Posts Tagged ‘Western Europe’

“Los Nacionales” – Foreign Actors in the Spanish Civil War

Monday, December 30th, 2013

by Kathy Schneider

The cover of this month’s Church History illustrates the left’s portrayal of the Nationalist Front. The Ministry of Propaganda published the caricature during the Spanish Civil War. In the boat are all the familiar faces (clockwise from the left): Italian military as marked by the blue sash with the fasces symbol, two Moorish troops with three more below, the Nazi capitalist, and, most prominently, the cardinal who gives his blessing. “Arriba España” was one of the slogans of the Francoist forces.

In contradiction to this phrase, the cartoonist has placed Spain on the gallows. Lastly, the boat in which they travel has the words Junta de Burgos and Lisboa. Burgos is the location of the rebel government and Lisboa represents Portugal’s support of Franco. In short, the cartoonist sought to include all sources of foreign aid for the Nationalists in the hope that Spaniards would see the Nationalists and their supporters as a grave danger to Spain’s existence. Interestingly, the Church is included among the foreign supporters although the Spanish Church tended to see itself as a bulwark of traditional Spanish identity.

The depiction, as propaganda is wont to do, simplifies a complicated situation. The Spanish conflict had very Spanish roots, but was pulled into larger European events with the rise of the radical right. Both the Nationalists and the Republicans contributed to this portrayal through their generalization of a conflict between ungodly Communism versus fascism. While Hitler and Mussolini had their own interests that shaped their actions, the assistance was vital to Franco’s victory.

Friendship: Interpreting Aelredian Love for Today

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

By Timothy Lim T.N.
On the Occasion of a Cistercian Feast of Observance in Honor of Aelred of Rievaulx.

1. Preamble
I started reading about friendship a few years ago. My readings ranged from Aristotle’s three levels of friendship in Nicomachean Ethics, Cicero’s On Friendship, Augustine’s Confessions, Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship to a personal study on friendships in the Bible.1 I hoped that I was a friend to those whom providence arranged. Friendship nourishes me, although the disappointments and pains are sometimes difficult to bear. Who is a friend, and how do we nurture friendships? While I am more of an interdisciplinary theologian, like many members in the American Society of Church History, I rejoice in the richness that history could proffer. In this article, I present a contemporized and analogous reading of Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship.2 Aelred postulates the benefits of deep friendship whilst being aware of the perils of relational problems, and in that sense, his thoughts challenge superficial friendships in our day. May this essay encourage us in finding true connection with friends.

2. Aelred of Rievaulx’s (1110-1167) Spiritual Friendship

This twelfth-century English-Scottish Cistercian abbot from Hexham, Northumbria, who was formerly a steward of King David I of Scotland and a member of the nobility class, examined friendship from a religious standpoint. Aelred is better remembered for The Mirror of Charity (written between 1142-43 at the invitation of Bernard of Clairvaux to educate the Cistercian life), although readers of Aelred would consider him a historian, theologian, philosopher, monastic spirituality writer, and politician.3 In this retrieval, I limit my exploration to his Spiritual Friendship, which was written between 1163-64, though Book 1 was originally written in the late 1140s.4

Aelred’s primary sources are Scripture, the Church Fathers, and experience together with Cicero’s philosophical dialogue On Friendship.5 Book 1 records his discussion with Ivo, a daughterhouse of Rievaulx, Wardon of Bedfordshire. And Book 2 and 3 detail his conversations several years later with two younger monks in the monastery, Walter (believed to be Walter Daniel, his biographer) and Gratian; the later dialogues expand on Aelred’s earlier dialogue with Ivo, to show “an ever-widening circle of fellowship,” and friendship’s inseparability even after death (because for Aelred, true friendship is eternal).

Please note that this investigation does not follow a recent controversial reading of Aelred’s sexual orientation.6 My primary reasons are as follows: Aelred wrote Spiritual Friendship for those committed to a Cistercian lifestyle, and would live in accordance to the Benedictine monastic rules for holy living.7

Hence, I find it unfruitful to probe between the Scylla of Aelred’s formal literary expressions on friendship, and the Charybdis of psychologizing the saint’s motives, feelings, and sexual-state in order to prove a speculative interpretation of Aelred’s sexuality that has no strong admitting evidence. Reinterpretations of a supposed sexual attraction to maleness in The Life of Ninian, and in his eulogy to Henry, son of King David in 1153, must be located in the context of the Cistercian monastic spirituality. Moreover, he often decried the hypocrisies of courtly and monastic promiscuity: it sufficiently demonstrates that for the abbot, chastity, i.e., the purity in the inner sanctum of his soul, is his motto for life, as evidenced also in The Mirror of Charity and A Rule of Life for the Recluse.8

Book I explores the origins and types of friendship. Aelred identifies three types of post-lapsarian (after the Fall) friendship: carnal, worldly, and spiritual friendship.9 Common to all types of friendships, friendship in post-lapsarian terms would manifest charity/love in its universal extent to all people, including enemies.10

Also, common to all, humans desire love and companionship, and the happiness friendship brings.11 However, true friendship is reserved for only a select few: one can only maintain bona fide friends and open our hearts unreservedly to a few.12 Carnal connections on the other hand are ruled by transitory pleasures (with concupiscence as its root), and hence their rapports are more inclusive and these relationships seldom last (as compared to genuine friendship).13

Worldly associates seek only temporal advantage for oneself; they seldom exhibit genuine interest in the other person’s well-being.14 These lesser friendships steer each other towards inordinate desires, and could not endure troubles together.15 The glue to their companionship is charm for the greedy, glory for the ambitious, and pleasure for the sensuous, although they resemble the beauty of reciprocal friendship.16

These worldly friendships are counterfeits of true friendship since they regard “friendship as a trade” and for what are temporally useful to them.17 Worldly friendship, like carnal friendship, will not last.18 And because “the love of such a man is acquired at a small price,” their friendship disappears “at the slightest offense” or trouble.19 Aelred calls carnal and worldly relations as “apparent friends,” and distinguishes it from “true friends.”20

