Chronological Snobbery

Posted on 17th July 2021 under The Rectory Bulletin

Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. (Deuteronomy 32:7)

I must confess I love the clanking, dusty, noisy past. I may be tapping away on a laptop, listening to some music from my phone, but I am under no illusions that something is better simply because it is new. The great joy of living in the twenty-first century is that behind us lies twenty centuries of Christian thought which has been weighed up, chewed over and thoroughly assessed. These greats of the past are still in print, and their wisdom is still of great relevance.

If you go to a rocky beach, you will soon find rock pools. Disconnected from the sea, they have their own little ecology but they will slowly evaporate and all will die. A form of Christianity which has lost its connection with the great sea of the past will suffer a similar fate. It is too shallow, and simply evaporates. In a well known quote, C S Lewis makes the point well:

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Oh Christian, you stand at the forefront of twenty centuries of the church! The pages of the past are written with tales of our spiritual forebears, and their words still ring clear. The history of the church is our family history, and enriches our experience of the present.

Be wary of falling for something simply because it’s new. Often it isn’t, it’s just something which was dismissed in the past and then forgotten.

Photo of Hereford Chained Library by oci4 on Flickr


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