Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From Riches to Rags to Nobel Prize

There's been a lot of ranting on the Internet of late about Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I'm not going to enter that debate; but it does seem like a good time to tell you about the first person to receive the symbol of Nobel's legacy.

When you take into consideration the fact that Henri Dunant was born in Geneva in 1828, it is no surprise that he grew up to be a committed Calvinist. His father, a wealthy businessman, was also a dedicated humanitarian and Henri followed his father's example when he became a full time representative of the Swiss arm of the Young Men's Christian Association traveling throughout France, Belgium, and Holland.

At the age of twenty-six he began an apprenticeship with a company that had extensive holdings in northern Africa. When he finished his apprenticeship he conceived of a daring plan to develop agricultural operations on a huge tract of African land, but for his plan to succeed he needed a wheat mill and to build and operate a wheat mill he needed the water rights. Those water rights could only be obtained from one person - Napoleon III. Seems simple enough except that Napoleon III was in Northern Italy leading a Franco-Sardinian army in a war against the Austrians. But this did not deter Henri, he sought the audience anyway, and that is how he ended up being at the battle of Solferino, in Lombardy, in June of 1859.

Henri, like most people, had never seen a real battle before. He was stunned by the sight of 38,000 injured, dying and dead soldiers lying about after the battle was over. But what shocked him even more was how little was being done for those individuals. Using his own money he arranged for food and medical supplies, recruited and organized local volunteers, and began to tend to those who could be saved. It was a herculean effort, and one the like of which the world had never seen before.

After the conflict was over, he wrote a short book entitled, Un Souvenir de Solférino [A Memory of Solferino], and paid to have 1900 copies printed. The book had three main sections. The first was an account of the battle itself. The second detailed the battlefield after the fighting - its "chaotic disorder, despair unspeakable, and misery of every kind" and tells the story of caring for the wounded in the small town of Castiglione. The third was a plan; a plan to have the nations of the world form societies, co-ordinating the efforts of trained volunteers to provide care for the victims of war until they recovered. He spent the next two years traveling, at his own expense, to distribute the book to national and civic leaders all over Europe and promote his plan.

In 1863, the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, appointed a committee of five, including Dunant, to examine the practicalities of implementing the plan. Despite numerous conflicts, and attempts by some to derail Dunant and expel him from the committee, they did manage to create the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. One year later, on August 22, 1864, again despite the efforts of some to keep Dunant out of the process, twelve nations signed an international treaty, commonly known as the Geneva Convention, agreeing among other things, to guarantee during an armed conflict, neutrality to medical and relief personnel, to expedite supplies for their use, and to adopt a special identifying emblem - in virtually all instances a red cross on a field of white. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was born.

For a time Henri served as the organization's secretary, but with most of his energies and resources being directed to the cause, there was little of him or his resources left to run his company. The water rights he needed were never granted, his company was mismanaged by those he left in charge of it in Africa, and in 1867 he was forced to declare bankruptcy. The resulting scandal was too much for the board of directors in Geneva to handle, so he was also forced to resign not only as secretary but as a member of the society he had founded. Within a few years he was literally living at the level of the beggar. There were times, he says in a memoir, when he dined on a crust of bread, blackened his coat with ink, whitened his collar with chalk, and slept out of doors on benches in city parks.

After that, Henri Dunant all but disappeared. Staying briefly in various places, living off the generosity of friends and a few wealthy individuals who respected his humanitarian efforts, he eventually found himself too ill to travel any further and was given space in a hospice in the small Swiss village of Heiden. There, in Room 12, he spent the remaining eighteen years of his life, too ill to leave. It was also there that a journalist, Georg Baumberger, twenty-five years after the scandal in Geneva, discovered Dunant was still alive and wrote an article about him which, within a few days, was reprinted in the press throughout Europe. Messages of sympathy reached Dunant from all over the world, and overnight, the scandal long forgotten, his fame was restored.