On the other hand, true amicitia (friendship) rests on a virtue that unites the spirits of both (or more) through an unbreakable bond of amor (love) and interior sweetness (making them one); the bond is their respective and mutual fellowship together in Christ – beginning, continuing, and perfecting in Christ together.21 True friends (amicus) are each other’s “guardian of love”; they preserve secrets faithfully, endure each other’s weaknesses, and share with a friend’s joys and sorrows as his/her own.22 From St. Jerome, the abbot affirms that true friends love at all times, and offenses do not injure their love and bond.23 True friends are not accomplices in evil/wicked activities; this is because the love between true friends does not seek lusts that defile, avarices that dishonor, and luxuries that pollute.24

True friendship is its own reward, and any other benefits are secondary.25 Essentially, true friends love each other’s soul as one’s own. The foundations are pure intention, and the exercise of cardinal virtues; they cherish the feeling of sweetness, seek each other’s perfection, reject nothing expedient, accept nothing unbecoming, and grow together in prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and “it will never cease to be properly ordered.”26 Their bond is rooted in chastity and wisdom. If the relationship is not between equals (e.g., between a wealthy and a less wealthy, or an accomplished person and an ordinary person), then the stronger or wiser of the friend will seek to diminish himself/herself before the other: they unite in their genuine desire to live a chaste and charitable life that is close to God.27

Lawrence OP

Book II discusses the fruits and excellence of friendship. For the Rievaulx abbot, the key to true friendship during their life on earth is intimacy with God. Of the many fruits of friendship, friends celebrate and share their kindred-ship forever. Even if a friendship is separated by death, Aelred confesses that he still thinks about his deceased friend Ivo, and in that sense, Ivo continues to dwell with him.28 The kinship attests to “nothing more pleasant than [the fruit of] spiritual friendship.”29 Agreeing implicitly with Sirach 6:14-16, Aelred affirms that friendship is like “medicine for life”: a faithful friend (amicus fidelis) helps one endure life’s sorrows, cultivates virtues, overcomes vice, and shares good and bad times, and leads one to the love and knowledge of God.30

Using the metaphor of a threefold kiss to symbolize a corporeal, spiritual, and mystical exchange of breath, Aelred explains the dynamics when people become close friends: they will experience physical intimacy (not in sexual terms, and definitely not to be misused for unwholesome purposes). As their spirits mingle, they will share “the kiss of spiritual breath,” i.e., the exchange of life and grace, desiring the good of the other, and sensing intimate affectivity of the heart (not avarice, inordinate desires, or the contact of the mount/lips): the Holy Spirit superintends their relationship.31 The bond is sweet and secure, and the bond is characterized by honor, truth, and holiness.32 This “spiritual kiss” of the affective hearts between close friends emerges from the sweetness of “the kiss of Christ,” permanently re-orientating all earthly affection.33

As to the limits of friendship, i.e., “what one should or should not do for a friend,” Aelred postulates that friends will give their lives for each other because they esteem each other higher than themselves, and hence, they will deny and refuse nothing to the other.34 He draws his inspiration from the Johannine Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus on friendship (that he lays down his life for his friends); and he limits true friends to only the gathering of the good, and not the wicked.35 Here, the abbot goes beyond Cierco’s definition of friendship as a mutual harmony of wills.36

Now, he does not restrict the good company to only the gathering of perfect people; however, they must be among those who have conquered their vices and resists temptations.37 They would be living well-ordered lives although they had chosen wayward lifestyles previously.38 Also, friends do not have to think about “mutual repayment of one’s friend through service and compliments” because they ought to have held all things in common and in one mind and soul.39 They mutually appreciate each other, and do not take one other for granted, or for advantage.

Aelred explains that reciprocal love is the “fountain and source of friendship.” Unlike love without friendship, friendship cannot exist without love.40 Thus, seeds of love must be carefully watered, tended, and grown for friendship to blossom.41 Love proceeds from nature, duty, reason, and affection.42 And yet, there is a kind of love that extends to all people, but friendship-love is reserved only for those admitted as friends.43 Consequently, he proposes in Book III the necessity of choosing friends judiciously, and only to admit as friends those who have been tested.44 Even as friendship attests to God’s grace in calling and uniting the hearts, friends must still cooperate with the grace to nurture and protect the relationship.

Aelred writes:

once admitted, he should be so borne with, so treated, [and] so deferred to, that as long as he does not withdraw irrevocably from the established foundation, he is yours, and you are his, in body [not sexually but intended as presence and love] as well as in spirit, so that there will be no division of minds, affections, wills, [and/] or judgments.45

With that in mind, Book III discusses the four stages of progress/development in friendship: 1) selection and dissolution (especially of friends who was later discovered to be less than virtuous), 2) probation, 3) admission, and 4) cultivation of friendship.

In the selection stage, Aelred prefers friends who lead virtuous lives.46 They would possess attributes of loyalty, patience, well-intention, giving and receiving, discerning and listening, and supportive whilst willing to challenge your thoughts because friends walk in each other’s “light and darkness.” Restriction of friendship-love applies only when a friend acts inappropriately, with a bent for evil.47 Otherwise, in all imperfections – “minor lapses and imperfections of character”, we bear with friends: he lists a few examples such as a thoughtless word, a zeal that does not demonstrate discretion, a sword drawn at a friend, anger, a temporal withdrawal, or a preference for his own counsel to yours.48 Aelred reasons why the forbearance: As friends, “their affection toward us is established with certainty,”49 unless there was question of dishonor, confidence violated, or virtue lessened.50

Moreover, because no one is perfect, the criterion for friendship is their desire for godliness and by implication, their efforts to conquer vices and resist temptations.51 Aelred also explains that the presence of disturbances/imperfections would amplify their virtues more laudably if they have exercised restrain over these passions; and hence, there is no need to withhold friendship from them.52 And if we must correct them, Aelred suggests doing so “painlessly and even pleasantly” and out of love.53

