Portal:Christianity/Selected biography

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The following selected biographies appear on Portal:Christianity. The layout for new additions is at Portal:Christianity/Selected biography/Layout.


Portal:Christianity/Selected biography/1

Gravestone marking the burial site of Justus in St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury
Justus (occasionally Iustus) (died on 10 November between 627 and 631) was the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury. He was sent from Italy to England by Pope Gregory the Great, on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons, probably arriving with the second group of missionaries despatched in 601. Justus became the first Bishop of Rochester in 604, and attended a church council in Paris in 614. Following the death of King Æthelberht of Kent in 616, Justus was forced to flee to Gaul, but was reinstated in his diocese the following year. In 624 Justus became Archbishop of Canterbury, overseeing the despatch of missionaries to Northumbria. After his death he was revered as a saint, and had a shrine in St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury.

Portal:Christianity/Selected biography/2 Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531) was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. Born during a time of emerging Swiss patriotism and increasing criticism of the Swiss mercenary system, he attended the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, a scholarly centre of humanism. He continued his studies while he served as a pastor in Glarus and later in Einsiedeln where he was influenced by the writings of Erasmus.

In 1518, Zwingli became the pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich where he began to preach ideas on reforming the Catholic Church. In his first public controversy in 1522, he attacked the custom of fasting during Lent. In his publications, he noted corruption in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, promoted clerical marriage, and attacked the use of images in places of worship. In 1525, Zwingli introduced a new communion liturgy to replace the mass. Zwingli also clashed with the Anabaptists, which resulted in their persecution.

The Reformation spread to other parts of the Swiss Confederation, but several cantons resisted, preferring to remain Catholic. Zwingli formed an alliance of Reformed cantons which divided the Confederation along religious lines. In 1529, a war between the two sides was averted at the last moment. Meanwhile, Zwingli’s ideas came to the attention of Martin Luther and other reformers. They met at the Marburg Colloquy and although they agreed on many points of doctrine, they could not reach an accord on the doctrine of the presence of Christ in the eucharist. In 1531 Zwingli’s alliance applied an unsuccessful food blockade on the Catholic cantons. The cantons responded with an attack at a moment when Zurich was badly prepared. Zwingli was killed in battle at the age of 47. His legacy lives on in the confessions, liturgy, and church orders of the Reformed churches of today.

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Gregory of Nazianzus was a 4th century Christian bishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials. Gregory made a significant impact on the shape of Trinitarian theology among both Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking theologians, and he is remembered as the "Trinitarian Theologian". Much of his theological work continues to influence modern theologians, especially in regard to the relationship among the three persons of the Trinity. Along with two brothers, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, he is known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers. Gregory is honored as a saint in both Eastern and Western Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is among the Doctors of the Church; in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Eastern Catholic Churches he is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs along with Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom.

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Portrait of buer from Icones quinquaginta vivorum, by Jean-Jacques Boissard
Martin Bucer (or Butzer) (11 November 1491 – 28 February 1551) was a Protestant reformer based in Strasbourg who influenced Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican doctrines and practices. Bucer's efforts to reform the church in Wissembourg resulted in his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, and he was forced to flee to Strasbourg. He acted as a mediator between the two leading reformers, Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, who differed on the doctrine of the Eucharist. Later, Bucer sought agreement on common articles of faith such as the Tetrapolitan Confession and the Wittenberg Concord, working closely with Philipp Melanchthon on the latter. Although his ministry did not lead to the formation of a new denomination, many Protestant denominations have claimed him as one of their own. He is remembered as an early pioneer of ecumenism.

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Illustration from The Little Lives of the Saints. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1904.
Ælfheah (954 – 19 April 1012; Old English: Ælfhēah, "elf-high"), officially remembered by the name Alphege within the Church, and sometimes called Alfege, was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester, later Archbishop of Canterbury. He became an anchorite before being elected abbot of Bath Abbey. His perceived piety and sanctity led to his promotion to the episcopate, and eventually to his becoming archbishop. Ælfheah furthered the cult of St Dunstan and also encouraged learning. He was captured by Viking raiders in 1011 and killed by them the following year, after refusing to allow himself to be ransomed. Ælfheah was canonized as a saint in 1078. Saint Thomas Becket, a later Archbishop of Canterbury, prayed to him just before his own slaying in Canterbury Cathedral.

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Ely Cathedral, where Nigel may be buried
Nigel (c. 1100 – 1169) (sometimes Nigel Poor or Nigel of Ely) was an Anglo-Norman bishop of Ely. He came from an ecclesiastical family; his uncle Roger of Salisbury was a bishop and government minister for King Henry I, and other relatives also held offices in the English Church and government. Nigel owed his advancement to his uncle, as did Nigel's probable brother Alexander, who like Nigel was advanced to episcopal status. Nigel was educated on the continent before becoming a royal administrator. He served as Treasurer of England under King Henry I of England, before being appointed to the see, or bishopric, of Ely in 1133. Following the accession of Henry I's successor, King Stephen, Nigel remained as treasurer only briefly before his family was ousted from political office by the new king. Nigel rebelled and deserted to Stephen's rival Matilda, but eventually reconciled with Stephen. On the king's death, Nigel was returned to the treasurership by the new king, Henry II. Nigel's second tenure as treasurer saw him return the administration to the practices of Henry I. Most historians, then and now, have felt that Nigel's administrative abilities were excellent; he is considered to have been more talented as an administrator than as a religious figure.

