Category Archives: The Vault

Five Hundred and Fifty-five

Essay in Alarms and Discursions. G. K. Chesterton, 1910.

Life is full of a ceaseless shower of small coincidences: too small to be worth mentioning except for a special purpose, often too trifling even to be noticed, any more than we notice one snowflake falling on another. It is this that lends a frightful plausibility to all false doctrines and evil fads. There are always such crowds of accidental arguments for anything. If I said suddenly that historical truth is generally told by red-haired men, I have no doubt that ten minutes’ reflection (in which I decline to indulge) would provide me with a handsome list of instances in support of it. I remember a riotous argument about Bacon and Shakespeare in which I offered quite at random to show that Lord Rosebery had written the works of Mr. W. B. Yeats. No sooner had I said the words than a torrent of coincidences rushed upon my mind. I pointed out, for instance, that Mr. Yeats’s chief work was “The Secret Rose.” This may easily be paraphrased as “The Quiet or Modest Rose”; and so, of course, as the Primrose. A second after I saw the same suggestion in the combination of “rose” and “bury.” If I had pursued the matter, who knows but I might have been a raving maniac by this time.

We trip over these trivial repetitions and exactitudes at every turn, only they are too trivial even for conversation. A man named Williams did walk into a strange house and murder a man named Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. A journalist of my acquaintance did move quite unconsciously from a place called Overstrand to a place called Overroads. When he had made this escape he was very properly pursued by a voting card from Battersea, on which a political agent named Burn asked him to vote for a political candidate named Burns. And when he did so another coincidence happened to him: rather a spiritual than a material coincidence; a mystical thing, a matter of a magic number.

For a sufficient number of reasons, the man I know went up to vote in Battersea in a drifting and even dubious frame of mind. As the train slid through swampy woods and sullen skies there came into his empty mind those idle and yet awful questions which come when the mind is empty. Fools make cosmic systems out of them; knaves make profane poems out of them; men try to crush them like an ugly lust. Religion is only the responsible reinforcement of common courage and common sense. Religion only sets up the normal mood of health against the hundred moods of disease.

But there is this about such ghastly empty enigmas, that they always have an answer to the obvious answer, the reply offered by daily reason. Suppose a man’s children have gone swimming; suppose he is suddenly throttled by the senseless—fear that they are drowned. The obvious answer is, “Only one man in a thousand has his children drowned.” But a deeper voice (deeper, being as deep as hell) answers, “And why should not you—be the thousandth man?” What is true of tragic doubt is true also of trivial doubt. The voter’s guardian devil said to him, “If you don’t vote to-day you can do fifteen things which will quite certainly do some good somewhere, please a friend, please a child, please a maddened publisher. And what good do you expect to do by voting? You don’t think your man will get in by one vote, do you?” To this he knew the answer of common sense, “But if everybody said that, nobody would get in at all.” And then there came that deeper voice from Hades, “But you are not settling what everybody shall do, but what one person on one occasion shall do. If this afternoon you went your way about more solid things, how would it matter and who would ever know?” Yet somehow the voter drove on blindly through the blackening London roads, and found somewhere a tedious polling station and recorded his tiny vote.

The politician for whom the voter had voted got in by five hundred and fifty-five votes. The voter read this next morning at breakfast, being in a more cheery and expansive mood, and found something very fascinating not merely in the fact of the majority, but even in the form of it. There was something symbolic about the three exact figures; one felt it might be a sort of motto or cipher. In the great book of seals and cloudy symbols there is just such a thundering repetition. Six hundred and sixty-six was the Mark of the Beast. Five hundred and fifty-five is the Mark of the Man; the triumphant tribune and citizen. A number so symmetrical as that really rises out of the region of science into the region of art. It is a pattern, like the egg-and-dart ornament or the Greek key. One might edge a wall-paper or fringe a robe with a recurring decimal. And while the voter luxuriated in this light exactitude of the numbers, a thought crossed his mind and he almost leapt to his feet. “Why, good heavens!” he cried. “I won that election; and it was won by one vote! But for me it would have been the despicable, broken-backed, disjointed, inharmonious figure five hundred and fifty-four. The whole artistic point would have vanished. The Mark of the Man would have disappeared from history. It was I who with a masterful hand seized the chisel and carved the hieroglyph—complete and perfect. I clutched the trembling hand of Destiny when it was about to make a dull square four and forced it to make a nice curly five. Why, but for me the Cosmos would have lost a coincidence!” After this outburst the voter sat down and finished his breakfast.


