It is the 28th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The Year was 1622.
When on past shows we have found ourselves in this period, we have rightly looked at the early years of the 30 Years War and perhaps the earliest English settlements in North America. 1622 was the year that the Jamestown massacre took place. Over 300 English people were killed by natives in what would become Virginia. Anglo-Indian Wars would become a constant for over 200 years. 1622 was the year that Armand Jean du Plessis became Cardinal Richelieu. Richilieu, ordained a priest, would also become a critical statesman for France as it transitioned into the modern age.
In 1622 Geneva found itself in a curious position. Like many states in the Swiss Confederation, Geneva remained neutral during the 30 Years War. Calvin’s Geneva was no longer the Protestant stronghold it was in the 16th century. Geneva was, like so many people and places during this era, caught between competing visions for the future of the state.
In 1622 Geneva is nearly equidistant from the lives of perhaps its two most famous citizens. 1622 is about a century since Calvin’s birth and about a century away from the birth of Jean Jacques Rousseau. 1622 in Geneva is in a tug-of-war between its Reformation past and its Enlightenment future. The Janus-faced nature of the town made it an especially tough nut to crack for missionaries. But the deeply entrenched Protestantism would be seriously challenged by one missionary, perhaps the most famous in Genevan history. It was on this day, the 28th of December in 1622, that the one time Bishop of Geneva, the patron saint of writers, and the first sainted French Doctor of the Church, died. Today we remember St. Francis de Sales, a Catholic controversialist and popular writer for the laity.
Francis was born in 1567 in Savoy, close to the Swiss border. He was born into a noble family and was baptized with the name Francis Bonaventura, after the two great Franciscans, Francis of Assisi and Bonaventura. But his father was not keen on him joining a religious order. Francis studied at Clermont and Padua where he came into contact with an array of arguments from Calvin on predestination to Francis of Assisi on prayer and the centrality of preaching. Rejecting his wealthy father’s offer of a political gig, he was soon off to Rome, was ordained a priest, and by 1602 he was named Bishop of Geneva.
Francis himself remarked that when he came to Geneva there were maybe 100 Catholics left in the town. By the time he left there were, by his count, only about 100 Protestants. Despite hyperbole for the Pope, De Sales remains one of the more effective Catholic controversialists of the early modern age. His preaching and debating offered intellectual arguments for people who had largely been converted to Calvinism through intellectual arguments. Furthermore, as his preaching was being muted by some Protestants, he took a page from the early Lutherans and French Huguenots. He had hundreds of flyers and broadsides printed and then left them around town on churches, under doors, and at public halls. Francis wrote for an intelligent crowd, but also focused on the spiritual needs of those who may have been suffering, as he did as a young man, with the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. His writings also contained instructions for a simple piety and a call to embrace one’s everyday vocations.
The first Frenchman to be named an official “doctor of the church,” he has been named the patron saint of writers, journalists, and educators. Born in 1567 Francis de Sales died on this day in 1622. He was 55 years old.
The reading for today, the 4th day of Christmas, comes from Norman Nicholson, “Carol for the Last Christmas Eve.”
The first night, the first night,
The night that Christ was born,
His mother looked in his eyes and saw
Her maker in her son.
The twelfth night, the twelfth night,
After Christ was born,
The Wise Men found the child and knew
Their search has just begun.
Eleven thousand, two fifty nights,
After Christ was born,
A dead man hung in the child's light
And the sun went down at noon.
Six hundred thousand or thereabout nights,
After Christ was born,
I look at you and you look at me
But the sky is too dark for us to see
And the world waits for the sun.
But the last night, the last night,
Since ever Christ was born,
What his mother knew will be known again,
And what was found by the Three Wise Men,
And the sun will rise and so may we,
On the last morn, on Christmas morn,
Umpteen hundred and eternity.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, whose four calling birds were, unfortunately, a macaw, a crow, a turkey vulture, and a helmeted guineafowl. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember, the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.