It is the 22nd 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 1561
Today we will focus on England and take this year to look both forward and backward to see this era straddling its past and future.
In 1561, Francis Coxe's story was the talk of the town in London and its surrounding towns. Coxe was an astrologer and medical doctor who published a few texts on questionable medical advice. He was arrested and charged with sorcery and the employment of "certain sinister and devilish rites." Coxe was put in the pillory and wrote a forced retraction entitled “A Short Treatise declaring the Detestable Wickednesse of Magicall Sciences, as Necromancie, Coniurations of Spirits, Curiouse Astrologie, and such lyke.”
For all the talk of a new era, distinct from the "dark ages," a surprising amount of medieval-sounding treatises on astrology, magic, and witches pop up around mid-century. New translations of the "Hexenhammer," or the "hammer of the witches," were published, and with a fractured church, it was easier to identify those who didn't think or act like your group. The witch craze from 1561 to about 1652 was likely responsible for more deaths than any other regional witch hunt; casualties are certainly in the thousands.
But in this year of controversy surrounding sorcery and witchcraft, there would be two books translated into English, which would take the English people into significant new territory. It was in 1561 that the Arte de Navegar was translated into English as “The Art of Navigation.” Popularized by Sir Francis Drake, it would become an essential guide as the English looked to the New World for trade and colonizing. And just as the English finally received an important treatise on navigation translated into English this year, so too did they finally receive the first English translation of the “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by John Calvin. They were armed with a better ability to sail and with the handbook for what will become a colonial and American theology. Oh sure, it took more than Calvin's book, but outside of the Bible, this would form the framework for a new anglophone post-Reformation theology.
So, in this year, looking backward and forward, we remember the birth of a man who straddled the medieval and Early Modern world. We can make an argument was he was instrumental in the development of the Enlightenment. It was on this, the 22nd of January in 1561, that Francis Bacon was born. Bacon would become a politician, an independent scholar, and would make his way to the office of Lord Chancellor under King James.
A biographer of Francis wrote that he "grew up in a context determined by political power, humanist learning, and Calvinist zeal." At Trinity College Cambridge, he developed a distaste for scholasticism, but much of his training came in the law. When his father died, Francis had to take up political positions to make ends meet. But his writings reveal a man convinced he could do more good thinking through, and writing about, life's big questions.
His publication of the Novum Organon in 1620 marks for many the beginning of the Enlightenment project. The work would become famous for its doctrine of the four idols and introducing what we call, roughly, "the scientific method." A staunch Anglican, he embraced neither fideism nor skepticism, that is, neither "blind faith" nor intellectual cynicism. Francis Bacon believed that God was not a liar nor a deceiver, and thus even as subordinate created beings, we could understand both creation and the creator
Unlike lazy stereotypes of the Enlightenment, it belongs as much to Bacon as it does to Hume, even if they are separated by a century and a half. With his stress on Christian piety and independent research based on sensory experience, empiricism in the English tradition deserves to find its genesis with this man. Bacon died in 1626, born on this day in 1561. He was 65 years old.
The last word for the day comes from another Christian philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who was two when Bacon died. He wrote:
"Knowlege of God without knowledge of man's wretchedness leads to pride. Knowledge of man's wretchedness without knowledge of God leads to despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because by it we discover both God and our wretched state."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man known for declaring the Detestable Wickednesse of Magicall Sciences, 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.