Tremendous Trifles

Titular essay of Tremendous Trifles. G. K. Chesterton, 1909.

Once upon a time there were two little boys who lived chiefly in the front garden, because their villa was a model one. The front garden was about the same size as the dinner table; it consisted of four strips of gravel, a square of turf with some mysterious pieces of cork standing up in the middle and one flower bed with a row of red daisies. One morning while they were at play in these romantic grounds, a passing individual, probably the milkman, leaned over the railing and engaged them in philosophical conversation. The boys, whom we will call Paul and Peter, were at least sharply interested in his remarks. For the milkman (who was, I need say, a fairy) did his duty in that state of life by offering them in the regulation manner anything that they chose to ask for. And Paul closed with the offer with a business-like abruptness, explaining that he had long wished to be a giant that he might stride across continents and oceans and visit Niagara or the Himalayas in an afternoon dinner stroll. The milkman producing a wand from his breast pocket, waved it in a hurried and perfunctory manner; and in an instant the model villa with its front garden was like a tiny doll’s house at Paul’s colossal feet. He went striding away with his head above the clouds to visit Niagara and the Himalayas. But when he came to the Himalayas, he found they were quite small and silly-looking, like the little cork rockery in the garden; and when he found Niagara it was no bigger than the tap turned on in the bathroom. He wandered round the world for several minutes trying to find something really large and finding everything small, till in sheer boredom he lay down on four or five prairies and fell asleep. Unfortunately his head was just outside the hut of an intellectual backwoodsman who came out of it at that moment with an axe in one hand and a book of Neo-Catholic Philosophy in the other. The man looked at the book and then at the giant, and then at the book again. And in the book it said, “It can be maintained that the evil of pride consists in being out of proportion to the universe.” So the backwoodsman put down his book, took his axe and, working eight hours a day for about a week, cut the giant’s head off; and there was an end of him.

Such is the severe yet salutary history of Paul. But Peter, oddly enough, made exactly the opposite request; he said he had long wished to be a pigmy about half an inch high; and of course he immediately became one. When the transformation was over he found himself in the midst of an immense plain, covered with a tall green jungle and above which, at intervals, rose strange trees each with a head like the sun in symbolic pictures, with gigantic rays of silver and a huge heart of gold. Toward the middle of this prairie stood up a mountain of such romantic and impossible shape, yet of such stony height and dominance, that it looked like some incident of the end of the world. And far away on the faint horizon he could see the line of another forest, taller and yet more mystical, of a terrible crimson colour, like a forest on fire for ever. He set out on his adventures across that coloured plain; and he has not come to the end of it yet.

Such is the story of Peter and Paul, which contains all the highest qualities of a modern fairy tale, including that of being wholly unfit for children; and indeed the motive with which I have introduced it is not childish, but rather full of subtlety and reaction. It is in fact the almost desperate motive of excusing or palliating the pages that follow. Peter and Paul are the two primary influences upon European literature to-day; and I may be permitted to put my own preference in its most favourable shape, even if I can only do it by what little girls call telling a story.

I need scarcely say that I am the pigmy. The only excuse for the scraps that follow is that they show what can be achieved with a commonplace existence and the sacred spectacles of exaggeration. The other great literary theory, that which is roughly represented in England by Mr. Rudyard Kipling, is that we moderns are to regain the primal zest by sprawling all over the world growing used to travel and geographical variety, being at home everywhere, that is being at home nowhere. Let it be granted that a man in a frock coat is a heartrending sight; and the two alternative methods still remain. Mr. Kipling’s school advises us to go to Central Africa in order to find a man without a frock coat. The school to which I belong suggests that we should stare steadily at the man until we see the man inside the frock coat. If we stare at him long enough he may even be moved to take off his coat to us; and that is a far greater compliment than his taking off his hat. In other words, we may, by fixing our attention almost fiercely on the facts actually before us, force them to turn into adventures; force them to give up their meaning and fulfil their mysterious purpose. The purpose of the Kipling literature is to show how many extraordinary things a man may see if he is active and strides from continent to continent like the giant in my tale. But the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing. For this purpose I have taken the laziest person of my acquaintance, that is myself; and made an idle diary of such odd things as I have fallen over by accident, in walking in a very limited area at a very indolent pace. If anyone says that these are very small affairs talked about in very big language, I can only gracefully compliment him upon seeing the joke. If anyone says that I am making mountains out of molehills, I confess with pride that it is so. I can imagine no more successful and productive form of manufacture than that of making mountains out of molehills. But I would add this not unimportant fact, that molehills are mountains; one has only to become a pigmy like Peter to discover that.

