Today (October 7) is Our Lady of the Rosary Day in my wife's Roman Catholic Church, a feast established in thanks for the decisive victory of Christians over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. With Muslim immigration to Europe now theatening to reverse the verdict of Lepanto, its relevance is more acute than ever.
Additionally, in my degenerate ECUSA, it is (in the spirit of ecumenicism?) the feast day of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787), organizer of American Lutheranism, father of a Revolutionary War general and of the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and of a whole dynasty of American public servants—a vivid illustration of what the Founders meant by "our posterity".
But the modern convention of Holiday is that you use whatever celebration is nearby and most convenient to upstage Christmas. (This year Hanukkah is December 20-28, but in 2013 it will be November 27-December 5. Menorahs and Christmas trees will still get equal time, however—at best).
In that spirit, I feel like writing about William Tyndale (October 6), martyred in 1536 for his translation of the Bible into English, which subsequently became the basis of the King James Version—and of our modern language.
Tyndale famously said that he wanted "a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures" than his clerical opponents. The American Revolution, to a significant degree a Protestant crusade, was a direct descendant of this egalitarian and democratic impulse. The extraordinary popular struggle to make the Bible available in English is wonderfully chronicled in The Bible in English: Its History And Influence by David Daniell. This is his account of the martyrdom in 1555, in the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, of another translator, John Rogers (who may have rescued Tyndale's papers):
"Immediately on the accession of Mary in 1553, Rogers was in trouble. A number of illegal measures were used to silence and then to imprison him, at first by house arrest. On 27 January 1554 he was sent to Newgate. Since his stipend had been, again illegally, stopped, his wife and ten children were in desperate need.
Parliament in November 1554 made alterations to the law, allowing the illegally held reforming prisoners to be executed. With the others, Rogers’s trial, before Stephen Gardiner and the council, began on 22 January 1555. Rogers defended himself ably, but seven days later he was condemned as a heretic.
Six days after that, on 4 February, he was degraded from the priesthood by Bonner, in preparation for execution. Foxe gives details. John Rogers’s urgent pleas that he might speak a few words with his wife before his burning were rejected. He was taken to Smithfield to the fire, saying as he went the psalm “Miserere”. As against the ordeal, his wife was there with their eleven children, one, whom he had never seen before, at the breast.
As he stood at the stake, his pardon was brought should he recant, but he refused. He exhorted the people to stand firm in the faith which he had taught them. When the first took hold of his body, “he, as one feeling no smart, washed his hands in the flame, as though it had been in cold water”: lifting up his hands to heaven he did not move them again until they were consumed in the devouring fire. He was the first of almost three hundred martyrs under Queen Mary."
I believe that is on the shoulders of this man, and of an untold hosts of heroes like him, that our modern liberties stand.
Oh, by the way, it's also Yom Kippur.