May / June 2014
Faith & Villainy
eformer. Professor. Translator. Pastor. Author. Hymnwriter. Defender of the faith. Heretic. Outlaw. Martin Luther had a lot of vocations, wore a lot of hats, still gets slapped with a lot of labels even today. In all the hubbub of his achievements – like pounding those 95 questions on the Wittenburg church door, defying the Papacy at the Diet of Worms, translating the entire Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German -- two of Luther’s vocations get forgotten by many, pushed aside or ignored as insignificant. But to Martin Luther himself, his roles as husband and father were not trivial, not unimportant or forgettable. In fact, they were an integral part of his efforts to reform the church and bring it back in line with Scripture. When Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora married, he was forty-two and she was twenty-six. He was a former monk, and she was a former nun, so for them, marrying meant recanting the vows of celibacy they had made when entering monastic life -- vows Luther had come to believe were contrary to Scripture. Although he taught that mandatory celibacy was not God pleasing, Luther had thought he himself would never marry because he was simply too
busy for marriage and family. After all, he was teaching at the University of Wittenburg, constantly studying the Bible, and writing a staggering number of theological articles, pamphlets, and so on. But he changed his mind when he realized that if he married, he would demonstrate to his followers that he truly believed matrimony was a holy estate. By practicing what he’d been preaching, he would also make his break with the Roman Catholic Church obvious and permanent. Two years earlier, Katherine von Bora and several other nuns had run away from their convent, having learned of Martin Luther’s teachings and believing
he was correct. Luther and his allies helped the other young women return to their homes or find jobs or husbands, but Katherine fell in love with a young man who then jilted her. The famous artist Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife Barbara welcomed her into their home, but Katie was heartbroken and lonely. Martin and Katie were not “in love” when they married. Katie needed a home, she was intelligent, hard-working, and above all a devout Christian. Martin needed someone to take care of his physical needs while he concentrated on writing, teaching, and studying God’s Word – he said once that before he married, he hadn’t changed
Martin Luther Everett Swanson Tsar Nicholas II William Wilberforce Margaret Beaufort Gandhi Pillars of the Earth The Knight Templar Pope Alexander VI
his bed sheets for a year because he never had time or remembered to do it. Marriage for them was a sensible, practical step. A marriage between two people who were not romantically in love? Today we gasp. Unheard of! Absurd! How could they possibly be happy? And yet, happy they were, by all accounts. They grew to love each other very much, the Lord blessed them with six children, and together they created a hospitable environment where friends, family, and strangers were welcomed and nurtured. I will never be a reformer like Martin Luther. Things that I teach or write or profess will never rattle the world’s most powerful organization. But I am a Christian spouse and parent. I can admire Luther the Reformer,
but I can understand Luther the husband and father. And I can learn from Martin and Katie how to use my marriage and parenthood to proclaim God’s good news to the world, to show that I love because He first loved me.
Works Consulted Kitty, My Rib: Katherine Luther by E. Jane Mall. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo. 1959. Martin Luther: The Great Reformer by Edwin P. Booth. Barbour Publishing, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH. 1995. Martin Luther: Hero of Faith by Frederick Nohl. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1962.
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magine the poorest family you know. Maybe it’s a relative down on his luck, barely scraping by with his wife and two kids. Maybe it’s the lady who lives down the street, at risk of foreclosure who has to buy those generic Barbie dolls for her little girl’s birthday. Maybe your sister needs food stamps to get her through the week, your brother uses Medicaid, or your friend had to move back in with her parents because she can’t make it on her own. There’s homeless shelters in every American metropolis, soup kitchens to fill growling stomachs and churches willing to pay someone’s rent for a month or two if they can’t scrape enough together to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. There’s always someone to offer a helping hand, lift up the downtrodden, and offer them hope. Now imagine what the Reverend Everett Swanson saw during an evangelistic tour to Korean troops in 1952. Already mortified by the sight of hundreds of orphans living on the street, nothing could prepare him for the trucks that gathered in the morning to haul away the frozen bodies of the kids who hadn’t survived the night, unwanted, unloved children with no one to protect them. His heart broke and that’s the day when Compassion International was
born. Rev. Swanson returned home to America and fund-raised to help the little Korean orphans. In 1954, one-on-one sponsorship became available. Now American families and individuals could pay a pre-decided amount of money a month to sponsor a single child, corresponding with that child and
family to offer a message of hope. One man saw a need and could have turned a blind eye, expecting someone else to step in and help. Instead, Rev. Swanson did as 1 John 3: 17-18 instructs, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in
