of its belief that it is established not by human process but by God’s activity.’ It follows that the way God spoke to those Christians contributed something unique to their life and to the lives of those around them, and influenced the thinking and understanding of future generations.
Furthermore, it helps us to see that these historical figures were as flawed as any secular person in history, or as flawed as ourselves. History can, for the Christian ‘show the faithful coherence of God’s action and nature, [and] because the human record is anything but consistent, there [will always be] an element of inviting wonder at the capacity of God to maintain the steadiness of his work in the middle of earthly conflict and disruption’ (p9)
This is something that I am reminded of in very old churches like Holy Cross. For hundreds of years, through war, poverty, prosperity and plague, people good, bad and indifferent have come there to meet with God. All of us have brought our anxieties, our visions, our sorrows and joys to his feet, knowing that he hears us. His name is I AM, because he is the same God, unchanged throughtout the human story, relevant to every generation.
In every age the Church has faced difficulties, every age has brought its unique challenges to us Christians, ‘living as a foreign group throughout the world, distinguished by a common allegiance and consequent behaviour, at home everywhere and nowhere.’ (p37) The people of God are a uniquely supportive family. Think about it: who has given you support, encouragement and expanded your understanding of your faith over the past few years?
During this week I invite you to go back in time and explore with me the lives of four men, Basil the Great, St Augustine of Hippo, Anslem and Martin Luther. In this quest may we all find something reassuring, and also something that challenges us, so that we may grow in our understanding of our faith.