“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
–George Santayana, writer and philosopher
The above quote is attributed to Santayana in 1905, and has been paraphrased from its original form, which was: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
This quote is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill, who paraphrased it by saying in 1948: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
No matter which form of the above quotation we read, all our very good advice for modern Christians. A big problem in modern Christian teaching is an attempt to modernize Christianity, and thus lose important elements from the past.
Christians can be doomed to make mistakes already made by those before us and fail to gain the advantage of learning from them in avoiding such missteps.
On one hand, if we believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, we have to be careful with trying to modernize anything. We risk twisting the Scriptures away from their original meaning.
A huge mistake Christians make is reading the Bible through a modern worldview. When reading the Bible, context is everything. Some people make the mistake of interpreting the words of the Bible literally. The first problem with that approach is that the meaning of words changes over time.
A second, further complication is that of making sure to read the verse in the context of the other words before and after a particular verse. One needs to consider the context of how a certain verse fits into the chapter as a whole.
Thirdly, we need to understand what certain phrases meant to the authors and the peoples living at that time. They had a completely different worldview, which means their system of values was different than ours today.
If we try to modernize an understanding based on our own worldview, we risk pulling the verses completely out of context and imparting a new meaning on them – which is literally trying to change the Bible and what the authors intended.
Rather than always trying to modernize and move forward, there is much to gain from revisiting Christian history and Christian theology from the past.
A great place to start is the work of Thomas Aquinas. His work Summa Theologica is one such theological text. Aquinas’ Christian theology book and others can be found for free at the US government website for public domain copyright-free media at archive.org.
Aquinas’ arranges some of the lessons categorically, which can be a much better way of studying theology, which also helps cross-reference various books of the Bible.
Some things never change.
Foremost among those is human nature. There are innate qualities and emotions in all human beings that transcend time, races and cultures.
People who lived in biblical times experienced many of the things we do today. They had the same problems. They asked the same questions.
There’s a lot to be learned from their experiences. Studying historical theology can provide great insight. It can be an advantage to remove some of the trappings of our modern world.
When these are stripped away, we get down to the essentials of life, and it presents a richer opportunity and alternate perspective for understanding.