This year, May 12 marks the fourteenth anniversary of the death of the founding general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, Dr. Rollin A. Lasseter. An inspiring teacher, poet, convert to the Catholic faith, as well as a faithful husband, loving father, and a fast friend, Dr. Lasseter also provided the vision that has inspired the Project from its founding in 2000 to this day. We offer here his reflections on history that we include in every volume of our history series. May Dr. Lasseter rest in peace.
History is a treasure chest of riches. In its stories are the most exciting, the saddest and the happiest moments of human life. All the great souls and heroes of the world are to be met in the pages of a good history book.
A Christian interpretation of History is the story of God’s love for mankind. As a long and complex story, it can tell of tragedies as well as comedies, of famines as well as feasts, of exiles and homecomings, defeats and victories. There is among the many stories of history some story to entertain or to edify everyone. But over all, the story of history is the tale of God’s acts in time and space, the story of rebellious mankind, and the Mercy of God for human folly. History is a story, a story of hope.
However, events in our own time tend to leave most people in fear of the future, despite the watchword of our culture, which remains: “Progress! Be always Optimistic!” Current secular ideologies have given “history” a god-like power, that makes sometimes wild proclamations: “Someday, History will look back and say...”; or “History will show the wisdom of...”; or “History will prove he was right...”; or “History will leave this ‘whatever’ behind in the dust of the ages.” This ideological sense of the name “History” is more than a little idolatrous in its foolish optimism. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has written in several places about “optimism” as but a shallow mockery of Hope.
The evidence of the stories that come down to us from the ancient world and the medieval era do not promise all good endings. Humanity makes costly mistakes. Great men and women pay for those mistakes with their lives. Great empires collapse. Utopias are not realistic, nor realized.
The Hope that the Christian Faith offers is more than an optimistically happy ending. The end of history will be the return of Our Lord in Glory and the end of time. Providence does not mean every time a happy ending—only a blessed one. It is God’s abiding care and love, in History and in individual lives. It is the vision of the perfection in Christ to which all people are called, not just what society and cultures—however great—have been.
May you, the readers of this book, young and old, find in its tales the traces of that Providence that keeps all of us safe in his Everlasting Arms.
(Dr. Lasseter’s volume of poetry, The Cast of Valor, is available from St. Augustine’s Press.)
A Meditation on Death
The Funeral Ikos, by English composer John Tavener.