One of the most difficult lessons I have ever had to learn in my life I learned from Thucydides, the ancient Greek who is regarded as the grandfather of historians. His record of the Peloponnesian War is the first known to be an attempt at an objective record of an historical event.
The Cold War was still going on when I began reading his history, and I was stunned at how little had changed in twenty-three centuries. Substitute “U.S.S.R.” for Sparta and “U.S.A” for Athens and one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between A.D. 1986 and 431 B.C. The axiom that more things change the more they stay the same came to life on those pages. The idea that humanity progresses is an illusion.
For further proof, one need not look further than Section 5 of St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 38. In it, he describes with stunning accuracy the way that 21st century secular America celebrates Christmas:
- Wreaths on front doors
- Street decorations
- Parties with music, alcohol, dancing, gourmet foods and desserts
- Fashion that has as its main feature inutility
- Pursuit of gifts, luxury and comfort
- Not to mention that there are still those who are in hunger and want
Modern man likes to fool himself that because we have technologies that allow us to accomplish amazing tasks (like posting on a blog that can be read by anyone in the world, or instantly talking to people who are miles away virtually anywhere on the globe) that we are better than all those other humans who didn’t have the internet or cell phones.
I will grant that context and technology change but consider this for a moment: do we know how the pyramids were built or the Moai of Easter Island were moved or how the Nazca Lines were made? We might have our guesses, but the reality is that these technologies are lost to us. The knowledge that we have today may be affected by the knowledge of the past, but it isn’t built upon it. Why else would we need to guess at how these ancient marvels were accomplished?
At a very fundamental level, humanity is as it has always been: we are vessels of clay. The fundamental problems of 21st century Americans are no different that 4th century Greeks. We all suffer. We all age. We all die. Our pursuit of luxury, comfort, riches, power and technology may very well delay the inevitable suffering and death, but we all suffer and die in the end.
Thus, deluding ourselves that technology makes us superior to all of those fellow vessels of clay who suffered and died before us is an illusion. As a result, we spend much of our lives trying to deny the reality of death.
St. Gregory the Theologian, therefore, is calling out through the centuries to every generation that we no longer have to delude ourselves and try to avoid the fact that we are vessels of clay doomed to break and die. A child has been given that defeats death and removes its sting. We no longer need fear. We no longer need to maintain illusions to fool ourselves that suffering does not exist. We can stand up and face the realities of the fallen world head-on. We can look upon the suffering of our fellow human beings and encourage them that they, too, no longer have to fear.
Christ is born. Glorify Him.