It is the 15th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1824.
The controversial poet and provocateur, Lord Byron, died in this year. The outsized character was in self-exile in Greece as a volunteer commander in the Greek army during their war of independence against the Ottomans. Byron came down with a fever and died. But what happened after that has been called the greatest crime in literary history. Byron had left his 2-volume memoir with the executor of his will and his publishing company. The memoirs were reportedly so shocking the poet’s friends decided to take the only copy in existence, take out page by page and burn them all. It can be argued that no one was more qualified in lifestyle and talent to write what could have been a memoir like none other.
In 1824 Beethoven debuted his landmark Ninth Symphony. It was conducted by Beethoven, who had gone completely deaf by this time. It is perhaps one of the more iconic pieces of music in modern history. The final movement, known popularly as “Ode To Joy,” is the official national anthem of the European Union. Fun fact: when music companies were planning to roll out the new Compact Disc, there was a discussion as to how big the physical disc should be. Different companies had different sizes hovering around 100mm in diameter. It was determined that for one CD to hold the entirety of this symphony, it would need to be 120mm in diameter. For this reason, the 120mm Compact Disc was universally adopted.
In 1824 Pope Leo XII promulgated a universal jubilee. The Catholic church has had somewhat regular jubilees since 1300. However, if your knowledge of the concept of “jubilee” comes from the book of Leviticus, these modern ones might be a bit of a letdown. Jubilees held by the Jewish community had historically been years in which prisoners were released, slaves were set free, and all debt was forgiven. However, the Catholic jubilee was more of an “opportunity” for a pilgrimage to Rome. If you do or try your best to do so, you can receive a special pardoning of sins. Personally, if the Pope could arrange a jubilee with student loan companies, the Catholic church could see a spike in attendance.
However, in seriousness, the Catholic church in the 17th and 18th centuries was under as much duress or more than in previous centuries. A general European skepticism and secularism undermined the authority of the church universal, but particularly one that seemed so tied to a power structure from the past. And it was in this context that we remember a man who was born on this, the 15th of September in 18: the apologist for the papacy and Ultramontanist: Joseph Hergenröther. I promise I’ll explain what an “ultramontanist” is.
Hergenröther, a professor of theology at the University of Munich, took a hardline against the supposed liberalism in the Catholic church. The tumult surrounding the controversies over what might be considered “liberal” would lead to the calling of the first Vatican Council in 1860. And It was Hergenrother’s Ultramontanism, which won the day at the first Vatican Council, and which helped establish one of the defining features of the modern papacy.
A note on Ultramontanism: it literally means “beyond the mountains.” This was the view that goes back as far as the early church that true authority in the church came from “beyond the mountains,” that is, over the alps in Rome.
Hergenrother’s Ultramontanist arguments won the day at the Vatican I council with the adoption of the doctrine of Papal infallibility. While variations on the doctrine had previously existed, it was in 1870 that it officially took the shape it currently has. Church historian, Ultramontanist, and defender of papal infallibility Joseph Hergenröther died in 1890. Born on this day in 1824, he was 66 years old.
The reading for today comes from an Almanac favorite, Robert Farrar Capon, from his “The Astonished Heart.”
“He comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them. He emphatically does not promise to meet only the odd winner of the self-improvement lottery. He meets us all in our endless and inescapable losing.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher “I’m still listening to wax, I’m not using the CD” 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.