December 11, 1475: Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici, who would become Pope Leo X, is born in Florence, Italy. He is best known for his sale of indulgences to help rebuild St. Peter’s Basillica, a practice opposed by Martin Luther in his famous 95 Theses. The dispute between Leo and Luther over indulgences would culminate in Luther’s excommunication by papal bull in 1521, ushering in the Protestant Reformation. Leo died later that same year. Though Leo lived lavishly and was known for political shrewdness and fiscal irresponsibility, he was actually a fairly benevolent Pope. He was a major patron of the arts and lavishly supported orphanages, hospitals, and schools. (see issue 34: Luther’s Early Years)
December 11, 1518: Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli becomes "people's priest" at the Old Minster Church in Zurich, a position he held for the remaining 13 years of his life. After nearly dying from the plague, he began his reforming program almost immediately, persuading the city council to judge religious issues by Scripture alone (see issue 4: Ulrich Zwingli).
December 11, 1640: English Puritans introduced a petition with 15,000 signatures to Parliament, seeking to abolish the church episcopacy, "with all its dependencies, roots and branches." The House of Commons accepted what has become known as the "Roots and Branch Petition," but the House of Lords (many of whom were bishops) rejected it, and the episcopal organization of the Church of England remained.
December 11, 1792: Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest and author of the poem "Silent Night," is born.
December 11, 1918: Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, an Orthodox believer whose works include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, is born. His books are credited by many scholars with "helping to bring down the last empire on earth" (see issue 65: The Ten Most Influential Christians of the Twentieth Century).
December 11, 1984: The White House displays a nativity scene for the first time since courts ordered its removal in 1973.