This Day in History

December 26, 1825
Russia’s “Decembrist” Uprising
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook)The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. The selection continues from the November 30 This Week in History, “Death of a Disillusioned Tsar,” which one may find on our blog, here, under December 1.  For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other books, please click here.

Since Tsar Aleksandr I had no legitimate children, his throne would normally have passed to his next eldest brother. This brother was the Grand Duke Konstantin (Constantine) Pavlovich Romanov. Konstantin, however, did not want the throne. He would have to divorce his Polish wife to be tsar, because she was Catholic; and he was unwilling to do this. In 1822, Konstantin had signed a document in which he renounced his right to the throne. The heir to the throne was thus the next oldest brother, the 29-year-old Grand Duke Nikolai.

Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich
Romanov in about 1821
Like the tsars before him, Nikolai was formally to take power by issuing a proclamation and receiving the oath of allegiance from his troops. He set December 26, 1825, as the date for this event. Yet, unknown to him, prominent men and secret Liberal societies throughout Russia had also been making preparations — not to welcome the new tsar, but to overthrow the existing Russian government and replace it with a constitutional monarchy.

The conspirators had spread a rumor among the troops in St. Petersburg and in other Russian cities that Konstantin had not really resigned and that Nikolai was thus nothing but a usurper. The troops were told that when Nikolai asked for their allegiance, they were to refuse it and instead cry out, “Long live Konstantin and the Constitution!” Many of the soldiers, it is said, were a little confused by the command. They did not know what a constitution was, and they assumed it was the name of the grand duke’s wife.

On December 26, troops gathered in the Square of the Senate, near the Cathedral of St. Isaak in St. Petersburg. When Nikolai stood before them and read the proclamation that he had succeeded to the throne as tsar, emperor, and autocrat of Russia, some of the soldiers only murmured while others openly declared their allegiance to Konstantin. Shots began to be fired, and the mob of soldiers grew more violent. The bishop of St. Petersburg appeared, but the rioting soldiers refused to heed his calls for obedience to Tsar Nikolai. Nikolai had to take refuge in the cathedral, where he was joined by troops faithful to him.

The Decembrist uprising
At first the new tsar wanted to spare the lives of the rioters, but when it became clear that nothing but violence could quell the revolt, he ordered his men to open fire. The guns of Nikolai’s well-disciplined troops cut down scores of men in the rioting mob. By nightfall the insurrection had been crushed, and Tsar Nikolai ordered the singing of a hymn of thanksgiving in the cathedral of St. Isaak.
Cathedral of St. Isaak, St. Petersburg
Insurrections in other Russian cities were similarly put down. Leaders of this uprising (called Dekabrists or Decembrists) were arrested throughout Russia. Little mercy was shown to the Decembrists, though they were made up of men from some of the most illustrious families in Russia. Many were condemned to exile in Siberia, and five of the most prominent leaders were executed — a rare punishment in Russia, which had formally abolished the death penalty under Katerina the Great.

Tsar, Emperor, and Autocrat, Nikolai I
Tsar Nikolai I was in many ways quite fit to be a ruler. Tall, handsome, and with a strong physique, Nikolai looked like a leader of men. Nikolai possessed the spirit of a military commander; unlike his brother Aleksandr, he did not suffer from doubts or from any weakness of will. The new tsar was a frank man and very honorable, and his personal life was without fault. Moreover, he deeply loved Russia and sincerely desired to lead her to happiness and glory. But Nikolai I was not a ruler to please Liberals. The guiding principles of his reign were “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality,” not “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” Liberal ideals, he thought, were western European and would only corrupt the Russian people and bring Russian glory to the dust. Russia, he thought, had a special destiny. Guided by her all-ruling tsar, Russia was to be the bastion of the Orthodox faith. For this reason, her culture and traditions were to be preserved from and purified of all that was not Russian and Orthodox.

It was thus that Tsar Nikolai strove to protect Russians from non-Russian ideas. During his reign, Russians were forbidden to travel to other countries without special permission. A strict censorship was placed on books and periodicals, and teaching in universities was closely watched to prevent the spreading of subversive ideas. To prevent plots against his government, Nikolai organized a secret police force, called the Third Section, that could arrest people without a warrant and imprison them without trial. To protect the Orthodox Church, Nikolai decreed that anyone found guilty of converting an Orthodox Christian to another religion would be imprisoned; and if the same person was found doing this again, he would be sent to Siberia. On the other hand, Nikolai’s government granted rewards and special privileges to anyone who sought to convert others to Orthodoxy. In the mind of the tsar, Orthodoxy was the guarantee of Russian greatness. To be Russian was to be Orthodox.

