This year, 1998, marks many centennials. The war with Spain was played down by the United States, which is rather ashamed of it, and by Spain, because the Generation of '98 blamed the old Spanish order for the defeat, while the present conservative Spanish government defends it; the rehabilitation of Philip II, who died in 1598, is part of that campaign. The intolerance of that order found its most brutal expression in the Inquisition, and Spaniards are pleased by the historical revisionism represented in England by the BBC documentary "The Myth of the Inquisition" and in the U.S. by The Spanish Inquisition of Johns Hopkins Professor Henry Kamen.
A Christmas card from David and Carol Lynn Pike in Paris has a postage stamp commemorating the 1598 Edict of Nantes (the same years as the death of Philip II), which gave limited freedom to French Protestants, the Huguenots. A portrait of Henri IV is accompanied by a picture of a Catholic shaking hands with a Protestant. The edict was supposed to end the bloody religious war in France, the worst episode of which had been the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of Protestants in 1572. Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton tried to play it down, but discredited himself by twisting the evidence. The assassination of Henri IV was an act of religious revenge. The Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 by Cardinal Richelieu in a blatant act of religious, political intolerance. He captured the principal Protestant stronghold, La Rochelle, where sadly I noticed that this bloody event provides primarily a pretext for selling postcards of Richelieu. Most Huguenots fled abroad, but some survived, and their descendants are respected; many have achieved responsible positions, among them the present Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.
It is evident that this revisionism is a tricky business. The basic question is whether religions of peace really have much effect. Buddhism is the most pacifist of religions, and Cambodia is a Buddhist country, but episodes like the Pol Pot massacres suggest that Buddhism has in fact had little impact. The histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam suggest the same. To which the faithful will reply by quoting the Good Book: "Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of Heaven."
Ronald Hilton - 12/27/98