It is the 9th 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 1766.
While we will be looking at the colonies today on account of our remembrance for the day, we will first look at two events elsewhere. The first was the passing of the 1766 "Law on the Freedom of Printing" in Sweden. This law passed in this year by the Swedish Parliament removed the government as a censor of published works. Furthermore, all government activity was now to be public. The idea was to allow people the freedom to print material unfavorable to the government without fear of reprisal. This act is considered the first modern law to guarantee a free press.
In 1766, Catherine the Great granted freedom of worship across Russia. While she, like many in her day, believed religion to be at the core of a healthy state, Catherine believed that one did not need to be a member of the Russian Orthodox church. This action was especially helpful for mollifying the Muslim population in her empire.
So, while freedom of speech, the press, and religion were established elsewhere, early rumblings in colonial America portended the revolution to come. It was in 1766 that, on the day of George III's 28th birthday, the Sons of Liberty erected a freedom pole. The freedom pole goes back to the Roman empire. It consisted of a pole topped by a Phrygian cap. The Phrygian cap represented freedom and has a fascinating history in America. The statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol building was originally intended to wear a Phrygian, or Freedom Cap. It was changed when future confederate traitor, then-senator Jefferson Davis, objected as he thought it was a wink at abolitionism.
In 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed. The very unpopular act required all printed documents to bear a stamp purchased by Royal representatives. More on that in a minute.
1766 saw the births of a few significant people. These three might have some of my favorite names in the Almanac. The first was Christmas Evans, the famed Welsh Baptist we've discussed before on this show. Preserved Fish was born in 1766, who would become a leading merchant in New York. Paddington Jones was also born, who would go on to become a famous bare-knuckle boxer in England. In 1766, Architect Stiff Ledbetter died as did Hedvig Stromfelt, the Swedish Moravian leader.
And it was on this, the 9th of July in 1766 that colonial reverend and firebrand Jonathan Mayhew died.Mayhew was born on Martha's Vineyard in 1720, where his father was a missionary amongst the native population. Jonathan went to Harvard and was then ordained at Boston's West Church, the church he remained at until his death.
Mayhew was, like all people, complicated. He was at first enraptured by George Whitefield but left the evangelical movement on account of a few of his rationalist theological interpretations (in particular, his views on the Trinity). Mayhew had vitriol for the hierarchy in both the English government and in the Anglican church.
In 1750 he preached a sermon entitled, "A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers." John Adams referred to this sermon and his other writings as the "catechism" of the American revolution. Mayhew argued, similar to John Locke, that while St. Paul instructed Christians to submit to authorities, this was only meant to apply to legitimate governments. Mayhew was an essential theological voice in favor of a kind of revolution. He was also said to have coined the phrase "no taxation without representation." His rhetoric may have been a little paranoid as to the actual intentions of the British. He was nonetheless on the vanguard of arguing against the Stamp Act, which, as we heard, was repealed in 1766, the same year that Jonathan Mayhew died. Born in 1720, the revolutionary preacher was 46 years old.
The reading for today comes from Thomas C. Oden's "Classic Christianity:"
"BECAUSE OF PIETY'S PENCHANT for taking itself too seriously, theology does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some droll sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity. I invite the kind of laughter that wells up not from cynicism about reflection on God but from the ironic contradictions accompanying such reflection. Theology is intrinsically funny. This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God. I have often laughed at myself as these sentences went through their tortuous stages of formation. I invite you to look for the comic dimension of divinity that stalks every page."
― Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of July 2020, presented by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite preserved fish is lutefisk, 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.