December 6, 1969: The Rolling Stones played a free festival at Altamont in California, along with Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby, Stills ,Nash & Young. While the Rolling Stones played, fan Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels who'd been hired to police the event. It’s claimed Hunter was waving a revolver. One other man drowned, two men were killed by in a hit-and-run accident and two babies were born.
December 9, 1608: English poet John Milton is born in London. Though most famous for his epic Paradise Lost, he also penned an exposition of Christian doctrine, a plan for Christian education, and various political writings.
December 9, 1840: Unable to go to China, David Livingstone sets sail from London as a missionary to southern Africa.
December 9, 1843: The first Christmas cards—actually more like postcards—are created and sold for a shilling.
December 10, 1520: German reformer Martin Luther publicly burns Pope Leo X's bull "Exsurge Domine," which had demanded that Luther recant his heresies—including justification by faith alone.
December 11, 1518: Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli becomes "people's priest" at the Old Minster Church in Zurich, a position he held for the remaining 13 years of his life. After nearly dying from the plague, he began his reforming program almost immediately, persuading the city council to judge religious issues by Scripture alone.
December 11, 1640: English Puritans introduced a petition with 15,000 signatures to Parliament, seeking to abolish the church episcopacy, "with all its dependencies, roots and branches." The House of Commons accepted what has become known as the "Roots and Branch Petition," but the House of Lords (many of whom were bishops) rejected it, and the episcopal organization of the Church of England remained.
December 11, 1792: Jacob Mohr, author of the poem "Silent Night," is born.
December 11, 1918: Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, an Orthodox believer whose works include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, is born. His books are credited by many scholars with "helping to bring down the last empire on earth".
December 11, 1984: The White House displays a nativity scene for the first time since courts ordered its removal in 1973.
December 12, 1189: King Richard I "the Lion Hearted" leaves England on the Third Crusade to retake Jerusalem, which had fallen to Muslim general Saladin in 1187.
December 12, 1667: The Council of Moscow deposes Russian Orthodox Patriarch Nikon. A "man of great ability and sincerity but of autocratic temper," according to one historian, his calls for liturgical reform grew into a fight over the relationship between church and state. Though deposed at the council, banished, and imprisoned for 14 years, his liturgical reforms were sanctioned. In 1681, he was recalled to Moscow by the new tsar, but he died on the way. He was buried with patriarchal honors and all decrees against him were revoked.
December 12, 1712: The colony of South Carolina requires "all persons whatsoever" to attend church each Sunday and refrain from skilled labor and travel. Violators of the "Sunday Law" could be fined 10 shillings or locked in the stocks for two hours.
December 13, 304: Lucy, one of the earliest Christian saints to achieve popularity, dies. According to legend, she renounced marriage out of devotion to Christ, but a spurned suitor convinced Roman authorities to force her into a life of prostitution. When this was unsuccessful, they tried to burn her to death, but she wouldn't catch fire. Finally, she was killed by the sword. More realistically, she was probably one of several Christians killed in the Diocletian persecution. But within a century of her death, she had a remarkable following.
December 13, 1250: Frederick II, the messianic German Emperor (1212-1250) who fought repeatedly and heatedly with popes, dies suddenly of dysentery at age 55. He called himself "lord of the world"; others either praised him as "stupor mundi" (wonder of the world) or damned him as Antichrist.
December 13, 1294: After issuing a constitution giving popes the right to quit, Pope Celestine V shocks the world by resigning. An aged, nearly incoherent hermit when he was chosen to succeed Pope Nicholas IV, Celestine was desperately unsuited for the job and served only 15 weeks before Cardinal Gaetani, masquerading as a voice from heaven, convinced him to step down. Gaetani then became the infamous Pope Boniface VIII, and he imprisoned Celestine until the old man's death.
December 13, 1835: Phillips Brooks, Episcopal bishop and author of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," is born in Boston. [Follow this link to Brooks' sermon offered at the memorial for Abraham Lincoln.]
December 14, 872: Pope Adrian (or Hadrian) II dies. Adrian twice refused the papacy (in 855 and 858) before reluctantly accepting in 867. Weak and vacillating, he sought support from, of all people, the antipope Anastasius.
December 14, 1363: French ecclesiastical statesman and writer Jean Gerson is born. Eager to end the Great Schism of 1378-1414, he was influential in calling the Council of Pisa and the Council of Constance (which eventually ended the dual papacy). In defense of the Council of Pisa, Gerson wrote a tract promoting counciliar theory—the idea that a council can supersede the pope.
December 14, 1591: Spanish poet John of the Cross, one of the greatest Christian mystics, dies. His "Dark Night of the Soul" is one of the era's best known religious poems, and his treatises have profoundly influenced both Catholic and Protestant thought.