I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.

Chrysostom’s Invincibility Before the Byzantine Empress

There is a famous story about John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople facing persecution at the hands of Eudoxia and the Emperor Arcadius in the Byzantine Empire in the fifth century. First, Eudoxia threatens Chrysostom with banishment, to which he replies:

“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house,” said John.
“But I will kill you,” the empress said.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.”
“I will take away your treasures,” said Eudoxia.
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left,” Eudoxia responded.
“No, you cannot,” said John, “for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. For there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

Is the Story True?

This is a fantastic sermon illustration on persecution. I found it in F. W. Boreham‘s book Mountains in the Mist, where Chrysostom is never mentioned. It has been quoted on The Gospel Coalition, John MacArthur’s commentary, and many other sources.

The earliest source I have found for this quote is from 1874 (1). It is given in a Scottish commentary on Daniel. It gives a summary of something Chrysostom preached more than once, but it doesn’t appear that he said these words in dialogue with any of his persecutors.

Chrysostom was in fact banished under the emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. He faced threats of violence more than once in his lifetime. In 1840, Henry Milman’s famous church history quotes Chrysostom as saying (2):

What can I fear? Death? “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Exile? “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” Confiscation? We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out of it. I fear not death. I desire to live only for your profit. . . .

Milman says this homily is uncertain. As will be shown, it seems that Chrysostom in fact said this, but not at the end of his life, but much earlier.

What Did Chrysostom Say While Facing Banishment?

What Chrysostom did say when facing banishment is very similar to this quote, but much longer. Phillip Schaff, in his biography of Chrysostom, gives the following from a letter from Chrysostom to Bishop Cyriacus (3):

When driven from the city, I cared nothing for it. But I said to myself, if the empress wishes to banish me, let her banish me—”the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” If she would saw me in sunder, let her saw me in sunder—I have Isaiah for a pattern. If she would plunge me in the sea—I remember Jonah. If she would thrust me into the fiery furnace—I see the three children enduring that. If she would cast me to wild beasts—I call to mind Daniel in the den of lions. If she would stone me, let her stone me—I have before me, Stephen the protomartyr. If she would take my head from me, let her take it—I have John the Baptist. If she would deprive me of my worldly goods, let her do it—naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. . . .

It appears that, because he here quotes Psalm 24 and Job 1, to the same effect, the two quotations have been conflated. Below, you will find the original sermon (or homily) in which Chrysostom did in fact say something very similar to the quote that is passed around today. If anything, his original words state his invicibility more strongly, and more scripturally.

Chrysostom Protects Eutropius

The rabbit hole keeps going. Mosheim’s church history (4) appears to be the first to point out the significant quotation as an example of eloquence. He recommends Montfaucon’s 13-volume edition of Chrysostom’s works (5). Thanks to Google, Internet Archive, and my Latin teacher, I found there the two homilies on Eutropius, which are the original source of the famous anecdote (6). The second homily (7) contains the following words:

For what is terrible? Death? Nay, this is not terrible: for we speedily reach the unruffled haven. Or spoliation of goods? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart” (Job 1:21); or exile? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1); or false accusation? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Mt. 5:12). (8)

This also has been included in Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 9, which is widely available. It seems a volume set like this is so large, we hardly know what is there.

