11 May 2007

Ubi sunt qui ante nos ferunt

Matthew over at Catholic Dads had a post the other day about the world and our culture getting smaller, and how the heroes of the past seem to outshine the ones of today. He gives examples. He compares the big presidents of old- Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan- to the crew running for the office today, and finds the present crowd lacking.

It is a common sentiment, a very easy one, and it is one with which I sympathize. It is also a very old one. Anyone who has read Homer would be familiar with it. Homer is filled with lines such as "Hector picked up a stone. It was such a stone that it would take ten men such as they are today to lift it, yet he raised it with ease." The Romans felt it. It appeared time and again in England, as its peoples looked to the past for their heroes. "Where are the Plantagenets?" was once cried out in Parliament. Hesiod laid out the span of the world from a beginning golden age, to a silver age, to the age of Bronze and finally Iron. "Astrea terrat reliquit," "And justice fled the earth," said Ovid. And the iron age, it seems, has come to rust.

I often indulge in such thinking, and I will probably do so again soon. But there are a few technical points to bar in mind. First, historically, as I have just shown, this is a common feeling. Second, to look back into "the past" as a general category is to make a fundamental error. All men seem contemporaries in the past. William the Conqueror, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Wellington- all united because they lived a long time ago. Look to the list of four presidents: Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, Reagan- how many years stood between them? And who sat in between? What giants? Taft? McKinley? Coolidge?

I too am disenchanted with much of what I see happening today, and I long for someone to step forward and be like the heroes of the past. One day I will blog on my old study topic, and write about how the art of public speaking has declined to a poor joke, how our leaders babble out words written by a team of writers and edited by a team of readers until any sense or significance is lost. But that is for later. But for now, I will conclude with only this: History tells us that people like our heroes did come, but more importantly, it shows that others come along in their time. We live in a period between the giants, it seems. Or perhaps a giant is coming, even as I write these words. We should not despair, nor even feel depressed, though, for we are Catholics, and we all know that our greatest hero lived, died, rose, and will come again.

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