History is the teacher of life, this professor would say, but “it has very few students!”
The pope revealed this feat this week when he addressed a group of Italian Church history teachers. He started his conversation with them referencing this Jesuit teacher and one of his favorite sayings: “That history is certainly the teacher of life, but also has very few students!”
The Holy Father lamented this fact — that so few of us learn from the lessons of history — saying that even just one lesson would be worthwhile: “It would be enough … if we were to learn to reflect with wisdom and courage on the dramatic effects and evils of war, of the many wars that have troubled the journey of humanity on this earth. Yet we do not learn!” he said.
The pope described our day as “disrupted” and “thirsting for truth,” saying that a passionate study of history would teach us much about today.
The Bishop of Rome went on to reflect on Christ as the Word of God who entered history and transforms it from within, the cornerstone of history.
“The ability to glimpse the presence of Christ and the path of the Church in history makes us humble, and it takes away from us the temptation to take refuge in the past to avoid the present,” he said.
In fact, Francis reflected, not a few somewhat agnostic scholars have found Christ in this way, “because history cannot be understood without this strength.”
Then the pope turned his attention back to the Jesuit historian, Fr. Giacomo Martina.
“I used to go and see Fr. Martina,” Francis said, “and he always advised concrete things: ‘Read this, read the other …’ And in this way I became enthusiastic about reading about history, and I also had the patience to read all of von Pastor’s histories of the popes, thanks to that advice. Thirty-seven volumes! And it did me good.”
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