So here’s what we know about the story: It is a homily—not a dialogue—that Chrysostom wrote about Eutropius, who had found sanctuary in his church from Aelia Eudoxia, the wife of the Byzantine Emperor, Arcadius. Eutropius was a consul who had fallen out of favor with Byzantine royalty, and it seems he had great trust in John Chrysostom, whom he had previously nominated for Archbishop of Constantinople. When Eutropius fled to the church, armed soldiers entered, demanding that Chrysostom release him. Chrysostom told them to leave, and appealed to the emperor, claiming that he would not give up his church’s right to be a place of sanctuary. After he left the church, Eutropius was eventually apprehended, sentenced, and beheaded.

Within a few days after Eutropius fled the church, Chrysostom gave two homilies related to the events, which you can read in English with an introduction here. It seems that the story was variously paraphrased in the mid-19th century, and while the speaker is correctly given as Chrysostom, it was not his heroic reply to an emperor or empress; it was his exhortation to believers while he was still in a place of great influence as Archbishop of Constantinople. Now that you know the context, here is a fuller quotation. (8)

“I Saw the Swords and I Meditated on Heaven”

Walls are shattered by barbarians, but over the Church even demons do not prevail. And that my words are no mere vaunt there is the evidence of facts. How many have assailed the Church, and yet the assailants have perished while the Church herself has soared beyond the sky? Such might hath the Church: when she is assailed she conquers: when snares are laid for her she prevails: when she is insulted her prosperity increases: she is wounded yet sinks not under her wounds; tossed by waves yet not submerged; vexed by storms yet suffers no shipwreck; she wrestles and is not worsted, fights but is not vanquished. Wherefore then did she suffer this war to be? That she might make more manifest the splendour of her triumph. Ye were present on that day, and ye saw what weapons were set in motion against her, and how the rage of the soldiers burned more fiercely than fire, and I was hurried away to the imperial palace. But what of that? By the grace of God none of those things dismayed me.

Now I say these things in order that ye too may follow my example. But wherefore was I not dismayed? Because I do not fear any present terrors. For what is terrible? Death? Nay, this is not terrible: for we speedily reach the unruffled haven. Or spoliation of goods? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart” (Job 1:21); or exile? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1); or false accusation? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Mt. 5:12).

I saw the swords and I meditated on Heaven; I expected death, and I bethought me of the resurrection; I beheld the sufferings of this lower world, and I took account of the heavenly prizes; I observed the devices of the enemy, and I meditated on the heavenly crown: for the occasion of the contest was sufficient for encouragement and consolation. True! I was being forcibly dragged away, but I suffered no insult from the act; for there is only one real insult, namely sin: and should the whole world insult thee, yet if thou dost not insult thyself thou art not insulted. The only real betrayal is the betrayal of the conscience: betray not thy own conscience, and no one can betray thee.

(1) November 1874 issue of The Original Secession Magazine of the Church of Scotland, on page 839.
(2) Henry Milman. History of Christianity, vol. 3, p. 229.
(3) Phillip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 9, p. 14.
(4) The original title of this book was Institvtiones Historiae Ecclesiasticae Novi Testamenti, published in 1727 in Frankfurt.
(5) Mosheim points this out in footnote 17 on page 241-242 of the English edition.
(6) Montfaucon. Opera Omnia Quae Exstant, etc. volume 3, page 454. (This PDF file is over 1,000 pages.)
(7) The translation of these homilies is by W. R. W. Stephens. You can read them here in the original Greek.
(8) Phillip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 9, p. 14.

Chrysostom and the Goal of Missions

In early modern missions, Carey and many of his contemporaries seemed to think that they were ushering in the Millennial kingdom in some sense. It’s interested that their optimism may have been partially misfounded, or misdirected; we are not commanded to Christianize all nations, but simply to preach, as the following from Chrysostom shows:

For the signs too are now complete, which announce that day. For “this Gospel of the Kingdoms,” saith He, “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Attend with care to what is said. He said not, “when it hath been believed by all men,” but “when it hath been preached to all.” For this cause he also said, “for a witness to the nations,” to show, that He doth not wait for all men to believe, and then for Him to come. Since the phrase, “for a witness,” hath this meaning, “for accusation,” “for reproof,” “for condemnation of them that have not believed.”

So the goal of missions is not a Millennial kingdom; the goal of missions is that all may hear. May the offer of Christ’s grace go forth.

(Source: John Chrysostom, Homily X on Matthew. Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post Nicene Church Fathers.)

