Wednesday, May 25, 2016

History is Hard

I'm currently working through Origen's Against Celsus, the first serious apology written by a Christian to a Platonic Pagan antagonist. Anyway, this quote stood out:

"We have to remark that the endeavor to show, with regard to almost any history, however true, that it actually occurred, and to produce an intelligent conception regarding it, is one of the most difficult undertakings that can be attempted, and is in some instances an impossibility." (Book I Ch. XLII)

 As an academically trained historian, this is too true. Trying to explain this to most people who still have positivistic notions of historical inquiry (i.e. history just objectively explains what 'happened') is tough. As the Christian faith rests upon the historical inbreaking of the trans-historical and meta-historical (i.e. God exists beyond time and yet, in the Son, enters into time fully through His dealings with man and, ultimately, in the Incarnation). Thus, Christians who are intellectually involved in their faith cannot be lax about history. Origen continues:

"But he who deals candidly with histories, and would wish to keep himself also from being imposed upon by them, will exercise his judgment as to what statements he will give his assent to, and what he will accept figuratively, seeking to discover the meaning of the authors of such inventions [Origen's referring to Greek myths -cal], and from what statements he will withhold his belief, as having been written for the gratification of certain individuals. And we have said this by way of anticipation respecting the whole history related in the Gospels concerning Jesus, not as inviting men of acuteness to a simple and unreasoning faith, but wishing to show that there is need of candour in those who are to read, and of much investigation, and, so to speak, of insight into the meaning of the writers, that the object with which each event has been recorded may be discovered."
This is not to say that Christians ought to merely compromise with whatever the ethos of the day is. However, it requires a kind of divine humility to acutely listen to the complaints of critics and to walk with them through their criticisms. Instead of a stupid God's Not Dead approach that is antagonistic, Origen councils a peaceableness. Origen lived in a time of actual persecution, was the head of a school, and was thorougly entrenched in the intellectual climate of the day. He was a lot more embattled than the idiotic Evangelicalism of America, with its fat-hearted sense of privilege. And yet, Origen is able to remain calm, with a firm confidence that Truth vindicates Itself. He is patient and discerning enough to grant that even what the Pagans believe have fragments of truth, and is willing to take the time to decipher what good may lie underneath!

May all who have an interest in history have the same heart as Origen, a true saint of God.

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