He further recommends distancing from people who practice evil habits.54 Those habits and behaviors (that are detrimental to forming lasting friendships) would include slander, reproach, pride, the disclosing of secrets, and the possession of secret detractions.55 Furthermore, one would better avoid the quarrelsome and those who give in to excessive anger, fickleness, suspiciousness, and loquaciousness.56 Choosing these people as potential friends is feasible only if they repent from the above vices.57

Lawrence OP

Stained glass detail in Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, showing Rievaulx Abbey

If a friendship has to be dissolved for unavoidable and compelling reasons, the process must be gradual, respectful, and approached with dignity, so as not to strain the feelings of both parties. Aelred calls the process, “to unstitch little by little” in order to prevent the surge of animosity and dishonorable effects due to the estrangement.58 True friendship will not allow any injury done to cause the relationship to recede.59 Still, if a former friendship incurs ill-will and enmity as a result of the dissolution, one must honor the former friend, by enduring insults as much as possible.60 More importantly, one is still bound to love a former friend at all times, even after the withdrawal.61 The abbot includes, “be concerned as much as you can for his welfare, safeguard his reputation, and never betray the secrets of his friendship, even though he should betray yours.”62

What then distinguishes the acts of love to a former and an existing friend? The Abbot explains that a friendship contains four elements: love, affection, security, and happiness.63 After a dissolved friendship, confidence, affection, security, and happiness in the friend are normally withdrawn, but a friend should still love, honor, bless, do good, aid, and advise the former friend as Christ would.64 The only exception is when the love for the former friend will result in the ruin/death of many, or “when he continued to be an occasion of ruin and scandal to those for whose well-being you are responsible, especially when the infamy of these crimes is damaging to your own good name.”65 Otherwise, it “is the more laudable, and gives greater proof of being a virtue” to bless those who wrong, scorn, curse, and plot evil against his former friend.66

In the probation stage, Aelred recommends testing would-be friends “in small and great matters.”67 The probation stage is crucial because once admitted into the friendship, we lay our soul and heart transparently to our friends, with “no hiding of thoughts, no dissembling of affection,” and the sharing of “our confidences and plans.”68 It is thus important not to merely test the four qualities of a friend – loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience,69 but also to distinguish the wise from the unwise.70 The periods of testing require that the one who ‘secretly’ administers the test, exercise prudence and holds back one’s affection.71 The loyalty of a friend always sees the heart of a friend.72 Loyal friends do not betray one another. Misfortune is the best way to prove the fidelity of a friendship: in adversity, we discover friends who are there not for our prosperity.73

On right intention, truly loving a friend expects no reward in return. The love ought to be given gratuitously, and not for some advantage or mercenary benefit.74 Discretion pertains to how friends offer correction, especially at the petty faults – do they impatiently bear these lapses without regard to the venue, season, and fittingness to the person? To befriend those with discretion will minimize unnecessary controversies and quarrels with them.75 What appears different for Aelred is the test of patience – he suggests that one ought not to immediately withdraw the prospect of friendship with the teachable, even if there are displays of impatience, such as indiscreet rebuke, desire for temporal gain, over passing due gentleness, or thoughtless revelation of some confidences.76 When the test is complete, and when admitted to the friendship, one should never question the loyalty of one’s friend.77

At the admission of a friend, the abbot recommends building mutual loyalty as their foundation, and cultivating qualities such as stability, constancy, honesty/frankness, congeniality, and sympathy.78 Friends do not become suspicious of each other. Instead, they are to foster trust, affability, cheerfulness, good manners, and peace/ease.79 Recognizing the importance of treating each other as equals, Aelred further recommends that those in higher positions should descend to their friends’ levels, and those from lower levels to ascend with their confidence.80 David and Jonathan provide one such example from Scripture: Jonathan preferring his friendship to his kingdom (already a remarkable virtue since it is in man to naturally desire power) is contrasted with Saul, who would injure Jonathan, his own son, for his own throne.81

David and Jonathan, depicted in La Somme Le Roy (circa 1300)

Finally, to foster the friendship, Aelred urges that one seek only what is honorable (be it from, or for the friendship), and preferably without being asked, and never to deny serving a friend, be it in money or otherwise.82 Revere each other since respect is friendship’s “greatest adornment.”83 Care, pray, and rejoice more readily.84 Seek the ultimate good of the other; regard the betterment of the other as one’s own progress.85 Always give cheerfully in anticipation of each other’s needs without being asked, and keep the confidences and dignity of the recipient of grace, and never expect a reward.86 Citing approvingly of Ambrose, Aelred calls friends to admonish the erring friend with love and reason, with humility and sympathy, and with much patience; Aelred prefers the aforementioned to reproaching with anger, bitterness, and/or harshness, or that of withholding correction in order to preserve a false and tenuous peace.87

The only exceptions are knowing when to correct in certain circumstances (he calls it dissimulation), as well as to refrain from deceptively agreeing to everything (he calls it simulation).88 And if one holds a position of power (e.g., an office), be sure to recommend promotion/appointment to an incumbent only because he/she is a worthy candidate, and not merely because of the friendship: Aelred believes that recommending a friend who does not have the ability to excel in the job, does a disservice to a friend.89

3. Contemporizing Aelred on Friendship

3.1. Difficulties. Brian McGuire attributes the ease with which modern people can contemporize medieval concepts of friendship to the universality of friendship as a human experience.90 However, to contemporize an Aelredian reading on friendship is not without difficulty, especially if we seek analogous applications to the prevailing norms of sociality and friendship, and avoid reading him anachronistically. James McEvoy elucidates in Friendship in Medieval Europe that Christian thinkers from the fourth century onwards (including Aelred) perpetuates, albeit selectively with, pre-Christian philosophical ideas on friendship.91 That means, we would have to juxtapose a receiving audience (and its culture) with medieval thoughts as we contemporize Aelred on friendship.

