Sunday, August 2, 2020

The year was 640 and Pope Severinus died. The reading is from Cynewulf's “The Ascension."

It is the 2nd of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 640.

Any look into the 7th century should recognize the creation, consolidation, and growth of Islam. The Islamic calendar begins in the year 622, the year that Muhammed is said to have fled from Mecca to Medina. This lunar calendar called the Hijri is marked by the years since this move to Medina, what is otherwise known as the Hejira. Many Muslim majority countries use the Islamic calendar for religious purposes and the Gregorian calendar for civic purposes.

With the birth and growth of the third Abrahamic religion in the region, nations on its periphery began to feel the pinch. Both the Chinese and Byzantines became alarmed by the expansionist religion. The 7th century saw the first Arab siege of Constantinople.

This century also marks the end of the so-called "Coptic period" in Egypt. While "Coptic" Christianity still exists today, the "Coptic period" marked a blending of ancient Egyptian culture and mass Christian culture. In 642, the Islamic era began in Egypt. The one-time center of Christianity has mainly been Muslim up to the present day.

The 7th century also saw the important migration of the Bulgars and the Slavs into the Balkans. Soon, the Khazars, a nomadic Turkish people, pushed the Bulgars out into the land we would come to know as Bulgaria. The Slavs, however, were not so lucky. They were taken captive against their will and forced to work. These Slavs would be the etymological forefathers of the word "slaves."

The 7th century saw an outbreak of smallpox from India to Europe. Arab expansion, as well as colonization and trade, caused one of the deadliest outbreaks of the disease that was officially eradicated in 1979.

The 7th century is also the century of the Christianization of England. It is the era of Augustine of Canterbury and the church as a unifying force on the Balkanized island.

In the church, while expansion and Islam would dominate the attention of many, there were new Christological issues that would become important. As Christianity spread into regions with different native conceptions of God, the doctrine of the God-Man would be challenged in sometimes subtle ways. One such new teaching would get the moniker "Monothelitism." The mono means "one" and the "thele" comes from the Greek word for "will." In other words, the teaching supposed that while Christ appeared to be human in the flesh, he had no human will. They taught he had only one will, the divine. This teaching about the divine and human will of Christ would cause tension between the Eastern and Western churches. And it was on this day, the 2nd of August, in 640, that Pope Severinus, the man who made his mark on this controversy, died.

Severinus was chosen in 638 to become the next Bishop of Rome. However, before he could be ordained, he would need to be approved by the emperor in Constantinople. This emperor, Heraclius, was something of a theologian himself. He wrote a document referred to as the "Ecthesis" in 638, the same year Severinus was elected to be pope. The "Ecthesis" was a statement affirming Monothelitism. Thus, with Severinus being a famous foe of the teaching, he was not going to be approved by the emperor. Some in favor of the doctrine and opposed to the new pope took over the Lateran palace to force Severinus' hand. It didn't work, but it took about a year and a half. By the time Severinus was able to be officially ordained, he only had about two months left to live. He served as pope from the 28th of May until today's date, the 2nd of August, in 640, when he died.

While his official papacy might have been unimpressive and short, he was able to hold the line on the issue. Within a few decades, the 680, Creed of Constantinople confessed and affirmed the two wills—human and divine—in Christ.

The reading for today comes from the old English poet Cynewulf, likely in the ninth century. This is a small section from his poem, "The Ascension."

Now is the child come,
born as an amendment,
to the sins of the Hebrews.
He brings bliss to you,
loosing your bonds
compelled upon you
in malice. He knows
the pressing necessity,
how the wretched
must await mercy.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 2nd of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher "Teen-Cynewulf" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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