August 15, 1620 Pilgrims

There is a common misconception that the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in pursuit of religious freedom, but that’s not the way it happened.  They had found their religious liberty in Holland.  What they sought in the New World, was a return to religious discipline.

In 16th century Tudor England, there was widespread belief that authority over the Church belonged with the monarchy, and not with Rome.  England broke with the Catholic Church over the Pope’s refusal to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1533.

Strict conformity with the English, (Anglican) church, was enforced throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, when separatist groups were suppressed. The Puritans were one such group, though they maintained ties with the Anglican. Other separatist groups had irreconcilable differences with the Church of England, believing that worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of the central church.

Tobias Matthew was elected Anglican Archbishop in 1606, and promptly began a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences. Separatists and those wishing to return to the Catholic faith alike were confronted, fined, and imprisoned.  Many “recusants” were driven from the country.

William Bradford, the future 5-time Governor of the Plymouth Colony and signer of the Mayflower Compact, said of this period “[A]fter these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood“.

So it was that the group which came to be known as the Pilgrims left England not for the New World, but for Amsterdam, and later the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands.   There they stayed for 13 years.Pilgrims Voyage

By 1617, Bradford was writing of his concern that the younger members of the group were being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses“. He wrote positive terms of the “great hope for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”

They considered moving to Virginia, near the existing settlement of Jamestown, but dismissed the idea out of fear that the political atmosphere might be too much like the one they left in England.

Mayflower and Speedwell in Dartmouth
Mayflower and Speedwell in Dartmouth

A land grant was obtained to the north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England. The 60-ton Speedwell departed Delfshaven with the Leiden colonists in July 1620, meeting with Mayflower at Southampton, Hampshire. The two vessels set out on August 15, but soon had to turn back as the Speedwell took on water. Speedwell was abandoned after the second failed attempt, Mayflower setting out alone on September 16, 1620, with 121 on board.

pilgrims65 days at sea brought them up on the outer reaches of Cape Cod in mid-November, near the present site of Provincetown Harbor.   There they stayed long enough to draw up the first written framework of government established in the United States, signing the Mayflower Compact off the shores of Provincetown on November 11, 1620.

A month in that place convinced them of its unsuitability.  By mid-December they had crossed Cape Cod Bay and fetched up at Plymouth Harbor.

More than half of these settlers died that first winter, of malnutrition and exposure.

Tisquantum, (Squanto), the English-speaking Pawtuxet, would mediate between the settlers and the native tribes, including Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket.  Squanto taught them how to plant corn, as well as where to fish and how to hunt beaver.  The harvest feast of 1621, shared between the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets, is now considered the basis for our own Thanksgiving holiday, but that is a story for another day.Pilgrims Thanksgiving

Bradford and the other Plymouth settlers referred to themselves as “Old Comers.”  A manuscript was later discovered, in which Bradford called the settlers who left Holland “Saints” and “Pilgrimes.” 200 years after the colony’s founding, Daniel Webster referred to “Pilgrim Fathers” in a bicentennial address.  The name stuck.

There is a common misconception that the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth in pursuit of religious freedom, but that’s not the way it happened.  They had found their religious liberty in Holland.  What they sought in the New World, was a return to religious discipline.

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August 10, 1920, Ottoman Empire

Throughout the period, the “secret sauce” of Ottoman power was an army of elite infantry called “Janissaries”.  Janissaries were Christian slaves, usually taken as spoils of war, or sold into slavery as children. They came from all over the Ottoman Empire, though the sons of Greek, Bosnian, Serbian and Bulgarian Christians were preferred. Turkic and Jewish boys were never forced to comply with the Janissary system.

The Anatolian Peninsula is the westernmost point of Asia, forming the northern coastline of the eastern Mediterranean.  Today we call it Turkey.  In the 13th century it was home to a collection of small emirates and Ghazi (Warrior for Islam) principalities, called ‘Beyliks’.

The Turkish tribes united under Osman Bey in 1299 grew to become one of the most powerful forces in history.  A 600-year empire called the Ottomans.

