*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 3rd of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
In today’s show, I want to tell you the important story of two college roommates and how what they would do together would forever change the history of global Christianity.
TBF, I think that by saying “college roommates,” you might be thinking contemporary- but these two men shared a room at the University of Paris in the 1520s. The first is the man recognized today on his feast day- Francis Xavier.
You’ve heard his name on this show before- and if we repeat any stories, it is because they are worth repeating.
Francis Xavier grew up in Navarre (modern Spain) in his father’s castle, a minor noble who lived at the castle Xavier. His father was killed in a battle against the kingdom of Castile And Aragon. With his father’s death, his brothers were arrested, and he and his mother barely eked out a living. A career in the church offered mobility upward, so he left for the University of Paris.
His soon-to-be roommate was also affected by the same war that killed Francis’ dad. And this roommate was hit with a cannonball that required unanesthetized leg surgery, for which he would limp the rest of his life. The problem was that this roommate fought for the side that killed Xavier’s father.
Also, you should know that this other roommate’s name was Inigo- which almost makes it extraordinary because Xavier could claim that he killed his father.
Inigo was his nickname- his full name was Ignatius of Loyola. After settling whatever beef they had from back home, the two and a few others would found the Society of Jesus- aka the Jesuits.
While Ignatius was the spiritual head of the group, Xavier wanted to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And it just so happened that the Portuguese were heading East for trade and diplomacy, and Xavier could hitch a ride with them.
Xavier is, of course, known as the man about whom it is sometimes said that he converted more people since the time of Jesus and the apostles and is the most successful missionary of all time behind Paul. Those sound like nice accolades; I’m not sure how you quantify that, except that you can get many baptisms when you go to un-evangelized people who tend to make collective decisions.
Xavier is known primarily as a missionary to India and Japan (first India, then Japan, and he died trying to make it to China). I think it’s worth looking at how he evangelized natives in those two countries.
Xavier landed in Goa in 1542. In India, Xavier had letters from the King of Portugal that gave him status in the eyes of the Christian missionaries already working in India. Xavier oversaw the creation of schools for the laity and trained priests/missionaries from Portugal. While he could baptize and teach, he was hampered by not learning the native tongue. But he used pictures and, with the help of interpreters, but parts of the Bible and church doctrine into popular native songs. The criticism of Xavier is that he brought with him as much European culture as he did Christianity. The church infrastructure already presented by western missionaries didn’t help that lack of acculturation.
But in Japan, where there was no church (and in fact, he happened to arrive during the civil wars of the shogunate- not suitable) and thus he had embedded himself in that culture to be heard- he would use the language of their animistic religions in explaining Christianity. He dressed befitting someone on a royal mission (from Portugal and God). Xavier wasn’t that successful in Japan (the history of Christianity in Japan needs an episode. Someone reminds me), but he left a legacy that opened the doors for later missionaries. Xavier undertook what we might today call “cross-cultural ministry” and recognized that the Gospel had to do the converting. Western culture wasn’t going to sway the Japanese, but China could. Xavier set off for China to spread the gospel to bring Chinese Christians to Japan.
In the Winter of 1552, Xavier was just off the coast of China when he came down with a fever. Francis Xavier died on this, the 3rd of December in that year. He and Ignatius of Loyola would forever change the landscape of Catholic Europe but also the rest of the known world. Francis Xavier was born in 1506 and thus only 46 when he died.
The last word for today comes from Titus 3:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who finds the story of Ignatius’ dad and Loyola inconceivable. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who sometimes uses words that do not mean what I think they mean. I am 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.