Specifically, if Aelred spoke to monks living in a cloistered communal life, could we simply transpose Aelred’s principles for modern people seeking platonic male-female or even same gender friendships in a cosmopolitan workplace, and in an overtly sexualized, commercialized, and technologically savvy world as ours (especially for those who live in ‘developed’ civilizations)? Likewise, the concept of platonic male-female and male-male, or female-female friendship in Aelred’s time differs markedly from the nuances of romance understood in our day, especially because of the subjugation of women and their rights to a predominantly patriarchal medieval social institution.92

3.2. Prospects. Without reading him anachronistically, I believe that Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship provides resources for cultivating friendship-bond in our milieu. What follows is a concise attempt at contemporizing lessons learnt from an Aelredian love.

a. General

What is the nature of friendship? Friendship occurs in varying degrees of affectivity and connectivity; and with each friendship brings love, companionship, and happiness. More importantly, Aelred deems that there are three types of friends, each motivated by a corresponding drive for carnality, worldly benefit, and/or spiritual virtue respectively. The nature of these relations will vary accordingly: carnal friends towards pleasure and concupiscence, worldly friends towards what has advantage and utility to them, and spiritual/virtuous friends towards what is truly good and beautiful for each other. The latter is reserved for only a select few, and in Aristotle’s view, for true and virtuous friends, we give superabundance of love to them.93

What distinguishes a confidant from all other relationships? A virtuous friend is most ideal for a confidant-relationship. He/she is someone whom you could bare your soul, heart, and mind to, without fear. True friendship is guided by loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. And because they love you as they would love themselves, they will desire the greatest good for you. On that account, they will be truthful and practice dissimulation – correcting you at the right time, and in light of particular circumstances, with love, reason, and much patience, humility, and empathy (note: Aelred uses the term sympathy). They will not practice simulation, that is, deceptively agreeing with you so as to preserve a false and tenuous harmony. And unlike what Aristotle calls, Utility friends or Pleasure friends, true friends will not leave you in your troubles if and when your friendship has no benefit/advantage.94 And since true friends seek virtues, they will not steer you to satisfy inordinate desires, believed to be harmful.

What are the boundaries of friendships? To other people, Christ models that we give ourselves so far as “to lay down our lives” and “love at all times” and thus prove that we love God and neighbor. To former friends as with enemies, we are still commanded to love and support them, even though we would withhold confidence and affection. But to a true friend, we give unreservedly since “a friend loves at all times.” To a true friend, we hide nothing, deny nothing, betray nothing, suspect nothing, dishonor nothing, yield everything, forebear everything, honor everything, and expect no other benefits because friendship is its reward. In other words, Aelred has no boundaries for true friends, because true friends by definition and in practice, will invariably seek out that which is true, good, and honorable for reciprocal growth and development, and they will not take advantage of us. Here, Aelred negotiates between two traditions in Eastern monasticism – Abba Arsenius who turned away friendship for solitude, and Abba Moses who found God and peace through friends.95

b. Marriage, Platonic, and Other

Would friendship outside of marriage flourish, or is confidante reserved for marriage? Aelred does not specifically speak to this question. The abbot wrote in the context of monastic and communal relationship. Still, it is reasonable to postulate that he could affirm the flourishing of friendships in several contexts, all at the same time. In his letters, he wrote of deep and committal friendships with a few monks, and these friendships were developed independently of each other, and even though all of these monks lived together in community (cf. Books 2 and 3). In specific instances, he widens the circles of friendship to include Walter and Gratian. And of course, in Aelred’s treatise, he would not have developed any concept close to seventeenth century Jeremy Taylor’s expression of marriage as “the Queen of friendships.”96

Is relational intimacy to be encouraged in light of Eastern monastic warnings? The Eastern monastic tradition warns of the possibility of platonic male-female relationship developing in sexually inappropriate ways under the guise of friendship. It also has strict codes against male-male attachments for similar concerns. Viewed thus, Aelred would have had reservations about deep male-female and male-male friendships. Still, his familiarity with the wholesome and engaging inter-mural relationships between Christian monks and nuns of his time and before his time would probably not preclude him from affirming a more circumspective level of platonic relationships. Here, I draw from a range of data to offer a conjecture.

Whilst mindful of the traps of eros (as a sexual problem), Aelred did not show that relational intimacy would inevitably become romantic/eros. Yes, in A Rule of Life for the Recluse, he warns sisters in a celibate lifestyle from forming deep emotional bonds with any man and away from friendly tenderness that would lead to open sexual release.97 The concern arises from his familiarity with promiscuous sexual relationships both in the courts and in the monastic communities, as well as the Eastern and Egyptian Christian monastic traditions (such as Anthony, Pachomus, Cassian, and the Desert Fathers), which warned against sensual love between older monks and younger monks, and/or with the opposite gender.

Cassian’s Conferences XVI contained specific warnings against lustful thoughts, subversive dreams, bodily vices, and nocturnal emissions; all of which would suggest the wisdom of keeping a distance from attractive relationships both outside and within the monastery, for both male-male, and male-female relationships.98 And since Benedict’s monastic rule in this respect was drawn from Cassian on rightly ordered love, and since the Cistercian Order, which Aelred has devoted himself, observes the Benedictine Rule, Aelred was clearly not naïve about the perils of sexual temptations.

I would offer a further conjecture that Aelred would remain open to platonic relationship. Aelred readily draws from Ambrose of Milan and Jerome’s wisdom, as evident in Aelred’s writings. Outside of his pastoral/diocese time, Ambrose used his time from his solitude to write and exchange friendships. Ambrose’s optimism about friendship leads him to embrace the comfort and support friends provide, and to elevate beneficentia or benevolentia as sine non qua of friendship.99

Jerome, Boniface, and other Anglo-Saxon missionaries have had a good variety of deep spiritual friendships with males, females, abbots, monks, and abbesses, that have informed Aelred’s conceptualization.100 Some of these letters of exchange explicitly display a love, a longing, and a desire for communion and support between friends to carry them through their pilgrimage of love and piety for God; and in some cases, these spiritual confidantes never met in person, but bared their soul freely to each other regularly in letters.101 Despite rumors, Jerome’s friendship with widower Paula remained in chastity.102