In 1901, the very first Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to Henri Dunant, and French pacifist Frédéric Passy, founder of the Peace League and active with Dunant in the Alliance for Order and Civilization. The official congratulations which he received from the International Committee was the crowning touch to the restoration of Dunant's honour and reputation:
"There is no man who more deserves this honour, for it was you, forty years ago, who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken."
Henri also received a number of other awards and accolades during those last few years, but he never spent any of the money on himself. He donated funds to make sure a "free bed" would always be available in the Heiden hospice for a poor citizen of the region and deeded some money to friends and charitable organizations in Norway and Switzerland. The remaining funds went to his creditors to partially pay the enormous debt left after his disastrous business venture.

Henri Dunant, Christian humanitarian, who changed forever the way the world responds to those who have suffered as a result of war, died in his sleep on October 30, 1910 - 97 years ago this week.


1. Huber, Max, «Henry Dunant», in Revue internationale de la Croix-Rouge, 484 (avril, 1959) 167-173. A translation of a brief sketch originally published in German in 1928. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1901/dunant-bio.html
2. "Dunant, Henri." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Oct. 2007 http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9031447
3. Henri Dunant biography, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) web site http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/57JNVQ
4. Various Internet articles

Other events that happened this week in history...

October 29, 1837: Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper is born in Rotterdam, Holland. He became so popular and famous that on October 29, 1907, the whole nation celebrated his 70th birthday, declaring, "the history of the Netherlands, in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page."

October 31, 1992: Pope John Paul II formally admits the Roman Catholic Church's error in condemning Galileo Galilei in 1633 for believing the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe, 350 years after the astronomers death. (I know, this was also the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the church, but I'm willing to bet you already knew that.)

November 1, 1512: After four years of work, Michelangelo Buonarroti unveils his 5,800-square-foot painting on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

November 2, 1533: Harried by Catholic authorities, John Calvin flees Paris by lowering himself out a window on a bedsheet rope. (Who knew anyone actually did this?) He then left town by disguising himself as a farmer, complete with a hoe over his shoulder. He spent three years as a fugitive before settling in Geneva.

November 3, 753: Pirminius, the first Abbot of Reichenau (Germany) dies. His pastoral instruction book, Scarapsus, contains the earliest evidence for the present form of the Apostles' Creed.

November 4, 1646: The Massachusetts Bay Colony makes it a capital offense to deny that the Bible is the Word of God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Picking a Pope...

With the announcement of the death of Pope John Paul II in April of 2005, the process began to select the 264th successor to St. Peter (in accordance with Catholic tradition).

On Monday, April 18th 2005, after the official 9 days of prayer and mourning,
115 cardinals, from 52 countries and five continents, began the process of deliberation. Later that evening the Cardinals cast their first vote. This single ballot did not result in an election, and therefore the ballots were burned in a small stove at 8:04 p.m. Monday evening (2:04 EST) along with chemicals to colour the smoke black.

On Tuesday morning two additional votes were taken; neither resulted in an election, so once again black smoke rose from the chimney of the Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Finally, about 4 pm, the fourth ballot of the Conclave, elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, and Prefect during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the highest office in the Roman Catholic Church. Since the smoke from the chapel at first burned grey, but never truly black, there was some confusion in the Square below. However, the ever more profuse, and ever more clearly white, smoke was confirmed about 6:04 by the ringing of the great bells of St. Peter's Basilica. At 6:43 p.m. (12:43 p.m. EST) on Tuesday, April 19th 2005, the Proto-Deacon of the College of Cardinals, Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estévez, came onto the Loggia of St. Peter's Basilica and announced:

"Dear brothers and sisters. I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope. The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord, Lord Joseph, Cardinal of Holy Roman Church, Ratzinger, who has taken the name Benedict XVI."

This process of election of the pope by a select group of cardinals has been around in its current form (more or less) for about 1000 years. Before that things were a lot less organized, and the disputes about who was and wasn't pope were numerous and often violent. Let me tell you about one such case.

When Bishop Liberius of Rome died in September of 366, there was no prescribed system for selecting a new pope, in fact they weren't even called popes at that time. Liberius had grown in popularity largely because of his stand resisting the heresy known as Arianism
, a theology that denied the divinity of Christ. He was even exiled for a time when Rome came under the control of Felix II (regarded as an anti-pope ) who was sympathetic to the Arian cause.

