1552 Birth of Matteo Ricci
Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was an Italian Jesuit missionary to China whose techniques of winning the confidence of the Chinese exemplify the Jesuit approach to foreign evangelism.
In the sixteenth century China was ruled by the decadent and inward-looking Ming dynasty. Once Ming fleets had explored the southern seas all the way to Africa, but by the late 1500s ocean-going vessels were forbidden and contact with the outside world was discouraged. China considered itself literally the centre of the universe, feeling self-sufficient and superior to all other nations. It had a department of state to deal with barbarians along its borders and another to handle its neighbours such as Korea or Vietnam which were willing to acknowledge Chinese superiority and pay tribute, but it had no notion of dealing with technologically advanced Western nations which were now starting to intrude into Asia. Christianity, in its Nestorian form, had reached China centuries before through an overland route but Catholic presence was found only in the Portuguese colony of Macau on the southern coast.
Ricci had joined the Society of Jesus in 1571 and volunteered himself as a missionary to Asia seven years later. He was sent to Macau where he studied the Chinese language to prepare for the evangelization of the interior of China. He mastered the script and the literary classics that formed the basis of high culture — this at least allowed him to communicate with the officials whose cooperation the Jesuits would need. But how to make themselves useful in the eyes of the Chinese state that regarded foreigners as inherently useless and inferior? Here Ricci employed mathematical and astronomical skills to great advantage, areas in which the West was forging ahead of Asia. The proper way of marking time was necessary for government and religious decision-making; Ricci’s ability to predict eclipses and regulate timepieces won him and his companions the esteem of the ruling class. Ricci’s geographical knowledge presented world maps to the Chinese for the first time.
Part of the Jesuit approach to Asian missions was to adopt appropriate dress for their clergy; in India they dressed as Buddhist priests; in China they went clothed as court mandarins. Ricci also attempted to explain Christianity in a way that was compatible with Confucianism; here he trod perilously close to heresy. The mendicant orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans, who saw themselves as missionary rivals to the Jesuits, complained to Rome about this alleged syncretism and a lengthy controversy erupted, one that hampered evangelism.
Ricci was eventually allowed to travel to the Ming capital in Beijing where established a Catholic cathedral and made some prominent converts. He died there in 1610 and his grave is now a tourist attraction. Efforts are being made to have Ricci named a saint.
God makes a portion of each generation intelligent well above the average, and despite the best efforts of our state school systems, His handiwork is hard to suppress. The task of the modern progressive university is therefore to corrupt and unbalance the intelligent; to pit their minds against their common sense.
— David Warren
1813 The death of Tecumseh
The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was fought at sea and along the Canadian border. Allied with the British were many native tribes, resentful at American expansion into their traditional territories. A tribal confederacy under the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his mystical brother known as The Prophet had consistently opposed yielding land to the Americans but had suffered a number of reversals.
In the autumn of 1813, the British and their native allies were being pushed back from positions below the Great Lakes. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had won the Battle of Lake Erie capturing an entire British squadron, which prompted the famous phrase, “we have met the enemy and he is ours” and ashore the future president William Henry Harrison was also successful. He recaptured Detroit and launched an invasion of Upper Canada. On this day Harrison’s forces met a British army under Henry Procter backed by hundreds of Tecumseh’s warrior in what is now southern Ontario. The British wilted under an American charge but Tecumseh’s forces stood their ground. In the fighting Tecumseh was shot and killed.
The battle itself was of little significance as the victorious Americans were obliged to withdraw but the death of Tecumseh was a catastrophe for the native cause. Their confederacy collapsed and hopes of a pan-native resistance died.
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. . . . Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.
— Edmund Burke
1793 The French Revolution dechristianizes the calendar
Since its beginning in 1789, forces of the French Revolution had been hostile to Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church. The monastic system had been abolished and all church lands seized by the government. The Catholic church was severed from its allegiance to the Pope and its clergy became civil servants, forced to swear loyalty to the state; priests who refused were subject to imprisonment, exile or death. All church bells were seized and melted down to make artillery; church silver and precious objects were stolen; crosses were torn down, tombs were desecrated and buildings turned over to secular uses. In place of Christianity, supporters of the Revolution offered the near-atheist Cult of Reason or the deist Cult of the Supreme Being.