The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 marked the end of Serbian power in the Balkans.  Christian Europe launched a Crusade six years later, in an effort to relieve the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople, by then virtually all that remained of the eastern Roman Empire.  This, the last of the major Crusades, was crushed at Nicopolis, in modern day Bulgaria.  After the battle, a handful of nobles were held for ransom, those judged to be younger than 20 were sold into slavery.  The rest, as many as 3,000 knights, were bound together in groups of three, and systematically beheaded.  Never again would Greater Europe be altogether free of Islamic influence.

Ottoman Cannon
Siege Cannon of Sultan Mehmet II

By the 15th century, Ottoman controlled lands surrounded the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople.  The forces of 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II laid siege to the city in 1453, its ultimate defeat and sack punctuating the end of the Eastern Roman Empire and the birth of the “New City” – Istanbul.

Throughout this period, the “secret sauce” of Ottoman power was an army of elite infantry called “Janissaries”.  Janissaries were Christian slaves, usually taken as spoils of war, or sold into slavery as children. They came from all over the Ottoman Empire, though the sons of Greek, Bosnian, Serbian and Bulgarian Christians were preferred. Turkic and Jewish boys were never forced into compliance with the Janissary system.

Janissary_Recruitment_in_the_Balkans-Suleymanname
Janissary recruitment in the Balkans

Janissaries weren’t free, nor were they common slaves. They were subject to severe discipline, but paid salaries and retirement pensions, forming a distinct social class in Ottoman society. As boys, usually 10 to 12, they were taken from their parents and given to Turkish families to learn the language and customs. They were then enrolled in Janissary training, indoctrinated into Islam, and kept under 24-hour supervision.

Janissaries were prohibited from growing beards and taking up a skill other than war, and were forbidden to marry.

They were an elite slave army, in many ways resembling a modern army.  Janissaries were the first to wear unique uniforms, first to be paid regular salaries for their service, the first to march in cadence, to music. They lived in barracks and made extensive use of firearms, campaigning with their own medical teams of Muslim and Jewish surgeons operating mobile hospitals behind the lines.

suleiman-i-2-sizedThe Ottoman Empire reached the height of its power during the 16th and 17th centuries, under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. One of the most powerful states in the world and ruling over 39 million subjects, the Ottoman Empire controlled a territory spanning three continents:  over two million square miles.

Serbia went to war with the Sultan for its independence in 1804, followed closely by Greece. Sultan Selim III attempted to modernize the army, but his reforms were opposed by the religious leadership and by the Janissary corps. Selim’s reforms would cost him his throne and ultimately his life, but internal order was restored in 1826, when Mahmud II put the Janissary Corps down in a bloody “reform”.

The Ottoman Empire then entered a period of decline, from which it would never emerge. Still one of the five continental Great Powers by the turn of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was “the Sick Man of Europe”, with its many minority populations pushing for independence.

Loyalty-obsessed to the point of paranoia, Sultan Abdul Hamid II told a reporter in 1890 that he would give his Armenian Christian minority a “box on the ear”.  Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered in the pogroms of 1894-96.

The Armenian genocide began in earnest with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, a decapitation strike intended to deprive Armenians within the Ottoman Empire of any semblance of leadership and begun on “Red Sunday”, April 24.  Detainees began to be deported within the Ottoman Empire by the end of May, their number reaching 2,345.  Most, were eventually murdered.

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Able bodied males were exterminated outright, or worked to death as conscripted labor.   Women, children, the elderly, and infirm were driven on death marches to the farthest reaches of the Syrian desert.  Goaded like livestock by military “escorts”, they were deprived of food and water, subjected at all times to robbery, rape, and outright murder. By the early 20s, as many as 1.5 million of the Ottoman Empire’s 2 million Armenian Christians, were dead.

The Armenian spyurk, an Aramaic cognate deriving from the Hebrew Galut, or “Diaspora”,  goes back some 1,700 years.  Today, the number of ethnic Armenians around the world tracing lineage back to this modern-day diaspora, numbers in the several millions.

Since 1919, Armenians around the world have marked April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

To this day, it remains illegal in Turkey, to speak of the Armenian genocide.  The New York Times wouldn’t use the term, until 2004.

