Category Archives: Today in Catholic History

Today in Catholic History – The death of Boethius

On 23 October 524, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius,commonly called Boethius, was executed by Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great.

Boethius is famous for his contributions to philosophy and theology, especially for his work The Consolation of Philosophy which stressed that despite the sufferings of this world that there was a higher power which guided all things for good. Boethius’ translations of Aristotle were the only known works of Aristotle known in Western Europe until the 12th century. His other works proved to be instrumental in passing the knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome to future generations. His theological works defended orthodox Christianity against Arianism and Nestorianism.

Ostrogoth king Theodoric accused Boethius of plotting with Byzantine Emperor Justin I against him and ordered him executed.

Boethius is considered a saint and martyr in the Catholic Church because he defended orthodox Christianity against the Arianism of Theodoric and this was believed to have been the reason for Boethius’ death.

“Boethius, the symbol of an immense number of people unjustly imprisoned in all ages and on all latitudes, is in fact an objective entrance way that gives access to contemplation of the mysterious Crucified One of Golgotha.” – Benedict XVI


Today in Catholic History – The Martyrdom of St. Theodoret of Antioch

On 22 October 362, St. Theodoret of Antioch was martyred under the reign of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate.

Theodoret had refused to turn over the treasury of one of the Antiochean churches to the Roman authorities and was arrested. When Theodoret was brought before the Roman governor of Syria also named Julian, Theodoret condemned the apostasy of the governor who had abandoned Christianity and returned to paganism. Theodoret was tortured and later condemned to be killed by beheading.

There is a Christian tradition that Theodoret prophesied the death of Emperor Julian in battle against the Sassanid Empire.

Today in Catholic History – The Second Plenary Council in Baltimore

On 21 October 1866, the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore came to an end. It had begun on the 7th of October and was presided over by Archbishop Spalding of Baltimore. Present at the council were seven archbishops, thirty-nine bishops or their procurators, two abbots and President of the United States Andrew Johnson. It was designed to show the unity of the Catholic faith in the United States after the Civil War which saw Catholics fighting on both sides.

Among the decrees of the council were condemnations against religious indifferentism and the “abuse of magnetism” for “superstitious and illicit purposes” such as attempting to fortell the future. The council also called for regular provincial councils, for bishops to regularly visit their parishes and for priests to fully explain the doctrine of the Church to the faithful.

Today in Catholic History – The opening of the University of Heidelberg

On 19 October 1386, the first lectures were given at the University of Heidelberg making it the oldest university in Germany.

Because of the Great Schism which had split the Catholic Church between allegiance to Rome or to Avignon, German professors in Paris who gave their allegiance to Rome were unable to remain at the University of Paris. Rupert I, the Elector Palatine of the Rhine, took advantage of the situation to get papal support to establish a new university for these German professors in Heidelberg to be modeled after the University of Paris.

The University played an important part in the history of Europe and was involved in many of the religious controversies of the period including the Councils of Constance and Basel. It also received the support of the papacy throughout this period. In April 1518 Martin Luther debated at the University and when Otto Henry, the Elector Palatine, became Calvinist he made University into a Calvinist institution. During the late Counter-Reformation, the University came under the control of the Jesuits and later the Lazarists. Over the next centuries, the university entered a period of decline until it was reestablished as a state-owned institution in 1803 and it remains a public university today.

Today in Catholic History – The Destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

On 18 October 1009, Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – which is on the site where Christians believe is on the site where Jesus died, was buried and rose from the dead – to be destroyed. After the destruction, only the foundations of the church remained.

The reason why Al-Hakim destroyed the church remains unknown. At the time of the church’s destruction some speculated that it was in response to the large number of Christian pilgrims who were visiting the church, one Christian historian at the time speculated that Al-Hakim destroyed the church to quench rumors that he was secretly a Christian.

Europeans were horrified when they heard about the destruction of the church built by Emperor Constantine. Some blamed the Jews, leading to their expulsion from several French towns. The destruction of the church would also serve to motivate the later Crusades. Indeed Pope Sergius IV would reportedly issue a bull calling for Muslims to be expelled from the Holy Land.

For many years, Christians were forbidden to pray on the site of the former church. In 1027-28, the Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire forged an agreement to allow the church to be rebuilt by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in 1048.

