Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The year was 1781. Joseph II introduced his "Patent of Toleration." The reading is from William Cowper, his "Sometimes a Light Surprises."

It is the 13th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1781.

While the Revolutionary War was raging on the East coast of North America, we will direct our attention to the West Coast. In 1781, a group of 44 settlers left Northern Mexico to establish a new town along the Porciuncula River. These 44 settlers had a mix of European, Native, and African roots. Under the auspices of New Spain and the direction of Gaspar De Portola, the village was named El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles. The original settlers of the world's greatest city set up on what is now Olvera Street Downtown.

The Spanish Empire was keen on creating the Viceroyalty of New Spain in what is now California, on account of the ever-expanding Russian Empire, which had settled across the Bering Straits in modern Alaska and had designs on moving down the west coast. The expansion of Russia into these regions began with Peter the Great and continued with Empress Catherine, also known as “the Great."

Catherine the Great presided over a long period of Russian expansion and their inclusion into the political and cultural life of Europe. Historically, Russian Emperors would remain happily separated from the cultures to their south and west, but Catherine was a different kind of empress. She was part of a larger group of European rulers called the "enlightened despots." The rule of an "enlightened despot" was supposed to take into account the stability of a strong government and improve citizens' material lives.

One such "enlightened despot" contemporaneous to Catherine was Joseph II of the House of Habsburg, who was Holy Roman Emperor. Among Joseph's reforms and projects were compulsory education, legal reform, and encouragement of the arts. Joseph was famously a patron of Mozart. In 1781 Mozart premiered his masterwork, the chorale-meets-opera "Idomeneo." The story of a man destined to kill his son remains a favorite in Mozart's extensive catalog.

But Joseph II did more than just expand the arts in Austria and the empire. As an "enlightened despot," he was looking for new solutions to the religious settlement issues that had plagued the empire for centuries. And it was on this, the 13th of October in 1781, that Joseph II introduced his "Patent of Toleration," the model for religious tolerance for both his era and generations to come. While it was an edict of toleration, it was more a step in the direction of religious freedom than simple tolerance. The mandate granted non-Catholic Christians the freedom to worship publicly and to be considered as equals under the law.

Philosopher and sociologist Jurgen Habermas has put forward a compelling argument that this granting of a kind of radical religious freedom would have been impossible in a democratic republic and was only possible under a so-called "enlightened despot." Habermas and others have emphasized the necessity of such freedoms granted by fiat. Unfortunately for Joseph, the winds would soon turn direction. Within a decade, he was run out of Hungary and took refuge in Vienna. He died, discouraged, and alone. Despite his unpopularity, his reforms are essential for the Holy Roman Empire navigating the dangerous political climate of that age. Perhaps his most significant contribution to the church was his "Patent of Toleration," which was signed on this, the 13th of October, in 1781.

The reading for today is from William Cowper, his "Sometimes a Light Surprises."

Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say—
E'en let the unknown morrow
Bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He, who feeds the ravens,
Will give His children bread

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear;
Though all the fields should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who left his wallet in El Segundo, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. 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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