It is the 4th 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 1848.
It is an appropriate date to consider on this particular day. The 4th of July is the commemoration of an American Revolution, and any mention of 1848 in many parts of Europe resonates in the same way the year 1776 resonates for some of us.
It is called the Spring of Nations or the Springtime of the People. Revolutions against ancient regimes spread across Europe. The revolt in Paris was extremely significant. As we will hear later, this country was a hotbed of revolutionary spirit. Louis Phillipe, the Duke of Orleans, also known as the King of the French, abdicated. The French National Assembly met, the workers rose up, the June days led to a bloodbath, and by the end of the year, Louis Napoleon was elected president of the new French Republic.
There were three revolutions this year in Vienna. The result was the abolition of serfdom across the country. There were revolutions across the Italian peninsula in Venice, Milan, Parma, and Rome. The goal of these revolutions was to create independent republics free of Austrian control. These revolutions ultimately did not take hold. Across the disparate German lands, a sense of pan-German solidarity took hold, and the rights of the poor were championed. This sense would be highlighted with the seminal work by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Communist Manifesto.” In England, where a people’s revolution did not take hold, the Industrial revolution led to John Stuart Mill’s liberal response to both communism and socialism with his publication of the “Principles of Political Economy.”
In the United States, there were revolutions of a different type. 1848 saw the convening of the Seneca Falls Convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others called the convention to discuss “the social, civil, and religious rights of women.” Across the country in this same year, James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, helping to kick off the Gold Rush.
In 1848, the legendary frontiersman Wyatt Earp was born, as was painter Paul Gaugin, as was Susie Taylor, the first African American Army nurse with the 33rd United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War. In 1848 John Q. Adams, the thoroughly underwhelming 6th president, died, as did author Emily Bronte.
And it was on this, the 4th of July, in 1848, that Francois-Rene Chateaubriand died. Chateaubriand was born to minor nobility in 1768. He would go on to become one of the most famous writers of his day as a novelist, theologian, diplomat, and politician. It is his writing from1802, “the Genius of Christianity,” which we will highlight today.
Chateaubriand studied for the priesthood but eventually took a commission into the Army. He was later tonsured to become a member of the Knights of Malta. As the French Revolution began, he was at first in favor of the movement, despite his noble status. He left for America as the Revolution took off, only to return after hearing about the imprisonment of Louis XVI. Ever attempting to mediate, he tried to chart a course between the reactionaries and the revolutionaries but to no avail. He was exiled to England, only returning when Napoleon came to power and restored the church.
Chateaubriand published his “The Genius of Christianity,” which served as a kind of apologetic for the restored church. The basic gist of the book is that the beauty of Christianity and its sublime effects on society are its best defense. He believed that Christianity was the solution to making progress in both the state and with arts and letters. The book explored dogma, poetry, ritual, and art from a Christian perspective and wrote that all of those things find their purest expression in the Christian faith. Chateaubriand eventually fell out of favor with Napoleon, was restored with the Bourbons, and exiled the last time after the revolutions of 1830. He spent the rest of his life on his memoirs, dying on this the 4th of July in 1848.
According to the Larousse Gastronomique, a Chateaubriand, a center-cut Filet Mignon with Chateaubriand Sauce, is named after the author whose personal chef popularized the dish.
The reading for today is an appropriate reflection on revolutions, especially the violent kind—this from Ronnie McBrayer.
“Violence promises us something we all deeply desire, something we genuinely want; violence promises us peace. Violence promises us, that in the end, when the last battle is fought, the last bomb is dropped, and the last enemy is slain, we will have what we always dreamed of – safety, a world without suffering, death or bloodshed; a world at rest. Yet, these are the very things Christ offers with the Kingdom of God. A world where the lamb will lay down with the lion, where swords are beaten into plowshares, where mercy and justice flow down like the waters, where every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, and where there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.
― Ronnie McBrayer, The Jesus Tribe: Following Christ in the Land of the Empire
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite cut of steak is the Salisbury Steak, 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.