It is the 16th 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 1899.
Usually, I'd give you a little context for the year. Still, with a word limit, I'm going to ask you to believe me that major themes in North America were: anti-Catholicism, temperance, a little thing called the Civil War and a handful of conspiracy theories linking all of them together.
In this context, we remember Charles P. Chiniquy, a contender for the title of the 19th century's most fascinating character, who died on this, the 16th of January in 1899.
I'm going to break this down into bullet points to get as much packed in as possible.
- Charles was born in 1809 in Quebec. His mother died when he was young, and he was sent to live with his Catholic uncle.
- Impressed with Charles's intellect and piety, his uncle sends him to the Catholic seminary.
- In 1833 Charles was ordained in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Quebec.
- Chiniquy found his niche as a popular temperance preacher. At the height of his fame, a group of about 10,000 heard him preach at a ceremonial installation of a "temperance column."
- In 1842 he went back to his hometown to serve as a parish priest. There are rumors he has been moved on account of indiscretions with a woman.
- In 1846 he suddenly entered a semi-monastic community. He soon left the order, and it was revealed that he had been semi-cloistered on account of, as the record says, "pressing his intentions" upon a woman and being caught in said act. God bless the soft euphemisms of polite 19th-century writers.
- As he is going to be removed, he has a chance encounter with the Catholic Bishop of Chicago. This Bishop invites Chiniquy to help settle a community of Canadian ex-pats at St. Anne, Illinois.
- The French Canadian emigre was known for his flamboyancy, his unctuousness, and his propensity to embellish. He was taken to court for slander, and his court-appointed lawyer was none other than a young Abraham Lincoln. Chiniquy would use this encounter and claim to fame his entire life, often with considerable embellishment.
- In Illinois, Chiniquy's preaching took on explicitly anti-Irish themes. He told his fellow Canadian ex-pats that there was a pro-Irish cabal seeking to displace French Canadian Catholics. And so, he is defrocked and excommunicated. He is still popular, so he and his church become independent. The 'independent Catholic' rarely succeeds, and so Chiniquy and his growing church applied to become a congregation in the Presbyterian Church, USA.
- He suddenly became one of the most vociferous anti-Catholic preachers in America. His popularity soared as he could claim to be a one-time "insider" who was now "exposing the lies" of his former church. (Please, dear Christians, this is an eternal grift, please stay vigilant.)
- Chiniquy was kicked out of the PCUSA in 1862, to quote a biographer, "for reasons that are unclear but connected with his disorderliness, his craving to be the center of attention, and his mania for challenging authority."
- Chiniquy's congregation would become affiliated with the Canadian Presbyterian church (despite being in Illinois), and Charles's life would become devoted to anti-Catholic conspiracy theories.
- In 1882 he wrote his memoir, or memoirs, to be accurate. He wrote one with a Protestant audience in mind to warn them of Catholicism and the other to a Catholic audience trying to convert them. The book "50 Years in the Church of Rome" has been a surprise bestseller. It received renewed attention in 1960 as John F. Kennedy was running for President.
- Based on his one-time interaction with Lincoln, Chiniquy devised a lengthy, warm, and fabricated relationship with the President. And according to Chiniquy, who was to blame for the Civil War, according to Lincoln? The Pope. And when Chiniquy warned Lincoln of a Papal plot to have the President assassinated, Lincoln was falsely said to have cursed those pesky Jesuits in a quote that Lincoln surely never said. His book and these stories would often be circulated whenever a Catholic was running for higher office.
- Chiniquy's book of tall tales and anti-Catholic memes was later turned into a comic book by the one and only Jack Chick of Chick Tract fame. (How have we not talked about Jack Chick on this show yet?)
- The one time "Apostle of Temperance," a staunch catholic turned anti-Catholic who told lies about Jesuits and Lincoln, Charles Chiniquy, died on this, the 16th of January 1899.
The reading for today, to cleanse the palate a little, comes from Almanac favorite Brennan Manning, this from his "Ragamuffin Gospel."
"To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, "A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God."
The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by noted Jack Chick-ophile, Christopher 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.