However, Liberius had many supporters, commoner and senator alike, who agitated for his return, and eventually
Emperor Constantinius restored Liberius to his position after he agreed to be lenient with the Arians. This caused Bishop Hilary of Poiters to declare "A curse on you, Liberius." Shortly after that, Liberius died!

Though there was no formal process for selecting a new Bishop of Rome, there was a election of sorts. All the citizens of Rome, laity and clergy, were able to make their voice heard, and by a large majority, Rome chose Damasus, a sixty-year-old deacon, to be their next bishop. He was consecrated by three other bishops, including the Bishop of Ostia, as was declared the official ordainer of the Bishop of Rome by Bishop St. Mark thirty years earlier. So by all accounts Damasus was the properly chosen successor to Liberius.

There was a problem however; remember Felix II, sympathetic supporter of the Arian Heresy? Well, Damasus was one of his bishops, and some followers of Liberius were u
nhappy to see a man who once worked for Felix sitting in Liberius' chair, so to speak. They chose their own bishop, a fellow by the name of Ursinus and had an old Bishop from Tibur consecrate him as the new Bishop of Rome.

Well, Damasus, and those who endorsed him, appealed to Juventius, then Prefect of Rome (chief city official), to deal with what they viewed as an usurper. The Prefect ordered Ursinus to leave Rome, which he did; but his followers did not give up that easily. They took up arms and proceeded to try and force Damasus to give up the bishop's pallium
(emblem of authority). Damasus gathered a number of his own men, armed them and launched a counter-attack on his rival's forces, who had taken refuge in the Liberian Basilica (a Roman church later renamed St. Mary Major). A three-day battle followed. The supporters of Damasus eventually assaulted the building by climbing onto the roof, where they tore aside the heavy roof tiles, and having made an opening, then dropped the heavy tiles onto the men trapped below.

When the smoke cleared, (pun intended) Damasus had won the day, but wi
th a heavy price - one hundred and thirty seven followers of Ursinus lay dead on the floor of the church. And yet, the battle was not over; in the days that followed Damasus would hire a number of gladiators to be his bodyguards due to repeated attacks in the streets.

When violence proved unsuccessful, his opponents attempted to overthrow him by making accusations of serious sin. What they were is not entirely clear, but eventually the emperor felt compelled to intervene and cleared Damasus of the charges. But the arguments and opposition continued. A full 11 years later, in 378, and again 3 years after that in 381, councils held in Rome and Aquileia both declared that Damasus was the true bishop.

The irony is, Damasus was never a true supporter of Felix II. He worked for him, but did not share his views regarding the Arian Heresy, as was borne out when the trouble eventually did simmer down and he was able to finally get around to the duties of being Bishop of Rome. He proved himself an enemy of the Arian heresy, putting a number of Arian bishops out of the church. He also issued twenty-four anathemas (curses) against false teachings about the Trinity and Jesus Christ.

Despite the violence associated with his election, Damasus was to become highly regarded by other Christian leaders of his day. A large part of the reason for this is Damasus proved to be a great promoter of martyrs. He restored many of their tombs, rebuilt their churches, and wrote poems about saints who had died because of their testimony for Christ.

You may be wondering why have I chosen to write about Damasus? There were plenty of popes who ascended to the papal see by unusual and violent means. Why choose him?

Well, one of the most fascinating things for me about Christian history is the story of how we got our Bible. And Damasus plays an important role in that process. Damasus was the first pope to issue an official list of the books which should be included in the Bible. He also persuaded his friend and secretary, Jerome, to make a new Latin translation of the Bible, using this list. Jerome did so, and his translation would become known as the Vulgate, the Bible of the Middle Ages. It was the Bible that priests, teachers, bishops, monks, and other scholars would use for much of the next one thousand years.

The three day battle, that would end with a victorious Damasus, without which the Vulgate might never have come into being, was won on October 26, 366 - one thou
sand, six hundred forty one years ago this week.