This April, President Donald Trump received a furious response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for this seemingly-benign statement: “Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.  I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many”.

The Ottoman Empire aligned itself with the losing side during WWI, its ultimate disintegration beginning on August 10, 1920, when representatives of Sultan Mehmed VI signed the Treaty of Sèvres.  Future conflicts and treaties would shape and refine the borders, but the “Middle East” as we know it, was borne of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire c1900

Mustafa Kemal and his “Young Turks” demanded complete independence, the Treaty of Lausanne creating the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.  Kemal became the country’s first president, granted the honorific “Atatürk” (“Father of the Turks”), in 1934.  Multi-party democracy was established in 1946.  Ever since, the Turkish military and judiciary have viewed themselves as defenders of the Kemalist ideals of a secular Turkish state.

Today, the former seat of the Ottoman Empire is 95% Muslim.  The philosophical descendants of Atatürk vie with those of Erdoğan, the modern, constitutionally secular state, versus the fundamentalist theocracy.

Last year, elements of the Turkish military staged the 6th coup since 1960, in opposition to the increasingly Islamist policies of President Erdoğan, a man who once likened democracy to a bus:  It gets you to your destination…then you get off.  One man, one vote, one time.  The coup was put down with a death toll of 265. 3,000 soldiers were arrested, and some 2,700 judges, fired.

As a NATO member, Turkey is privy to some of the US’ most closely held military secrets. Some 50 thermonuclear weapons are housed at Incirlik Air Base, 68 miles from the Syrian border, currently the hottest combat zone, on the planet.  The strategic thinking behind such basing decisions are difficult to understand, at best.  No aircraft currently based in Turkey, is capable of carrying even one of these weapons.

One might wish the history unfolding before our eyes, was more of a political issue, here in the States.

July 21, 1925 Monkey Trial

H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Sun, mocked the prosecution and the jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” He called the town’s inhabitants “yokels” and “morons”, Bryan was a “buffoon” and his speeches “theologic bilge”.  It was Mencken who dubbed the proceedings, “Monkey Trial”.  The defense, on the other hand, was “eloquent” and “magnificent”.  Or so he claimed.  No media bias there.

State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”, began when State Representative John W. Butler passed the “Butler Act”, prohibiting teaching of the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools, colleges and universities.

The ACLU immediately announced its intention to sue, offering to defend anyone accused of violating the act. Local businessman George Rappleyea arranged a meeting with the county superintendent of schools and local attorney Sue Kerr Hicks, a man who may have been the inspiration for Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” which everyone knows from the Johnny Cash song of 1969.

Read your bibleThe three met at Robinson’s Drug Store, and agreed that their little town of Dayton, Tennessee could use the publicity. The trio summoned 24-year-old High School football coach and part time substitute teacher John T. Scopes, asking him to plead guilty to teaching the theory of evolution. Scopes replied that he could not recall if he had taught evolution, but he would be more than happy to be the defendant if anyone could prove that he had.

Scopes was charged on May 5, barely two months after the law’s enactment, with teaching evolution from “Civic Biology”, a textbook describing the theory of evolution, race and eugenics. The Prosecution brought in William Jennings Bryan to try the case and the defense hired Clarence Darrow. Two of the heaviest of jurisprudential heavy hitters of the day, were now lined up in the “Trial of the Century”.

Bryan complained that evolution taught children that humans were no more than one of 35,000 mammals. He rejected the idea that humans were descended from apes. “Not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys”. The ACLU wanted to oppose the Butler Act on grounds that it violated teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, but it was Darrow who shaped the case, taking the position that the theistic and the evolutionary view were not mutually exclusive. Chimpanzee

What had begun as a publicity stunt soon became an overwhelming media event. 200 newspaper reporters from all over the country were in Dayton, along with two from London. Twenty-two telegraphers sent out 165,000 words a day over thousands of miles of telegraph wires, hung specifically for the purpose.

Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn.  Chicago’s WGN radio personality Quin Ryan broadcast the nation’s first on-the-scene coverage of a criminal trial. A specially constructed airstrip was prepared, from which two movie cameramen had their newsreel footage flown out, daily.

