It is the 4th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1708.
It was at the beginning of the year that a mysterious publication was published as the "Predictions for the Year 1708" by Isaac Bickerstaff. One of the more surprising predictions was that the astrologer John Partridge was to die on March 29. Partridge wrote that Bickerstaff was a charlatan, but the world waited to see if the prediction would come true. On the date, Bickerstaff sent out a printed eulogy stating that Partridge did indeed die. The problem was that Partridge did not die and, enraged, he published an open letter stating that he was alive. Bickerstaff responded that, no, Partridge was indeed dead, as no sentient person could have written the kinds of terrible predictions that astrologer Partridge did write. Partridge was humiliated and was exposed as a charlatan. However, in a final twist, there was no Isaac Bickerstaff. It was a pseudonym used by the Irish Clergyman and wit, Jonathan Swift.
Culturally, the early 18th century in Europe belongs to Georg Fredric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach. In the year 1708, Bach was 23 years old and was named the organist and director of music at the court in Weimar. This gave the young composer a group of well-funded professional musicians. The next nine years would be amongst the most productive for him to compose. Handel, Bach's senior by about a month, attended the University of Halle, and by 1708 his reputation had increased such that the De' Medici family invited Georg to compose in Italy. There, in this year, his "La Resurrezione" was performed as a sacred oratorio. It was a touchy issue as opera was banned, and sacred music was to be performed in a church, which this was not. Handel would knock against these traditions for much of his career.
It will come to no surprise to regular listeners of the Almanac in season two that wherever we go on the calendar and in the past, there's going be some conflict. And 1708 was in the middle of the War of Spanish Succession. It sounds like a boring war, but it was anything but. With apologies to my former student and colleague Caleb Karges (who did his dissertation on the topic,) the war was essentially about the fear of any one nation taking the Spanish holdings in both Europe and the New World. The theatre of the war spanned the Atlantic. We often refer to the North American portion of the war as "Queen Anne's War," as she was attempting to hold off the French from acquiring too much land near her British colonies. And it is in those colonies that we look today, as we remember the first Presbyterian minister in the colonies, the founder of North American Presbyterianism, Francis Makemie, who died on this day in 1708.
Makemie was an Ulster Scot, a Scotsman living in the Ulster settlement in Ireland, and attended the University of Glasgow. In 1682, when a call from Maryland came for a minister and missionary, Makemie heeded the call. Unlike the Puritans, who were Calvinists but congregational, Makemie was a Presbyterian who would establish the first presbytery in the new world. But he also rankled the Anglicans because, as an Ulster Scot Presbyterian, he had no use for royal decrees regarding religion. He was arrested while traveling and preaching in New York in 1707. Despite having a license to preach in Maryland, Virginia, and Barbados, he was imprisoned. He was eventually acquitted due to an interpretation of the 1689 Edict of Toleration in England, that a judge saw as relevant in the colonies as well. Despite this victory, the court case broke him both financially and physically. Makemie died at his farm in Virginia the following year. While long passed over in the history of Presbyterianism and religious freedom, he is now getting his due for his contributions. Francis Makemie, the father of American Presbyterianism, was 50 years old.
The reading for today comes from "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is the statement of faith and hope from Ivan Karamazov:
"I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who reminds you that it is pronounced GLAS-GO, not GLAS-GOW, c’mon guys. 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.