Photo: Page 2 of the Lindisfarne Gospels, Letter from Jerome to Pope Damasus I dedicating the translation of the Vulgate.


1. Thomas J. Shahan. "Pope St. Damasus I", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
2. "Damasus I Saint." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Oct. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9028639>.
3. "Ursinus." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Oct. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9074497>.
4. Various Internet articles.

Other events that happened this week in church history:

October 22, 1844: Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 followers of Baptist lay preacher William Miller gathered in makeshift temples and on hillsides to "meet the bridegroom' on the "The Day of Atonement"—the day Jesus would return. Jesus didn't, and though Miller retained his faith in Christ's imminent return until his death, he blamed human mistakes in Bible chronologies for "The Great Disappointment." Several groups arose from Miller's following, including the Seventh-Day Adventists.

October 24, 1648: The Peace of Westphalia, after being delayed by Richelieu for 13 years, is finally signed and ends central Europe's Thirty Years War. The documents extended equal political rights to Catholics and Protestants (including religious minorities), and marked the first use of the term "secularization" in regard to church property that was to be distributed among the warring parties.

October 25, 1890:
Emma Whittemore, New York socialite and her husband Sydney, millionaire businessman, open the first 'Door of Hope' home for young women in New York City. The Whittemores encountered the emptiness of their lives on a visit to a street mission run by an ex-convict. they came away "with a holy determination, born of God himself, to henceforth live for his glory and praise. Within four years the home help 325 girls, by Emma's death in 1931 there were 97 homes in seven countries.

October 27, 1978: After 13 years work by over one hundred scholars from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the complete New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is published for the first time.

October 28, 312: According to tradition, on this date the 32-year-old Roman emperor Constantine defeated Maxentius at Milvian Bridge. Before the battle, Constantine had seen the symbol of Jesus, chi-rho, in a vision, accompanied with the words "By this sign conquer." He considered this a sign and emblazoned the symbol on his shield and banners before the battle. Regarded as Rome's first Christian emperor he honured Christian bishops and meddled in church affairs the rest of his life. He received his baptism on his deathbed in 337.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Don't Beat Yourself Up Over It.

Let's start with a little visual aid...

Monty Python & The Holy Grail: The Monks' Chant

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As the title said, this is a scene from the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." For those of you not versed in Latin or the 'Requiem', what the monks are chanting is 'pie jesu domine....donna eis requiem'. It is a prayer for the dead that roughly translates into "Merciful Lord Jesus....grant them rest." * But what's with the planks of wood?

It's called flagellation (from the Latin for 'to whip') and while most religious orders in the 13th century used it to one degree or another as punishment (who didn't), for a time self-flagellation (with a whip of some sort not a plank of wood) was considered a valid means of expressing repentance. The question is - why?

It began with Peter Damien. Peter was prior (2nd in command to the abbot) to Fonte-Avellana (an order of hermits) during the 11th century. Around 1042 he introduced the practice of penitential exercise as part of a monks self-discipline schedule. The idea was to 'lightly' scourge oneself with a small whip containing small bits of metal so as to identify with the flagellation of Jesus Christ on the night before his Crucifixion. Damien's notion was that this practice would increase the devotion of the religious community because they would have a better understanding of how much Christ suffered on our behalf.

Damien also believed the practice would serve to curb the lusts of the flesh, the avoidance of which was why many became hermits in the first place. The practice quickly spread throughout the monastic community. The zeal of some led to the introduction of a daily siesta so that it's practitioners could recover from their evening's 'exercise'. By 1045 that zeal had increased to the point that Damien had to moderate the custom due to the negative affect it was having on the number of monks available for other duties. (Yes, they were maiming themselves beyond the capacity to serve and a few had even died as a result of their injuries.) For a short time the practice abated in all but the most remote monasteries.