word or talk but indeed and in truth.” Rev. Swanson truly loved in truth and in deed. The small non-profit organization called Compassion International has grown exponentially over the years and is now in the top 20 list of charities that Forbes Magazine determines every year. It began as a ministry to orphans but soon expanded to assist families in the most extreme circumstances of poverty. Within the last ten years, Compassion introduced a new program called the Child Survival Program. Pregnant women or mothers with children under the age of 3 can come to the project and receive medical treatment, vocational training, training on fighting germs, and learn how to raise their children with love and compassion. This new program comes alongside the Child Development Sponsorship Program, filling the gap and reaching the children before they are old enough to join child sponsorship. The Leadership Development Program, soon to evolve to reach more of the CDSP graduates, trains the promising CDSP graduates, giving them a college education from sponsors able to afford the fees every month. These precious graduates return to their countries as doctors, lawyers, politicians… anything that will help stem the
rising tide of poverty. Many of them even sponsor children themselves. Compassion stands firm on its values as a Christian organization, its tagline reading “Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” Never once has the organization deviated from that calling. Employees are called child advocates, and volunteers around America participate in something known as Compassion Sunday, a time when the volunteers present the work of Compassion to their churches and offer child packets for individual sponsorship. Reverend Everett Swanson started with a small orphanage in Korea, a trickle as it were, and now Compassion serves almost 1.5 million children and their families around the world, a veritable river. Compassion does more than just feed bellies and educate. Compassion works with the local churches in 26 thirdworld countries, reaching out with the love of Jesus to these hurting little ones who have, perhaps, never had someone outside their immediate family tell them they are loved, let alone that they are loved by God, the creator of the Universe, who calls them by name. That amount of children, 1.5 million, sounds huge. In fact, it’s not even 1% of the 400 million children living in extreme poverty today. Even at America’s lowest point, its poverty line is far, far above the extreme poverty line. These are children scrounging in
garbage dumps with swollen bellies and thin limbs due to starvation. These children might have never had vaccinations, might have contracted AIDS from drinking bad water, and might get only one meal a day, if they’re lucky. Compassion reaches as many children as it possibly can, but the only way to reach more children is to have more sponsors, more child advocates. Even if someone can’t afford to sponsor a child at $38 a month, there are funds that can be given to; funds to provide mosquito nets, vaccinations, medical care, food, and even water filters. You know the best part? Korea no longer needs Compassion to sponsor its children. They can take care of their own now, and they do. Instead, Korea partners with Compassion in a global network of countries without extreme poverty whose goal is to eradicate extreme poverty. Korea is proof that a nation can become
self-sufficient in its fight against extreme poverty, and if it can succeed, so too can Rwanda, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, and all the rest of the 26 countries in Compassion’s sponsorship program. One man’s vision caught fire. If Rev. Swanson could see what his first steps have created, he would sit down… hard, and praise God for His goodness. If anything, Rev. Swanson was the first child advocate of Compassion, the very first sponsor. He wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself, just as I would never ask someone to do what I have never done myself. America helps its downtrodden, as it should. But these countries have no one to help them if we do not. Compassion wants to change the face of the world by releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Would you consider joining them? www.compassion.com ♥
have a firm, an absolute conviction that the fate of Russia---that my own fate and that of my family---is in the hands of God who has placed me where I am. Whatever may happen to me, I shall bow to His will with the consciousness of never having had any thought other than that of serving the country which He has entrusted to me.”- Tsar Nicholas II.
Sunday (the attack on a peaceful protest) and persecuted the Jews, permitting numerous pogroms.
Tsar Nicholas Romanov II is best remembered as the last tsar of the Russian Empire. He was the one who led his country in the Great War, commanded the troops, was forced to abdicate the throne for himself and his son, and along with his family was exiled to Siberia where he, his wife and five children were executed by the Bolsheviks. For decades there were rumors that he or one of his family members escaped the firing squad and lived the remainder of their days in hiding. He is criticized for being a weak ruler; a monarch who lived in luxury while his people starved, and the instigator of many tragedies.
Nicholas was also a Christian. He was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church; the official church of his Motherland. His faith was a vital part of who he was. Daily prayers were said, as well as the reading of the Holy Scriptures. He and his family attended a private church service regularly. While he was a believer in Christ, there was a dark side to his faith. His grandfather, Alexander II, was assassinated and the blame laid at the feet of the Jewish people. They were traditionally despised, but for Nicholas it was personal. He believed the Jews ought to be punished for their crimes, and for killing Christ. The age-old superstition tainted many of his decisions.
