Church history is fascinating and studying it is essential.
Some people will have stopped reading already, well boo to them because Church History guards us today against making mistakes that, wait for it, have already been made!
The person who doesn’t read history, will likely dismiss history as irrelevant or romanticize it to the degree that whatever goes on today, is just not good enough, holy enough, whatever enough, as it was in the glorious past. Both views are lazy.
The reason I love dabbling in Church History is because time and again I find people much like me, and much like the people in my church: real, hurting, sinful, broken, loving God, needing forgiveness, and so on.
Whilst there are peculiar aspects to todays culture (I’m sure St Jerome never had gadgets beeping every five minutes demanding his precious time on things that are, how shall we say….. not precious at all.
So what is a saint? Let’s look at St Jerome (347-420), born in Stridon, somewhere in the Balkans, possibly Croatia or Slovenia.
This saint was a reluctant convert to Christianity, but once converted, became a publishing powerhouse on most things theological. He seems to have been particularly sensitive to various descriptions and feelings about hell, especially as he observed the vast scale of immorality in Roman society and Empire, something he felt deeply shameful about, because he was certainly involved himself!
After conversion he became obsessively pious. Umm. Interesting! Why? Maybe because he, as that other saint, Augustine, in his pre-conversion to Christ states, was a sex addict! When he lived as a hermit in the Syrian desert (no doubt to try and master his feelings and urges), he would write, “Although my only companions were scorpions, I was mingling with the dances of girls, my mind throbbing with desires.”
Even when he served as the secretary to the Bishop of Rome, Damascus I, there was sexual scandal. Damascus himself was accused of adultery and Jerome was accused of having an affair with a very wealthy widowed mother named Paula, a lady who helped him translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. Jerome and Paula were exonerated!
In the late 4th century, Jerome, wrestling with his mind and feelings, wrote tracts warning of the dangers of the powers of sex and lust. It was as if he smelled sex everywhere he went. Of lust he wrote that it, “tickles the senses and the soft fire of sensual pleasure sheds its pleasing glow.” (To the reader: are your eyebrows raised as you read this)?
Once when in Jerusalem, he found the “holy” city to be a melting pot of trade, cultures and sex, not to mention extreme piety and devotion to all traditions of the Jews and Christians.
Jerome was horrified by the sheer volume of sexual opportunities offered in this theme park of religious passion and sensory excitement, “all temptation is collected here…. prostitutes, actors and clowns.”
The point? That this man’s struggles are common to all, and our culture perfectly mirrors what Jerome described. There is nothing new under the sun. Jerome is typical of me and you, and Roman culture is typical of ours!
So what is a saint?
Not someone who’s perfect. Not someone who doesn’t feel or desire. Not someone who walks on a cloud two feet off the floor. A saint is a person who recognises their failings and weaknesses, who interprets themselves and their culture correctly, and who then comes under the sovereign care of a God who saves, heals and forgives.
It is God Himself who declares sinners saints! The moment a person confesses Christ, he or she receives His righteousness and is de facto declared a saint. Being sinless doesn’t make one a saint, being “in Christ” does!
And Church History helps because knowing this biblical truth and historical detail, is an encouragement for us to persevere, to press on towards the finish line, to apprehend Christ Jesus, the one who fulfills our desire and makes us what we were always meant to be: Children of God and fully human.