During a dreadful plague in 1259, many preachers declared that God was angry at the world. Something had to be done to demonstrate to God how penitent they were and turn away his wrath. This was the motivation behind a resurgence in flagellation. Large groups of monks started gathering in public to flog themselves for their own sins and the sins of the world. Soon they were joined by laymen who stripped to the waist and marched in processions, sometimes numbering ten thousand penitents, whipping themselves until they bled. At first the practice was tolerated but by 1261 religious authorities realized they had to do something, so they publicly opposed the movement. It died out, but it refused to die completely.

When the Black Plague swept across Europe the call went out once again that people needed to demonstrate to God their fervent repentance. Bands of hysterical flagellants sprang up; this time not just men were involved. Along with the questionable penitent exercise other strange teachings began to rise among the practitioners such as uncontrollable dancing and the open hunting of Jews. But the most prevalent of these was the idea that the plague was the first step in the destruction of the world by Jesus Christ himself. However, the Virgin Mary had interceded and this great destruction could be avoided if enough people would join them for 33 days. As their blood flowed, they claimed it was mingling with Christ's blood to save the world.

Though the mania ended with the plague, the practice flourished among the religious into the fourteenth century. Following an outbreak of the whippings in France, the University of Paris appealed to the pope to suppress the exercise calling it heresy. Pope Clement VI sent letters to the bishops in Western Europe condemning the practice and teachings of the flagellants.

But even this measure did not fully succeed. Various groups of flagellants have appeared again and again over the centuries and in some areas of the world public flagellation occurs even today as part of specific religious rituals, particularly during the Easter season. Though the practice is still officially condemned by the Vatican, it is tolerated as long as it is restricted to specific feasts and celebrations.

That letter, condemning the practice of flagellation, was sent by Pope Clement VI on October 20th, 1349 - 658 years ago this week.

* The chant in the movie is a shortened version. The common chant goes like this...

Latin: Pie Jesu / Qui tollis peccata mundi / Donna eis requiem / Angus Dei / Donna eis requiem sempiternam /

English: Merciful Jesus / Who takest away the sins of the world / Grant them rest / Oh Lamb of God / Grant them eternal rest

1. "flagellation." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 Oct. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9034461>.
"Flagellation", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, September 1, 1909.
3. Various other Internet articles.

Video credit: myspacetv.com (http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=12415049)

Other events that happened this week in church history:

October 15, 1949: Billy Graham skyrockets to national prominence with an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles

October 16, 1978: The Roman Catholic College of Cardinals chooses Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to be the new pope. Taking the name John Paul II, he became the first non-Italian pope in 456 years. By the time of his death in April 2005 he would be recognized as the most popular pope in modern history.

October 17, 108: According to tradition, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was martyred on this date. A disciple of the Apostle John, Ignatius wrote seven letters under armed guard on his way to Rome—some asking that the church not interfere with his "true sacrifice".

October 18, 1867: The United States purchases Alaska for $7.2 million, or about 2 cents an acre. Ten years later, after lax military administration had only worsened the territory's moral condition, an army private stationed in Alaska begged, "Send out a shepherd who may reclaim a mighty flock from the error of their ways, and gather them into the true fold." Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson answered the call and spent decades raising funds, building schools and churches, and crusading for better laws.

October 19, 1856: A Sunday evening service led by Charles Haddon Spurgeon turns tragic when someone shouts "Fire!" in London's enormous Surrey Hall. There was no fire, but the stampede left 7 people dead and 28 more hospitalized. Though the episode plunged Spurgeon into weeks of depression, it also catapulted him to overnight fame.

October 21, 1555: Finding that the recent martyrdom of bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer had intensified Protestant zeal, Catholic monarch Queen Mary (daughter of Henry VIII, who separated the church of England from Roman) launches a series of fierce persecutions in which more than 200 men, women, and children were executed.


Friday, October 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Olivers

I am occasionally asked, when people find out I write about history, why historians spend so much time talking about war. Well, with apologies to Mike Love, the history of war is the history of mankind. By and large human history rotates around moments of great change, and change rarely happens without conflict.

The history of the church, having also been made by humans, is no different. If it hasn't been a case of Christians warring with non-Christians, it's been Christians warring with Christians. And, as in the case of secular conflicts, war tends to bring out the worst in the children of God as well. There are many events for which the church and individuals will have to answer.

