Friday, August 21, 2020

The year was 1724, and we remember Alexander Natalis. The reading is an 18th-century Welsh hymn by William Williams.

It is the 21st of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1724.

Charles VI was the Holy Roman Emperor and a Habsburg. But being a Habsburg and a Holy Roman Emperor did not mean what it once did. This was the age of new empires. This time they could be the size of small city-states. And these empires, or states, were ruled by quasi-Imperial absolutist monarchs.

From the French-born Philip V of Spain to John V of Portugal (the Portuguese Sun King) to Louis XIV, these "absolute monarchs" sought to reimagine Europe's old feudal system. Other burgeoning empires took advantage of unstable regions to grow their territories. This was the case when Ahmed III, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and Peter the Great of Russia divided Persia between themselves with the fall of the Safavid Empire.

Back home in Russia, in 1724, Peter the Great founded the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. A center for enlightenment learning, in its early years it hosted the Swiss mathematicians, Leonhard Euler and Daniel Bernoulli. Those are two men with fancy math things named after them.

The Enlightenment was in full swing in 1724. As a counterbalance to absolutism, the Enlightenment sought liberation through, among other things, the arts and sciences. Pamphleteer, poet, and cleric Jonathan Swift was poking fun at the high and mighty in his writings. Similarly, Daniel Defoe, the popular author, journalist, and sometimes spy, was at the height of his popularity. While more famous for his hymns, Isaac Watts published his work on logic in this year.

1724 was the year that Immanuel Kant was born. The philosopher would, in many ways, become the embodiment of the later Enlightenment. And it was in 1724, on this, the 21st of August, that Alexander Natalis died. The historian and preacher to King Louis XIV would be hailed and reviled for his approach to Church history.

Born in 1639 in Rouen, Alexander Natalis studied at the convent of St. Jacques and from there received his doctorate at the Sorbonne. Here, he was chosen as the tutor to the son of French minister Jean Baptiste Colbert. Colbert invited Natalis into his salon of philosophers and theologians. This would serve as Alexander's entree into the circles of Louis XIV.

Natalis gained fame for his approach to church history. His 24-volume church history is a mix of analysis by categorizing, moralizing, and dogmatizing. However, his work was soon denounced by the papacy and placed on the "Index of Prohibited Books." The reason? Gallicanism and Jansenism. Let's break that down.

"Gallicanism" was a French incarnation of the doctrine that said the power of the pope did not eclipse the power of the state or monarch. Coming from the Latin word for France, "Gaul," this doctrine was especially popular in times of especially powerful monarchs. Natalis, after all, had to serve two masters: the pope and the Sun King, Louis XIV. The extent of Alexander's Gallicanism has been questioned posthumously.

And as he ran afoul of the papacy with his supposed Gallicanism, it was his support of Jansenism that attracted the ire of Pope Clement XI. Natalis was one of 40 academics who signed a letter asking the church to recognize the freedom of conscience for dissenters if they dissent silently and peacefully. This arose out of an agreement that King Louis had with the Jansenists in France. He would protect them if they didn't make a fuss. While Natalis' support of the Jansenists looked like another example of a man more loyal to his state than the church, Natalis always seemed to have the right paperwork filled out, such that he could backtrack or resubmit his ideas. For this reason, he was never formally charged with heresy, and despite his work being banned for a time, his popularity and utility as a church historian has remained.

Alexander Natalis retired from public life after the public row and took up residence at St. Jacques, where he worked until blindness beset him. Alexander Natalis, born in 1639, died on this day, the 21st of August, in 1724. He was 85 years old.

The reading for today is from an 18th-century Welsh hymn by William Williams, translated by Peter Williams.

Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand;

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell's destruction
Land me safe on Canaan's side.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who lives his life by Bernoulli's principle, Christopher 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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