All of that is true. He was a weak ruler who made poor choices and toured his many palaces throughout the year. He inadvertently caused Bloody
In Nicholas’ eyes, the eyes of the royal family, and even the eyes of many of the Russian people, he ruled by Divine Right. It was God’s Will that he was monarch
and anything and anyone opposing him was opposing God. This conviction was as steadfast as his personal Christian faith— they often went hand in hand. The monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church were tightly tethered together. Unbeknownst to the public, Nicholas’ son, Aleksey, the heir to the dynasty, was a hemophiliac. A small cut, a bump, or a fall could lead to severe bleeding. Naturally Nicholas and his wife Alexandra prayed for their son’s healing and to them the answer came in the
form of a mystic monk named Grigory Rasputin. One of the times Aleksey hurt himself, Rasputin was sent for and through his mysticism, he brought the boy relief. From that point on, Rasputin remained close to the family. So much so that his constant presence gave rise to gossip and propaganda, such as that he was having an affair with Alexandra and the daughters. Nicholas did what he could to squelch that kind of talk through threats and arrests. The truth had a way of making itself known, though; Rasputin was not a moral man. He had affairs, took drugs and drank to excess. By the time Nicholas began to question the monk’s presence, it was too late. Rather than follow his own conscience, he let himself be swayed by Alexandra’s devotion to their wayward friend. While Nicholas lead the troops during the war, Alexandra relied heavily on the monk’s advice. This caused further trouble for the country. Near the end of 1916, two Romanov cousins assassinated Rasputin. Before his death, Rasputin threatened that if he were to die, the monarchy would fall. A few months later Nicholas abdicated the throne and he and his family were sent into exile.
Life in Siberia was difficult for the Romanov family, under the watchful eyes of Bolshevik guards. Alexandra and Aleksey were often ill, but all seven managed to band together. The family relied on their Christian faith for hope and believed that the White Army (the ones loyal to the Tsar and the monarchy) would rescue them. In April of 1918, the family was moved once more, this time to Ekaterinburg, where life was far darker for them. In the late hours of July 16th or early hours of the 17th, the family was awakened and led to the cellar of the house on the pretense that it was much too dangerous for them to be upstairs because there was fighting in the streets. The leader of the guards,
Yurovsky, announced to Nicholas, his family and loyal servants that they were to be executed. Within minutes, after the gunfire was over, the blood had been spilled and the dust settled, Nicholas and the others lay dead. They were buried in a mass grave and were not discovered for many decades. After they were exhumed, given a proper funeral and laid to rest, the Russian Orthodox Church beatified them as saints. Though a good Christian, a loving husband and doting father, his legacy will possibly always be tainted by the poor decisions he made and the hatred he hid in his heart. He was both a saint and sinner, a Christian and a villain. ♥
ost people know the classic hymn Amazing Grace, even if they’re not Christians, and the story behind it as well. Author John Newton’s journey from atheistic slave ship owner to Christian abolition supporter is a wonderful tale of redemption and forgiveness. However, the film Amazing Grace isn’t about Newton’s life, even though he does play a supporting role. Instead, it is about William Wilberforce, a lesser-known abolitionist whose role was crucial in eventually stamping out slavery in England in the 1800’s. While William Wilberforce’s life story isn’t quite as filled with drama and spiritual warfare as John Newton’s, the “amazing grace” that Newton wrote about is just as evident in his life. He was a member of Parliament and owned a large estate, was wealthy, a fantastic orator, persuasive, determined, passionate, occupied with the pursuit of reform, well acquainted with high-ranking officials—essentially in a very powerful position for a man so young. However, in the early scenes we see of Wilberforce portrayed as a man filled with conviction and compassion instead of simply ambition. He is kind to his servants, feeds the
poor freely and generously, is outspoken about his Christian beliefs and always makes room in his schedule for some one-on -one time with God. All of these characteristics and circumstances tell Wilberforce’s abolitionist friends that he is the man for the job of opening up the subject of a bill to abolish the slave trade in England to Parliament. It takes time and effort on the part of Thomas Clarkson, former slave Olaudah Equiano, and Charles Middleton particularly, to present multiple arguments and testimonials to persuade him. After the formal dinner party in which the subject is
formally presented to Wilberforce, he is hesitant and uncertain. It takes much prayer, thought, and consulting with John Newton for him to finally accept the proposal and take the bill to the floor. As expected, Parliament doesn’t take to the proposed bill well. In fact, the entire thing is so disastrous that Wilberforce and his friends end up campaigning for years. The slave trade has a major hand in the back pockets of the opposition, keeping them from even considering the bill that Wilberforce campaigns so actively for. Eventually, all of the abolitionists show their true fortitude, endurance, and faith
