Thursday, July 2, 2020

Saint Louis, King of France

In recent weeks there has been some controversy over the statue of Saint Louis (1214-1270) in front of the Art Museum. There is a petition to take it down and rename the city, claiming that Saint Louis was anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic. Others are defending it, claiming that it stands for the pursuit of justice, charity, and piety exemplified by Saint Louis. 

It is true that King Louis IX had his faults, particularly in relation to the Jews. Yet his attitude and actions toward the Jews - the burning of Talmuds and his threats to expel the Jews - were not racially driven (in fact, he was generous to Jewish converts), but driven by his desire to suppress blasphemy and usury - a good reminder for present-day activists to not let a desire for reform lead them astray. He did lead two crusades, but these were defensive actions against Muslim aggression in the holy land, rather than an expression of hatred for Muslims. As Protestants, we would note as a fault that his conception of the faith was marred by some of the errors which were developing in the medieval church.

But King Louis IX has been honored for seven centuries as a good king, not because of his actions towards the Jews, but because of things like his humility, piety, judicial reforms, and charity. He was faithful in prayer, attentive to sermons, and sought to practice his faith in his public and private life. He fed the poor at his table and regularly washed their feet. He built hospitals and orphanages. He systematized the laws, reformed the courts, and held powerful men accountable. He abolished trial by combat, establishing trials with presumption of innocence and examinations of witnesses under oath. His reputation for impartiality was such that he was called upon by those outside France to arbitrate disputes. To learn more about Saint Louis, read more here: and here:

King Louis IX played an important role in developing Western Civilization, an imperfect civilization which has been greatly blessed by the influence of Christianity over the centuries. This civilization first came here by the French settlers who named the city St. Louis, and then by English-speaking settlers and the United States. This civilization has proven attractive enough that people of many backgrounds, including Jews and Muslims, have come here to share in the benefits developed by men like Louis IX. The statue of Saint Louis was created for the 1904 World’s Fair and served as the primary symbol of the city of St. Louis until the Gateway Arch was built in 1965. May it continue to stand in gratitude to the best of our society’s Western and Christian heritage. And may we continue to practice our faith for the glory of God and good of our community. For just as faith without works is dead, so monuments to the past without present-day faith and works are also dead and doomed to be taken away.

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