It is the 29th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Back in 2020, amidst, well, everything that that year brought us, there was a scuffle in St. Louis. Since 1904 and the World’s Fair of that year a statue- the “Apotheosis of St. Louis” had stood as a symbol for the city named after the French King, King, and St. Louis IX. Some claimed that the king stood for religious bigotry and thus was not worthy of being memorialized in bronze in front of the art Museum in the city that bears the king's name.
Sure, there are all kinds of baddies with statues, but this King of France was the only king in the history of some 50 Kings of France to be named a saint. Surely the dissonance between past and present can be discerned and adjudicated… well… maybe. Let’s tell the story.
King Louis IX was born in 1212 to Louis VIII and Queen Blanche of Castille (and, because you are wondering, there are between 16 and 20 French King Louis- that disparity is a story for another time).
When Louis VIII died, his son Louis ascended the throne on the 29th of November in 1226. His father had been involved in the intrigue surrounding England's King John and the Albigensian Crusade against heretics in the south of France. It is worth noting that Louis IX came to the throne between the disastrous 5th Crusade and the slightly-less-disastrous 6th Crusade. Louis himself would lead the 7th and 8th Crusades- more on them in a second.
We can remember St. Louis by means of disputations, treaties, and crusades. First- the disputation of 1240. This infamous disputation, also known as the Trial of the Talmud- marks a dark time in Christian Jewish relations in the Middle Ages. A Jewish convert to Christianity brought charges against the Jews for Blasphemy in the Talmud (the collection of Jewish teachings). Blasphemy was considered a civil crime, and the result of the trial was that copies of the Talmud were burned, and French Jews were persecuted.
And this was not the end of the religious strife for Louis. Two years after the trial, Jerusalem fell once again, and he would lead a crusade that would make its way from France to Cyprus to the Egyptian city of Damietta. Once again, crusaders were slowed by the flooding of the Nile, many of Louis's troops fell sick, and he himself was captured only to be ransomed back to France.
Back in France, Louis, known for his piety, turned his attention to internal and intra-Christian affairs. He would become known for his provisions for the poor and his daily attendance at Mass. He would seek peace with James I of Aragon with the Treaty of Corbeil in 1258 and with King Henry III of England the following l with the Treaty of Paris. He would also follow in his father's footsteps in rekindling the Albigensian Crusade against Christian heretics in the south of France before setting out on the 8th Crusade- this time to the African city of Tunis on the Mediterranean. He would succumb to dysentery and die in 1270. He was quickly canonized in 1297 by Pope Boniface- the only French monarch to have that honor. He would thus become the patron saint of France, and when French explorers came to the American Midwest via Louisiana (named for the 14th Louis), they named their fort in the name of the sainted Louis IX.
It was in those Medieval days- the so-called “age of faith” that it was believed that a state could not abide multiple faiths- thus, the extirpation of “heresy” or other faiths was the domain of the monarch. And in an age of religious fervor and warfare, acts of brutality were committed by all religions in power- something we do well to note and learn from. Do we have statues of flawed people? Yes. And we do well to remember the axiom of Lord Acton- not only the part that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” but the rest of it: “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”
Do some “bad men” deserve memorials for what good they did stand for and the reasons for which they were memorialized? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Louis IX was a thoroughly medieval king for whom piety and warfare were part and parcel of the job description- and in comparison to many, his care for the poor and desire for intra-Christian peace was notable. Today, we remember the conflicted saint on this, the anniversary of his ascension to the Crown on this day in 1226.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary and John 5.
The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man surely shocked that a King John reference was made with nary a reference to, well… I don’t want to ruin it. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man with a lifelong grudge against that midwestern city that once tried to steal my football team- enjoy Arena football now, you thieves! 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.