March 31, 1146: French monastic reformer and theologian Bernard of Clairvaux preaches for the Second Crusade at Vezelay, France. He urged his audience to "take the sign of the cross," and so many responded that he ran out of cloth crosses to pass out (he ended up tearing pieces from his own habit to stitch on the shirts of would-be crusaders). When the crusade proved to be a failure, people were shocked that a venture supported by such a powerful man of God could go wrong (see issue 40: The Crusades).
March 31, 1492: After the Inquisition failed to convert Spain's Jews, monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella sign an edict giving them three months to leave the country. An estimated 150,000 Jews fled, the last reportedly leaving August 2, the traditional anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples. The next day, August 3, Christopher Columbus sailed for America.
March 31, 1596: French philosopher Rene Descartes is born. Though more famous for his saying, "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am), he followed that statement with a logical argument for the existence of God. In essence, he argued that the idea of God, a perfect being, could only be caused by that perfect God. Though fellow philosopher-mathematician-scientist Blaise Pascal (an avid Christian) considered Descartes a mere Deist, "letting [God] give a tap to set the world in motion," Descartes repeatedly wrote about his devotion to Roman Catholicism.
March 31, 1732: Franz Joseph Haydn, mentor to both Beethoven and Mozart, is born in Austria. His greatest contribution to church music is probably his 1798 oratorio The Creation.
March 31, 1816: Pioneer Methodist bishop Francis Asbury dies at age 71. During his 45-year ministry in America, he traveled on horseback or in carriage an estimated 300,000 miles, delivering some 16,500 sermons (see issue 45: Camp Meetings and Circuit Riders).
March 31, 1879: Father John Veniaminov, missionary to Alaska, dies. Known as St. Innocent of Alaska, Veniaminov pioneered Russian Orthodox church plants in the Alaskan islands, and located his archdiocese in Sitka.More from this week...