January 24

iu

1918

Birth of Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts (1918-2009) was one of America’s most successful televangelists. Born into a poor Oklahoma family, he claimed that at the age of 17 he was miraculously healed of tuberculosis and stuttering by God while on his way to a revival meeting. God, he said, spoke to him, saying “Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to take My healing power to your generation. You are to build Me a university based on My authority and on the Holy Spirit.”

Roberts dropped out of university before graduating and began a career as an itinerant faith healer, holding services in a large tent. By the late 1940s he had his own radio show and in 1954 he began a television ministry. He had by this time adopted a form of what would become known as the “prosperity gospel”, the belief that God wished all Christians to thrive physically and financially as well as spiritually. Part of the secret to this prosperity was “seed-faith” giving to the church, believing that this money would come back multiplied by God. He founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, Oral Roberts University, and the City of Faith and Medical Research Center, which opened in 1981, offering both prayer and medical healing for physical ailments. At its peak his various organizations employed thousands and had annual revenue of over $100,000,000. So attractive and successful was he that the United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination which felt itself in need of spiritual regeneration, recruited him to serve as one of their ministers.

Yet in the 1980s when a number of scandals rocked the world of televangelism and shaky finances plagued his cherished medical center, Oral Roberts resorted to extreme fundraising techniques. In January 1987, he announced on television that Lord had told him that unless $8,000,000 was soon raised God would “take him home.” (With the help of an extended deadline, this sum was raised.)

His biography on the oralroberts.com website claims that Roberts wrote 130 books, conducted 300 healing crusades, laying hands on over two million people and performed many miracles. After his death in 2009 his work was carried on by his son Richard.

January 21

1549

The First Act of Uniformity sets the course for the Anglican Church.

When Henry VIII withdrew the Church of England from the authority of the pope, its theology and ceremonial remained visibly Catholic. His successor, the boy-king Edward VI, wished the Church to become authentically part of the new reform movement. He would import Protestant preachers and university lecturers from the Continent, evict Catholic bishops from their sees and replace them with reformers, end clerical celibacy and finish the destruction of the monastic system.

On January 21, 1549 Parliament passed “An Acte for the unyformytie of Service and Admynistracion of the Sacramentes throughout the Realme”. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had overseen the preparation of a Book of Common Prayer and the new Act commanded that all “ministers in any cathedral or parish church or other place within this realm of England, Wales, Calais, and the marches of the same, or other the king’s dominions, shall, from and after the feast of Pentecost next coming, be bound to say and use the Matins, Evensong, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, commonly called the Mass, and administration of each of the sacraments, and all their common and open prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the said book, and none other or otherwise.”

Many Protestants complained that this new order of things was not reformed enough: its use of words concerning the Eucharist might be interpreted in a Catholic way. Many Catholics, however, were furious at the abolition of the Latin Mass and parts of the country rose up in rebellion at the new liturgy. In the west of England, Cornishmen called for a return to Henrician Catholicism with the battle cry “Kill all the gentlemen and we will have the Six Articles up again, and ceremonies as they were in King Henry’s time.” The rising was put down by the government’s army of foreign mercenaries.

In 1552 a new prayer book, clearly more Protestant, replaced the 1549 version.

January 20

250

Beginning of the Decian persecution.

Christians had been frequently the subject of hostile acts by the Roman state: the persecutions by Nero, Domitian and Pliny the Younger kept Christianity an underground movement. However, these decrees tended to be local and sporadic, not empire-wide. It was not until the accession of Decius in 249 that the notion of a national test for religious loyalty was conceived. The mid-third century was a time of crisis for the Roman Empire and Decius believed that a wholesale assertion of loyalty to the old gods would serve to unify and revitalize the state. In 250 he mandated that all citizens (with the exception of Jews) be required to sacrifice to the pagan pantheon and receive and official certification recording this. Though it appears that Decius was not aiming specifically at the Christian community the effect on it was profound. Its leadership either fled, apostatized or faced martyrdom. On this day Pope Fabian was executed.