As can be seen, Aelred follows the Latin Western mystics to affirm the instrumental role of friendships towards God. McGuire has eloquently paraphrased Alcuin’s thoughts, that in human love we see images of divine love, which makes all varieties of love possible.103 As spiritual intimacy represents the highest goal of Aelredian friendship, he would affirm relational intimacy in its most holy and mature manner, befitting of true friendship: that this love would not contain travesties of avarice and concupiscence: caritas has nothing to do with cupiditas.104

How can platonicity develop healthily, without romance hindering it? While romance as we know it today would have been foreign to medieval platonic male-female friendship, there is at least a recognition of the potential perils of such friendship developing into a sexual promiscuity. As Vernon remarks, “how sex can hang a question mark over friendship, or vice versa.”105 That said, male-female platonicity remains possible, if friends honor each other – not by twentieth-first century standards of “Friends with [sexual/pleasurable] Benefits” (a movie directed by Will Gluck starring the friendship of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) – but through a medieval lectio divina framework; that of growing in discernment in two simultaneous directions – the knowledge of God and knowledge of self, especially in the inner movements of one’s own heart.

Spiritual exercise has its roots in a philosophical tradition of scrutinizing intentions and behavior that forms the conscience since the time of Socrates.106 In later Christian spirituality, Ignatius of Lyola in Spiritual Exercises expands this examination of the heart to include a search for the movements of consolations and desolations.107 Though Aelred offers no such these instructions, he did provide guidelines on developing healthy relationships, such as loving each other’s soul as their own, with pure intention, and cardinal virtues, which include rejecting nothing expedient, accepting nothing unbecoming, and growing together in prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and always expressing their kindred-ness in properly ordered love. Chastity and wisdom, towards God and each other, then represents the two roots to this truly healthy platonic bond. McEvoy calls the Aelredian approach a friendship of conscience.108

c. Pragmatics
Why does friendship hurt?
Life is messy, and sometimes, even with preventive measures (such as setting good boundaries and demonstrating mutual reverence), heartaches still knock at our doors. The reciprocity of love as the fountain and source of friendship would imply that if a friendship hurts, it is often due to differing degrees of reciprocity between friends. It is like the case of Jerome’s disappointment with Heliodorus or William of St. Therry’s question to Bernard of Clairvaux that “you did not love me as I did you” (note: not to be interpreted with any sexual overtones). To a large extent, the degrees of reciprocity depend on the nature of the friendship in Aelred’s conception, whether it is carnal, worldly, or spiritual. In essence, friendship hurts because friends disappoint us, regardless of their intentionality, and because we live in a world characterized by jealousy, possessiveness, and selfishness.109

How can we forgive? Aelred embraces a biblical notion that a friend loves at all times, even when friends falter; it would suggest that forgiveness is possible. On the limits of friendship in Book II, he acknowledges that those who previously followed wayward paths of lusts and avarices may return to fellowship if they are learned to control over their inordinate affections and behaviors. He further postulates that if Christ forgives us and asks us to love our enemies like friends, then, there can be forgiveness however difficult it may be. Some may read Aelred’s comment on distancing from the wayward as an act of judging others. However, the Aelredian paradigm is not an act of casting aspersion, but that of inner discernment, so as to admit into closer friendship with those who show signs of desiring a godly life.

Is reconciliation possible? Aelred’s garden of reciprocal love illustrates the forgiveness process. Like a garden that has to be carefully watered and tended for growth, so too in reconciliation, efforts to nurture and protect the relationship are necessary. As Augustine’s commentary on Galatians 6:2, about bearing each other’s burdens indicates, we grow to bear the infirmities and weaknesses of the weakest. Though there is no guarantee of reconciliation, finding true friends is a mysterious process and like the healing process, both cannot be rushed.110 As John Crossin (a scholar and reader of Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantel) suggests, friendship and reconciliation remain keys to spiritual growth.111

Should we move on or trust providence to bring about good amidst our serendipity? Aelred would only recommend dissolution if that is unavoidable and compelling. Keeping a distancing becomes compelling when a friendship recedes from holiness, and walks either in darkness or with a bent for evil and practices evil habits. However, the dissolution ought to be a gradual process, “unstitching little by little,” all the while respecting and affirming the honor and dignity of parties involved.

Nonetheless, Aelred holds that one is still bound to love the former/withdrawn friend at all times, offering support, caring for his/her welfare, safeguard his/her reputation, and never betraying the former confidant’s secrets. It is in the name and honor of Christ’s exemplary model, that we are to love at all times. Jesus loved Judas (whom he knew would betray him even before Judas ever did), the sinners (who still live in sin), and those whom the then socio-conventions considered undeserving of true and noble friendships.112 However, in the case of a dissolved friendship, we no longer show confidence and affection as we would normally do a friend, even though we are still to demonstrate love and support as Christ would his enemies.

Aelred would also say that if the bond indeed rests on the foundations of true friendship (and although it may presently falter), an offense (however hurtful) would not ultimately severe the relationship, even though some distancing might be necessary for a while. A friend loves at all times, believes in, bears with, and hopes in all things concerning you and the friendship. And if true friends expect no reward except the reward of each other’s friendship, then even after reproving an erring friend, reparation remains a possibility, if both continue to connect and grow in Christ.

As Venerable Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert claims of Cuthbert’s relationship with Hereberht, the hermit of Derwentwater: spiritalis amicitiae foedere copulates: “they were bound to each other by the bond of spiritual friendship.”113 Augustine calls it the welding of two souls cleaving together through charity from the Holy Ghost.<114 And this friendship, though a choice, is ordered first by God. As Augustine claims in his letter to a long-lost friend, Marcianus, God is the author and giver of friendship, without whom, none would be friends with God and each other.115

Gospel singer Misty Edwards in the song “Let Me Love You More,” sums up the thrust of this paper. If friendship is intimacy with people in varying degrees, then “after all [that] is said [and done], love is a sacrifice… The gift of love, to whoever God sends our path, could hurt. So people often behave the opposite of what they truly desire – we all want to be loved, and yet, we push [away] those closest to us… the paradox of ‘Come Closer, Go Away’.” Yet, the rewards of true friendship are nurturing! In Aelredian schema, if we exercise care in the process of selection, probation, and testing, then, in moving away from counterfeit and shallow levels of intimacy (carnal and worldly), we will discover that in truly loving each other as we would ourselves, and in the love of God (spiritual), we relate as friends and form healthy relational depth (not to be interpreted via as analogous to contemporary romance of love and friendship).

