Over the Christmas break, I was up north in my hometown visiting family. I was talking with my mom about history and the important tools of historiography. We weren’t talking about Church history, but the history of WWII. The discussion focused around how bad history from WWII was. At this point my mom remembered an episode from a history class that she took in University. The professor had told her class the following: “Since the year 1800, there has been no history, only journalism.”
When I heard this, I thought to myself how brilliant this was. Although, I had to think to myself that there was plenty of journalism before 1800. Pretty much the whole history of the Tudor family had been a battleground for Catholic vs. Protestant polemics. Of course, there was the journalism done by people like John Foxe, and other early Protestants who gave a false version of history that appeared to give Anglicanism legitimacy.
Even before the “reformation”, there was journalism from Islamic apologists. The most famous is of course the medieval Spanish Islamic theologian Ibn Hazm. He’s the one who’s responsible for the Islamic belief that the Christian and Jewish scriptures had been corrupted, which is something that has never been proven. Again, journalism, not history.
However, I have to be consistent here. I’ve accused the Anglicans and Muslims of journalism but are Catholics guilty of it as well. My favorite historian from the early Church is Eusebius of Caesarea. He wrote a history of the Church from the time of Christ to just before the Council of Nicaea.
Now, we don’t have the source material for his work on Church history. We know that he lived approximately from 260 to 340 AD and his Church history went from the time of Christ to 324 AD. Obviously he had access to sources that we didn’t have, but was he accurate in his history? The truth is, it’s hard to tell. One can probably reasonably assume that his history was more accurate from 200 to 300 AD than it was from 100 to 200 AD. Also, although Eusebius is the first Church historian, we have earlier writings before him which give us historical facts. To a large extent the sources do agree. Is he correct on the fine details though? Again, it’s hard to say.
Based on what I know, I would say that his work on Church history was just that, history. However, I’m willing to be corrected on this. Yesterday I slept in so I couldn’t go to the early mass so I went to the noon mass. This mass has many more people and some people took issue with what I had written about St. Thomas Aquinas and my post on how much power Islam wields. I have no problem with this. I love a good debate as long as it’s done in charity.
If any prominent Catholic historian is accused of journalism, I’d be willing to have a debate on whether it is or not. After all, Catholics are fallible when they write history and certainly when they engage in journalism.