Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the father of the Enlightenment and a Christian Virtuoso: Sir Francis Bacon.

It is the 9th of April 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


On just the second weekend edition, back in 2022, I chose for my topic the broad theme of the Enlightenment- perhaps it was a little ambitious, but I did so as the course I taught on the subject was one of my most well-received and I will never tire of reminding Christians that this is not some pagan or godless movement that forever made the West a haven for skeptics and atheists. In fact, the father of the movement was himself a devoted Christian, dedicated to understanding God’s creation in light of the Fall and our redemption. And, as he has yet to be featured, we will tell the story of Sir Francis Bacon today, on the anniversary of his death on this day in 1626.

Francis was born in London in 1561; thus, his life would be lived almost entirely in the context of Queen Elizabeth and the subsequent King James. The Anglican Church would solidify itself during this period, and he lived a life roughly parallel to that of William Shakespeare. His father, Nicholas, had risen from relative obscurity to become the Lord Keeper of the Seals- that is, today, the Lord Chancellor and then important statesmen under the crown.

Young Francis would attend Trinity College, Cambridge, but was bored and unimpressed with the curriculum based on old Aristotelean ideas-  he was well-read in the Humanism of his day and asked his father if he could leave school and have a job arranged in politics. He was given a position at Grey’s Inn to study law and was sent to France to serve with the English Ambassador.

But his fortunes would change when his father suddenly died, and while well-liked, he had no personal fortune. Thus began Francis' adult life, where he was always insecure about money- his eventual downfall.

He would rocket through the legal profession, becoming special council to the crown and attorney general. He would ultimately lose his position for being less than careful with the public purse, something he would admit to being prone to on account of his difficult financial situation. But this is not the story of Francis Bacon. Instead, it is of a man who would be the foremost of English philosophers on account of his various essays and writing and his particular role as what Robert Boyle would call a “Christian Virtuoso,” that is, someone who is an exemplary character in both natural and divine revelation, and knows that while they tell different stories using different methods, the are complimentary.

This might be best seen, if not somewhat obliquely, in his famous work “The New Atlantis.” This book follows Thomas More’s recently invented genre of “Utopian” literature to portray imperfect people (Europeans) coming to a world that has not suffered the Fall and thus has insights into the best of all possible worlds.

One might refer to his “Advancement of Learning” as the first book of significant philosophy published in English, but it was his “Novum Organum” of 1620 that changed the world. In it, he presents something approximating what would later be called the “Scientific Method” of collecting data, reporting it, and then proposing methods for making sense of what it can tell us. More importantly, as a “Christian Virtuoso,” he knew that humankind was marred by the fall and was careful to note where we are prone to make mistakes. He called these the “idols” of the mind- they are the idols of the Tribe, Cave, Marketplace, and Theatre. The idol of the tribe is that universal human propensity to over-exaggerate or simply. The Cave is to rely solely on one's own predilections and concerns, the idol of the Marketplace involves interpersonal communication and its failings, and lastly, the idol of the Theatre is that which confounds us based on our shared superstitions.

Bacon blended the best of faith in the supernaturally revealed Word and a rigorous faith in the rationality of God’s creation, despite ourselves and despite his censures for receiving unauthorized gifts (which he agreed were just), made himself a paragon for later generations of Christians in the sciences.

The story of his demise, perhaps slightly affected by our propensity to one or more of the “idols” involves him attempting to stuff a hen with snow, a project which may have left him with a bronchial illness which lead to his death on this, the 9th of April in 1626. Born in 1561 Francis Bacon, the Christian Virtuoso was 65 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary another  good word from 1 John:

I am writing to you, little children,
    because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young people,
    because you have conquered the evil one.

I write to you, children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
    because you are strong
    and the word of God abides in you,
        and you have overcome the evil one.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of April 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who had a very different idea as to what the “lord Keeper of the Seals” was-  He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows this isn’t the place for it, but the Undertaker! I couldn’t believe it…. 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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