May chastity, wisdom, and love be unleashed to all who seek the gift of friendship today, as Christians observe the Cistercian feast in honor of St. Aelred of Rievaulx.


[1] My appreciations to Shaun Horton, for the invitation to write for the American Society of Church History, and to a wider fraternal colleague and friend, Medievalist Dr C.J. Jones (University of Notre Dame), a dear friend, Ms Esther Ng Ailey, and my confidante and wife, Sharlene Yeo, for their comments at short notice, and during the holiday season. Any mistakes remain my responsibility.

Timothy LIM Teck Ngern, “You’re My Friend Indeed: Bearing the Fruits of True Friendship” shared at a Regent University School of Divinity chapel, 29th March 2010.

[2] Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship. Classics with Commentary Series, with commentary by Dennis Billy (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2008); cf. the backdrop of medieval experience and philosophical conceptions of friendship in Brian Patrick McGuire, Friendship and Community: The Monastic Experience, 350-1250 with a New Introduction (New York: Cornell University Press, 2010); Eva Osterberg, Friendship and Love, Ethics and Politics: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern History (Lund: Central European University Press, 2010), and Mark Vernon, The Meaning of Friendship (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[3] Brian Patrick McGuire, Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 105.

[4] McGuire, Brother and Lover, xi.

[5] Billy on Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 27.

[6] For a range of perspectives, see McGuire, Brother and Lover, 1994; against the larger backdrop of John Eastburn Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, eds., Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York: Routledge, 1999); and Liz Carmichael, Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love (New York: T&T Clark, 2004, 3rd rpr., 2007), especially Carmichael’s ch. 3 on Aelred of Rievaulx, pp. 70-100.

[7] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, Prologue, I.6. p.25. Format follows Book, Paragraph, and page.

[8] McGuire, Brother and Lover, 42-47. The account does not of course discount the reality of sexual temptations he had in the court, and the invitation to sexual communion with a woman whist as a Cistercian monk. See however McGuire’s controversial account of Aelred’s Life of Waldef in McGuire, Brother and Lover, 49-50 turning Aelred into a monk with a monogamous desire for another monk, to the contrary of Aelred’s standard biographer, Walter Daniel. Still to McGuire’s credit, he at least registers the chastity in Aelred’s life after he entered the monastery. See for instance, excerpt of Aelred’s A Rule of Life for the Recluse in McGuire, Brother and Lover, 59-67.

[9] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.38, p.40.

[10] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.32, 59, pp.39, 46.

[11] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.53-57, pp.44-45; II.49, p.68.

[12] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.32, p.39.

[13] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.39-41, p.40; II.57-59, p.71.

[14] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.42, p.40-41; II.60-61, p.72.

[15] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.42, p.40-41.

[16] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.58-60, pp.46.

[17] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.43, p.41; II.16, p.61; II.53, p.69.

[18] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.54-55, p.71.

[19] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.47, p.68.

[20] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.60-61, pp.46.

[21] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.9,19,21,24, pp.33-35. In Book II, Aelred explains: “in friendship [as ‘a stage toward the love and knowledge of God’] there is nothing dishonorable, nothing deceptive, nothing feigned: whatever there is, is holy, voluntary, and true. And this itself is also a characteristic of charity. In this, truly, friendship shines forth with a special right of its own, that among those who are bound by the tie of friendship, all joys, all security, all sweetness, [and] all charms are experienced. Therefore in the perfection of charity we love [the] very many who are a source of burden and grief to us, for whose interest we concern ourselves [with them] honorably, not with hypocrisy or dissimulation, but sincerely and voluntarily, but yet we do not admit these to the intimacy of our friendship. And so in friendship are joined honor and charm, truth and joy, sweetness and goodwill, affection and action. And all these take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.” See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.18-20, p.61.

[22] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.20, p.35.

[23] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.24, p.35. Aelred explains that a friendship contains four elements: love, affection, security, and happiness: “love implies the rendering of services with benevolence, affection, an inward pleasure that manifests itself exteriorly; security, a revelation of all counsels and confidences without fear and suspicion; happiness, a pleasing and friendly sharing of all events which occur, whether joyful or sad, of all thoughts, whether harmful or useful, of everything taught and learned.” cf. III.51, p.96.

[24] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.45, 35, pp.41, 40.

[25] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.35, 45, pp.40, 41; II.62-64, p.72.

[26] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.45, 48-49, p.41; II.59, 62, pp.71, 72.

[27] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, I.65-66,70 p.47. Aelred mentions a conjugal chastity as on par with a virgin in terms of their excellence towards virtue.

[28] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.5, p.56; II.24, p.62.

[29] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.9-14, pp.46.

[30] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.12-14, p.60.

[31] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.24-27, pp.62-63.

[32] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.18, p.61.

[33] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.27, p.63.

[34] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.33, p.66; II.67-69, p.73-74.

[35] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.33, p.66. Aelred also explains, “Heaven forbid [that the “mutual harmony of evil and wickedness though they are willing to die for one another [be called] … friendship”], since friendship cannot exist among the wicked.” He continues, “as long as any one delights in an evil thing from a desire of evil, as long as sensuality is more gratifying than purity, indiscretion than moderation, flattery than correction,” these desires are “shameful and unworthy of the name of friendship wherein any foul is demanded of a friend.” Cf. II.35-37, p.66; and III.10, pp.84-85.

[36] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.28, p.65.

[37] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.43, p.67; III.32, p.91

[38] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.12, p.85.

[39] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, II.67, p.74.

[40] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.2, p.83.

[41] Billy on Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, 77.

[42] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.2, p.83.