Keyboard Music from 1825
Though not composed by a Russian, the Piano Sonata in A minor, D 845, by the Austrian composer, Franz Schubert, would likely have been heard in St. Petersburg before and after the Decembrist uprising.

The Right Tools Make a Difference

It has been almost 15 years since a group of Catholic educators and writers first met to launch the Catholic Textbook Project. They gathered to address an urgent need – a lack of Catholic textbooks.
Since the 1960′s, no social studies/history series distinctively for Catholic schools had been published.  This meant that teachers in Catholic schools were forced either to use out-dated materials or secular textbooks that often (and increasingly) carried anti-Catholic bias and distortions.  
In addition, secular history textbooks were increasingly image-heavy, at the expense of text; and the text itself was characterized by ever simpler language and poor scholarship.  In a nutshell, secular textbooks have declined in quality. The result has been a dramatic decrease in historical literacy. Catholic schools lacked not only Catholic tools (such as an integration of the significant contributions of Catholics throughout more than 2,000 years of history), but also the high-quality materials that have historically made Catholic education superb.
The Catholic Textbook Project was formed to change that situation.
Since our founding, we have published five history textbooks (for grades 5 – 9) that bring history alive. Using a story-narrative format, our texts engage student interest. The graphic design, with custom maps and full-color reproductions of beautiful art, please the eye and inspire wonder.
But most importantly, our textbooks are Catholic; they proceed from the insight that mankind and history have been transformed irrevocably by Christ and his Church. Put simply, without the Church, history simply would not be the same.
Today, our textbooks are being used throughout the United States — in parochial schools in 51 dioceses, private schools, and home schools.
By next year, more than 60 schools in the archdiocese of Los Angeles alone will be using CTP books. Principals, teachers, and parents, as well as bishops and historians, have praised our books (along with their accompanying teacher’s manuals).
However, most gratifying has been the response from students, who have found our books such a joy to read that they read farther than they “need to.” Gratifying too, is the knowledge that we have done our part in helping introduce children to their religious and cultural patrimony, and to the fullness of history and reality, with all its possibilities.
All this is exciting news for Catholic education.  The problem is, so many are asking …”More! Faster!”  That is why we need your help. 
Unlike the behemoth textbook publishers, Catholic Textbook Project is a non-profit project of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and, as such, depends upon the generosity of donors to underwrite costs associated with the development, writing, editing, layout, promotion and distribution of our textbooks.
Currently, our greatest need is to underwrite the development of history textbooks for grades 1-4.
The estimated cost to develop and publish these books and their support materials is slightly less than $500,000. We look to individual donors and large foundations alike to make this happen.  In fact, just this month we received our first $25,000 grant from the Davies Foundation for this project.
But your help is vital to our mission.
Your generous gift today will help us get the right tools into the hands of Catholic educators. And you know that the right tools will make all the difference in forming Catholic children as future saints and leaders. 
Please donate today, AND send word of our work on to friends and foundations who may be able to help us produce more books for more grades, for the good of our Catholic school students – more, faster.” 
You can make your donation three ways:
  1. Use your credit card via PayPal HERE (then click on “Donate” button)
  2. Mail a donation check to: Catholic Textbook Project P.O. Box 4638, Ventura CA 93007
  3. You may also call CTP President Michael Van Hecke at 805-302-6716 to discuss any particular donation questions.
Catholic Textbook Project is a 501(c)3, and every donation is tax-deductible.
Thank you for any help you can give! Your generous gift today will enable us to satisfy sooner the demands of Catholic educators who are eager for the publication of our grades 1-4 textbooks. 
Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic SchoolsOur additional “thank you”: For a donation of $50 we will send you Archbishop J. Michael Miller’s The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. This booklet is a reprint of an conference address given by Archbishop Miller as Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. It is an excellent resource for anyone concerned with Catholic education.