Nabeel Qureshi’s 19th-Century Predecessor Also Died Young

While we mourn the death of Nabeel Qureshi last week—and heaven celebrates his arrival—I have been thinking of a similar story from the vault of Christian missions in the Middle East. It is the story of a young Muslim intellectual who turned to Jesus, was taken under the wing of one of the greatest apologists of his day, toiled and travelled as a public Christian witness, and died tragically while in the height of his lifework. This is the story of Kamil Abdulmasih.

Kamil Abdulmasih (or Abdul Messiah) was a Syrian Christian in the 19th century. He had  befriended Cornelius van Dyck, the Bible translator, and Henry J. Jessup, a veteran missionary, and converted from Islam to the Messiah, reflected in his chosen change of name. As a young believer, he travelled with Samuel M. Zwemer to Aden (in present-day Yemen) and to Basra, Iraq. He was a bold but tactful witness to the Christian faith, and for several months spent much of his time witnessing to Muslims with Zwemer. Some of the last records of his life are about discussing faith with dozens of Muslims, sometimes for several hours at a stretch. You can read about them in a short book published by Henry H. Jessup about Kamil’s life.

After a short illness, he died on June 24, 1892, under mysterious circumstances. Before any of his close friends knew that he had died, Muslim funeral rites were being performed over his body, which was guarded by soldiers. Although Basra has some of the hottest summers on the planet, it seems obvious that the officials who surrounded him immediately after his death must have also played some part in expediting it.

The sudden death of this gifted and young disciple was one of those bitter trials which can only be relieved by reference to the unerring wisdom of God, who doeth all things well.

It is the opinion of’ those associated with him that he was poisoned, but the hostility of the government, the fact that he was buried in the Moslem cemetery, and that no postmortem would have been allowed make it impossible to obtain positive proof.

The sad facts are as follows:

On Friday, June 24, 1892, Kamil died. Early in the morning Mr. Zwemer was called to conduct the funeral of the carpenter on board a foreign steamer. Owing to the extreme heat he did not call on Kamil before going home to breakfast. Mr. Cantine called on Kamil in the morning and found him suffering with symptoms of bowel disorder, violent vomiting and purging. Dr. Riggs, who was himself sick, sent him medicine by a servant. The heat was intense, and many of the people were prostrated with fevers. Kamil lived near the harbor, and the missionaries nearly two miles distant in the native quarter. At five o’clock p. m. Mr. Zwemer went to call on him and help him. Yakoob Yohanna, a Christian native, met him half way and told him of Kamil’s death. He hastened to the house, and found it occupied by Turkish soldiers, mullahs, and people who had seized his papers, sealed up his room, and were busy with Moslem prayers over his body. They protested that he was a Moslem. Mr. Zwemer insisted that he was a Christian, and begged and entreated that he should be buried with Christian burial.  The evidence of his Christian faith was among the papers they had seized. But it was vain to resist this very exceptional display of armed force.

Mr. Zwemer left the body and went to the Turkish waly, and to appeal to the British consul. Meantime Mr. Cantine arrived, and Mr. Zwemer had to hasten away on receipt of a note stating that Dr. Riggs was very ill, and with high temperature.

At 10.30 p.m. Mr. Cantine came with the news that the Moslems, in spite of his protest, had performed their funeral rites and buried Kamil. But the seal of the British consul was added to that of the Turks on the room containing his property. The next day the whole town was talking over the event. Many of the Moslems told the missionaries that they knew Kamil to be a Christian and a man of pure and upright life, that he was converted from Islam, and a preacher of Christianity.

The exact spot where the Moslems buried him could never be found. The consulate did not succeed in securing his little property, but his books and papers were afterwards sold at auction, excepting the few claimed by the missionaries as their personal property.

The evidence of foul play in his death is regarded as very strong:

I. He was a young man of strong physique and had not been long unwell.

II. Had he died from ordinary disease none but his companions would have known it, and the missionaries would have been told of it before any one else.

III. It is regarded as impossible that the Turks and mullahs could have prepared his body for burial, sealed all his property, and had the military police agree to oppose any help or interference on the part of the missionaries, in so short a time as that which intervened between his death and their arrival. The washing and enshrouding of the body according to Moslem custom is a long and elaborate ceremony, and the sheikhs and mullahs must repeat the Kelimat ash-Shehada, or word of witness, ‘There is no deity but Allah, and Mohammed is his apostle,’ at every ablution, and three times after the washing, when three pots of camphor and water are poured over the body.

