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Can There Be a Catholic History?

Discussion in 'One Bread, One Body - Catholic' started by Michie, Jan 21, 2021.

  1. Michie

    Michie Human rights begin in the womb. Supporter

    United States
    Some years ago, in a conversation with a non-Catholic woman of my acquaintance, I mentioned how I made my living. “I write Catholic history texts,” I told her. With head cocked and a challenge in her eyes, she asked, “Catholic history? What is that? How can history be Catholic?”

    It was a good question, and I confess that, at first, I was uncertain how I would answer it. I said something like, “Catholic history is not Church history. It is history written from a Catholic perspective”; but that did not satisfy her. The more I tried to explain what I meant by a Catholic historical perspective, the less comprehending she seemed to grow. The fault was mine, for my explanations were unclear. The conversation ended with a shoulder shrug of incomprehension on her part, and I was left to ruminate on my own confusion.

    The woman’s question and my failure to answer it adequately were, however, salutary. It forced me to think about what I meant by the phrase, “a Catholic perspective on history.” Today, if I were asked the question (“What is it?”), I could give a better answer.

    This essay is may attempt to give that better answer. But first I shall reformulate the question that begs an answer.

    What Is Catholic History?
    What, indeed, is “Catholic history”? How can we speak of a Catholic telling of history? Does not the idea of Catholic history seem as absurd as the idea of Catholic mathematics or Catholic astronomy? After all, facts are facts. Some facts are religious facts, perhaps, but not all facts are religious; nor do all facts seem to have any necessary relation to religion. We do not need divine revelation to prove the Pythagorean theorem or to explain the movement of the spheres. Do we need it to discern and discuss the causes and effects of, say, Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon or Napoleon’s invasion of Russia? On the face of it, the answer seems to be no.

    Of course, unlike mathematics or astronomy, some disciplines seem susceptible of falling under the religious ambit. For instance, we speak sometimes of “Catholic philosophy.” Yet one might object that even here, the Catholic epithet is misapplied. For though we might call philosophy the “handmaiden of theology,” it is only so in providing us a framework and a vocabulary of concepts by which we can better access divine revelation. In this way, it serves theology.

    Still, in its relation at least to a theological expression of religion, philosophy differs from mathematics and astronomy in one important respect. It often covers the same subject matter: metaphysics, in particular, and ethics — even politics. Indeed, divine revelation may be a help to philosophy, for it might show us natural truths in moral matters or metaphysics we might not otherwise discover by reason unaided. Nevertheless, if such truths are based merely on revelation, they are only materially philosophical. Whatever is a matter of natural knowledge must be rooted in and demonstrable from rational premises accessible to the human mind unaided by revelation before it can be properly philosophical. Thus, if we call a philosophy “Catholic,” we mean only that it is in some measure inspired by or in accord with a Catholic conception of the world.

    Continued below.
    Can There Be a Catholic History? - Homiletic & Pastoral Review
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