It is the 3rd of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 529.
It was the year of the first Samaritan revolt. You may think of Samaritans as helpful do-gooders on account of the parable, but the Samaritans were an ethnic and religious group with roots in Judaism. “Samaritan” means “guardians” or “keepers,” and they believed themselves to be the faithful remnant of the Hebrews who did not leave during the Babylonian exile. They have their own Torah, which is essentially the same Torah used by Jewish communities. However, the Samaritan’s text has a few variants, such as the command to build a temple at Mt. Gerizim.
The revolts were the result of the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno, who took Mt. Gerizim and, according to the Samaritans, desecrated it. By 529, the charismatic Samaritan Leader Julianus ben Sabar led the revolt to create an independent Samaritan state.
The Emperor joined forces with the Ghassanids, a pre-Islamic Arabian group that emigrated from the Arabian Peninsula to the Levant. Between the two powers, the Samaritans revolt was crushed such that by the Middle ages, the Samaritans were almost entirely extinct.
529 also saw the first publication of the new Emperor Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis. It can be argued that this is the most important collection of legal documents in the modern Western tradition. The new Emperor in the east sought to rally all former Romans together under codified law. While the Roman Empire never recovered, the framework for a trans-national codified law would be one of the most important contributions to modern conceptions of law.
Justinian was busy this year. He also shut down Plato’s Academy in 529. The grove outside of Athens was founded in 387BC and was the famed center of Greek philosophy for centuries. By the 6th century, the Academy had been through schism and sacking but remained the symbol of Greek thought. Justinian believed it was corrupting the Christian church and shut it down. Many of the scholars who were teaching at the Academy at the time moved to Gundishapur in Persia after being invited by the Persian king.
In the western part of the old empire, 529 saw the creation of the first abbey at Monte Cassino by St. Benedict and his fellow monks. It was from this Italian monastery that Benedict would write his famous Rule, which would become a foundational document for the creation of medieval western monasticism. The site of the monastery was also the site of one of the most important battles of WWII. In 1944, the Allied forces attempted to take Rome. To do so, and they would have to subdue the heavily armored monastery on the mountainside. When, after months of battle, the Allies took the strategic Axis stronghold, the war was tilting decisively towards Allied victory.
And it was on this day, the 3rd of June, in 529, that the 2nd Council of Orange convened. Like “The Godfather,” “Terminator,” and “Alien” film franchises, the 2nd Council or Orange proved the sequel to be better than the original. The second council arose out of the convening of Bishops at the dedication of a Church in Arausio, or Orange, in southern France.
It was the first council to be held in Gaul that produced a theological document. The question at hand was the relationship between Augustinian and Semi-Pelagian views of grace. You might remember that Pelagianism was condemned in a previous century. Still, the church was not ready to embrace the complete opposite in accepting an extreme Augustinian view, especially with regards to double predestination. That is, it affirms that God elects whom he elects but does not elect towards damnation. To oversimplify: you don’t have free will to obtain grace and be justified, that alone is the work of God. However, you do have free will concerning rejecting the means of grace. The positions of this council would not be controversial until the Reformation century reignited questions like these for Luther, Calvin, and the Catholic Council of Trent. The council that framed questions of free will and predestination convened on this day, the 3rd of July, in 529.
The reading for today takes us back in time to the 7th century. This is the first recorded poem in the English language (although that English would be unrecognizable to you). It is from Caedmon, a poet from a Northumbria. This is “Caedmon’s Hymn.”
Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,
the power of the Creator, the profound mind
of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning
of every wonder, the eternal Lord.
For the children of men he made first
heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.
Then the Lord of mankind, the everlasting Shepherd,
ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,
Almighty Lord, the earth for men.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite sequels include RoboCop II, Jaws 3D, and Babe, Pig in the City Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by 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.