Sunday, October 25, 2020

The year was 1400. We remember the poet, servant, and pilgrim Geoffrey Chaucer. The reading comes from another English storyteller and Christian, John Bunyan, his "He Who Would Valiant Be" from the Pilgrim's Progress.

It is the 25th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1400.

It was the last year of the 14th century and the first year of the 1400s. It's because of the way numbers work. 1401 would be the first year of the 15th century, the way that the 21st century didn't begin until 2001. Why am I belaboring the point? Because when it turned from 1999 to 2000 that meant more than 2000 to 2001. Maybe it was Y2K? Perhaps it was the strange response we see throughout history when the calendar changes? The change in centuries (real or perceived) often leads to reflection as to what the last 100 years brought.

And so, what was the story of the 1300s for those living on the cusp of the next century? Of course, it depends on where you were living—the Aztecs were settling Tenochtitlan in this century, and the mighty Ming dynasty in China was also beginning. In Europe, the story would be the black death, an event so big that even if you weren't directly affected, you likely heard the stories of the horrors.

If you lived in the Catholic West, it was a time of instability as the century began with the papacy moving from Rome to Avignon, France. By the end of the century, a papal schism led to as many as three Popes simultaneously claiming sole authority.

If you lived anywhere near the English Channel, the story of the 1300s was the beginning of what we call the Hundred Years War. This is the war that began when French King Philip VI took the English-held duchy of Guyenne in modern France. Something of a sequel to 1066, the French and English would fight for control of their supposed ancestral lands on the continent.

It was a century marked by Scholasticism in the church. Cathedral schools and early universities taught from what Greeks they had. The combination of the writings of both Aristotle and Aquinas proved enticing. It wasn't, however, all "Summa's" and Systematics. We can see the earliest inklings of the coming renaissance in Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante's works. In stories, poems, and prose, these men helped the rest of the world explore the mind's life, the interior life of faith, and life together.

And if you are hearing or reading this, you have a particular debt to a man who did these things in the English language. It was Geoffrey Chaucer whose stamp on the 1300s and beyond we remember today. Chaucer, the great storyteller, the diplomat, and a soldier died on this, the 25th of October 1400.

We know little of his early life, except that his parents were middle class, trading in wine and leather, and that at some point Chaucer's father came into the service of the English King Edward III. Geoffrey fought for the king in the hundred years war and was captured. After being ransomed by the English king, Chaucer would find himself in service to the king as a diplomat. It was then that Chaucer spent time in Italy, where he was introduced to Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch's works.

His life of court intrigue, tragedy, and travel is certainly worthy of an examination. Still, for our sakes, we do well to remember the influence of his collection of stories known as "The Canterbury Tales." The Canterbury Tales take their name as they were the stories told by religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine of English Saint Thomas Beckett in Canterbury. The stories told by the likes of the Knight, Miller, Monk, the Wife of Bath, etc. give us insight into people's minds making their way on their pilgrimage. And the allegory of a pilgrimage was both appropriate and popular.

The stories are both sacred and profane, they are serious and humorous, and they wrap up the contradictions of medieval life in colloquial English then and after. Unfortunately, of the 30 some pilgrims, not all of them told their stories. And the Pilgrims never make it back home. Geoffrey Chaucer, who was writing his magnum opus near the end of his life, died before finishing it. Born in 1343, the poet, servant, and pilgrim Geoffrey Chaucer died on this day in 1400. He was 57 years old.

The reading for today comes from another English storyteller and Christian, John Bunyan. This is "He Who Would Valiant Be" from the Pilgrim's Progress.

1 He who would valiant be
'gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There's no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

2 Who so beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound—
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
though he with giants fight;
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim.

3 Since, Lord, Thou dost defend
us with Thy Spirit,
we know we at the end
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, flee away!
I'll fear not what men say,
I'll labor night and day
to be a pilgrim.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man with the power of three popes over his nine children 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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