H.L. Mencken, writing for the Baltimore Sun, mocked the prosecution and the jury as “unanimously hot for Genesis.” He called the town’s inhabitants “yokels” and “morons”. Bryan was a “buffoon” and his speeches “theologic bilge”.  It was Mencken who dubbed the proceedings, “Monkey Trial”.  The defense, on the other hand, was “eloquent” and “magnificent”.  Or so he claimed.  No media bias there.

Scopes TrialAfter eight days of trial, it took the jury only nine minutes to deliberate, finding Scopes guilty on July 21. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine, equivalent to about $1,300 today. The conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, on the basis that state law required fines over $50 to be decided by jury, and not by the judge presiding.

American creationists believe to this day, that media reports turned public opinion against the creationist view. Evolution vs Creation debates can be reasonably expected to continue.  Neither view seems supportable, by much more than the faith of its adherents.

April 28, 1192 Assassins

The Grand Master of the Assassins dispatched his killers to Karakorum in the early 1250s, to murder the grandson of Genghis Khan, the Great Khan of the “Golden Horde”, Möngke. Bad idea.

For the Islamic world, the 11th century was a time of political instability. The Fatimid Caliphate, established in 909 and by this time headquartered in Cairo, was in sharp decline by 1090.  The Fatimids were destined to disappear within the next 100 years, eclipsed by the Abbasid Caliphate of An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known to anyone familiar with the story of Richard Lionheart, as Saladin.

To the east lay the Great Seljuk Empire, the Turko-Persian, Sunni Muslim state established in 1037 and stretching from the former Sassanid domains of modern-day Iran and Iraq, to the Hindu Kush.  An “appanage” or “family federation” state, the Seljuk empire was itself in flux after a series of succession contests, destined to disappear altogether in 1194.

assassin-fortification-at-alamut-northern-iranInto the gap stepped the “Old Man of the Mountain”, Hassan-i Sabbah, and his fanatically loyal, secret sect of “Nizari Ismaili” followers, the Assassins.

The name derives from the Arabic “Hashashin”, meaning “those faithful to the foundation”.  Marco Polo reported a story that the old man of the mountain got such fervent loyalty from his young followers, by drugging and leading them to a “paradise” of earthly delights, to which only he could return them.  The story is probably apocryphal, there is little evidence that hashish was ever used by the Assassins’ sect.  Sabbah’s followers believed him to be divine, personally selected by Allah.  The man didn’t need to drug his “Fida’i” (self-sacrificing agents), he was infallible.  His every whim would be obeyed, as the literal Word of God.

assassin-fortification-at-masyaf-in-northern-syria
Assassin stronghold at Masyaf, in Northern Syria

The mountain fortification of Alamut in northern Persia was probably impervious todefeat by military means, but not to the two-years long campaign of stealth and pretend friendship practiced by Sabbah and his followers.  In 1090, Alamut fell in a virtually bloodless takeover, becoming the headquarters of the Nizari Ismaili state.

Why Sabbah would have founded such an order is unclear, if not in pursuit of his own personal and political goals.  By the time of the first Crusade, 1095-1099, he found himself pitted against rival Muslims and invading Christian forces, alike.

Sabbah would order the elimination of rivals, usually up close, with the dagger.  From religious figures to politicians and generals, assassinations were preferably performed in broad daylight, in as public a manner as possible.  It was important that everyone absorb the intended message.

assassination_of_the_seljuk_vizier_nizam_al-mulk
Assassination of the Seljuk Vizier Nizam al-Mulk

Though the “Fida’in” occupied the lowest rank of the order, great care was devoted to their education and training.  Possessed of all the physical prowess of youth, the individual Assassin was also intelligent and well-read, highly trained in combat tactics, the art of disguise and the skills of the expert horseman.  All the necessary traits, for anyone who would penetrate enemy territory, insinuate himself into their ranks, and murder the victim who had learned to trust him.

