Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on “Learning Humility through Church History” by Jason Duesing, vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Seminary. To read other articles in this series, click here.
The study of the history of Christianity gives proper perspective to one’s place in history. In 12th century England, John of Salisbury spoke of a man who understood well his place in history. He said that this man, “used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” In the same way, the study of church history teaches us that we are merely standing on the shoulders of the giants of the faith that preceded us.
There are many in days gone by who believed wrong things about God, and with whom we would easily disagree. However, given the knowledge available and the faith they expressed as a result, they stood as giants of light in an often dark and theologically murky world. This should warn students that if they see any more clearly today it is because they are standing on the foundation that their forefathers’ lives of faith built, even with the errors, and not because of the students’ own creative understanding of orthodoxy. The study of Christian history not only helps give the student the humility required to view the past and critique errors, but also to find value in and appreciate the error makers.
The study of Christian history not only helps give the student the humility required to view the past and critique errors, but also to find value in and appreciate the error makers.