Today in Catholic History – Henry VIII is declared the Defender of the Faith

On 17 October 1521, Pope Leo X declared King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor or Defender of the Faith. This title was given to honor Henry for his book Defense of the Seven Sacraments which attacked the theology of Martin Luther and was dedicated to Leo. This title was added to the full royal title of Henry as “Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith and Lord of Ireland”.

After Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry and rescinded the grant of the title “Defender of the Faith” in 1538 but the English Parliament declared that the title remained valid.

Henry’s book was very popular and went through twenty editions in the sixteenth century.

Today in Catholic History – Pope Urban V returns to Rome

On 16 October 1367, Pope Urban V returned the see of the papacy from Avignon to Rome.

Urban had been urged to return to Rome by Petrarch and St. Bridget of Sweden, but he also hoped that a return to Rome would help restore the status of the Papal States. His decision to leave Avignon met with great opposition from the French cardinals who feared the loss of their influence as well as the departure from one of the richest cities of Europe to one that had fallen on very hard times.

When Urban returned to Rome, he was met with great hopes and expectations from the Roman people and quickly began work on restoring the condition of the city. However, Urban ran into conflicts with Roman citizens who found their independence had been somewhat curtailed by the newly arrived pontiff who wished to exercise a much stronger control over the city. Poor conditions in the city combined with continued complaints from the French cardinals and revolts in the Papal States persuaded Urban to leave Rome for a return to Avignon on 5 September 1370. This was despite a warning from St. Bridget that Urban would die if he returned to Avignon. On 19th of December, about three months after returning to Avignon, Urban died and was succeeded by Gregory XI who would permanently return the see of Peter to Rome.

Today in Catholic History – Edward Gibbon and the Franciscans

On 15 October 1764, Edward Gibbon received his inspiration to write his famous The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which is seen as the beginning of modern historical writing on the Roman Empire and a tremendous influence on later historical writing.

Gibbon wrote in his Autobiography that it was as he heard Franciscan Friars singing Vespers in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli in Rome, which had been built on a site where there had previously been a Temple of Juno, where his desire to write about Rome began. Gibbon believed that he was on the former site of a Temple of Jupiter, but was mistaken. Gibbon’s first inspiration was to write about the city of Rome and only later concerned himself with the entire empire.

One of the main arguments of Gibbon in his magisterial work was that Christian hostility to the Roman Empire was one of the main reasons for the empire’s eventual collapse. Many historians today, however, reject this argument and instead point to economic and military reasons for the end of the Roman Empire in the West.

Today in Catholic History – The Papal Conclave of 1978

On 14 October 1978, the conclave which would elect Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as pope to succeed Pope John Paul I began. It would last until 16 October 1978.

Pope John Paul I died on 28 September quite unexpectedly. While Wojtyła was not initially seen as a likely candidate for the papacy, but neither of the two initial names put forward – Giuseppe Siri, Archbishop of Genoa, and Giovanni Benelli, Archbishop of Florence, were able to get the sufficient two-thirds plus one for election. Cardinal Franz König of Vienna suggested Wojtyła as a compromise. When he was elected, Wojtyła, taking the name John Paul II, said, “With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and the Church, in spite of great difficulties, I accept.” He was the first non-Italian pope since 1523.

Today in Catholic History – The Miracle of the Sun

On 13 October 1917, 30,000 to 100,000 people in the Cova da Iria fields near Fátima, Portugal claimed to have seen the Miracle of the Sun. These witnesses reported seeing the sun move toward the earth in a zigzag pattern for about ten minutes and that their wet clothes became suddenly dry. The witnesses believed that what they had seen was due to the presence of Our Lady of Fátima and proof that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been appearing to the shepherd children of Fátima who had said that the Virgin Mary would provide a special miracle on the 13th of October “so that all may believe.”

Needless to say many are skeptical about whether a miracle took place and offer natural explanations for the event such as the effect of looking at the sun for too long or a result of atmospheric and weather conditions.

On 13 October 1930he Roman Catholic Church has stated that what happened on that 13th of October in 1917 was worthy of belief. Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, professor of physics at Seton Hall, said that he believes that what happened was a natural event but the fact that it happened on the exact date predicted was a miracle.

There have been similar miracles of the sun at other Marian apparition sites.