One of those events centers around an Irishman named Oliver Plunkett.

Plunkett was born in 1625 near Oldcastle, Ireland. He studied for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome where his record was described as "particularly brilliant." Ordained a priest in 1654, Plunkett was selected by the Irish bishops to be their representative in Rome. On July 9th, 1669, he was appointed to the Archbishop of Armagh, he received the pallium on his arrival in England July 28th, 1670.

While Plunkett was in Rome, the other great Oliver of the day, Oliver Cromwell, invaded Ireland. Cromwell, as Lord protector of England, had enacted anti-Catholic legislation. Catholic priests were outlawed. Those who dared to administer the sacraments were hanged or transported to the West Indies. In Ireland, his usually well-controlled Protestant troops were permitted to inflict terrible atrocities upon Irish Catholics.

During his tenure Plunkett sought to improve the lot of his people. Taking advantage of a brief period in which the Penal Laws were slightly relaxed, he built schools for both the young and clergy and set about reorganizing the ravaged Church. He also tackled drunkenness among the clergy; true Christianity, Plunkett believed, sobers people and makes them more orderly. As an agent of Christ, Plunkett worked toward those ends. Records indicate he confirmed 48,655 people into the faith, and persuaded hundreds of couples who lived together without marriage to marry.

One incident merits special mention. There was a considerable number of displaced Catholics in the province of Ulster, most of whom had their property confiscated, who banded together and, as outlaws, lived by plundering those who lived around them. Anyone who sheltered them faced the death penalty by British law, anyone who refused them such shelter met with death at their hands. Plunkett went in search of them, facing great personal risk, and convinced them to renounce their career of plundering. He also managed to negotiate pardons for them so they could exile themselves to other countries rather than face the death penalty, and thus peace was restored throughout the whole province.

Nearly twenty years after the death of Cromwell, new outbreaks of anti-Catholicism forced Plunkett into hiding in 1673. Catholics were required to register for deportation at any seaport - failure to do so would have grave consequences. Plunkett refused. He continued however, to shepherd his flock. Many followed the example of their Archbishop and the underground Catholic church thrived despite the efforts of one Lord Shaftesbury.

Plunkett was finally arrested in Dublin in 1679. Shaftesbury, falsely accused Plunkett of plotting a French invasion of Ireland. He was tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. While awaiting trial in Dublin Castle, Plunkett showed his Christ-like character when, despite years of rivalry with Peter Talbot, archbishop of Dublin, over the question of who should be primate of Ireland, he forgave his fellow captive and administered to him the Catholic rite of absolution.

When a jury refused to convict Plunkett in Ireland, Shaftesbury, realizing the archbishop would never be convicted in Ireland had him moved to Newgate Prison, London. The first grand jury found no validity to the charges, but he was not released. The second trial was a kangaroo court; with two Franciscans bringing false testimony against him. Plunkett was found guilty of high treason on June, 1681 "for promoting the Catholic faith," and on July 1, 1681 was executed by being hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered. He was the last Catholic executed for his faith in England.

Even at the time many people were appalled at the manner in which Oliver Plunkett had been tried, convicted, and sentenced. Lord Campbell, writing of the judge, Sir Francis Pemberton, called it a disgrace to himself and his country. The bitterness of those days lives on in divided Ireland even today.

Oliver Plunkett was canonized and became Saint Oliver on October 12, 1975, only 32 years ago this week. But it should be noted that when Pope Paul VI canonized him he was the first Irishman in almost 700 years to receive the honor.


1. "Blessed Oliver Plunkett", Written by Patrick Francis Cardinal Moran. Transcribed by Marie Jutras. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
2. Various other Internet articles.

Photo credit: St. Oliver Plunkett - courtesy www.irishpage.com

Other events that happened this week:

October 8, 451: The Council of Chalcedon opens to deal with the questions of Christ's nature. Two groups, the Eutychians and the Apollinarians, believed Jesus could not have two natures. His divinity, they believed, swallowed up his humanity "like a drop of wine in the sea." The council condemned the teaching as heresy and created a confession of faith which affirmed the Nicene Creed.