On October 5, 1703 the traditional calendar with its Anno Domini dating from the birth of Christ, its seven-day week and names drawn from mythology was abolished and replaced by a revolutionary calendar. All months now had 30 days, divided into 3 ten-day décades, with a 5-day year-end holiday. Saints’ days were abolished and instead of a day of rest every 7 days, there was now one every 10 days — revolutionaries despised the idleness encouraged by the old church calendar and its many holidays. Dating was to take place from the beginning of the French Republic, months were named after climatic conditions and days were named after tools or common objects. Thus, Christmas Day 1793 was officially V nivôse II, le jour de chien — Year II, the fifth day of the snowy month, the day of the dog. (It could have been worse, December 28 was “the day of manure.”) There was even a short-lived attempt to decimalize the clock: a ten-hour day, each hour with 100 minutes.
Such efforts were made to remove every-day religion from the minds of the common people but ordinary folk did not fail to notice that they now had to work more days in the year. Though governments tried to enforce the reforms, they never truly caught on and Napoleon ended the experiment on XIII frimaire XIII, January 1, 1806.
Pissing in his shoe keeps no man warm for long
— Icelandic proverb
Saint Francis of Assisi
One of the most remarkable saints of any period of Christian history was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in 1181 but was nicknamed Francesco (“Frenchy”) by his Francophile father, a prosperous merchant of Assisi. Francis was a popular young man of no particular distinction until a sudden religious experience in his teens convinced him to live a life of poverty. He consorted with lepers, dressed as a beggar, giving away his own clothes, and donating so much of his father’s wealth to the poor that the older man objected. In a spectacular act of renunciation, Francis stripped himself naked in the public square and gave back everything he possessed to his father. For a time he lived as a hermit, but in 1209 he began to preach and began a mission that soon attracted followers eager to imitate his example. Francis sought permission of Pope Innocent III (see above) to begin a new religious order dedicated to poverty and contact with the poor. He and his followers became the Order of Friars Minor, soon to be known as the Franciscans.
In the early thirteenth century the Church was at its highest point in terms of political power and wealth; Innocent III was the dominant figure in Europe, deposing kings and emperors at his pleasure. The Church hierarchy, however, had lost touch with the spiritual needs of the faithful, many of whom were defecting to heretical groups such as the Waldensians or Cathars. Priests were poor expositors of the religion, serving primarily as dispensers of the sacrament and ignorant of doctrine and preaching. In the Franciscans, and their fellow mendicants the Dominicans, the Church hoped to find a way to reach the poor again.
Francis preached not only in Italy but also in North Africa where he accompanied the Fifth Crusade in 1219 to Egypt. He marched into the Islamic camp and apparently met the Sultan who entertained him for a few days before returning him to the invading army.
Back in Italy the Franciscan Order was becoming rapidly larger and a new more sophisticated Rule had to be imposed to better organize the friars, all of whom were meant to live by begging. By 1220 Francis turned over control of the Order to others and lived only for preaching and praying. In 1224 Francis received the stigmata, the marks of five bleeding wounds suffered on the cross by Christ and in 1226 he died. Almost immediately he was proclaimed a saint and is considered the patron of Italy.
The contributions of Francis and his Order are incalculable. They were able wandering preachers, opponents of heresy; they staffed the faculties of the new universities; they helped to run the Inquisition. Their example of poverty helped to deepen the devotion of medieval Europeans to Christianity. Francis staged the first live Christmas creche and Franciscans wrote the first Christmas carols. The love of St Francis for nature that lead him to preach to fish and animals has made him the patron saint of the ecological movement.
The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
— Charles du Bois
O.J. Simpson is acquitted
On July 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, ex-wife of football star and actor O.J. Simpson, and her companion Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death in Los Angeles. Suspicion fell on Simpson who had had a turbulent and occasionally violent relationship with his wife. Simpson was asked to turn himself into the police but instead he began to evince suicidal behaviour and fled in a white SUV, pursued at low speed while spectators lined the streets and millions watched on live television.
The subsequent murder trial was a media sensation, widely televised and presided over by Judge Lance Ito, whose handling of the case widely criticized. The prosecution relied largely on blood and DNA evidence that linked Simpson to the murder site while the defense “Dream Team” argued that the pair had been killed by a Colombian drug gang and that racist police had planted and tampered with evidence.
The jury of nine blacks, two whites and a Latino (10 women and 2 men) took 4 hours to reach a verdict of not-guilty, astonishing most of those who had followed the trial. Though he remained a free man, Simpson’s reputation was fatally damaged. A subsequent civil trial, launched by the Brown and Goldman families, found Simpson criminally responsible and ordered him to pay $33,000,000 in damages. In 2007 he was sent to jail for 33 years for a violent incident in Las Vegas. He will be eleigible for parole in 2017.
From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.
—Saint Arnold of Metz, the patron saint of brewers