that God ordained their cause by never giving up, even after decades of failure. As the head of the movement, Wilberforce gives up more than he bargained for the cause—his youth and his health. However, recognizable good does come from the campaign. Many British citizens rally to the abolitionists’ side and sign their petition. Wilberforce also meets his future wife through his abolitionist friends. Awareness and support is raised by demonstration and peaceful protests. Little by little, inch-by -inch, Wilberforce and his allies gain ground in the British Empire, even in high places with William Pitt, an old friend of Wilberforce’s who became the youngest Prime Minister in English history. The journey takes Wilberforce twenty-six years but he finally succeeds in his quest when the Slave Trade Act of 1807 passes in Parliament. Although he didn’t live to see the complete abolition of slavery (which came to pass in with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833), he died knowing that the world had changed and that others would pick up where he left off. As far as great Christian leaders and influences go, William Wilberforce is a stirring example of dedication and faith. His passion for God was so great that it came before anything else, including his job in Parliament. One of my
favorite scenes shows him shortly after his conversion, going down into his garden early in the morning and praying, marveling at the beauty of God’s creation. When his manservant finds him wandering around getting wet in the morning dew and investigating spider webs, he reminds his master of his daily appointments and duties, and asks if Wilberforce has “found God.” Wilberforce replies, “I think He found me. You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.” Wilberforce follows his conviction with a purposedriven life, choosing to use his high position to champion reform in many areas, calling for positive changes in morals,
education, religion and working conditions. At the very end of the movie, Lord Charles Fox pays Wilberforce a great compliment that essentially sums him up in a nutshell: “When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon—men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.” ♥
hen I watched the miniseries The White Queen last year, Lady Margaret Beaufort appealed to me. She’s interesting—strong, intelligent, deeply devoted to her son and faith, but also unpitying and willing to go to great lengths to get what she wants. It made me curious to explore the life of the Mother of the Tudor dynasty and see how well her portrayal fits with the facts about her life. Margaret Beaufort was born in 1441 or 1443 (the sources are unclear about this) as the only child of the Duke of Somerset. She was a great-greatgranddaughter of King Edward III through his illegitimate grandson. Margaret’s father died when she was still a toddler and before she was 3 years of age, she was married to the son of her ward! Luckily, Margaret could remain living with her mother and this, her first marriage, was dissolved a few years later. King Henry VI chose her as bride for his half-brother Edmund Tudor. They married when she was 12. Less than a year later, she was pregnant and a widow. The Wars of the Roses had just begun and Edmund, a Lancastrian, was taken prisoner by the opposing Yorkist faction. He died in prison a few months later; in January 1457, Margaret gave birth to their son and only child, Henry Tudor. Within the year, she married
again, this time to Sir Henry Stafford, son of one of the most important Lancastrian nobles in England. The 15th century wasn’t an easy time for women on their own and Margaret wanted to avoid having another husband forced upon her. In 1461, the Yorkists won a series of battles and Edward IV was King of England. He gave the wardship of Henry to one of his supporters and Henry lived in Wales, where Margaret only got to visit him occasionally. In 1471, drastic changes occurred. The deposed King Henry VI and his son died, which made Henry the main claimant of the throne from the Lancastrian side. Edward IV made life dangerous for Henry in England and he fled to France. Margaret’s husband Stafford died from battle wounds. Margaret married again, this time to a Yorkist nobleman, Thomas Stanley. This brought her to the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, where she quickly rose in favour. She was godmother to the pair’s youngest daughter Bridget. Margaret started negotiations with Edward IV for her son to be able to return to England. In 1483 the King died
and a period of relative quiet in England (and in her life) ended. Richard III rose to the throne and Margaret carried the train of his wife’s gown during the coronation ceremony. At the same time, she was in contact with Elizabeth Woodville and involved in the uprising against Richard. She intended for Henry to come from France and, with support from English noblemen, fight and depose Richard. The plan failed and Margaret was stripped of all her titles and possessions. Only her marriage to Stanley saved her from a worse fate. Only two years later another chance arose and this time Henry was successful. At the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III died and Henry was crowned Henry VII.