The following are two of the prayers recited by Moslems at a funeral:

God is Great.
Holiness to thee, oh God,
And to thee be praise.
Great is thy Name.
Great is thy greatness.
Great is thy praise.
There is no deity but thee.’

O God, forgive our living and our dead, and those of us who are present and those who are absent, and our children and our full-grown persons, our men and our women. O God, those whom thou dost keep alive amongst us keep alive in Islam, and those whom thou causest to die let them die in the faith.

Those who place the corpse in the grave repeat the following sentence:

We commit thee to earth in the name of God and in the religion of the prophet.

IV. Government officials were on hand to take possession of all his effects and seal up his room before his Christian brethren could arrive.

There is every indication that poison had been given him by some unknown persons, either in coffee, the usual eastern way of giving it, or as medicine.

V. The burial took place in the evening and the place of interment was concealed.

VI. According to the Moslem law, a male apostate (murtadd) is liable to be put to death, if he continue obstinate in his error. If a boy under age apostatize, he is not to be put to death, but to be imprisoned until he come to full age, when, if he continue in the state of unbelief, he must be put to death.” According to Dr. Hughes, quoting from the book “Sahih ul Bukhari”  “Ikrimah relates that some apostates were brought to the Khalifa Ali and he burnt them alive; but Ibn Abbas heard of it and said that the Khalifa had not acted rightly, for the prophets had said, “Punish not with God’s punishment (i. e., fire), but whosoever changes his religion, kill him with the sword.”

VII. Kamil’s own father once wrote him virtually threatening to kill him as an apostate.

In these days the sword is not generally used to dispose of apostates from the faith. Strychnine or corrosive sublimate are more convenient, and less apt to awaken public notice, especially where an autopsy would not be allowed.

It may be that Kamil’s father used the language simply for intimidation, for I can hardly believe him to be so utterly devoid of natural affection;  but religious fanaticism, whether originating in Arabia or in Rome, seems to override all laws of human affection or tenderness.

The Lord himself, the chief Shepherd, knows whether his loving child Kamil is worthy of a martyr’s crown. We know that he was faithful unto death. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, he finished his course. His life has proved that the purest and most unsullied flowers of grace in character may grow even in the atmosphere of unchristian social life. It mattered not to him who buried him or where he was buried. He was safe beyond the reach of persecution and harm.

I have rarely met a more pure and thoroughly sincere character, sine cera.  From the beginning of our acquaintance in “our flowery bright Beirut,” to his last days on the banks of the Tigris, he was a model of a humble, cheerful, courteous, Christian gentleman.

Kamil’s history is a rebuke to our unbelief in God’s willingness and power to lead Mohammedans into a hearty acceptance of Christ and his atoning sacrifice.

We are apt to be discouraged by the closely riveted and intense intellectual aversion of these millions of Moslems to the doctrines of the Trinity and of the divinity of Jesus Christ. But Kamil’s intellectual difficulties about the Trinity vanished when he felt the need of a divine Saviour. He seemed taught by the Spirit of God from the first. He exclaimed frequently at the wonderful scheme of redemption through the atoning work of Christ.

El fida, el fida,” “redemption” he once said to me, “redemption, how wonderful! I now see how God can be just and justify the sinner. We have nothing of this in Islam. We talk of God’s mercy, but we can not see how his justice is to be satisfied.” What the Mohammedan needs above all things is a sense of sin, of personal sin, and of his need of a Saviour. (Henry H. Jessup, The Setting of the Crescent the Rising of the Sun: or, Kamil Abdul Messiah, pp. 137-144. Philadelphia: Westminster Press,1898.) 

Kamil’s story is being put back into print by Pioneer Library. Click here to see the new edition.

The Goose and the Swan

July 6 marks the anniversary of John Hus’ execution at the Council of Constance.

John Hus was an early reformer who opposed corruption in the clergy and called for a reexamination of several basic Christian doctrines. He is often called the Morning Star of the Reformation, since he preceded Luther by a century. One of his most famous stories involves a pun on his name, since Hus means goose in Czech. He is quoted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as saying at his death,“You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.”