October 9, 1000: Leif "the Lucky" Eriksson is reported to have been the first European to reach North America on this date. What is not widely reported is that he would later evangelize Greenland also making him the first to bring the gospel to North America. But while he was certainly a member of an early Viking voyage to "Vinland" (probably Nova Scotia), it's doubtful he led the initial expedition.

October 10, 1821: Law student Charles Finney goes off for a walk in the woods near his home to settle in his own mind the question of his standing before God. That night, at the age of 29, he experienced what he would later describe as "waves of liquid love throughout his body." He emerged from the woods fully convinced of the reality of the gospel message and before long became American history's greatest revivalist purportedly responsible for the conversion of as 500,000 people.

October 11, 1521: In responce to his tract "The Assertion of the Seven Sacraments," written against Martin Luther, Pope Leo X conferred the title "Fidei Defensor" (Defender of the Faith) upon England's Henry VIII. Three popes and 13 years later, when Henry couldn't get the church to grant him a divorce or annulment from his first wife, the infamous British monarch severed all ties with Rome, making the Church of England a separate church body.

October 13, 1836: Lutheran pastor Theodor Fliedner opens the first deaconess training centre in Kaiserswerth, Germany. The centre was opened despite the fact he had no curriculum and no teachers. Seven days later Gertrude Reichardt, the 48-year old daughter of a physician, applied for deaconess training. After her interview Theodor saw her as the answer to prayer and put her in charge of the centre.

October 14, 1066: William the Conqueror leads the Normans to victory over the English Saxons in the Battle of Hastings. William is also considered one of England's most important religious reformers; he spent his last days in intense Christian devotion.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Elusive Marcus of Rome

There is a dynamic that arises in researching church history that does not arise in the history of other cultures. During periods of fervor and persecution an 'end-time mindset' comes into play that keeps history from being recorded. The attitude that develops is simple, since Jesus is going to return at any moment, there is no sense recording these events as once He does return, history will be over and no one will care what happened previously. That may or may not have been the case shortly after the rise of Constantine, but it is one possible explanation. Whatever the reason, hardly anyone was writing anything down.

In the early 4th century Constantine the Great was ruler of the Roman Empire and the persecution of the Christian church had ceased. And yet despite this new peace there is little recorded of the churches activities during this period. It is no stretch to imagine that the church's coming out from under the reign of persecution would yield some i
nteresting sequences of events. But we'll never know, since few records of the church's activities at this time were made.

One of the big unknowns from this period is the life of the bishop of Rome, St. Mark (no, not the gospel writer). I should note here that 'pope' is a title that was not applied to the bishop of Rome at this time, that would come later; however, the term is now applied to all who have held the office .

We have no idea where or when he was born, though we are fairly certain Mark (Marcus?) was a Roman. The identity of his mother remains a mystery, but we know that his Father's name was Priscus. And that, gentle reader, is the sum total of all we know about his personal life. It's almost as if his life didn't begin until he was consecrated Bishop of Rome (pope) on January 18, 336. St. Mark only served as pope for 10 months, and while that isn't a lot of time I found myself intrigued by three undertakings that he did manage to get done in this short period.

First of all, it seems that St. Mark realized nobody was recording much history and so he undertook to correct the situation. He sought to compile stories of the lives of martyrs and bishops before his time. If someone had thought to follow his example we might know a little more about him. History is full of many things and one of the most abundant is irony.

Secondly, there are two churches in the area of Rome with pretty good arguments for having been founded by him, both built on land gifted by Emperor Constantine. One of them is named for him, the Church of San Marco. Renaming a church founded by a bishop after the bishop is a fairly common habit. The other church was located at the Catacomb of Balbina, the cemetery where St. Mark would eventually be buried.

