This Week in History

Martin Luther Defies the Pope:

October 10, 1520

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Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian monk

Martin Luther did not intend to destroy the Catholic Church, nor did he intend to start a separate church. Luther wanted to reform the Church, to bring it back to what it was meant to be — the pure Bride of Christ.

Luther was not alone in wanting to reform the Church. Catholic humanists like Desiderius Erasmus of Holland, Thomas More of England, and the Cardinal Francisco Jiménez of Castile protested as loudly as Luther did against the problems in the Church. Even Cardinal Cajetan, who confronted Luther at Augsburg in 1518, carried on the same fight in the Roman curia. Unlike Luther, however, these reformers did not promote teachings that directly undermined the teaching authority of the Church.

Luther advocated several doctrines that were contrary to the Catholic Faith. His foremost idea was that salvation comes by faith only (sola fide) and not by any good works. Against the Catholic teaching that human nature, though fallen, is essentially good, Luther taught that human nature is wholly corrupt because of Original Sin. Since human nature is corrupt, only by God’s Grace (sola gratia), working through faith, can one be saved from eternal punishment. For Luther, however, Grace does not remove human sinfulness but only covers a person’s sins. (more…)

This Week in History

Coronation of a Reluctant Emperor, December 25, 800

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. To peruses sample chapters of our books, go hereFor ordering information on Light to the Nations I and our other texts, please click here.

The “Arm Reliquary,” kept in the treasury of the cathedral built by Charles the Great and the site of his tomb in Aachen. The reliquary contains the ulna and radius bones of Charles’ right arm. King Louis XI of France commissioned the reliquary in 1481.

[Charlemagne] was more than a conqueror; he was a great organizer and reformer. He divided his realm into counties, each with a comes (Latin for companion), or “count,” to rule it. To keep an eye on his subordinates, the king himself throughout his life made trips to all parts of his realm, arriving with little or no warning. He also sent out emissaries, called missi dominici, to travel a regular circuit and report to him on the state of his provinces and the needs of his subjects. These royal legates, who traveled in pairs—one a count, the other a bishop—were appointed for a year’s duty over a certain number of counties. Complaints against a local count or his administrators were brought before the emissaries, and they would send the complaints up to the king.

Among the reports brought back to Charles by his missi dominici were letters from provincial bishops. Because Charles saw how badly these letters were written, he began to fear that his clergy did not have enough Latin to understand the Scriptures. He thus established schools in every monastery and cathedral for the perfect teaching of the Latin tongue. The English scholar, Alcuin, who headed the school in Charles’s palace, called the “palace school”, was commanded to staff and oversee these many schools. Scholars from the British monasteries were brought over to Charles’s kingdom to train new teachers. Thus Charles brought the Anglo-Saxon renaissance of learning to the continent. (more…)

This Week in History

A Miracle at Tepeyac:

December 12, 1531

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File:Juan de Zumarraga.jpg

Juan de Zumárraga

Though, by 1531, Cortés and the new Audience were in power, all was not well in New Spain. The conquest and three years of cruelty had made many Indians think that the God the Spanish priests told them about did not love them. To many Indians, Jesus was the white man’s god; they thought he did not care about the brown-skinned natives. Bishop Zumárraga loved his Indian flock. How could he convince them that God loved them as well as he loved the Spaniards? Many evils, many cruelties were still part of life in New Spain. What could he as bishop do to stop them?

One cold day in December of 1531, Bishop Zumárraga, busy at work, received a visitor. Before him knelt an Aztec man, clad only in a loincloth and a cloak called a tilma, made from cactus fibers. The bishop received many visitors, so this man was not unusual. Perhaps Fray Juan was only half listening as the man, named Juan Diego, told his story.

Juan Diego said that he had set out from his village at break of day to hear Mass in the city. Passing by the hill called Tepeyac, a hill he had passed many times before, Juan Diego heard the singing of birds. He was most surprised, for at that time of the year one did not hear songbirds. He stopped, and looked east toward the hill. Suddenly the singing ceased and, instead, he heard a voice calling his name: “Juanito, Juan Diegito,” it said. (more…)