1569

Death of a Bible translator.

Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) was an English Roman Catholic priest who became influenced by the religious Reform movement in the 1520s. He spent many years in exile on the Continent involved in the production of an English translation of the Bible, a project for which William Tyndale had been arrested and executed for in 1536. Parts of his work appeared in the clandestine “Matthew Bible” of 1537 but his triumph was the production of the 1540 “Great Bible” authorized by the English government which commanded each parish purchase “one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”

During the Protestant reign of Edward VI Coverdale was named Bishop of Exeter but when Mary I came to the throne in 1553 he was expelled and fled to the Continent for refuge. On the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 he returned to England but was denied a bishopric, most likely because of his Puritan leanings.

January 17

stanthonySt Antony’s Day

As one of the very first hermit monks, the example of St Antony (251-356) was enormously important in the history Christian  monasticism. Butler’s Book of Saints has this to say:

ST. ANTONY was born in the year 251, in Upper Egypt. Hearing at Mass the words, “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor,” he gave away all his vast possessions. He then begged an aged hermit to teach him the spiritual life. He also visited various solitaries, copying in himself the principal virtue of each. To serve God more perfectly, Antony entered the desert and immured himself in a ruin, building up the door so that none could enter. Here the devils assaulted him most furiously, appearing as various monsters, and even wounding him severely; but his courage never failed, and he overcame them all by confidence in God and by the sign of the cross. One night, whilst Antony was in his solitude, many devils scourged him so terribly that he lay as if dead. A friend found him thus, and believing him dead carried him home. But when Antony came to himself he persuaded his friend to carry him, in spite of his wounds, back to his solitude. Here, prostrate from weakness, he defied the devils, saying, “I fear you not; you cannot separate me from the love of Christ.” After more vain assaults the devils fled, and Christ appeared to Antony in glory. His only food was bread and water, which he never tasted before sunset, and sometimes only once in two, three, or four days. He wore sackcloth and sheepskin, and he often knelt in prayer from sunset to sunrise. Many souls flocked to him for advice, and after twenty years of solitude he consented to guide them in holiness—thus founding the first monastery. His numerous miracles attracted such multitudes that he fled again into solitude, where he lived by manual labor. He expired peacefully at a very advanced age. St. Athanasius, his biographer, says that the mere knowledge of how St. Antony lived is a good guide to virtue.

January 15

mte5ntu2mze2mjgwndg5ndgz

1929 Birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The son of a prominent Atlanta, Georgia pastor, King (1929-68)  attended segregated public schools and went on to study theology, receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 1955. As a pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he took a leadership role in the famous bus boycott provoked by the actions of Rosa Parks. During the struggle, King was arrested and his home was bombed but victory was eventually won; blacks and whites would henceforth ride the buses as equals.

In 1957 King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization pressing for increased civil rights through an application of religious principles, especially nonviolent protest. He grew in fame and moral stature as he led marches in Selma, Alabama where young black people encountered the firehoses and police dogs; in Birmingham he was arrested, which inspired his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the March on Washington, he delivered his  “l Have a Dream” speech to a quarter-million people. In 1964, at the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

With the passage of the landmark civil rights bills of the mid-1960s, King turned his attention to protesting American involvement in the Vietnamese civil war and economic inequality. These stands lost King a good deal of white support while more radical black leaders, rejecting non-violence, seemed to be gaining in popularity amongst African American youth. In April 1968 he appeared in Memphis Tennessee to lend his support to a strike by garbage workers. His speech on April 3 was eerily prophetic:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

The next day, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, he was assassinated.

January 14

220px-john_smibert_-_bishop_george_berkeley_-_google_art_project

1753 Death of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne

Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Anglo-Irish pilosopher and churchman, best known for his 1710 work A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Understanding in which he argued that nothing existed unless it was perceived. His later years were spent, as Chambers’ Book of Days explains, in touting the virtues of pine tar.

