All Saintsʼ Day — (Almanac, Nov. 1)
So many were martyred in the first three centuries of the church that eventually, by
papal decree, this Christian feast day (November 1) was set aside in their honor? The
persecutions fulfilled the prophecies of Jesus, who told His followers they would be like
sheep sent out in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16). Thus, Christian martyrdom, then
and now, is the ultimate witness to the truth of the gospel, to the infinite value of Christ
and His cross, and to the hostility of men toward God and His holy purposes.
Henry Laurens — (Almanac, Nov. 1)
Of Huguenot (French Calvinist) ancestry, this South Carolinian Merchant
(1724–1792) served the American republic as president of the Continental Congress
and, later on, as a diplomat who was captured by the British on the high seas? America
did not get him back until after the decisive Battle of Yorktown (1781), in a momentous
prisoner exchange for Lord General Cornwallis. Following his release, the persevering
patriot participated in the Peace of Paris negotiations to end the War for Independence.
More on Melville — (Almanac, Nov. 3)
Thereʼs something to be said for a writer, or anyone in any sphere, whoʼs true to himself
and, even more importantly, true to the fundamental and vital issues of life that flow from
the heart (Prov. 4:23).
Herman Melville (1819–1891), as mentioned in an earlier post (Fall H&H — #8), was
such a writer. When he quit his craft in 1857, his novels having failed to satisfy the
demands of mass marketability, he said, “What I feel most moved to write will not pay.
Yet write the other way, I cannot.”
In this respect at least (a refusal to make peace for profitʼs sake with diminished or
debased standards), Melville is a model for us today. On a personal level, there has to
be more to life than success, getting ahead, and making money. Or in some grand
collective sense (the rich, the poor, workers, capitalists, the people, people of color,
women, gays, etc.), striving for an ever greater slice of the pie, not the one supposedly
in the sky but the one most definitely of this world.
Earthʼs necessities (What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?) do
matter, of course, but they never matter most of all. “For what will it profit a man,” asked
Jesus, “if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)
Melville, itʼs safe to surmise, wanted to succeed in the literary and commercial milieu of
19th-century America. But not at the expense of his soul.
Salem Revisited — (America, Vol. 1, p. 50)
Compounding the disgrace of the infamous Salem Witch Trials (1692) has been a false
and misleading historiography, down through the years, with respect to the events
themselves. Unfortunately, author Bill Bennett repeats one of the more characteristic
errors when he says that Puritan divine Cotton Mather (1663–1728) “argued that
spectral evidence should be accepted” against the accused.
(spectral evidence consists of claims of threatening or hostile acts made by the ghosts
or specters of those suspected of engaging in the black arts)
Mather, like most of the New England clergy, conceded the existence of witchcraft in
Salem and the legitimacy of the trials to repress it, but cautioned against the use of
spectral evidence. He also recommended prayer and pastoral care for the souls of
those tormented by evil spirits or an inflamed conscience. The whole tenor of his
counsel leaned clearly toward mercy for the accused.
The tragic episode originated in the playful experimentation of adolescent girls
(including the daughter of parish minister Samuel Parris), probably influenced by the
magic arts of a West Indian slave-girl named Tituba. The girlsʼ behavior became
increasingly bizarre (inexplicable fits, convulsions, moans & groans, etc.), and they said
witches in town were doing them harm. Such claims may have seemed fanciful, yet
onlookers couldnʼt deny that something nightmarish had happened to these girls.
In the highly-charged atmosphere of the court, more and more people got implicated.
Finally, when citizens with sterling reputations were also accused of being in league with
the Evil One, the trials ground to a halt. Twenty of the accused (deemed unrepentant)
“By 1697 Massachusetts was ready,” writes historian Richard Lovelace, “to confess its
guilt in the shedding of innocent blood by observing a public fast day. The common
opinion by that time was that the Devil had indeed been active in Salem, but not so
much in the suspected witches as in their accusers, who had been both tormented and
used as instruments to slander the innocent.”
Ever since, various “free-thinkers” (those who dismiss religion and tradition as sources
of knowledge) have cited Salem to discredit the existence of witches, devils, the
supernatural realm in general, and the intelligence of Christians.
Wisdom (via the light of the Word and the lamp of experience), however, would concede
the reality of the occult, and reflect on how difficult it can be for a society to deal with it
truly, justly, and compassionately. All our resources in religion, education, science, and
politics seem, oftentimes, unequal to the task.