Today in Christian History

December 13

December 13, 37: Nero, the Roman emperor who was the scourge of early Christians, is born. After his suicide in 68, many believed he would return, and "false Neros" appeared throughout the eastern provinces (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).

December 13, 304: Lucy, one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, dies. According to legend, she renounced marriage out of devotion to Christ, but a spurned suitor convinced Roman authorities to force her into a life of prostitution. When this was unsuccessful, they tried to burn her to death, but she wouldn't catch fire. Finally, she was killed by the sword. More realistically, she was probably one of several Christians killed in the Diocletian persecution. But within a century of her death, she had a remarkable following (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).

December 13, 1250: Frederick II, the messianic German Emperor (1212-1250) who fought repeatedly and heatedly with popes, dies suddenly of dysentery at age 55. He called himself "lord of the world"; others either praised him as "stupor mundi" (wonder of the world) or damned him as Antichrist (see issue 61: The End of the World).

December 13, 1294: After issuing a constitution giving popes the right to quit, Pope Celestine V shocks the world by resigning. An aged, nearly incoherent hermit when he was chosen to succeed Pope Nicholas IV, Celestine was desperately unsuited for the job and served only 15 weeks before Cardinal Gaetani, masquerading as a voice from heaven, convinced him to step down. Gaetani then became the infamous Pope Boniface VIII, and he imprisoned Celestine until the old man's death (see issue 70: Dante Alighieri).

December 13, 1545: The first session of the Counter- Reformation Council of Trent opens. Responding to the spread of Protestantism and the drastic need for moral and administrative reforms within the Roman Catholic church, it met on and off for 18 years. Ultimately the reforms were not comprehensive enough to satisfy the Protestants or even many Catholics, but it created a basis for a renewal of discipline and spiritual life within the church.

December 13, 1835: Phillips Brooks, Episcopal prelate and author of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," is born in Boston.

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December 5, 220 (traditional date): Clement of Alexandria, the first early church theologian to show an extensive knowledge of pagan and Christian writings (in his refutations of pagan criticisms), dies.

December 5, 532: Sabas, a monk since childhood, dies at age 91, five days after returning from a diplomatic mission to Constantinople. Though his primary desire was always for solitude with God, he founded a monastery in Palestine, Mar Saba, that still stands today (see issue 64: Antony and the Desert ...

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