The Theologian's Almanac: March 17, 2012
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Each year on the 17th of March we celebrate the "Apostle to the Irish." The traditional dates for Patrick are c. 387-17 March 493, though some place his death c. 460. Born in Britain, Patrick was abducted and taken to Ireland at the age of 16 and made a herdsman. Patrick believed the voice of God had told him to escape, and that one day he would return a missionary. After six years of slavery, he escaped back to Britain. He studied for Christian ministry, and eventually returned to Ireland to be its first bishop. There, he evangelized the Irish, educated youth, and ordained clergy. According to legend, Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Irish the doctrine of the Trinity. Today, we commemorate Patrick by eating corned beef and cabbage, dressing in green, and enjoying a pint of ale, preferably a Guinness.
Alexander Alesius (also Alexander Alan; Alane)
On this date in 1565, the Scottish-German theologian Alexander Alesius passed away. He was born c. 1500 in Edinburgh. Alesius joined the Augustinian order in 1515, becoming a theologian. He vigorously opposed the Reformation until he met the Scottish reformer Patrick Hamilton. Alesius had been called to convince Hamilton of his doctrinal errors before Hamilton's impending execution. But Hamilton won Alesius over to the Reformation through his arguments and courageous martyrdom. After preaching a sermon against clerical immorality, Alesius was forced to flee Scotland. He arrived in Wittenberg in 1532, and there studied with Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. Alesius returned to Great Britain and supported Thomas Cramner's reforms, but again fled to Wittenberg in 1539 after the passage of the Six Articles. He took a chair at the university in Frankfurt (Oder), and in 1542 became Rector of the university in Leipzig. He refrained from entering the Reformation's doctrinal controversies, including Osiander's doctrine of justification and the conflicts over the Eucharist. He wrote over forty works, including exegetical and doctrinal pieces, as well as commentaries on John and Romans.
Another native Edinburger, Gilbert Burnet, died on this date in 1715. He was born on September 18, 1643. After studying in Aberdeen, he served as the Minister of Saltoun (1664-1669), Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University (1669-1674), and enjoyed the favor of the Scottish court. In 1674, he moved to London where he supported the Whigs and found favor with Charles II. When the Roman Catholic James II assumed the throne in 1685 and repealed the Test Act, Burnet left England for the court of William of Orange in the Netherlands. Burnet would return to England in 1688 with William and Mary in the "Glorious Revolution," which ousted James from the throne and led to the outlawing of Roman Catholicism in England. Burnet preached the coronation sermon for William and Mary on April 11, 1689. Soon thereafter, on Easter Day, Burnet was consecrated as Bishop of Salisbury.
Peter L. Berger
Today is the birthday of American sociologist Peter L. Berger. He was born in 1929 on this day in Vienna, Austria. Berger emigrated to the United States following the Second World War. He graduated from Wagner College in 1949 with a Bachelor of Arts. He received his M.A. from The New School in New York City in 1950, and completed his Ph.D. there in 1954. Since 1981, Berger has taught at Boston University as Professor of Sociology and Theology. He is also the director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He is most famous for his work with Thomas Luckmann on the sociology of knowledge. Together, in 1966, they published The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge. With this work, Berger introduced the concepts of "social construction" and "plausibility structures" into the social scientific lexicon. Building on this work and coupling it with the sociology of religion, Berger published The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion the following year. You can read his blog Religion and Other Curiosities at The American Interest. He is 83 today.