[43] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.6, 48, pp.84, 96. He writes: “not all whom we love should be received into friendship, for not all are found worthy of it. For since your friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing, you should, in the first place, surely choose one who is considered fitted for all this. Then he is to be tried, and so finally admitted. For friendship should be stable and manifest a certain likeness to eternity, persevering always in affection.” Ibid. cf. II.10, pp.84-85.

[44] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.6-8, 55, p.84, 97.

[45] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.7, p.84.

[46] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.14, p.87.

[47] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, 20, pp.88.

[48] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.22, pp.88-89; III.73-74, p.103.

[49] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, p.88.

[50] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.20, pp.88.

[51] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.32, p.91.

[52] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.55-56, p.97.

[53] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.17, pp.88.

[54] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.14, p.87.

[55] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.23-25, pp.89.

[56] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.28-30, 55, pp. 90-91, 97.

[57] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.26, p.89-90.

[58] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.41-42, p.94.

[59] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.48, p.96.

[60] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.43-44, p.95.

[61] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.44, p.95.

[62] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.44, p.95.

[63] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.51, p.96.

[64] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.49-51, p.96. Aelred writes: “if nevertheless, you suffer all these evils from whom you once received into friendship, we said that your friendship should not be broken off immediately, but dissolved little by little, and that such reverence should be maintained for the former friendship, that although you withdraw your confidence from him, yet you never withdraw your love, refuse your aid, or deny him your advice. But if his frenzy breaks out even to blasphemies and calumny, do you, nevertheless, yield to the bonds of friendship, yield to charity, so that the blame will reside with him who inflicts, not with him who bears, the injury. Furthermore, if he is found to be a peril to his father, to his country, to his fellow-citizens, to his dependents or to his friends, the bond of familiarity ought to be broken immediately; love for one man should not take precedence over the ruin of many.” III.57, p.97.

[65] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.57, 46, pp.97, 95.

[66] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.49, p.96.

[67] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.66, p.101.

[68] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.80, 83, p.107, 108.

[69] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.61, p.100.

[70] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.79-80, p.106.

[71] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.75-76, p.103.

[72] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.62, p.100.

[73] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.63, 65, pp.100, 101. In poverty, one sees true friends, because there is no flattery or any hope for gain among the poor. See Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.71, p.102.

[74] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.69-70, pp.101-102.

[75] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.72, pp.102-103.

[76] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.74-75, p.103.

[77] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.66, p.101.

[78] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.88, p.110.

[79] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.89, p.111.

[80] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.90-91, 96-97, pp111, 113.

[81] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.92-94, 95, pp.111-112, 113.

[82] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.97-98, p.115.

[83] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.102, p.116.

[84] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.101, p.116.

[85] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.101-102, p.116.

[86] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.99-101, pp.115-116.

[87] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.103-104, 107, 109, pp.116-118.

[88] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.111-112, p.121.

[89] Aelred, Spiritual Friendship, III.115-127, p.122-126.

[90] McGuire, Friendship and Community, xi.

[91] James McEvoy, “The Theory of Friendship in the Latin Middle Ages: Hermeneutics, Contextualization, and the Transmission and Reception of Ancient Texts and Ideas, From c.AD350 to c.1500,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 11, cf. 1-44.

[92] Ferrante demonstrates how contemporary concepts of romanticized love have been read into medieval documents, thus wrongly interpreting medieval spiritualists’ concept of spiritual and true friendship into an earthly romantic and erotic understanding. Joan M. Ferrante, “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context: Religious Allusions in Courtly Love Texts” both in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints, edited by Susan J. Ridyard (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South Press, 1999), 27-44. Moreover, this Aristotelian notion of friendship-love and soul-mate has historically been interpreted incorrectly as romance only. See Alan Bloom, Love and Friendship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993); cf. A. W. Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[93] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Terence Irwin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1985), IX.8.1168b-7-11; 1158A.10-17; 1171A.10-11.

[94] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VIII and IX.

[95] Carmichael, Friendship, 71.

[96] David Garrioch, “From Christian Friendship to Secular Sentimentality: Enlightenment Re-Evaluations,” Friendship: A History, edited by Barbara Caine (London: Equinox, 2009), 175.

[97] Aelred, A Rule of Life for the Recluse (New York: Cistercian, 1971), 52; McGuire, “Jean Gerson and the End of Spiritual Friendship,” 238. Interestingly, unlike the male monastic orders’ reservations about male-male friendships, the later Beguine Orders do not forbid two female recluses from enjoying intimate-wholesome, non-sexual/sensual friendships.

[98] Richard Newhauser, ed., The Seven Deadly Sins: From Communities to Individuals. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions (Leiden: BRILL, 2007), 81 among others.

[99] Cassidy explains that although the concept has roots in Stoic notion of universality, later thinkers recover earlier Aristotelian notion of goodwill and benevolence in creating and sustaining friendship. See Eoin G. Cassidy, “‘He who has friends can have no friend’: Classical and Christian Perspectives on the Limits of Friendship,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 46, cf. 45-67.

[100] McGuire, Friendship and Community, ch. 2, pp.38-133; Ferrante’s two articles in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints (1999), 5-26, 27-44.

Some other exemplars in history include the classical characters of Archilles and Patrodus, the Anglo-Saxon deep longings for friendships between Bishop Boniface and Abbesses, like Egburg and Eangyth, the support between Clare and Francis of Assisi, the twelfth century recluse, Christina of Markyate and his chaste intimacy with her guardian, Abbot Geoffrey of St. Albans, the Dominican Jordan of Saxony’s ministry with a nun, Diana of Andalò of Bologne, the nineteenth century spiritual correspondences between Maurice and Therese, and the ‘seraphic friendship’ between Charles II maid of honor, Margaret Godolphin and the English diarist, John Evelyn. See Hans-Werner Goetz, Life in the Middle Ages from Seventh to the Thirteenth Century (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994); Hans-Werner Goetz, “‘Beatus Homo Qui Inventit Amicum’; The Concept of Friendship in Early Medieval Letters of the Anglo-Saxon Tradition on the Continent (Boniface, Alcuin),” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 124-136; Jon M. Sweeney, Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi (New York: Paraclete Press, 2007); The Life of Christina of Markyate, trans. C.H. Talbot, with revision notes by Samuel Fabous and Henrietta Leyser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Patrick Ahern, Maurie and Thérèse: The Story of a Love (New York: Doubleday, 1998); Frances Harris, Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Joan M. Ferrante’s two articles, “Earthly Love in a Spiritual Setting: The Language of Friendship among Religious” and “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context: Religious Allusions in Courtly Love Texts” both in Earthly Love, Spiritual Love, Love of the Saints, edited by Susan J. Ridyard (Sewanee, Tennessee: University of the South Press, 1999), 5-26, and 27-44.

