It is the 10th 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 1514.

It was the year that the white elephant gift made its debut in common parlance. Although, this white elephant was the opposite of an embarrassing gift. It was, in fact, the talk of the town.

Recently on the Almanac, we discussed Giovanni di Lorenzo de'Medici, who would become Pope Leo X in 1513. He was not wholly villainous but instead suffered from the same avarice and ambition familiar to those caught up in fame and power. With an influential de Medici in Rome, rulers sought to flatter him with exotic gifts. And perhaps none was better than King Manuel of Portugal.

In 1514, he sent Hanno, the Indian White Elephant, as a gift to the new Pope. Hanno became a sensation. Pope Leo would open something like a papal zoo for people to visit the elephant. Unfortunately, Hanno's demise was caused by constipation, which was treated by feeding the elephant gold shavings. This led to the death of Hanno.

In 1962, while the HVAC system was being replaced at the Vatican, their digging led them to think they had found dinosaur bones. Nope. It was Hanno. Leo X had him buried under the Vatican.

So, this was obviously grist for the Reformer's mill. The decadence of the Vatican in these years is undeniable, as we know. The movement to reform the church was now in its early stages. But before the Reformation would kick off with Luther in just a few years, there were essential movements that also attempted to combat church and society in decline.

We have in the past discussed the "humanists" on this show. These were the early reformers who believed in a kind of education for the soul. They attempted to perform a kind of "reformation by the curriculum." Critical editions of texts by scholars in many languages allowed a new generation of scholars to challenge specific older texts and beliefs.

In fact, the same Pope buried the elephant under the Vatican, who also backed one of the more ambitious projects of the age. The Pope commissioned the Cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, founder of a trilingual Spanish University, to assemble a polyglot Bible, the first of its kind. The Bible contained a revised Masoretic Hebrew text for the Old Testament and Aramaic, Greek, and Latin text for the New Testament. This Bible, known today as the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, was first published on the 10th of January in 1514.

"Complutensian" refers to a place. The University was called the Universidad Complutense. "Complutense" was the original Roman settlement's name where the University at Alcala De Henares was located. Cardinal Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros wrote the preface to the work, dedicated to Pope Leo. It stated that this Bible was intended for the renewal and revival of the church.

Spain had long been what we might call today "multi-cultural." With North Africa to its south and foreign explorers forever using their harbors, it became known as a place of many languages. It would make sense that the "trilingual" University would be here, and that Pope Leo would look to them to produce a universal text of the Bible in the original languages for the sake of unity. Unfortunately, the Pope didn't do much more with this landmark text. Maybe he was busy tending to Hanno? Nonetheless, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, the first of its kind, was published for the first time on this, the 10th of January in 1514.

The reading for today comes from C.S. Lewis, a poem written just before he died. This is "Prayer."

"Master, they say that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it's all a dream
– One talker aping two.

They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener's role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by our very own White Elephant, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.