Sometimes, a credible threat of assassination was as effective as an actual killing.  When the new Seljuk Sultan Ahmad Sanjar rebuffed Hashashin diplomatic overtures in 1097, he awoke one morning to find a dagger stuck into the ground, next to his bed.  A messenger arrived sometime later from the old man of the mountain.  “Did I not wish the sultan well” he said, “that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast?”  The technique worked nicely.  For the rest of his days, Sanjar was happy to allow the Hashashin to collect tolls from travelers in his realm.  The Sultan even provided them with a pension, collected from the inhabitants of the lands they occupied.

Saladin himself awoke one morning, to find a note resting on his breast, along with a poisoned cake.  The message was clear.  Sultan of all Egypt and Syria though he was, Saladin made an alliance with the rebel sect.  There would be no more such attempts on his life.conrad-of-montferrat

Conrad of Montferrat was elected King of Jerusalem in 1192, though he would never be crowned.  Stabbed at least twice by a pair of Hashashin on April 28, on the way home, the Kurdish historian and biographer wrote “[T]he Frankish marquis, the ruler of Tyre, and the greatest devil of all the Franks, Conrad of Montferrat — God damn him! — was killed.”

In the 200+ years of its existence, the Assassins occupied scores of mountain redoubts, though Alamut would remain its principle quarters.

It’s impossible to know how many of the hundreds of political assassinations of this period, were attributable to the followers of Hassan-i Sabbah.  Without a doubt, their fearsome reputation ascribed more political murder to the sect, than they were actually responsible for.

The Fida’in of Hassan-i Sabbah were some of the most feared killers of the middle ages.   Scary as they were, there came a time when the Order of the Assassins tangled with someone far scarier than themselves.

The Grand Master of the Assassins dispatched his killers to Karakorum in the early 1250s, to murder the grandson of Genghis Khan, the Great Khan of the “Golden Horde”, Möngke.  Bad idea.

Hulagu Khan
Hulagu Khan

The Nestorian Christian ally of the Mongol Empire Kitbuqa Noyan, was ordered to destroy several Hashashin fortresses in 1253.  Möngke’s brother Hulagu rode out at the head of the largest Mongol army ever seen in 1255, with no fewer than 1,000 Chinese engineer squads.  Their orders were to treat those who submitted with kindness, and to utterly destroy those who opposed them.

That they did. Rukn al-Dīn Khurshāh, fifth and final Imam who ruled at Alamut, submitted after four days of preliminary bombardment.  Mongol forces under the command of Hulagu Khan entered and destroyed the Hashshashin stronghold at Alamut Castle on December 15, 1256.

Hulagu went on to subjugate the 5+ million Lurs people of western and southwestern Iran, the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the Ayyubid state of Damascus, and the Bahri Mamluke Sultanate of Egypt.  Mongol and Muslim accounts alike, agree that the Caliph of Baghdad was rolled up in a Persian rug, whereupon the horsemen of Hulagu rode over him, because Mongols believed that the earth was offended if touched by royal blood.

