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Why Study Christian History? (Part 2)

Here’s the second in a series of brief reflections on history by American historians. What they say about the study of America’s past applies all the more to our interest in the Church’s past. Today’s excerpts I’ve taken from an informal address by David McCullogh, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize (and a Pittsburgh native). The address, titled “Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are,” was delivered in 2005. As you read Dr. McCullough’s words, think about the debt of gratitude we owe the Church Fathers, and about our duty to teach their history to the next generation of Christians — especially young children.

Daniel Boorstin … said that trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers. We’re raising a lot of cut flowers [today] and trying to plant them…

[There is no] such creature as a self-made man or woman. We love that expression, we Americans. But every one who’s ever lived has been affected, changed, shaped, helped, hindered by other people … The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted — as we should never take for granted — are all the work of other people who went before us. And to be indifferent to that isn’t just to be ignorant, it’s to be rude. And ingratitude is a shabby failing. How can we not want to know about the people who have made it possible for us to live as we live?…

[W]e have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed. This is essential. We have to value what our forebears … did for us, or we’re not going to take it very seriously, and it can slip away. If you don’t care about it … you’re going to lose it…

The teaching of history, the emphasis on the importance of history, the enjoyment of history, should begin at home. We who are parents or grandparents … should be talking about those books in biography or history that we have particularly enjoyed, or that character or those characters in history that have meant something to us … Children, particularly little children, love this. And in my view, the real focus should be at the grade school level. We all know that those little guys can learn languages so fast it takes your breath away. They can learn anything so fast it takes your breath away. And the other very important truth is that they want to learn. They can be taught to dissect a cow’s eye. They can be taught anything.

Dr. McCullough’s predecessor in this occasional series was Victor Davis Hanson.

One thought on “Why Study Christian History? (Part 2)

  1. La Verita! Just finished part I of a formation course in Ga. Began with a Tree and placed leaves of those who came before us that “affected, changed, shaped, helped” us in our particular work. Of course, one runs out of leaves and time. Mike, keep remindinding us that “we stand on the shoulders of the past”. Anna

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