“The secular historian should be filled with universal human sympathy, the church historian with universal Christian sympathy. The motto of the former is: Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto (“I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”); the motto of the latter: Christianus sum, nihil Christiani a me alienum puto (“I am a Christian, I consider nothing that is Christian alien to me”). —Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church
—The Father of History
History is like life; it’s sequential, but it’s also full of variety, full of life.
The Greek historian Herodotus (484-414 BC), known as the “Father of History,” wrote about ancient Egypt, Persia, and Greece. It has been said of him that he broke new ground in his histories in that he didn’t merely sequentially document facts concerning the war between Persia and Greece, he dug deeper examining the causes of the war. He incorporated into his accounts surrounding information that shed light on the conduct of the war and the personalities of those who waged it. That’s what makes Herodotus a good read; he didn’t just record events, he went below the surface to find the reasons and motives behind the events. Herodotus brought history to life!
The word “histories” in Greek means “inquiries”. To inquire means a whole lot more than documenting places, dates, and events. To inquire is to ask questions, to interrogate. “What happened” is the event. But a good historian asks, “Why did that happen?” What makes for good history is when the historian “inquires” into the underlying causes that move people to act in any given time or place. It’s not so much the locations and dates which create the events, but the thinking, beliefs, and character of the people. The study of history is essentially the study of man and his beliefs; the events are the results of those beliefs.
What should characterize the historian, history buffs too, are empathy and a love for humanity, in spite of all its faults (Re-read Schaff’s quote at the beginning of this article).
—Fathers of Church History
One field of historical studies deals with the history of Christianity – “Church History.” Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, in Palestine, contemporary of Constantine the Great, wrote a ten volume church history covering the years from the birth of Christ to 324. This work has been praised because of the author’s moderation and love of the truth and have won Eusebius the title, “Father of Church History.”
In the nineteenth century another Church Historian, a Professor of Church History in Berlin, took pen in hand, August Neander, and for his work he has been labeled the “father of modern church history.” One of his students describes him as “…a child in spirit, a giant in learning, and a saint in piety, led back the study of history from the dry heath of rationalism to the fresh fountain of divine life in Christ, and made it a grand source of edification as well as instruction for readers of every creed. His General History of the Christian Religion and Church…is distinguished for thorough and conscientious use of the sources, critical research, ingenious combination, tender love of truth and justice, evangelical catholicity, hearty piety, and by masterly analysis of the doctrinal systems and the subjective Christian life of men of God in past ages. The edifying character is not introduced from without, but naturally grows out of his conception of church history, viewed as a continuous revelation of Christ’s presence and power in humanity, and as an illustration of the parable of the leaven which gradually pervades and transforms the whole lump. The political and artistic sections, and the outward machinery of history, were not congenial to the humble, guileless simplicity of Neander. His style is monotonous, involved, and diffuse, but unpretending, natural, and warmed by a genial glow of sympathy and enthusiasm. It illustrates his motto: Pectus est quod theologum facit”
That Latin phrase translates, “The Heart Makes the Theologian.” No wonder his work touched hearts!
The combinations of heart and head make history live! We can see this vividly illustrated when we compare and contrast Neander with one of his contemporaries, J. C. L. Gieseler, the Professor of Church History in Göttingen.
Both worked on their valuable Church histories at the same time. Gieseler, however, wrote under the influence of German rationalism, a philosophy which affected his narrative. He didn’t have the heart of a Neadner, so his writings, though valuable, were dry and uninspiring.
“From Gieseler…a profoundly learned, acute, calm, impartial, conscientious, but cold and dry scholar, we have a Textbook of Church History from the birth of Christ to 1854. The skeleton-like text presents, indeed, the leading facts clearly and concisely, but does not reach the inward life and spiritual marrow of the church of Christ. The theological views of Gieseler hardly rise above the jejune rationalism of Wegscheider, to whom he dedicated a portion of his history; and with all his attempt at impartiality he cannot altogether conceal the negative effect of a rationalistic conception of Christianity, which acts like a chill upon the narrative of its history, and substitutes a skeleton of dry bones for a living organism.”
“Neander and Gieseler matured their works in respectful and friendly rivalry, during the same period of thirty years of slow, but solid and steady growth. The former is perfectly subjective, and reproduces the original sources in a continuous warm and sympathetic composition, which reflects at the same time the author’s own mind and heart; the latter is purely objective, and speaks with the indifference of an outside spectator, through the ipsissima verba of the same sources, arranged as notes, and strung together simply by a slender thread of narrative. The one gives the history ready-made, and full of life and instruction; the other furnishes the material and leaves the reader to animate and improve it for himself. With the one, the text is everything; with the other, the notes. But both admirably complete each other, and exhibit together the ripest fruit of German scholarship in general church history in the first half of the nineteenth century.”
—You’ve Gotta Have Heart
The lesson of Neander applies to all of life. In sports they tell you, “You’ve gotta have heart”; in music, “You’ve gotta have heart”; the list of fields go on – you’ve got to have heart in just about every endeavor or it will be cold, mechanical, and uninspiring. This means, sticking with the athlete and musician analogies, you have to know more than the technicalities of the game or the music, you’ve got to play them with passion, with heart.
In life, “It’s the heart that makes the man or woman.”
Just as historians with heart inspire readers, people who live with heart will inspire observers.
Are you inspiring people?