Some people are not to be trifled with

March 1, 1420 Protestant Reformation

Hans Luder sent his son Martin to a series of Latin schools beginning in 1497, where the boy learned the so-called “trivium”:  grammar, rhetoric, and logic.  He entered the University of Erfurt in 1501 at age 19, receiving his master’s degree in 1505.  The elder Luder (“Luther”) intended that his son become a lawyer. Years later, the younger Luther described his Latin school education as time spent in purgatory, and his University as a “beerhouse” and a “whorehouse”.  I guess Martin Luther wasn’t cut out for academics.
He entered Law School in 1505 and dropped out almost immediately.  His father was furious, over what he saw as a wasted education.  Martin entered an Augustinian cloister that July, saying “This day you see me, and then, not ever again.”
16th century Church doctrine taught that the Saints built up a surplus of good works over a lifetime, sort of a moral bank account.  Like “carbon credits” today, positive acts of faith and charity could expiate sin.  Monetary contributions to the church could, it was believed, “buy” the benefits of the saint’s good works, for the sinner.
As Luther studied the bible, he came to believe that the church had lost sight of the central truths of Christianity.  The Grace of God wasn’t traded as a medium of exchange, he believed, but rather through faith in Jesus Christ, as the Messiah.  “This one and firm rock”, he wrote, “which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness”.
Papal “commissioner for indulgences” Johann Tetzel came to Wittenberg in 1516, selling expiation to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome.  A saying attributed to the Dominican friar, went “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
martin-lutherMartin Luther wrote to Archbishop Albrecht on October 31, 1517, objecting to this sale of indulgences.  He enclosed a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, a document which came to be known as his “95 Theses”.  A popular story has him nailing the document to the door of the Wittenberg Palace Church, but it likely never happened.  Luther appears to have had no intention of confronting the Church.  This was intended to be an academic work, 95 topics offered for scholarly disputation, but Martin Luther’s ideas would rock the Christian world.
What seems to the modern mind as mere doctrinal differences, were life and death matters in the late middle and early modern ages.  Archbishop Albrecht forwarded Luther’s note to Pope Leo X, who responded slowly and “with great care as is proper”.
Three theologians drafted heresy cases against Luther.  In 1520, the papal bull (edict) “Exsurge Domine” commanded Luther to recant under pain of excommunication.
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Luther stood on dangerous ground.  In 1415, Jan Hus was burned at the stake for such heresy.  On this day in 1420, Pope Martinus I called for a crusade against the followers of the Czech priest, the “Hussieten”.  Henry VIII’s famous break with the church over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, was still years in the future in 1521, the year Henry was named “Fidei Defensor” (“Defender of the Faith”), a title awarded him by no less than Pope Leo X. Nine years later, French theologian Jean Calvin would be forced to flee a deadly outbreak of violence against Protestant Christians.  Jan Matthias, Bernhard Rothmann and Bernhard Knipperdolling would be tortured to death with white-hot pliers in the Münster marketplace in 1535, their corpses placed in cages and hanged from the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church.  Their bones were later removed, but those three cages remain there, to this day.
The bull had the effect of hardening Luther’s positions.  He publicly burned it on December 10.  Twenty-four days later, Luther was excommunicated.  A general assembly of the secular authorities of the Holy Roman Empire summoned Luther to appear before them in April, in the upper-Rhine city of Worms.  The “Edict of Worms” of May 25, 1521, declared Luther an outlaw, stating “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic”.  Anyone killing Luther was permitted to do so without legal consequence.
95-thesesLuther went into hiding at Wartburg Castle.  In 1516, Erasmus had expressed the wish that the holy text should be available in every language, “so that even Scots and Irishmen might read it”.  It was there that Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, laying the foundation for other vernacular translations and, for the first time, making the bible accessible to the common man.
Radical sects took Luther’s teaching far beyond his intent, and Luther found himself in the odd position of defending the faith against more radical reformers.  The Zwickau Prophets rejected holy scripture in favor of direct revelations from the holy spirit.  The Anabaptists took the “equality of man” in radical egalitarian directions, many sounding more like the principles Karl Marx would write about, in 1848.
Martin Luther’s reformations plunged Europe into a series of wars.  The Peasant’s War of 1524-25 alone killed more Europeans than any conflict prior to the 1789 French Revolution.  The established church would respond with counter-reformation, but the idea that Christian faith was more than the exclusive province of a special, segregated order of men, was here to stay.
On October 31, 1999, 482 years to the day from Martin Luther’s letter to Archbishop Albrecht, leaders of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches signed the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification”, ending the half-century old doctrinal dispute, once and for all.

February 21, 1431 Joan of Arc

History has repeatedly demonstrated the truth of Taylor Owen’s comment on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.” So it was in the days after Jeanne’s arrival at Orléans

The Hundred Years’ War began as a succession dispute over the French throne, with an alliance of Burgundians and English on one side, against a coalition of Royalists led by the Armagnacs on the other.

Europe was not far removed from the latest outbreak of the Black Death at this time, as the scorched earth tactics employed by the English army laid waste to the countryside and devastated the French economy.

Charles, Dauphin and heir apparent to the French throne was up against a wall, when a teenage peasant girl approached him in 1429.

joan_of_arcFor the 14-year-old boy-king, even listening to her was an act of desperation, borne of years of humiliating defeats at the hands of the English army. Yet this illiterate peasant girl had made some uncanny predictions concerning battlefield successes.  Now she claimed to have had visions from God and the Saints, commanding her to help him gain the throne. Her name was Jeanne d’Arc.