Berkeley was a poet, as well as a mathematician and philosopher; and his mind was not only well stored with professional and philosophical learning, but with information upon trade, agriculture, and the common arts of life.  Having received benefit from the use of tar-water, when ill of the colic, he published a work on the Virtues of Tar-water, on which he said he had bestowed more pains than on any other of his productions. His last work, published but a few mouths before his death, was Further Thoughts on Tar-water; and it shows his enthusiastic character, that, when accused of fancying he had discovered a panacea in tar-water, he replied, that to speak out, he freely owns he suspects tar-water is a panacea.’ Walpole has taken the trouble to preserve, from the newspapers of the day, the following epigram on Berkeley’s tar-water:

Who dare deride what pious Cloyne has done?
The Church shall rise and vindicate her son;
She tells is all her bishops shepards are,
And Shepherds heal their rotten sheep with tar’

In a letter written by Mr. John Whishaw, solicitor, May 25th, 1744, we find this account of Berkeley’s panacea: 

“The Bishop of Cloyne, in Ireland, has published a book, of two shillings price, upon the excellencies of tar-water, which is to keep ye bloud in due order, and a great remedy in many cases. His way of making it is to put, I think a gallon of water to a quart of tar, and after stirring it together. to let it stand forty-eight hours, and then pour off the clear and drink a glass of about half a pint in ye mornn, and as much at five in ye afternoon. So it’s become common to call for a glass of tar-water in a coffee-house, as a dish of tea or coffee.’

January 10

220px-william_laud

1645

The death of an archbishop.

William Laud (1573-1645) was an English churchman during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I, a time when Anglicanism was being defined and when ecclesiastical issues were literally matters of life and death.

Under Elizabeth the Church of England sought a religious via media, with a Protestant theology mated with the rule of bishops and an ornate ceremonial. It was opposed by Catholics who sought a return to Rome and by Puritans who wished to purge the “popish dregs” of ceremony and episcopacy. In 1605 the attempt by Catholic conspirators to murder the entire royal family, political class and church leadership in the Gunpowder Plot convinced most Englishmen that Catholicism meant foreign tyranny and that Protestantism meant patriotism.

The latter belief became problematic when King Charles I married a Catholic French princess and covertly allowed Catholic clergy at court. The problem was exacerbated when Charles nominated William Laud to be, first, Bishop of London (1628) and then Archbishop of Canterbury (1633). Through church courts, Laud enforced a novel theology on Anglicanism, his version of Arminianism which challenged some long-held doctrines and imposed a very Catholic-looking ceremonial, and drove out Puritan leaning preachers and professors. His persecution of the dissident writer William Prynne, who was sentenced to judicial mutilation and imprisonment, was very unpopular. Prynne had been branded on the forehead with the letters “SL”, meaning “seditious libel” but which the victim claimed really represented “Stigmata Laudis” — “the marks of Laud”. By 1640 anger between the royal party and large sections of public and political opinion were at a boiling point.

After years of trying to rule on his own Charles was obliged to call Parliament which called for the arrests of the king’s chief advisors, Laud and William Wentworth. Wentworth went to the block in 1641 but Laud’s trial was delayed. He was accused of bribery, attempting to impose a tyranny, sponsoring Catholic influence, undermining Parliament and having “treacherously endeavoured to subvert the Fundamental Laws of this Realm; and to that end hath in like manner endeavoured to advance the Power of the Council-Table, the Canons of the Church, and the King’s Prerogative, above the Laws and Statutes of the Realm”. Laud was executed on this day in 1645.

Laud was exactly the wrong man for the high positions he held at the time he was appointed to them; aggressive and intolerant, he helped create the crisis that led to the English Civil War and the execution of himself and the king he served.

January 8

unknown-1

2009

Richard John Neuhaus dies.