This Day in History

December 16, 1773
Tea Served in Boston Harbor
From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America (Textbook)The following comes from our fifth-grade book, From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of AmericaFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.
Despite of the Boston Massacre, most American colonists were not ready for revolutionary action. This frustrated radicals like the Sons of Liberty. They needed something to stir up the colonists. As it turned out, they did not have to wait long for that something and it was a tea party. It was not a pretty little tea party with china and cookies; it was a humorous name given to a violent act of defiance. The Boston Tea Party was the event that threw the colonials into war with England. This is how it came about.

Sons of Liberty depicted pouring tea 
into the mouth of excise man whom 
they have tarred and feathered
For years, the British East India Company had been allowed to sell its tea only to British merchants, who in turn sold it to the American colonies. This, plus the Townshend tax made the tea quite expensive. In fact, many Americans drank smuggled tea, which they could get for less money. This all changed in May 1773, when Parliament allowed the British East India Company to sell its tea directly to the colonies. Without having to use British merchants, the company was thus able to sell its tea for even less than smuggled tea. Moreover, the East India Company was allowed to sell its tea only to colonial merchants who had no ties with the Sons of Liberty, some of whom were smugglers or had ties to the smugglers.

The Sons of Liberty and other radical groups protested this new act of Parliament. By allowing only certain merchants to sell East India tea, they said, Parliament was playing favorites, and that was unjust. The tea issue so stirred up the colonists that in New York and Philadelphia, they kept the East India Company’s tea ships from entering the harbor. But in Boston (the most radical city of all) the tea ships were allowed to enter the port.

Sam Adams
Sam Adams called a meeting at the Old South Meeting House in Boston (a “meeting house” was a Puritan church) on December 16, 1773, to protest the entry of the tea ships into Boston harbor. The Sons of Liberty and their leaders, who gathered that night, sent a message to Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The message demanded the governor to force the tea ships to leave the harbor. When Samuel Adams received the expected news that Governor Hutchinson had refused the demands, he ended the meeting with the words, “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.”

The meeting disbanded, and a sign was given. Immediately, a band of colonial men, disguised as Mohawk Indians, ran with whooping yells past the meeting house. They were soon joined by other men, some of whom were dressed like Indians; others had darkened their faces and masqueraded as black slaves. Gathering at the city wharf, these men, numbering about 150, rowed out to the tea ships in Boston harbor. Without opposition, they began emptying all the boxes of tea into the harbor. By the time they were done, 343 large boxes of tea lay floating in the salty brine.

A 1789 engraving of the Boston Tea Party
Early American Choral Music
William Billings (1746-1800) was an American composer of what is called the “primitive style,” characterized by simple harmonies. A tanner by trade, and self-taught in music, he wrote mostly sacred music.

“Shiloh: Methinks I see an heav’nly host,” 
by William Billings 

The Seven Laws of Teaching

The president of the Catholic Textbook Project, Michael Van Hecke, recently gave an in-service in Idaho as part of his work with the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s Classical Schools Project. Here is a summary of one of the talks he gave, based on one of his favorite books on education - The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory.

…The book is a great examination of the laws of what it means to teach and learn. While these laws are basic and common sense, like the laws of nature in which seeds need soil and moisture and sun in order to grow, as you think, consider and process the laws, they are infinitely deep. The laws are divided into three sections: two elemental factors (teacher and student); two mental factors (a common language and a truth or lesson to be communicated); and three acts (teaching, learning and fixing the learning.)

1. A teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth to be taught. This is why we teachers must be inexhaustibly committed to ongoing learning, within and outside of our particular field of study or interest. We want to broaden our universal knowledge in order to discover and convey the myriad profound connections between varied truths. Think of how we can expand math through an example from science, or how important geography was in the details of the pivotal battles in history.

2. A learner is one who attends, with interest, the lesson given. Notice the compulsion on the student to be attentive. It reminds me of the Suzuki method’s opening salvo from the teacher, “I am ready to teach”; to which the student replies, “I am ready to learn.”

3. The language used as a medium between teacher and learner must be common to both. Here, the teacher is required to make sure to they understand what is known by students and use that language to take them to the next step, with clear and vivid word usage.

4. The lesson to be learned must be explicable in terms of truth already known by the learner. This is the age-old principle that we come to the unknown by means of the known. As I explain to my 7th Grade Latin students, one cannot climb the ninth, tenth or eleventh feet of a ladder unless they have already grasped all the rungs below and stepped their way up. That being said, once we mount a new step, we can grasp that next rung.