The siege of Orléans was six months old at this time, when the Dauphin decided it couldn’t hurt to let her take part. She dressed herself in borrowed armor and set out, arriving on the 29th of April, 1429.

History has repeatedly demonstrated the truth of Taylor Owen’s comment on the subject of leadership: “An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.” So it was in the days after Jeanne’s arrival at Orléans.

Though repeatedly excluded from war councils, Jeanne managed to insert herself anyway, putting the French back on the offensive and handing them one victory after another.

Nine days after her arrival, Orléans turned into an unexpected victory for the French, despite Jeanne’s being shot through the neck and left shoulder by an English longbow, while holding a ladder at the siege of Tourelles.  The Dauphin granted her co-command of the army with Duke John II of Alençon. The French army enjoyed a string of successes, recovering Jargeau on June 12, Meung-sur-Loire on the 15th, and Beaugency two days later, leading to a humiliating English defeat at the battle at Patay on the 18th.

Several more Armagnac victories followed.  On July 17, 1429, Charles was consecrated King Charles VII of France, fifth King of the House of Valois, with Jeanne at his side.  Despite her loyalty, Charles’ support began to waver.  Court favorite Georges de La Trémoille had convinced the king that she was becoming too powerful.  An archer pulled Jeanne from her horse during the siege of joan_of_arc_interrogationCompiègne in May, 1430, and her allies failed to come to her aid.  Left outside the town’s gates when they closed, she was captured and taken to the castle of Bouvreuil.

Some 70 charges were made against her by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, including witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man.

Representatives of the judge were dispatched  to Jeanne’s home village of Domremy, to ascertain the prisoner’s virginity, character, habits and associations.  Nicolas Bailly, the man responsible for collecting testimony, reported that he “had found nothing concerning Joan that he would not have liked to find about his own sister”. This Bishop Cauchon must have been some piece of work.  The report so angered the man, that he called Bailly “a traitor and a bad man” and refused to pay him for his work.

Jean Le Maistre, whose presence as Vice-Inquisitor for Rouen was required by canon law, objected to the proceedings and refused to appear, until the English threatened his life.

Interrogation of the prisoner began on February 21, 1431. The outcome was never in doubt. Transcripts were falsified and witnesses intimidated.  Even then, trial records reveal this illiterate peasant girl to be brighter than all her inquisitors, combined.

One example from her third interrogation, was the Question: “Do you know whether or not you are in God’s grace?”. The question was a trap.  Church doctrine stated that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace, yet a “no” answer would have been held against her.  “If I am not”, she said, “may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.”

After fifteen such interrogations her inquisitors still had nothing on her, save for the wearing of soldier’s garb, and her visions. Yet, the outcome of her “trial” was already determined.  She was found guilty of heresy, and sentenced to be burned at the stake.  On May 24, Jeanne was taken to a scaffold.  Threatened that she would be immediately burned alive if she didn’t disavow her visions and abjure the wearing of soldier’s clothing, Jeanne agreed to sign such an abjuration, but recanted four days later.

jean-darc-executionThe death sentence was carried out on May 30, 1431, in the old marketplace at Rouen. She was 19.  After she died, the coals were raked back to expose her charred body.  No one would be able to claim she’d escaped alive. Her body was then burned twice more, so no one could collect the relics.  Her ashes were then cast into a river.

Guillaume Manchon, one of the court scribes, later recalled: “And she was then dressed in male clothing, and was complaining that she could not give it up, fearing lest in the night her guards would inflict some act of [sexual] outrage upon her; and she had complained once or twice to the Bishop of Beauvais, the Vice-Inquisitor, and Master Nicholas Loiseleur that one of the aforesaid guards had tried to rape her.”

Her executioner, Geoffroy Therage, later said that he “Greatly feared to be damned”.

An inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Calixtus III re-examined the evidence, 25 years later. The court exonerated her of all charges, pronouncing her innocent on July 7, 1456, and later declaring her a martyr.

