Thursday, February 4, 2021

The year was 856. We remember Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine monk. Our reading is a hymn from Maurus, "Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire."

It is the 4th of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 856.

To get where we are going today, let's talk a little about nicknames. First, let's define our terms. A nickname could be just the shortening of a name. I am given the name "Daniel" but tend to go by "Dan." But there are also sobriquets. Think of how Michael Jackson is called the "King of Pop," and Elvis Presley is the "King of Rock and Roll." (We could call these "monikers," but I fear the literalists will tear me apart if I narrow these down too much.)

Historically the "epithet" has taken on a pejorative sense, but that's not always the case. Consider Charles the Fair, Charles the Great, and other "the-somethings." But of course, for all of those, you will have a William the Bad and a Charles the Bald or so-and-so the Fat. Ivan got "terrible," Vlad got "impaler," and poor Władysław I was the "elbow-high."

The church's history is a history of nicknames, epithets, and sobriquets with the occasional moniker. In church history, and on the Almanac, in particular, we've had few fun ones like Leonidas Polk, the "Fighting Bishop," and William Brodie, the "Demon Deacon." And I'm not going to say, personally, that the former Pope Benedict could be something of a cranky fellow. Still, his nicknames have included "Cardinal No," "Die Panzerkardinal," and "God's Rottweiler."

Roger Bacon was the "Doctor Mirabilis," and Thomas Aquinas was the "Doctor Angelicus" but also famously called the "Dumb Ox." Throughout his writings, Aquinas calls Aristotle simply "the Philosopher." In his school days, Luther has wanted to be known as "The Philosopher," but he got stuck with "the wild boar." This, of course, was meant to be harmful, and he played it the other way. Philip Melanchthon was famously called the "Praeceptor Germanae."

You might know a few of these, why they are important and what they help us remember. And to get back to 856, I'd like to go back to the last nickname, Philip Melanchthon being the "teacher" or "preceptor" of Germany. Melanchthon helped create the modern Gymnasium school system used across the world. He emphasized not just the teaching of theology but every subject. One often overlooked aspect of the Reformation is the positive impact it had on education. But calling Melancthon the "Praeceptor Germanae" was a self-evident tip of the hat to the original "Praeceptor Germanae," the man without whom Melanchthon's nickname would not hold the weight it does.

Today we remember Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine monk, who was sent to Tours in France to study under Alcuin in 802. With that date and place, you must have Carolingian bells going off in your head. Alcuin was the Englishman brought to the Continent to be the tutor and academic in the court of Charlemagne. Maurus, showing promise and being in Alcuin and Charlemagne's good graces, was sent to Fulda. Fulda was a strategic location in Germany for taking the Gospel east to the various "barbarian" tribes.

As, essentially, an outpost for missionaries, Maurus took great care to promote proper theological knowledge and knowledge of the natural world. He wrote on theology and ecclesiology in a foreign land, and manuals for the appropriate activities for bishops, etc. But also, his "On the Universe" (or "On the Nature of Things") was a 22-volume encyclopedia of intellectual and church history up to the 9th century. Rabanus Maurus would be fundamental in developing the system of medieval education, spreading the Gospel in foreign lands, in the consolidation of the German language, and furthering the idea that Christians should study all of God's creation. For this, he was called the "Praeceptor Germanae," Melanchthon only borrowed it. The Teacher of Germany, Rabanus Maurus, died on this, the 4th of February in 856.

The reading for today comes from Maurus himself, a hymn that is attributed to him and translated by John Cosin, "Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire."

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
and lighten with celestial fire;
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love;
enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our mortal sight.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but one;
that through the ages all along
this may be our endless song:

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, "of the House Gillespie, First of His Name, the Unburnt, King of the Andals and the First Men, Breaker of Chains, and Father of Dragons." The show is written and read by Daniel, the cocker-spaniel, 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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