The victory was in part thanks to Stanley and his men not fighting for Richard. Margaret was now the King’s mother and the most powerful woman in England. Despite being married, she had a legal and social independence few other women had. Margaret and her son were close; she advised him in many matters of state. In her clothing and protocol, she had a similar status to Elizabeth, the Queen. On her seal, Margaret added a coronet of roses and fleurs-de-lys to show her status. Margaret outlived her only son and attended the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII in 1509. Only a few months later she died. Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, Mother of the Tudor dynasty and ancestor of all the later Kings and Queens of England is buried in Westminster Abbey. These dry facts about Margaret’s life are mostly shown correct in The White Queen. Doing justice to the character of a woman who lived over 500 years ago is another matter. Most of what we know about Margaret’s character is through her confessor, Bishop John Fisher. He wrote extensively about Margaret in his memoires. Other contemporaries and later sources show Margaret as an intelligent, deeply pious woman. All surviving portraits show her in a pose of religious contemplation and wearing a nun-like dress. This is not strange as later in life Margaret lived very much like a nun. In 1499, while still married, she took a vow of chastity and
lived alone though keeping a good relationship with her husband. Margaret spent hours in prayer and reading religious works. She was the benefactress of multiple religious orders and charities. She also founded two colleges at Cambridge University and was an early patron of the printing press, using it to print religious articles and her own translation of a French theological book, The Imitation of Christ. In the sermon he preached at her funeral, Bishop Fisher compared Margaret to Martha from the Gospels, a woman of virtuous activity. He wrote: “Though she chose me as her director, to hear her confessions and to guide her life, yet I gladly confess that I learnt more from her great virtue than I could ever teach her.” In The White Queen, Margaret is a deeply religious woman but bordering on the obsessive. God
tells her in a vision that her son is destined to be King and she lets nothing stop her in her desire to make it happen. The White Queen isn’t alone in implicating her in the murder of the Princes in the Tower, the sons of Edward IV. Many other sources, popular and scientific alike, have mentioned her as a possible suspect, yet is this in accordance with the other information we have about her? Could the devout, pious Margaret, concerned with justice and involved in many charities, really resort to murdering children to get her son to the throne? Over 500 years later, we will never know for sure but it doesn’t seem likely. The White Queen no doubt used some poetic licence to spice up the story. What is clear, however, is that the real Margaret Beaufort was a remarkable and strong woman in an era not kind to her sex. ♥
ne of the central freedoms that we enjoy in American society is freedom of speech. Our experience of this is so fundamental that many of us may take it for granted in daily life. We may easily forget that there are numerous examples throughout history in all parts of the world of people who spoke out to fight for that freedom when they were denied. Striving to put an end to prejudice and persecution can result in lasting change and an enduring respect for the people who do it. Often, it is people with particularly strong religious views who make such a struggle their life’s work and leave social impact behind. In India in the early 20th century, there was one such man: Mohandas Gandhi. As a real man and a great soul, Gandhi survived through the social and political reform he achieved in life. His childhood was nothing extraordinary at that time, in that part of the world. Born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India, Gandhi’s father was a chief minister and his mother was a homemaker as almost all women were then. Gandhi’s
school records indicate he was a good but not great student, and he was married at age 13. Gandhi passed the exam to enter the University of Bombay in 1887 and studied at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar
life. While travelling to Pretoria, he was thrown off the train for being in a first-class compartment. He began to work to improve the conditions for Indians in South Africa, establishing the Natal Indian Congress and publicizing the treatment of the Indian community there. He led a mass protest in Johannesburg in 1906 against the ordinance forcing Indians to register. They vowed to defy the ordinance and suffer the consequences, beginning Gandhi’s lifelong adherence to a nonviolent and noncooperative form of protest. In 1913, the South African government finally compromised after the terrible imprisonment (and worse) of striking Indian mine workers tarnished the image of the country.
until September 1888, when he sailed to London to enter the Inner Temple law college. He returned to India in 1891 and then began a year’s contract with an Indian firm in Natal, South Africa in 1893.
Gandhi returned to his home country but did not become actively involved in Indian politics until 1919, when the British Raj pushed through the Rowlatt Bills (allowing authorities to imprison those suspected of sedition without trial). Only then did he embark on another “satyagraha,” or
At this time in his life, Gandhi’s social consciousness flared into
nonviolent, form of protest. Others followed his lead, resulting in the British killing almost 400 Indians gathered at a meeting in Amritsar, among other things. Soon, his methods took hold of the country in the fight for Indian independence. This was achieved in 1947, following several stays in prison for Gandhi, as well as fasts in protest of various issues. His efforts earned him admirers but also detractors among the extremists, and sadly, he was assassinated January 30, 1948. Religion was a substantial driving force for Gandhi’s beliefs. He grew up in a Hindu family which worshipped with overtones of both Vaishnavism (worship of the god Vishnu) and Jainism. Gandhi’s mother was especially devout. The strictures of nonviolence, fasting, and acceptance of all faiths which Gandhi followed are all influences of Jainism. Gandhi studied all religions and was particularly disappointed by the fact that the Muslims of the subcontinent could not live peaceably with the Hindus and the land had to be divided into India and Pakistan along religious lines. His work and life earned him the title of Mahatma, or “Great Soul.” In 1982, director Richard Attenborough released an epic biopic about Gandhi that is
