It is the 8th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 482.
In the past, we've seen the turbulent 5th century, highlighted by the fall of Rome, from Western Europe's perspective. But today, we will move our gaze to Eastern Europe on the banks of the Danube.
The story of this century for these "Romans" on the edge of the Empire was Attila the Hun. And on account of Attila's actions on the Danube and into the Roman Empire, there have been few names in history attached to such infamy. Consider what the English called the Germans in WW1, the Huns! Google "Attila," and you might find a metalcore band but not many other things that want to try and revive the name. It is perhaps something like the "Adolph" of the ancient world.
One of the reasons that Attila and the Huns were so devastating to the Empire was the Empire's recent conversion to Christianity. The Huns represented the first large scale threat to the Roman Empire after its conversion to Christianity. Thus, an external threat was no longer seen as just a threat to territory and sovereignty, but on the faith itself. And thus, the Huns became associated with the Babylonians or Assyrians of old. The intercontinental conflict would take on a spiritual component.
And with such stakes, you might expect these enemies to be described in ways that make them appear inhuman. Consider this description of the Huns from a 5th-century writer:
"The origin and seedbed of all evils: the people of the Huns who dwell beyond the Sea of Azov near the frozen ocean and are quite abnormally savage…they are so little advanced in civilization that they make no use of fire, nor any kind of relish, in the preparation of their food, but feed upon the roots which they find in the fields and the half-raw flesh of any sort of animal. I say half-raw because they give it a kind of cooking by placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses"
The Huns and the Romans had made a tentative peace with the treaty of Margus. This treaty allowed the Romans to remove their garrisons near the Danube, thus freeing their military to fight the Goths from the South and North. The tribute paid to Attila kept him from the Eastern border, and the Huns were for a time engaged in battle elsewhere with the Sassanids. Then, Attila breaks the treaty (it's complicated) and can waltz into the fragile Roman Empire. There are no longer troops on the Danube. The stories that come from these raids are horrific, even accounting for hyperbole, this was a slaughter.
But there was, in this region, a mysterious Christian saint with no known past. He remains something of a shadowy figure, even if sainted. Known for caring for people's physical and spiritual needs in this time of disaster, today we remember Severinus of Noricum. (Noricum is part of modern Austria.) Here, Severinus built monasteries along the Danube that could shelter those on the run from Attila and the gang. Severinus became a new spiritual authority that even earthly powers could not shake.
Severinus earned the respect of the Huns as well as Odoacer. Supposedly, Severinus prophesied Rome's fall to that man who was on the way to sack it himself. The stories of Severinus are not of a warrior turning back enemies of the Christian West or a saint whose petitions necessarily forestalled calamity. Instead, he was known as the man whose charity, monasteries, preaching, and other ministries served those who found themselves between Rome to the West and invaders to the East. Records of the saint's life say that he was reciting the 150th Psalm when he fell dead on this, the 8th of January in 482.
The reading for today will be a poetic interpretation of Psalm 150 from Isaac Watts. As Rome was crumbling, Severinus was praying this Psalm. As we pray for our world today, may we also pray the following with The Psalter, Severinus, and Watts:
In God's own house pronounce his praise,
His grace he there reveals;
To heav'n your joy and wonder raise,
For there his glory dwells.
Let all your sacred passions move,
While you rehearse his deeds;
But the great work of saving love
Your highest praise exceeds.
All that have motion, life, and breath,
Proclaim your Maker blest;
Yet, when my voice expires in death,
My soul shall praise him best.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, a man known for sometimes cooking his meat by placing it between his thighs and the back of a horse. 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.