Thursday, July 14, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember Claude Fleury and his role in both educational reform and church history.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 14th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Follow me in the big picture here. On the modern Western timeline, after the Reformation, we come to the Enlightenment. The Reformation, far from being mired in Medieval superstition (as some have suggested), has more in common with the Enlightenment than sometimes assumed.

Consider this- the Reformation asked questions of the individual and the state regarding appropriate authority, epistemology (that is, how do we know what we know), and history. The Catholic Church could ask the Protestants, “if you’re so right, where has your church been for the past 1500 years?” And the Protestant could respond, “we have more in common with the early church than you.” Both questions and implied criticism are valid. And the educational reform in the Early Modern period that bled into the Enlightenment was, in many ways, an attempt to answer those pressing historical questions about the church.

The 17th century was a great century for educational reform from Francis Bacon in England to Claude Fleury in France- today, let’s look at Fleury, an often under-appreciated figure in the history of education and church history.

Claude Fleury was born in 1640 to an upper-class family. He went to the college at Clermont for a law degree and spent nine years practicing law at the French Parliament. In 1672, at the age of 32, he was called to the court of Louis XIV to tutor princes and the king's illegitimate son. He was a beloved teacher, and the king granted him the abbey of Loc-Dieu. Fleury continued teaching, now at the French Academy. His success there merited him a more significant monastery from which he would spend much of his life working on his magnum opus: the Histoire ecclésiastique. This 20-volume history of the church only went to the year 1414 in Fleury’s lifetime but was completed by his disciples over the following decades.

It was the first of its kind in France, and not since Eusebius’ Church History have we seen such an ambitious attempt to chronicle the church's past from the 1st century. And it was perhaps that first century that was key for this book. I don’t want to reduce a gigantic project to one idea. Still, a central theme in this book is primitivism, going back to the golden age and discovering truth for the present in historical precedent.

Voltaire, no fan of the church, wrote that Fleury’s work was “the best that has ever been done.” Catholics and Protestants would utilize the work, all the while Fleury floated above controversy. The Duke of Orleans suggested that Fleury was able to examine and explain divergent movements but stay himself on the side of Catholic orthodoxy- the Duke wrote of Fleury, “he was neither Jansenist nor Molinist, nor Ultramontanist, but Catholic.”

A reminder, refresher, or bit of new info for you: the Jansenists and Molinists were Catholic groups with different ideas regarding free will and predestination. And an Ultramontanist was a French theologian who was considered too close to the Italian politics of the Pope.

The legacy of Fleury lay in his ability to stay above the fray and to work for decades on his educational and historical church projects. And if you went to a Christian institution for your education, if you are interested in Church history and what it can do to help us figure out the church today…. Well, you’ve for Claude Fleury to remember and thank. Fleury was born in 1640 and died on the 14th of July in 1723, at 83.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Hebrews 5:

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
 today I have become your Father.”

6 And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
 in the order of Melchizedek.”

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of July 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who was sure Claude Fleury was a member of the Vancouver Canucks in the 90s. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who went by a similar name, Claude Fury, up in a wrestling league in Saskatchewan. I’m 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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