quite faithful to the narrative of his adult life, beginning with his ejection from the train to Pretoria. The scale of production is indicated by the fact that 300,000 extras took part in the funeral procession scene. The running time is over three hours yet the audience never notices the length as they become acquainted with an icon. British actor Ben Kingsley (who is actually of Indian heritage) takes on the role of Gandhi, and the physical transformation is astonishing. The performance is exceptional and earned him the Best Actor Oscar (the film also won Best Picture). The costumes, locations, and especially the music by Indian musician Ravi Shankar create an authentic atmosphere rarely achieved on screen. Seeing major events dramatized in this successful
way helps to emphasize Gandhi’s work. Mohandas Gandhi was both a very real man and a great soul, and he came to be called the Mahatma because he ceaselessly fought for the improvement of the lives of his countrymen. He did so in a way that affected hearts and minds like no other form of resistance will do. His nonviolent methods of change influenced future reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States. A legacy like that is what a strong religious foundation can prompt in a person who is driven to act for social progress. Gandhi’s lasting impact will continue to be extraordinary within the scope of history. ♥
Lianne M. Bernardo
“A proud monk is a bad monk.” Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is set in the medieval period amidst dynastic wars and social upheaval, when religion played a crucial role in everyday life and society. As seen in both the book and miniseries, the Christian faith and the Church hierarchy were not always used in good ways; some of its members used it for material or political gain while others served their communities with all their hearts. The characters of Prior Philip and Bishop Waleran espouse the different ways religion and the Church were used, either for personal gain or for the good of the community. At the start of the miniseries, the young monk Philip is elected prior (or leader of the group) by his fellow brothers, working with lay persons and the nobility to rebuild their community and cathedral after disaster strikes. Philip is a devout man who tries to live as truthfully as he can to the teachings of the Bible and in service of God and others. He is also deeply honest; he never considers taking a skull from the crypt to replace the saint’s bones that were lost in the fire that destroyed the first cathedral until someone suggests that it is the only way to ensure that a new cathedral can be commissioned
by the bishop. Over time, he learns more about the way politics works amongst those in power but continues to operate on his own moral code, standing up for what he believes in and refusing to go along with the scheming of others. Bishop Waleran, on the other hand, is introduced at the start of the story already in a position of authority within the Church. He manoeuvres through the Royal court with ease, his alliances constantly shifting based on whoever has the most power at that moment or whoever he can benefit the most from. He doesn’t hesitate to lie in order to promote
his own goals at the expense of other people, as he does with Philip concerning the prior’s dispute with the Hamleighs over access to the market and the stone quarry. The stone quarry became a particular source of contention because the priory needed the stones in order to construct the new cathedral. The Hamleighs did not support the construction of a new cathedral while Waleran merely wanted the stones for his own castle. Bishop Waleran also actively conspired to secure Stephen’s claim to the English Throne, covering up his actions by abusing his role as Ellen’s confessor to silence the remaining survivor of the ship
carrying the previous king’s heir. For Prior Philip, faith in God is a source of strength and guidance and is central in everything he does, ahead of his obedience to the Church’s hierarchy. He relies on it when facing many of his challenges: from confronting William Hamleigh about the stone quarry, to struggling to make the Kingsbridge market a reality, and going undercover with King Stephen to rival Empress Maude’s camp. Even when he believes that he failed the cathedral project, he accepts his failure and subsequent humiliation under Waleran and Brother Remigius. He doesn’t turn his back on his faith but rather goes deep into prayer, reflecting on his actions and searching for understanding and direction. When he emerges from his contemplation, he is stronger and surer of himself and the reasons behind his decisions. While Bishop Waleran also has faith in God, he uses it and his position in the Church as a shield to protect himself from the violent side of court politics, as he reveals to Lady Regan Hamleigh when they are stranded on Maude’s side of the conflict. When Prior Philip directly goes against his plans and defies his authority, he takes it as a sign of disobedience and pride; he uses the Church and a choice interpretation of their values to support his authority, going as far as to proclaim, “I swear by all that is holy, you will not build your church!” He also uses this
interpretation to place the blame on Philip when one of the vaulted ceilings of the cathedral collapses, ousting Philip as leader of the priory in the process. While he recites his prayers, kneels before miracles and relics, and conducts an extreme form of selfflagellation, his actions towards other people shows that he does not care about their welfare or the projects aimed for the betterment of the community. Additionally, Bishop Waleran uses the faith of others to carry out his plans, either unbeknownst to them or against their will. He uses Brother Remigius to spy on Prior Philip and his activities, using the monk’s previous indiscretions as leverage to keep him in line. He also manipulates the weaknesses and frustrations of others, such as King Stephen, to direct their anger towards his enemies. Others also use the
