Tuesday, May 31

Jerome of Prague

Jan Hus began preaching the doctrines of the Reformation almost a century before Martin Luther when he brought the writings of John Wyclif to his native Bohemia. Hus’s friend, Jerome of Prague was likewise convinced of the Wycliffian truths and began to seriously think through their implications.

At Hus's suggestion Jerome sailed to England and studied at Oxford, Wyclif's old seat of learning. For the next several years, Jerome moved about a good deal, disseminating reformed doctrines in Paris, Jerusalem, Heidelberg, Vienna, Moscow, Budapest, and Cologne. He became a traveling ambassador for the fledgling reform movement. He became very active in public affairs throughout Christendom. In his native Bohemia he sided with nationalistic students. He denounced a bull proclaiming an indulgence for a crusade against Naples.

When Hus was arrested by the Council of Constance, Jerome secretly followed, hoping to defend his friend. He discovered he could do nothing and was in fact, in great danger himself, and so he went to neighboring Idelberg and asked for safe conduct. Unwilling to stand idly by while grave injustices were perpetrated, he had placards posted throughout Constance saying he was willing to appear before the bishops, that his character had been maligned, and that he would retract any error which could be proven against him. All he asked was a pledge of security.

When no pledge was forthcoming, Jerome headed home. On the way he was seized and sent in irons to the Council. A long chain was attached to the irons, and by this he was dragged into the cloister to be insulted, and then locked in a tower. His legs were fastened in stocks. For many days he was kept in this miserable condition. After Hus was burned at the stake, Jerome was threatened with torments if he would not recant. In a moment of weakness, he yielded.

Still he was not released. On the contrary, a second recantation was demanded. He said he would recant only in public. By then he had been a prisoner almost a year. At the public "recantation," he took back his earlier recalcitrance and demanded a hearing to plead his cause. The Council refused this plea. Indignantly he protested, "To my enemies you have allowed the fullest scope of accusation; to me you deny the least opportunity of defense."

Jerome insisted he protested only against the bad behavior of the clergy. Unlike Hus, he did not reject wholesale the doctrines of the the Roman Church. Nonetheless, he was condemned to die in the flames as Hus had. For two days the council kept him in suspense, hoping to frighten him into a capitulation. The cardinal of Florence personally reasoned with him. Jerome remained steadfast.

When a cap was made for him painted with red devils, he said, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he suffered death for me, a most miserable sinner, did wear a crown of thorns upon his head; and I for his sake will wear this adorning of derision and blasphemy.

He sang hymns on his way to execution. Because of his vigor and health he was a long time dying in the flames. On this day in 1416, he and his paper crown were burned.

Monday, May 30

The Fall of Constantinople

It was on this day in 1453 that Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, cruel and patient, laid siege the great Christian city of Constantinople.

He erected a fortress across the strait from the city, brought up his warships, and unleashed his dread janissaries--enslaved Christians who had been trained into an fearsome fighting force. Mehmed also unveiled a massive cast cannon that could hurl 500 pound stones a mile. The walls of the once invincible Constantinople were no match for this unprecedented assault. The city which had been ruled by nearly one hundred Christian emperors since Constantine had dedicated the city in 311, was forced to capitulate.

With the defenses shattered, Mehmed's enraged Muslim hoard swarmed into the city, murdering the citizenry indiscriminately. Churches were looted and the sacramental chalices slaked the marauder's throats. Christians were ravished on the altars. The land where Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel, a land that had been the heart and soul of the Christian world for a more than a millennium, had become the latest in a long line of Islamic conquests. Alas, it would not be the last.

Sunday, May 15

Charing Cross

By Charing Cross in London Town
There runs a road of high renown,
Where antique books are ranged on shelves
As dark and dusty as themsleves.
And many book lovers have spent
Their substance there with great content,
And vexed their wives and filled their homes
With faded prints and massive tomes.

Norman Davey

This England!

This royal throne of kings,
This sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, this demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world.
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm,
This England.

Renowned for deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As unto the Holy Sepulchre itself, this land
Of such dear souls, this dear, dear land:
This England.

William Shakespeare

Give Me Scotland, or I Die!

John Knox appeared at the Church of the Blackfriars in Edinburgh to face charges of heresy on this day in 1556. The Catholic bishops had hoped to humble him. Instead he turned the tables and scored a stunning triumph. Humiliated, Regent Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, dismissed the summons, and Knox went out into the streets of Edinburgh to preach to jubilant crowds.

Later that night, Knox famously wrote Mary of Guise a winsome letter of thanks--and asked her to offer a decree of toleration for all Protestants throughout the land. Though she would initially treat the letter with contempt, she soon realized that in order for the Stuart monarch to survive, toleration had became a practical necessity.

Indeed, even though he was briefly forced into exile (this, for the third time), Knox and his reforming friends, had clearly gained the upper hand. Eventually, the spiritual renewal of the Reformation swept across Scotland, transforming the land.

His oft repeated prayer, "Give me Scotland, or I die," was gloriously answered.

Monday, May 2

Lee's Right Arm

Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was accidentally wounded by his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville on this day in 1863. He died eight days later to the great distress of Robert E. Lee who lamented, “I have lost my right arm.” Many historians believe that this strategic loss was actually the turning point in the very uncivil war which the South seemed to be winning at the time.

Sunday, May 1

May 1, 2230 Hours

On May 1, 1945 Germany made public the death of the notorious warlord Adolf Hitler. Exactly sixty-six years later, the United States likewise pronounced the end of another madman, announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden less than a thousand yards from the most elite military installation in Pakistan.

It was at 2230 hours when a newsreader announced that the Fuhrer had fallen at his command post fighting to the last breath. Likewise, President Obama broke the news about bin Laden at 2230 hours as he addressed the nation from the White House.

Hitler's thousand-year Reich (or “empire”) lasted 12 years and three months. bin Laden's vision for the recovery of the Muslim “Dhimmi” (or “rule of the righteous”) began in 1979 when he joined Afghan resistance against a Soviet military occupation before turning against Americans in the 1998--and then afterward, inspiring, if not masterminding, the global terrorist network, al-Qaeda.

Together, Hitler and bin Laden have joined a long line of would-be-rulers-of-the-world foiled at last by the dumb certainties of experience, the courage of a few, and the commitment of many.