History and Time: The Catholic Record

The early Church considered her own historical continuity to be a vital sign of authenticity, as shown in records of the apostolic succession of bishops. In c. 180 AD, for example, St. Irenaeus listed the bishops of Rome in unbroken succession from the time of Peter and Paul. Eusebius of Ceasarea (d.339), the ‘Father of Church History’, used a narrative genre for his Ecclesiastical History. He alos established the popularity of the chronicle (events arranged by a time line) and the universal chronicle ( a chronicle of the entire world).

The many great Catholic historian over the centuries include St Bede the Venerable (d. 738), the ‘Father of English History’, the Ven. Cardinal Baronius (d.1607) and John Lingard (d.1851) who argued that one of his chief duties as a historian was, “to weigh with care the value of the authorities on which I rely, and to watch with jealousy the secret workings of my own personal feelings and prepossesions”

Recent Catholic historians include Christopher Dawson (d.1970) and Eamon Duffy, who have transformed our understanding of the cultural role of religion and the history of the Reformation.

Along with history, Catholic civilization has also been fruitful on the philosophy and measurement of time. St. Augustine (d.430) was perhaps the first to grasp that time is relative, arguing that it does not make sense to ask what God was doing ‘before’ Creation. Boethius (d.524) gave a definition of eternity as “the complete possession all at once of endless life”. From the early Middle Ages, Church bells marked the passage of tie and the first clocks with mechanical escapements (producing a characteristic ‘tick-tock’) were used in cathedrals, monasteries and town halls by c.1200. Subsequent, highly complex clocks, such as Giovanni de Dondi’s Astrarium (1364), stimulated the development of mechanics and precision engineering.

The Catholics Luigi Lilio (d.1576) and Fr Christopher Clavius SJ (d. 1612) were architects of the Gregorian Calendar (1582), named after Pope Gregory XIII and now the principal calendar of the world.

Finally, the faith has also provided a central, fixed reference point for time, dividing history into BC (before Christ) and AD (in the year of the Lord)

Source: Lumen: The Catholic Gift to Civilisation, 2011 by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Pinsent, CTS publications

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