bishop’s utilitarian approach of his office for their own ends, such as Lady Regan Hamleigh and her son William, who are able to garner an absolution from him before William set out to forcibly close the quarry. Prior Philip and Bishop Waleran represent the different ways the Christian faith was upheld and ignored during the Middle Ages. While Prior Philip uses his position to lead the construction of the new cathedral, Bishop Waleran’s exploitation of his office ultimately leads to the exposure of his crimes. While both men struggle with their weaknesses and the obstacles standing in the way of achieving their goals, Waleran’s use of the church is ultimately to raise himself up while Philip’s faith brings the community together in praise of God. ♥
here is a line in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that makes the meaning of penitence crystal clear: “The penitent man is humble [and] kneels before God.” This simple sentence is the life of crusader Arn Magnusson in Arn: The Knight Templar. Arn’s life isn’t his own; he is both a Jonah and a Joshua figure, a person who wants to run from God yet will serve Him to the end. Born in Sweden during the 12th century to a wealthy Folkung family, his life is intertwined with the politics of Västra Götaland, the region he is from. An accident as a boy leaves him near death. His mother pleads with God to save her child and pledges him to a monastery of Cistercian monks should he live. Arn does live, but is very unhappy about the prior arrangement. This is the time when he is like Jonah and wants to run, but does not. Instead, he accepts his new life and tutelage by a former Knight Templar, Brother Guilbert, who teaches him how to wield a sword and bow. Grown into a gentle yet capable man, Arn is sent back home upon coming of age. As a child, he witnessed the murder of the old King Erik by Karl Sverkersson. As an adult, he helps an old friend and heir to the throne, Knut Erkisson, to kill the usurper. It seems the right and
holy thing to do. At the same time, Arn falls in love with Cecilia Algotsdotter, whose life is overshadowed by the fact that her father has money for only one dowry and two daughters, Cecilia and Katarina. The daughter who fails to attract a suitor will be sent to a convent for life. Katarina discovers her sister’s relationship and accidental pregnancy by Arn and tells Mother Rikissa, the Sverker related Prioress of the local convent. One thing leads to another within the church and both are excommunicated before Arn is able to marry Cecilia, which he wanted to do, and right the wrong he did by sleeping with her outside of marriage. Instead, they are both sentenced to half a lifetime (twenty years) of service
to the church: Cecilia will go to the Convent and Arn is sent to the Abbey where Brother Guilbert lives. Once there, it is decided that Arn’s capabilities should be put to use elsewhere in serving as a Knight Templar in the Holy Land. The new King Knut has promised Arn that Cecilia will be his to wed in return for his support, but cannot keep his end of the bargain when war with the Sverkers and disloyal clans claims his attention. In this dark hour, when friends and family have abandoned him, the theme of the story is laid bare as the young man bitterly asks Brother Guilbert: “When I killed two men I walked free. But for loving I am punished! How can
that be the will of God?” The monk pauses before revealing the truth. “What you are speaking of has nothing to do with God. These are the plots and schemes of men.” This is why Arn is able to carry his faith in God through his time in the Holy Land, where the heat, hostile region, and the power play within the Crusaders threaten his survival. He wants to live for God and believes his Savior will let him right the wrong done to Cecilia, so he therefore lives as upright a life as possible. He protects the weak, including the Muslim Bedouin in his assigned region, learns the local language and customs, and maintains a strong personal faith in God. He is penitent in his sins, though he doesn’t speak of them with those around him. He prays before going into battle, placing his sword in front him and kneeling so the hilt forms a cross. The penitent man is humble, and kneels before God. Most importantly, Arn addresses how it is always easy to view a trial and tribulation in the terms of “why is God punishing me?” when God is not the one to blame. Whenever war, famine, disease, death, and unfortunate events arise, humans have this drive to blame SOMEONE, so why not
God, who we don’t expect to defend Himself? After all, Jesus hung on a cross and permitted Himself to die. He didn’t rain fire and brimstone down on the Roman emperor and his entire domain, didn’t cause Caiaphas to have a heart attack by saying a word, and didn’t curse the earth so no vegetation would grow over his blood being spilled. Instead, He asked God to forgive mankind, because we didn’t realize what we were doing. He was humble before God, as Arn the penitent is 1100 years later. Arn isn’t the sort of man who plots revenge on those who wrong him so badly, including King Knut, who lives a bountiful life, marries a beautiful woman also named Cecilia, and has sons of his own. Instead, Arn believes God will lead him back to his love and take her and their
child to a new home, one of peace and prosperity. While Arn: The Knight Templar may sound more like Game of Thrones at times with all the “ruler warfare,” please believe this assurance that there is no comparison. Its message has stronger, cleaner morals and gives plenty of spiritual food for thought. It is not a perfect story, but then, humans don’t live in a perfect world and it is through seeing the suffering of others that we sometimes are more able to rise out of our own misery and say “I will be penitent and confess to God. I won’t live in self-pity, instead I will be strong in my faith and leave no room for excuses.” ♥
