Those who have no history are always on the verge of insanity. When individual people lose their memory, they find it a very distressing experience; history is like a collective memory, the recollections of a nation, of a culture, or of the entire world. When a nation forgets its history, or worse still, invents a history to take the place of the facts, the consequences are tragic. The proof of that can be seen by looking at what happened in Nazi Germany half a century ago; there Hitler began rebuilding a whole society on lies about the past, filling the past with demons, of which the worst were the Jews. Under the influence of these lies, ordinary, decent human beings became accomplices in some of the most horrific crimes which humanity has ever committed. There are plenty of other examples, perhaps the most chilling coming from the world of fiction. In the novel 1984, George Orwell created a world where those in power could never be defeated or removed because they were always right; they were always right because they constantly rewrote the past to show that they were always right. They removed the possibility of change from the world by removing the consciousness from people’s minds that change could take place.
From Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Groundwork of Christian History”, London, UK: Epworth Press ©1987, pgs 1-2.
As I wrote at another point:
Prior to Newman’s “theory of development,” it was the practice of Catholic apologists (see Bossuet) to argue that the church had never changed: “semper eadem.” But in the course of further historical research, it became necessary for someone like Newman to explain the huge scope and number of the changes that Rome had effected on the church over the centuries.
In the Orwell novel, 1984, it was the job of the main character, Winston Smith, “to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs — mostly to remove ‘unpersons,’ people who have fallen foul of the party.”
To find precedence for this practice, Orwell had to travel no further than the Roman Catholic Church, which had made this its practice for centuries. In describing how we have come to know about the genuine teachings of Nestorius, Friedrich Loofs wrote, “The church of the ancient Roman Empire did not punish its heretics merely by deposition, condemnation, banishment and various deprivation of rights, but, with the purpose of shielding its believers against poisonous influence, it destroyed all heretical writings ... a similar fortune was prepared for Nestorius.” (Loofs, “Nestorius,” 2-11).
Of course, according to Orwell, “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” (Book 1, Chapter 3)
This is precisely what the Catholic Church, at an official level, to a greater or lesser degree, has been doing for centuries, and it is the type of thing that its modern apologists continue to do today. (Especially adherents to Newman’s “theory of development.”)