Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chesterton was Right, Of Course!

A quote from History vs the Historians:

A boy cannot see the importance of Latin simply by learning Latin. But he might see it by learning the history of the Latins. Nobody can possibly see any sense in learning geography or in learning arithmetic – both studies are obviously nonsense. But on the eager eve of Austerlitz, where Napoleon was fighting a superior force in a foreign country, one might see the need for Napoleon knowing a little geography and a little arithmetic. I have thought that if people would only learn history, they would learn to learn everything else.

I did learn history, and I learned to learn everything else.

Including Latin.

To put it in its curtest form, my proposal is this: That we should not read historians, but history. Let us read the actual text of the times. Let us, for a year, or a month, or a fortnight, refuse to read anything about Oliver Cromwell except what was written while he was alive.

If you want to do this on the Middle Ages, you are very wise to know some Medieval Latin!

Now Dickens and Rossetti and Macaulay were very great men, and though none of them knew very much about the Middle Ages, their views on that time are bound to be interesting. But there is another humble class of men who might be allowed to tell us something about the Middle Ages. I mean the men who lived in the Middle Ages. There are in existence medieval memoirs – which are nearly as amusing as Pepys, and much more truthful. In England they are almost entirely unknown.

Now, if I cannot reliably do this with the Trojan War, some people saying that Darius the Phrygian's contemporary account was a later fake, if I cannot reliably do this with pre-Flood Wars, Genesis glossing over them and Mahabharata obviously written in a not just post-Flood, but post-Babel setting where Sanskrit had come into being, I can at least do the next best : NOT to look at them through the kind of moderns we are used to, but from the earliest epoch which had some record of them - that being Homer, perhaps 400 years after the Trojan War and he glosses over the fact of the Hittites, and Vyasa, perhaps rather more than 1000 years from the events he recalls, and he glosses over that a Flood had happened between Nod and India.

Third best is looking at how a later generation but not yet modern looked at things.

If St Augustine mentions Romulus, it is not to say "oh, look, these Pagans faked their own history or bungled the separation of facts from fiction" as a modern would, it is in order to say "the Pagans who loved Romulus thought he was a god because they loved him, but the disciples who were with Christ loved Him because He is God. And another Church Father mentions Hercules also not trying to stamp his Twelve labours (at least not all of them) as fiction, but in order to say "sure he was a strong man, but he was not a god".

In other words, the earliest Christians who thought about these matters did not say Pagans got history wrong, they only said Pagans got the theology wrong.

So do Pagans like Atheists to this day. Zola will get the theology of Lourdes wrong. A Marxist will get the Sun miracle at Fátima wrong. A Yugoslav Communist, whether Atheist or Serbian Orthodox is likely to get the character of Cardinal Stepinac wrong.

But Zola did not deny Lourdes had a rumour of miraculous healings. A Marxist will not deny the Fátima revelation "was purported to have happened" at same time nearly as Russian Revolution, the one known as October Revolution because it was during first thirteen days of Gregorian November that year. And a Yugoslav Communist will not deny that after the war, on 17 May 1945, Stepinac was arrested. He was released again 3 June. And: On September 1946 the Yugoslav authorities indicted Stepinac on multiple counts of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during wartime. On October 11, 1946, the court found Stepinac guilty of high treason and war crimes. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He served five years in the prison at Lepoglava until he was released in a conciliatory gesture by Tito, on condition that he either retire to Rome or be confined to his home parish of Krašić. He chose to stay in Krašić, saying he would never leave "unless they put me on a plane by force and take me over the frontier."

Even if they get some things wrong about history - making Stepinac basically an abettor of Ustaše crimes - they do not bungle all the facts.

Neither need we suppose more civilised Pagans in the time of Romulus or Trojan War bungled all the facts. Neither did early Christian authors suppose they had done so.

By the way, if you want to read more about Chesterton's view (I'll go back and enjoy that article presently), here is the link:

History Versus the Historians
by G.K. Chesterton
on The American Chesterton Society

Hans Georg Lundahl
Cergy St Christophe
St Catherine of Siena

Hat tip to Stephanie Mann for linking to the article: here.

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