cripture says we will know the state of a man’s soul by the fruit he produces. Sadly, Christendom has had its fair share of “bad fruit” over the centuries—monks who used the cloth to disguise their evil intentions, priests who abused children, and the violence of the dark ages, where the church manipulated people for its cause. None of these people showed any genuine evidence of following the actual teachings of the One who inspired Christianity. Perhaps one of the most obvious instances of “bad fruit” is Pope Alexander VI, or Rodrigo Borgia, stories of whom inspired the events of The Godfather. Many of the accusations against the Borgias are unsubstantiated and spread by their enemies, which casts them into doubt, but it is known that Borgia was a brilliant strategist and knew how to hold onto and amass even greater power than belonged to the Papacy when he took office. The one thing we know for certain is that Rodrigo claimed piety in spite of numerous mistresses and several illegitimate children. Like so many men, his sin was one of sexual weakness. This isn’t that unusual, for it was a growing trend in Catholicism for priests to say one thing from the pulpit (or in Rodrigo’s case, the Roman
Conclave) and live an entirely different life outside it. Showtime decided to capitalize in the infamy of the Borgia reputation in a three-season series about the family exploits. In it, Rodrigo entertains himself with sexual dalliances and plots to maintain power, while his three children follow his immoral example by dispatching their adversaries under a veil of selfserving and utterly false piety that doesn’t disguise the nature of their fruit. Throughout the series, Rodrigo earnestly believes his actions are morally right. He takes his role as Pope seriously, even though he bought it! He has fooled himself into thinking that
he is righteous, when it is evident to everyone around him that he isn’t. There is nothing righteous in his actions. Rodrigo is the most interesting character for that very reason; none of his children disguise their awful behavior through a delusion of righteousness. Cruel as Rodrigo can be, he is horrified at their actions. In a sense, he reminds me of King David, who also fell prey to sexual sin and… worse, the sin of not attending to his children. David’s sons abused one another and their sister, as Rodrigo’s do. He wept bitterly over their misdeeds, which were his fault as a father who did not instill in them the faith that kept
him strong. Rodrigo expects his children to be righteous but gives them no example of it. One of his sons kills the other and on the night after his son’s death, Rodrigo’s daughter dances with joy. He is appalled by their behavior. His beautiful white papal robes drenched in dirt from digging his son’s grave with his own hands, his angry condemnation of their actions stuns them into silence. In that moment, he isn’t a tyrant but a father mourning the loss of a child that only he loved. His own nepotism and debauchery, his own sin, cost him his son. David was a man after God’s own heart due to his repentance. He made many mistakes, but always looked to God for forgiveness and accepted the consequences of his sins. To be repentant, you must first be able to believe and admit that you were wrong, and that you are a sinner. Only Christ can absolve sin, not the Church or the Pope. Sadly, Rodrigo is unrepentant. He has no genuine relationship with God, and truly believes that his role as Pope ordains his actions and makes them sinless. Rodrigo pays lip service to a faith that has no real impact on his actions. He lives in self-deception under the belief that he is righteous. Rather than genuinely embracing Christianity, Rodrigo uses it to gain power. He sets an example that his children take to the next level. His shock is genuine, because he earnestly doesn’t think of himself as evil.
Rodrigo Borgia’s life predates the Reformation, but it’s interesting to contrast him with Luther. One knew he was a sinner. Martin spent much time on his knees, begging for salvation, an act that never crossed Rodrigo’s mind. It’s easier to embrace a savior if you really need one. The person whose sins are great is far more grateful to have them forgiven than the one who doesn’t think he does sin. Rodrigo notices the sins in others, but not himself. He’s the kind of “righteous man” that Jesus disliked the most: his self-righteousness prevents him from truly finding the Kingdom of God. Rodrigo needs no savior because he is his own savior. Had Rodrigo lived long enough to experience the Reformation, he’d have shared the opinion of the clergy at the time and seen Martin Luther as a heretic. The
papacy was immune to Christ; but the people needed Him. Rather than stand in judgment of Rodrigo Borgia, we can use him as a reminder to never become so familiar with faith as to devalue its significance. He shows what happens when faith becomes a tradition rather than genuine. The true believer shows good fruit. They don’t look down on others in sin, because their own sins makes them undeserving of the mercy of their savior. Like David, they make mistakes, but also turn to God for forgiveness. David knew something Rodrigo never took to heart: we can’t be sinless on our own. Our actions aren’t what make us holy—only Christ’s redemptive blood does that. Any good fruit in our life is due to His influence, not our own goodness or piety. ♥
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July / Aug: The Georgian Period Taken: John Rolfe, The Patriot, Abigail Adams, The Scarlet Letter, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Garrowâ€™s Law, Marquis de Lafayette, Patrick Henry, William Blake.
Sept/Oct: Underrated Tales Taken: Firelight, Brideshead Revisited, The Making of a Lady, John Carter, The Longest Journey, The Sinking of the Laconia, My Brilliant Career, The Painted Veil, A Tree With Deep Roots, LMMâ€™s Emily Books, Combat, Onegin, North and South.
Halloween: Monsters & Madness Taken: Sleepy Hollow, Frankenstein, Evil Creatures in Middle-earth, The Monster Squad, King Kong, Morgana, Angel, Loki, Penny Dreadful, Rumplestiltsken.
Nov/Dec: A Family Affair Taken: The House of Eliot, Little Dorrit, Game of Thrones, Little Women, Anne & Margot Frank, Pride & Prejudice, While You Were Sleeping, Emma, Sherlock & Mycroft.