5. Teaching is arousing and using the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired conception or thought. We teachers try to keep their thoughts and expressions ahead of our own expressions. This excites thought and discovery in students. Teaching is, ultimately, a matter of ordering scattered ideas, thoughts and experience so that the coiled springs of intellectual power are released. 

6. Learning is the thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth to be acquired. This requires students to reproduce thinking, in their own mind, to where they understand in their own words and internal images, proofs, connections, applications, etc. We see this in the earliest ages when little ones grasp “carrying” numbers, or when phonics really clicks and the student really does utter, “ahhh!” This law is a profound burden on a student, as they get older, to put in the work necessary to be successful in learning – it takes hard work, and protracted interest. The result is great – it is a self-satisfying activity.

7. The final law is the fixing or fastening of the learning done. This involves review, re-thinking and re-producing. This is the beauty of certain homework exercises, tests, and exams. When we look at the body of material we have learned, or is being expected of us, we can tie together so many pieces to see the connections of the various elements of truth. It is a real quickening exercise in “coming to know.”

Preach to All Nations

The most rigid Protestant and the most indifferent philosopher cannot deny to him the courage and patience of a martyr, with the good sense, resolution, ready wit, and address of the best negotiator that ever went upon a temporal embassy.” Such was the praise given by the author Sir Walter Scott to St. Francis Xavier, one of the greatest missionaries of the Church.

Francis Xavier was born into an aristocratic Spanish family and at the age of eighteen was sent to study in Paris, where he met Ignatius of Loyola. After obtaining his degree and teaching philosophy, Francis eventually became one of the famous band of seven who vowed themselves to God’s service at Montmartre on August 15, 1534, becoming the first Jesuits. Three years later, Francis was ordained and began his missionary life in 1941 when he sailed for India. What he accomplished in the following ten years before his death was truly astounding. Historian and Catholic novelist Louis de Wohl wrote this of Francis:
Father Francis Xavier had died fifteen years before St. Ignatius, but not before he had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India, Malaya and Japan, making converts by the tens of thousands. With the one exception of St. Paul, the Church has never had a missionary like him. He preached to pearl fishers in Southern India, to rajahs and Brahmins, to the fierce cannibals on Morotai Island, to Chinese pirates and Japanese samurai. Christian communities sprang up in his wake. (Founded on a Rock: A History of the Catholic Church, 1961)
Travels of St. Francis Xavier

By his preaching and holiness, as well as by many miracles, Francis Xavier won hundreds of Japanese to the Catholic Faith. He enthusiastically praised the spiritual understanding of the Japanese people and their openness to the Christian faith. When Francis Xavier set out for China in 1551, the other Jesuits came to Japan to carry on his missionary work. By 1587, there were about 200,000 Catholics in Japan. (All Ye Lands, pg 269)

Naturally such work was also accompanied by much suffering. When he died in 1552 at the age of 46, Francis was white-haired and prematurely aged by his continual labours. Yet, he wrote to St. Ignatius during this time: The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks I undertake for God alone are inexhaustible springs of spiritual joy, so much so that these islands are the places in all the world for a man to lose his sight by excess of weeping; but they are tears of joy. I do not remember ever to have tasted such interior delight and these consolations take from me all sense of bodily hardships and of troubles from open enemies and not too trustworthy friends.

The saint’s last heroic effort was to try to enter secretly into China, a country which did not tolerate foreigners; strangers who stepped foot on Chinese soil faced death or inhuman imprisonment. Nevertheless, Francis made his plans to enter China. His scheme, however, did not make it to fruition – becoming seriously ill and abandoned by his accomplices, he died six miles off the Chinese coast on the little island of SancianHis incorrupt body was removed from its shallow island grave and is enshrined in Goa, India.

St. Francis is distinguished as the greatest missionary since the Apostles because of his great zeal, the many souls he brought to Christ and his wondrous miracles. Consequently, he was named the patron of foreign missions and has inspired many subsequent Jesuits who follow in his footsteps on foreign soil.

Additional Resources
St. Francis Xavier coloring page
Set All Afire by Louis de Wohl
St. Francis of the Seven Seas by Albert J. Nevins