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Portrait of Bishop Clement of Dunblane
Clement of Dunblane was a 13th-century Dominican friar who was the first member of the Dominican Order in the British Isles to become a bishop. In 1233, he was selected to lead the ailing diocese of Dunblane, and faced a struggle to bring the bishopric of Dunblane to financial viability. While not achieving all of his aims, Clement succeeded in saving the bishopric from relocation to Inchaffray Abbey. He also regained enough revenue to begin work on the new Dunblane Cathedral. He faced a similar challenge with the impoverished bishopric of Argyll in the 1240s. Clement was with the king during his campaign in Argyll in 1249 and was at his side when he died during this campaign. By 1250 he had established a reputation as one of the most active Dominican reformers in Britain. Clement helped to elevate Edmund of Abingdon and Queen Margaret to sainthood. After his death, he received veneration as a saint himself, although he was never formally canonised.

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Portrait of Jones by William Crubb
Peter Jones (January 1, 1802 – June 29, 1856) was an Ojibwa Methodist minister, translator, chief and author from Burlington Heights, Upper Canada. His Ojibwa name was Kahkewāquonāby (Gakiiwegwanebi in the Fiero spelling), which means "[Sacred] Waving Feathers." In Mohawk, he was called Desagondensta, meaning "he stands people on their feet." In his youth his band of Mississaugas had been on the verge of destruction. As a preacher and a chieftain, as a role model and as a liaison to governments, his leadership helped his people survive contact with Europeans. As a bilingual and bicultural preacher, he enabled the Methodists to make significant inroads with the Mississaugas and Iroquois of Upper Canada, both by translating hymns and biblical texts in Ojibwe and Mohawk and by preaching to Indians who did not understand English. Jones was also a political leader. This brought him into contact with Superintendent of the Indian Department James Givins and influential Bishop John Strachan, with whom he arranged the funding and support of the Credit Mission. There he lived and worked as a preacher and community leader, leading the conversion of Mississaugas to a European lifestyle of agriculture and Christianity, which enabled them to compete with the white settlers of Upper Canada. He was elected a chief of the Mississaugas of the Credit Mission in 1829 and acted as a spokesman for the band when petitioning the colonial government and its departments.

Portal:Christianity/Selected biography/9 Joseph W. Tkach was the appointed successor of Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach became President and Pastor General of the church upon the death of Armstrong in 1986. Tkach spearheaded a major doctrinal transformation of the Worldwide Church of God, abandoning Armstrong's unconventional doctrines and bringing the church into accord with mainstream evangelical Christianity. His son, Joseph Tkach Jr., continued his work and in 1997 the Worldwide Church of God became a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

During Tkach's tenure, the changes that he implemented stirred much controversy and significant dissent among those who continued to follow Armstrong's theology. The dissenters labelled the changes as heresy and many left to form new church organizations. Within the mainstream Christian community, some have hailed Tkach's reforms, which brought a church from the fringe to orthodoxy, as unprecedented in the history of the Christian church.

The first major change under Tkach's tenure was the WCG's doctrine on healing. Previously the church taught that true believers were healed by faith in God and not by doctors. Tkach asked the church leadership to study the question. Once Tkach was satisfied with the results of the study, he officially softened the church's teaching on the matter, encouraging members to seek proper treatment while retaining faith in God as healer.

Portal:Christianity/Selected biography/10 Augustine of Canterbury (c. first third of the 6th century – 26 May 604) was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 598. He is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church.

Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead a mission, usually known as the Gregorian mission, to Britain to convert the pagan King Æthelberht of the Kingdom of Kent to Christianity. Kent was probably chosen because it was near the Christian kingdoms in Gaul and because Æthelberht had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert I the King of Paris who was expected to exert some influence over her husband. Before reaching Kent the missionaries had considered turning back but Gregory urged them on and, in 597, Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet and proceeded to Æthelberht's main town of Canterbury.

King Æthelberht converted to Christianity and allowed the missionaries to preach freely, giving them land to found a monastery outside the city walls. Augustine was consecrated bishop of the English and converted many of the king's subjects, including thousands during a mass baptism on Christmas Day in 597. Pope Gregory sent more missionaries in 601, along with encouraging letters and gifts for the churches, although attempts to persuade the native Celtic bishops to submit to Augustine's authority failed. Roman Catholic bishops were established at London and Rochester in 604, and a school was founded to train Anglo-Saxon priests and missionaries. Augustine also arranged the consecration of his successor, Laurence of Canterbury. Augustine died in 604 and was soon revered as a saint.

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El Greco: Self portrait (1604)
El Greco was a prominent painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. El Greco was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, and at 26 travelled to Venice to study. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and executed a series of works. During his stay in Italy, El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance. In 1577 he emigrated to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best known paintings. El Greco's dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis. El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for tortuously elongated figures and often fantastic or phantasmagorical pigmentation, marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western civilization.

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Woodcut of John Day from the 1563 and subsequent editions of Actes and Monuments
John Day was an English Protestant printer. He specialised in printing and distributing Protestant literature and pamphlets and produced many small-format religious books, such as ABCs, sermons, and translations of psalms. He found fame, however, as the publisher of John Foxe's Actes and Monuments, also known as the Book of Martyrs, the largest and most technologically accomplished book printed in sixteenth-century England. Day rose to the top of his profession during the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553). At this time, restrictions on publishers were relaxed, and a wave of propaganda on behalf of the English Reformation was encouraged by the government of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, many Protestant printers fled to the continent, but Day stayed in England and continued to print Protestant literature, which led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1554. Under Queen Elizabeth I, Day returned to his premises at Aldersgate in London, where he enjoyed the patronage of high-ranking officials and nobles. With their support, he published the Book of Martyrs and was awarded monopolies for some of the most popular English books. Day, whose technical skill matched his business acumen, has been called "the master printer of the English Reformation".


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This is an archive of selected biographies that have appeared or will appear on Portal:Christianity in the current year. To suggest an item, please do so here.

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