Today in Christian History

February 19

February 19, 843: Empress Theodora reinstates icons once and for all in the Eastern churches, effectively ending the medieval iconoclastic controversy. A council in 787 had allowed the veneration of icons, but opponents of images still controlled most of the government and much of the church leadership. The controversy continued, however, and was one of the reasons for the Great Schism between Catholics and the Orthodox in 1054 (see issue 54: Eastern Orthodoxy).

February 19, 1377: John Wycliffe stands trial in London's St. Paul's Cathedral for his criticism of the church. He argued against the sale of indulgences, the worship of saints, the veneration of relics, the "emptiness" of some church traditions, and the indolence of clerics. In spite of five papal bulls ordering his arrest, he was never convicted as a heretic (see issue 3: John Wycliffe).

February 19, 1401: William Sawtrey, an English priest who followed the teachings of John Wycliffe, is burned for heresy, becoming the first "Lollard" (critic of the church) martyr in England (see issue 3: John Wycliffe).

February 19, 1473: Astronomer and cleric Nicolaus Copernicus, whose "heliocentric" concept of the solar system became the foundation of modern astronomy, is born in Poland. Both Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic hierarchy condemned the theory (his revolutionary book was banned until 1758), but Copernicus remained a faithful member of the Catholic Church. He was even a member of the clergy at Frauenburg Cathedral, where his uncle was bishop. "[It is our] loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason," he wrote (see issue 76: Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution).

February 19, 1569: Miles Coverdale, translator and publisher of the first complete English Bible, dies. Parts of his Bible were revisions of Tyndale's, but unlike his predecessor (with whom he once worked), he included no contentious prefaces or notes; instead, he penned an obsequious dedication to the king (see issue 43: How We Got Our Bible).

February 19, 1812: Congregational missionaries Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail from Massachusetts for Calcutta, India. From there, they went to Burma and became two of the most famous American missionaries of their day (see issue 36: William Carey).

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September 29, 1413: Archbishop Arundel condemned Sir John Oldcastle, a follower of John Wycliffe, of heresy. He was given 40 days to recant, during which he escaped and hid in Wales. He remained hidden for a year, until the offer of a large reward prompted someone to betray him. He was then captured and roasted to death.

September 29, 1978: Three weeks after being elected, Pope John Paul I dies while reading a devotional in bed.

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