Luther’s family crest included a swan, so Foxe adds,

If he were prophetic, he must have meant Martin Luther, who shone about a hundred years after.

Foxe’s book was written in the 1550s, a few years after Luther’s death. The goose is obviously Hus himself, and the swan is supposed to be Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the church in Wittenberg in 1517, almost exactly a century after Hus was killed.

Was Hus really prophetic? Below are three other sources advanced for the tale. I think we can conclude that even if the quote in question is removed, Hus sensed that the Reformation would not be quenched.

Poggio Bracciolini?

The quote is also included in a sensational retelling of Hus’ trial and death, allegedly written by humanist scholar Poggio Bracciolini in 1415, but researchers believe this document to be inauthentic. It was first published in English in 1930 as Hus the Heretic, and even in German the earliest edition was in 1845, four centuries after Hus’ death. The account includes numerous anachronisms, and the publisher was known to invent legendary histories. (More here.) If anything, this document might tell how widely influential Foxe’s account was.

The Letters of John Hus: The Truth Will Send Others

D’Aubigne cites several prophetic precursors to the Reformation, including one from Hus.

[Hus] was … the John Baptist of the Reformation. …

Prophetic words came forth from the depth of his dungeon. He had a presentiment, that the true Reformation of the Church was at hand.

(History of the Reformation, ch. 6)

Then D’Aubigne quotes The Letters of John Hus. He does make a statement similar to the one quoted by Fox. Here is a newer translation:

At first they spread their nets of citations and excommunications for Hus [or goose], and have already caught many. But because goose is a lazy bird, domestic, not flying high, their net has begun to tear; likewise many other birds who fly high to God by their [writings] and their lives will tear their nets. …

For the truth they wanted to suppress has the property that the more they attempted to obscure it, the more it shone forth, and the more they pressed it down, although it sometimes falls, then rises the higher.

(tr. Spinka, pp. 82-83)

This quote, from 1412, is of course quite different from the one about the swan. The letter quoted does carry the basic thrust, though, which is that the Reformation was a work of God that would not be stopped. “Many other birds” shared Hus’ goal; Hus seemed to expect that he would die, but that the Reformation would live. He draws further parallels along this line:

Bishops, priests, masters, and scribes, Herod and Pilate, the citizens of Jerusalem and the community, condemned the Truth, put Him to death and buried Him in the grave. But He rose again and conquered them all. In place of one preacher, that is Himself, He gave them twelve and more. That same Truth in place of one faint-hearted goose, gave Prague many eagles and falcons [i.e., his contemporaries], who have keen sight, soar high by grace …

Here Hus implies that eagles and falcons, his contemporaries in Prague, are well equipped to continue where he left off.

Martin Luther: Hus Prophesied of Me
Luther had been compared to Hus and accused of being a Hussite. Luther’s response was “Oh! that my name were worthy to be associated with such a man.” The legendary quote about the goose and the swan was even known in Luther’s lifetime. Read his comments about it:

In God’s name and call I shall walk on the lion and the adder, and tread on the young lion and dragon with my feet. And this which has been begun during my lifetime will be completed after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia, “They will roast a goose now (for ‘Huss’ means ‘a goose’), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will have to endure.” And that is the way it will be, if God wills. (Dr. Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict Promulgated in the Year 1531 After the Imperial Diet of the Year 1530, qtd. in Lutherʹs Works (Vol. 34, Page 103-104).

Luther says that Hus wrote this in prison, so each of the accounts of the prophetic words vary substantially. The legend of the goose and the swan may be true history, or it may have grown from Hus’ writings, which did affirm that God was changing the game, and Hus was just one piece. A master chess player may sacrifice one valuable piece to gain the upper hand in time; perhaps it is the roasted goose that gave the world the singing swan. After all, when you see the cries of the oppressed, the prayers of the faithful, and the movement of God on their behalf, you don’t have to be a prophet to know that God will finish his work.

Whoever dies for Christ conquers … I do not flinch from yielding my miserable life for God’s truth in danger or death.

(Letters of John Hus, tr. Spinka, pp. 83-84)