January 1, 379: Early church father Basil the Great dies. Founder and financial supporter of a monastery in Annessi, which became a complex of hospitals, hostels, and schools, he also succeeded Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea. He is also known for his theological work explaining the Trinity and for healing the Antioch schism in the eastern church. His monastic rule remains the basis of the Rule followed by the Eastern Orthodox religious today.
January 1, 1484: Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli is born at Wildhaus, Switzerland (see issue 4: Ulrich Zwingli)
January 1, 1622: The Roman Catholic church adopts January 1 as the beginning of the year, rather than March 25.
January 1, 1643: English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton is baptized at St. John's Church in Colsterworth, England. Deeply interested in religion throughout his life, Newton (known especially for formulating the laws of gravitation) acknowledged Jesus as Savior of the world, but not God incarnate.
January 1, 1802: In a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, Thomas Jefferson coins the famous metaphor, "a wall of separation between Church and State." A recent exhibit at the Library of Congress has sparked argument over whether Jefferson used the term merely for political reasons or whether he meant it to explain the First Amendment (for more on America's Founding Fathers, see issue 50: American Revolution).
January 1, 1863: American President Abraham Lincoln frees all slaves in Confederate states by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Churches throughout the North held candlelight vigils commemorating the event (see issue 33: Christianity and the Civil War).
January 1, 1937: Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen, fundamentalism's most gifted theologian, dies (see issue 55: The Monkey Trial and the Rise of Fundamentalism).