The third task is one over which there is some debate. According to some sou
rces it was St. Mark who decreed that the Bishop of Ostia (a port near Rome) should be the one to consecrate the Bishops of Rome. Mark is also said to be the one who declared that the Bishop of Ostia would do so by bestowing a pallium upon the new Bishop of Rome. The pallium is a white wool sash that symbolizes the authority of the Pope, and anyone upon whom a pallium is bestowed shares in that authority. According to the Roman Church tradition, that authority comes in a direct line from the apostles themselves. However, some argue that since it will be almost two centuries later before there is a reliable record of a pope bestowing the pallium on someone else, it is unlikely St. Mark started the ceremony. Others argue that given the aforementioned spotty record keeping, the anecdotal evidence is as good a reason as any to give him credit.

Why was Mark Bishop of Rome declared a saint? Like so much else about the man, we just don't know, although the use of the term appears on the list quite early. The character of a bishop elevated to saint can usually be found in the descriptions of him found in the
writings of his peers, but again so few of these exist.

A person named Mark associated with the church in Rome is mentioned in one of Constantine's letters from the time before he became pope, but there is nothing to confirm that the bishop is the man. There is also little evidence to suggest that a fragment of an old poem refers to Mark despite some scholars belief that it is. The poem reads, "filled with the love of God, despised the world . . . the guardian of justice, a true friend of Christ." If that is our man Mark, it is one of the greatest compliments that can be paid a servant of God, but again, there is no real evidence. Even the one piece of evidence we thought we could be sure of, a letter St. Mark was alleged to have written to Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria who battled for the proper understanding of Christ's nature, has been shown to be a forgery.

These days, the chance of having a dearth of information regarding modern ch
urch events is highly unlikely. With all the various media tracking everything just about everybody does, not to mention the vast number of amateur historians recording their perspective on the Internet, the challenge facing future students of history will be sorting out the real from the imaginary from the downright deceptive. Personally, I'd rather be searching for the needle in a desert than in the haystack.

As stated earlier, we are certain of the date that St. Mark was consecrated Bishop of Rome. The other event we are absolutely certain of is the day of his death. Pope St. Mark died of natural causes, at an uncertain age, on October 7th, 336 -
1,671 years ago this week.


1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. &lt <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09674a.htm>

Photo credit: Pope Benedict XVI receives the pallium from
Archbishop Piero Marini - CNN.


Other Events that Happened This Week:

October 1, 1529: The Colloquy of Marburg convenes. The gathering was intended to find common ground on which to unite the two main Reformation movements, those of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. There were 15 items of contention between the two groups; 14 would be resolved. The 15th, the Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharist (consubstantiation) was a point neither side was willing to compromise. The colloquy ended on the 4th in failure. As a result Switzerland stayed Reformed, Germany stayed Lutheran, and all hopes of a united Protestant front against Roman Catholicism died.

October 2, 1792: A dozen young ministers from the district of Kettering, England, form the Baptist Missionary Society "for the propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen, according to the recommendations of [William] Carey's Enquiry." It would be the first foreign missionary society created by the Evangelical Revival of the last half of the eighteenth century. In short order other missionary societies were established, and a new era in missions began.

October 3, 1789: George Washington names November 26 as a day of national thanksgiving for the ratification of the Constitution. On the same date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln designates the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

October 4, 1890: The "mother of the Salvation Army," Catherine Booth, dies of cancer. Besides preaching as a Salvation Army minister, she persuaded her husband, William, to include in the Orders and Regulations of the Salvation Army that "women must be treated as equal with men in all intellectual and social relationships of life" and "have the right to equal share with men in the work of publishing salvation."

October 5, 1744: David Brainerd, kicked out of Yale for criticizing a tutor and attending a forbidden revival meeting, begins missionary work with Native Americans along New Jersey's Susquehannah River. Jonathan Edwards's biography of Brainerd was key in promoting Christian missions and was counted by William Carey (see Oct. 2nd above) as one of his most influential reads.

October 6, 1536: English reformer William Tyndale is strangled to death and then his body is burned at the stake for the crime of translating and publishing the New Testament into the English language. It is of some smaller significance that Tyndale's translation was the first to be mechanically-printed in England.