History repeats itself. That’s what they say, right?
After I read today’s history lesson to the kids, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I like history. I love church history. Generally, we talk about both daily. But, after we do, I move on to the 50,000 other thoughts and tasks waiting in line on my pile to think on. Not today. Today the lesson held me captive somewhere between disgust and disbelief; concern and conviction; sadness and sobriety.
Today we talked about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. If you are French, Catholic, or a history lover, you probably know all about this tragedy. If not, bear with me as I revisit the gist of what seems to want to weigh heavier and heavier on my heart the more I consider it. Here’s the context:
Before the SBDM happened, Protestants and Catholics in France had been engaged in bloody warfare for at least 36 years. The Reformation was still fresh and both sides genuinely believed that they were defending the one true faith. Religious relations were so bad in France that it has been said that John Calvin’s disciples had a life expectancy of about six weeks.
A woman named Catherine de’Medici was ruling France as a regent at the time. She was from a generationally rich family who was greatly concerned with keeping up appearances. She was not religious. Catherine cared much more for the accomplishments of her family than the advancement of any faith. Religion did not interest her in the least. Catherine had one interest and that was power. She was power hungry and conniving. She even had trap doors and stockpiles of poison for those she felt were a threat to her control.
So, when a Jesuit priest came to her with a plot to kill a leading Protestant, Catherine obliged. Truth be told, she cared nothing for the cause of either the Catholics or the Protestants. She cared only about losing power and control. So, she plotted the murder with the priest against this influential Protestant.
The problem was, Catherine’s assassination attempt failed. Catherine looked bad. When she realized how terribly guilty she looked, instead of admitting fault or moving in a better direction, in a wildly arrogant display of her own power, she used her position to ignite an all out war against every Protestant leader in France! She tried to kill them all out of her own guilt, panic, fear, and a bloodthirsty quest for complete control over her territory. She cared nothing for who or how many people she hurt or murdered. She cared only for herself and her prized position.
Merciless murders all over France continued for weeks. “Anywhere from 30,000 too 100,000 people were butchered. Rivers were clogged with the dead. Survivors were enslaved. It was pure bedlam and madness. Even Catherine was shocked and appalled. What started as the botched-up murder of just one man had turned into a gargantuan bloodbath. To try cover up the mess, she desperately had a statement issued that he assassination was necessary because of the man’s involvement in a conspiracy – not because he was a Protestant. But it was too late. The damage was done. For years she would try to make up for the massacre through ploys and policies, but none of her efforts were lasting…France was ruined after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. For five more years, civil war raged on and Catherine died.” ~Linda Hobar
Why am I sharing this? Why is it so troubling to me, nearly five centuries later?
This record is deeply sobering and convicting to me because the parties doing the killing were both labeled, “Christian,” and, I am a Christian. I cannot, for the very life of me, wrap my mind around the fact that true Christians could plot and scheme the murders of each other.
And for what? Power? Control? The upper hand? Political pull? Preferences?
Granted, the rich regent woman was not religious or righteous in any form. Still, she somehow had the attention of those who were supposed to be. The supposed strong in faith had her ear as well as her blessing. How does that happen? How do Christians – be they Catholic or Protestant – seek favor from a power hungry, irreligious, unrighteous regent non-queen? Why do Christians seek favor from power hungry, irreligious, unrighteous, regent non-queens?
There is but one reason: fear. Fear is always a lack of faith. So, apparently the faithful were not as full of faith as they were given credit for.
I am sad because today is the same. In our country we may not have physical, bloody massacres with bodies lying the streets over religious wars between differences in denominations, but, yes we do, spiritually. Every time a person who professes to love Christ refuses to love another person who professes to love Christ because they are different in one way or another, the massacre continues. Every time a so-called faithful follower seeks the favor of a power hungry, irreligious, unrighteous, regent non-queen over and above seeking the favor of God alone, the massacre continues. Every time fear drives a man in place of courage and faith on behalf of his convictions, the massacre continues. Every time a Christian allows discouragement, disgust, dislike, and disbelief to rule in his heart in the place of decency, reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith, the massacre continues.
The disgust I am feeling, the concern I am feeling, the conviction I am feeling, the sadness I am feeling, the sobriety I am feeling are results of a heartfelt realization of the fact that we are not different than crazy Catherine and the bloodthirsty Catholics of the 16th century. We are not different than those who would share a Savior while hoarding His grace for self alone. We are not different than men who studied only to die six weeks into their ministry because they did not know how to reach a world who hated them with a gospel that genuinely loves its enemies.
I am deeply moved because I am not different. I am the same. We are the same. And that realization is a realization that affects your day when you bear the name of the accused.
History repeats itself. That’s what they say, right? Kyrie eleison.