Wednesday, August 24, 2016

St. Bartholomew, Pray for Christian Unity

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
-- John 13:35

Quite often an event in history occurs in which we look back and shudder over the actions of others; today is one such day. On the eve of today, St. Bartholomew's feast day, a massacre began in France between French Catholics and French Calvinists. All too often, we like to blame religion for many of the problems that occurred between Catholics and Protestants, but the truth is that most of the time, any mistrust or antagonism between Catholics and Protestants was flamed into an inferno by selfish, power-hungry political leaders; this is one of those many cases.

Calvinists in the heyday of the Reformation had no qualms about "cleansing" churches of what they saw were idols: smashing statues, destroying icons, breaking stained glass windows, dismantling pipe organs. City after city was being "cleansed" in this way and as the movement came to France, Catholics were rightly concerned. However, the Queen - Catherine d'Medici - also saw this as a possible challenge to her power, since a lot of this "reforming" was done with the blessing of local rulers in exchange for gaining wealth and property from seized Church and monastery property. Now a crowd of Calvinists, many of them noblemen, were coming to Paris to celebrate a royal wedding between a Catholic princess and a Catholic prince.

Catherine, fearing the power of Calvinist Admiral Coligny at the head of this crowd, tried to have him assassinated; it failed. Angered at this attempt on his life, his supporters promised 4,000 cavalry to ride into Paris in order to seize the Louvre (at this time, not a museum but a royal palace) and kill all who were involved in the assassination plot. Fearing for her life and her power, she and her underage son - the king - ordered the royal guards to attack the invading force. In their frenzy, they - and Catholic residents of Paris - butchered between 2,000 & 5,000 French Protestants, even women and children.

Propaganda circulates to this day that the Pope celebrated this massacre due to the fact that he ordered a Te Deum to be prayed in celebration of the Catholic victory, however it was the victory that was being celebrated, not the means to that end. Once the Pope learned of the details of what happened, he said, "I am weeping for the conduct of the king, which is unlawful and forbidden by God." Spanish ambassador Zuniga said the pope was "struck with horror" and wept for those murdered. When the ringleader of the Catholic mob, Maurevert, visited the Pope, he refused to see him. And yet, the pope was a man of his times, and still wrote a bull that celebrated the deaths of the Protestant leaders (but not the innocents caught in the middle).

It's all a scandal and un-Christian. It's a sad reminder that we've failed the Lord's prayer for our unity and that we love one another; instead of dying for each other, we've murdered each other. I'm deeply sorry for anything I've done in my life to keep our divisions going, and I'm horrified at the un-Christian conduct of Catholics and Protestants, which feeds atheism and the "Jesus without a church" movement making its way through some Christian circles. We've betrayed our Lord and on every St. Bartholomew's Day, may we pray for the souls of those who died, and take the opportunity to pray for our unity.