"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hermeneutics, History, and Historiography

As I noted recently, the problems of history remain, to my mind, among the greatest of the problems bedeviling East-West relations. I continue to think that many problems today in both Catholic and Orthodox circles, and in relations between them, are caused, in significant measure, by an ignorance of history as well as not infrequent distortions of it resulting from a lack of clear historiographical "guidelines" for attempting to tell that history in all its enormous complexity and messiness. This is also true, as I have often noted, in reference to Christian-Muslim history, especially that of the Crusades and in contemporary Orthodox-Muslim relations, on which I recently published a paper and about which I have a book coming out next year. Previously I have discussed some of these problems in reference to ecclesiological history, and, earlier, I made note of Francis Oakley's deeply disturbing discussion of how conciliar history and authority has been treated in the West since at least Constance. As Oakley puts it, the Latin Church has been successful in engaging in “a quite startling instance of institutional (and institutionally sponsored) forgetting” (2) about the teachings of the Council of Constance (1414–18). More recently Denis O'Brien has put the matter very nicely: the Catholic Church has a "strong sense of tradition and no sense of history."(Some of these thoughts were prompted by recently watching the Orthodox historian Sr. Vassa Larin here in an interesting presentation on the history of Byzantine liturgy)

Coming out early next year are several books that may help shed light on these problems. The first of these is David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited, 2nd. rev. ed (Cambridge UP, 2014), 720pp.

About this book we are told:
The past remains essential - and inescapable. A quarter-century after the publication of his classic account of man's attitudes to his past, David Lowenthal revisits how we celebrate, expunge, contest and domesticate the past to serve present needs. He shows how nostalgia and heritage now pervade every facet of public and popular culture. History embraces nature and the cosmos as well as humanity. The past is seen and touched and tasted and smelt as well as heard and read about. Empathy, re-enactment, memory and commemoration overwhelm traditional history. A unified past once certified by experts and reliant on written texts has become a fragmented, contested history forged by us all. New insights into history and memory, bias and objectivity, artefacts and monuments, identity and authenticity, and remorse and contrition, make this book once again the essential guide to the past that we inherit, reshape and bequeath to the future.

1 comment:

  1. During my time as an Evangelical, I made an important observation regarding history and church life. In my early 20s (in the early 80s), I was attending a large church in Ottawa, prominent in the history of fundamentalism, through which many people flowed due to the transience of university life and government work. My peers who had grown up in that congregation had, for a variety of reasons good and bad, a cohesion that was sometimes experienced as a clique. But it only took one week until there was someone looking to be a part of things more recent than me. In very little time, by turning toward each other, we reached critical mass and contributed new energy and vision to the congregation. One of our greatest assets is that we lacked the history of the cradle congregants.


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