A National Heroine to the French, Joan of Arc was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, in 1920.  It was small consolation for this child who had been set up for a fall by her enemies, and abandoned to be incinerated alive, by her friends.

February 3, 1943  Greater Love Hath No Man

With arms linked and leaning against the slanting deck, their voices offered prayers and sang hymns for the dead and for those about to die

usat_dorchesterThe Troop Transport USAT Dorchester sailed out of New York Harbor on January 23, 1943, carrying 902 service members, merchant seamen and civilian workers.  They were headed for the Army Command Base in southern Greenland, part of a six-ship convoy designated SG-19, together with two merchant ships and escorted by the Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Escanaba and Tampa.

Built in 1926 as a coastal liner, Dorchester was anything but graceful, bouncing and shuddering its way through the rough seas of the North Atlantic.    Several ships had already been sunk by German U-Boats in these waters.  One of the Cutters detected a sub late on February 2, flashing the light signal “we’re being followed”.  Dorchester Captain Hans Danielson ordered his ship on high alert that night.  Men were ordered to sleep in their clothes with their life jackets on.  Many disregarded the order.  It was too hot down there in the holds, and those life jackets were anything but comfortable.

4-chaplains
The Four Chaplains

Some of those off-duty tried to sleep that night, while others played cards or threw dice, well into the night.  Nerves were understandably on edge, especially among new recruits, as four Army chaplains passed among them with words of encouragement.  They were the Jewish Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, the Catholic priest John P. Washington, the Dutch Reformed Church Minister Clark V. Poling and the Methodist Minister George L. Fox.

At 12:55am on February 3rd, the German submarine U-223 fired a spread of three torpedoes.  One struck Dorchester amidships, deep below the water line.  A hundred orgerman_submarine_wwii_by_racoonart more were killed in the blast, or in the clouds of steam and ammonia vapor pouring from ruptured boilers.  Suddenly pitched into darkness, untold numbers were trapped below decks.  With boiler power lost, there was no longer enough steam to blow the full 6 whistle signal to abandon ship, while loss of power prevented a radio distress signal.  For whatever reason, there never were any signal flares.

Those who could escape scrambled onto the deck, injured, disoriented, many still in their underwear as they emerged into the sub-arctic cold.

The four chaplains must have been a welcome sight that night, guiding the disoriented and the wounded, offering prayers and words of courage.  They opened a storage locker, and handed out life preservers until there were no more.  “Padre,” said one young soldier, “I’ve lost my life jacket and I can’t swim!”  Witnesses differ as to which of the four it was who gave this man his life jacket, but they all followed suit.  One survivor, John Ladd, said “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” Rabbi Goode gave his gloves to Petty Officer John Mahoney, saying “Never mind.  I have two pairs”.  It was only later that Mahoney realized, Rabbi Goode intended to stay with the ship.

Dorchester was listing hard to starboard and taking on water fast, with only 20 minutes to live.  Port side lifeboats were inoperable due to the ship’s angle.  Men jumped across the void into those on the starboard side, overcrowding them to the point of capsize.  Only two of fourteen lifeboats launched successfully.

dorchesterPrivate William Bednar found himself floating in 34° water, surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” he recalled. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

As the ship upended and went down by the bow, survivors floating nearby could see the four chaplains.  With arms linked and leaning against the slanting deck, their voices offered prayers and sang hymns for the dead and for those about to die.

Rushing back to the scene, coast guard cutters found themselves in a sea of bobbing red lights, the water-activated emergency strobe lights of individual life jackets.  Most marked the locations of corpses.  Of the 902 on board, the Coast Guard plucked 230 from the water, alive.

four-chaplainsThe United States Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor on the four chaplains for their selfless act of courage, but strict requirements for “heroism under fire” prevented them from doing so.  Congress authorized a one time, posthumous “Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism”, awarded to the next of kin by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Fort Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.

John 15:13 says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.  Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew when he gave away his only hope for survival, Father Washington did not ask for a Catholic. Neither minister Fox nor Poling asked for a Protestant, they gave their life jackets to the nearest man.

Carl Sandburg once said that “Valor is a gift.  Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.”  If I were ever so tested, I hope that I would prove myself half the man, as those four chaplains.