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was in his time a Canadian, an American, a liberal civil rights advocate, Lutheran priest, Catholic priest, magazine editor, conservative presidential advisor, and fierce defender of the role of religion in public life.

Born in Pembroke, Ontario, he moved with his family to the United States where he became, like his father, a Lutheran pastor. In the 1960s he became an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam and marched with Martin Luther King in demanding greater rights for racial minorities. Neuhaus’s life took a different direction after the 1973 “Roe v Wade” Supreme Court decision on abortion; growing more conservative he sought to create a united voice for Christianity in social and political matters. He helped found the journal  First Things, where Protestant, Catholic and Jewish thinkers could “advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society” and wrote or edited influential books such as The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, Guaranteeing the Good Life: Medicine and the Return of Eugenics and American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile. With Chuck Colson he produced Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission. In 1990 he joined the Roman Catholic Church and in the next year he was ordained into the priesthood. Few have done as much to bring religious thinking to bear in the public square.

On the question of absolute truth and religious tolerance he proposed “Neuhaus’s Law”, which states, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

January 5

tumblr_inline_ndiqjijb6x1qagjj4

1534

Radical Anabaptists enter Münster.

Though the Protestant Reformation caused division and violence throughout Germany there were cities where an uneasy truce between Lutherans and Catholics was maintained, often because neither side was a sufficiently numerous to oppress the other. One such city was Münster in Westphalia, nominally under the rule of a Catholic prince-bishop but so evenly divided between factions that the city developed a reputation for religious tolerance. Seeking that freedom from persecution, in January 1534 large groups of Anabaptists began migrating to the city, lured by the promise that this was the “New Jerusalem”. Making common cause with many local Lutherans the Anabaptists soon gained control of the city, driving Catholic inhabitants out and demanding that adult baptism become compulsory. A Dutch  baker named Jan Matthys assumed leadership, preaching a message of Christian communism and the expectation of the End of Time; Münster had become the centre of a radical form of Protestantism that called on the people of Germany and the Netherlands to come to their aid to break the siege that the expelled bishop had surrounded the city with.

On Easter Sunday 1534 Matthys led an ill-advised sortie against the bishop’s troops which resulted in his death. Jan of Leiden, a tailor, took over the city, proclaiming himself king, the successor of David, with the former mayor Bernard Knipperdolling as his sword-bearer and executioner. Polygamy was the order of the day with Jan taking sixteen wives and murdering one who refused to wed him. Though all goods were to be held in common, the inhabitants of the city starved while Jan sat on a gold throne and his circle dined well. Finally, the gates of Münster were opened by a desperate Anabaptist and the army of the bishop poured in, intent on loot and massacre. Leiden and Knipperdolling were tortured and hoisted up in steel cages on the town’s highest church steeple where their remains were visible for centuries as a lesson against radical excesses.

January 3

1521

With the papal bull Decet Romanorum Pontificem (“It Pleases the Roman Pontiff”), Pope Leo X excommunicates Martin Luther.

“Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it”. So said Giovanni de’ Medici (1475-1521) on his election to the papacy as Leo X in 1513. A great patron of the arts, he was a bumbler in his dealings with the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. He failed to prevent Luther from spreading his ideas throughout Germany and northern Europe despite condemning his writings in 1520 and excommunicating him in 1521.

440px-statue_of_amakusa_shiro_at_shimabara_castle_20090906

1638

The forces of the Japanese shogun defeat Christian peasant fighters during the Shimabara Rebellion. Provoked by oppressive rule, heavy taxation and anti-Christian legislation, peasants and masterless samurai of Kyushu rose up against their overlords. They will eventually be wiped out and the shogunate will enact harsher anti-foreigner and anti-Christian rules, resulting in an almost total isolation of Japan for centuries. A statue of the rebel leader Amakusa Shiro stands on the grounds of Shimabara Castle today.

1892

Birth of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. As a member of the Inklings literary club, he was influential in the conversion of C.S. Lewis to Christianity.