In non-conventional relationships, we have examples in the same-sex male friendship of Michel de Montaigne and Etienne La Boëtie, and closer to our time, the American Trappist Thomas Merton’s letters with a Clairvaux monk Jean Leclercq? Michel de Montaigne, Selected Essays with La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. Trans. James B. Atkinson, and David Sices (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 2012); Survival or Prophecy: the Letters of Thomas Merton and Jean Leclercq, edited by Brother Patrick Hart (New York: Farrar, Straus and Ciroux, 2002).

[101] St. Jerome, The Pilgrimage of the Holy Paula. Trans. Aubrey Stewart. Elibron Classics (Adamant Media, 2007); John Lord, Beacon Lights of History vol. IV (Forgotten Books, 2012), 173-210.

[102] McGuire, Friendship and Community, 41, 60, 107-115.

[103] McGuire, Friendship and Community, 123. See also McGuire’s citation: Heinrich Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, trans. Peter Munz (New York: Harper, 1964), 101.

[104] Carmichael, Friendship, ch. 3, pp.70-100.

[105] Vernon, The Meaning of Friendship, 51. Vernon’s quote continues: “It happens when the similarities between the two loves are forced into too close proximity with the differences.” Richard Rolle (d.1349) remained optimistic about platonic friendship despite its challenges; see Rolle’s The Fire of Love (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 175, cited in Brian Patrick McGuire, “Jean Gerson and the End of Spiritual Friendship: Dilemmas of Conscience,” Friendship in Medieval Europe, edited by Julian Haseldine (New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 230; cf. 229-250.

[106] Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 129.

[107] Jules J. Toner, Commentary on Saint Ignatius Rules for Discernment of Spirits: A Guide to the Principles and Practice (Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982); idem, Discerning God’s Will: Ignatius of Loyola’s Teaching on Christian Decision Making (Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1991).

[108] McEvoy, 11, cf. 1-44.

[109] Ferrante, “Spiritual Love in an Earthly Context,” 44.

[110] In Paulinus of Nola’s case, Sulpicus Severus did not rekindle the spiritual bond after it dissipates. See McEvoy, “The Theory of Friendship in the Latin Middle Ages,” 12.

[111] John W. Crossin, Friendship: The Key to Spiritual Growth (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist, 1997).

[112] Matt 11:19; Lk 7:34; 94; Matt 26:50; Lk 21:16; Matt 20:13; Eph 1:4.

[113] McGuire, Friendship and Community, 94.

[114] Augustine, Confessions, IV.4.7.

[115] Augustine, Epistle 258.

Charlemagne’s Elephant, Monkey, and Mouse

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

by Alexander Y. Hwang

Via Flickr


I have two lovely daughters, Zoe is eight and Emma is four, and I read them bedtime stories every night. I’m trying to expose my girls to history, art, literature, and theology. Goodnight Moon and Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom are really beautifully written books, but I was getting a little tired and bored reading the same thing night after night after night. I experimented with more “educational” bedtime reading, including a book of prayers and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

They were spectacular failures and resulted in much loud protesting, especially by Emma. The Shorter Catechism was supposedly designed for children, but I wonder if children were different back then. I wouldn’t dare introduce them to the predestination controversy in the fifth and sixth centuries, my main research area.

Fortunately, I recalled the story of Charlemagne’s elephant from my friend, Brian Matz, who works on Carolingian theological texts. I did a little research into the elephant and began to tell them about the story at bedtime. At first, they were not very enthusiastic, but within a few nights, they were hooked. The problem is, I ran out of material, so I had to do more research and embellish the story a little.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Charlemagne’s elephant, it goes something like this: Among the most unusual and interesting gifts sent to Charlemagne (c.742-814) was an elephant. Moreover, this elephant was sent by Harun al-Rashid (763/6-809), the Caliph of Bagdad, and fifth ruler of the Abbasid caliphate (750-1258), which had replaced the Umayyad caliphate, except in Spain and the western half of North Africa. This caliph was immortalized in the Arabian Nights. The caliph was hoping to form an alliance with the Franks against the Byzantines, ruled by the Empress Irene, who had offered Charlemagne the gift of her son in marriage to one of his daughters.

Charlemagne accepted only the elephant. Remarkably, the elephant survived the journey from Baghdad to Aachen, and actually lived for nearly ten more years. And, yes, Charlemagne apparently rode it into battle—but who wouldn’t? The elephant, understandably, drew not a little attention from the northern Europeans, who had never actually seen an elephant. The elephant even made it into the Royal Frankish Annals (Annales regni Francorum) and several biographies of Charlemagne.

The RFA covers the period from 741 to 829 and is considered the most important source for reconstructing Charlemagne’s reign. According to the RFA, Charlemagne sent envoys to the East, including the court of Harun-al-Rashid. Isaac the Jew had been sent to Persia several years earlier and returned with the elephant and other gifts. The RFA called the elephant Abul Abaz and later mentioned the sudden death of the elephant, in 810, while accompanying Charles, who was waiting to battle the Frisians on the other side of the Rhine, at Lippeham.

The best known biography of Charlemagne was written by Einhard (c. 770-840). In this account, the caliph thought most highly of Charlemagne, and gave him the “only” elephant he had at that time, simply because Charlemagne asked for it. The elephant is not mentioned again in the biography—his death went unnoticed by Einhard.

The unknown author of the Life of Charles (written in 888 to 891), referred to as the Saxon Poet, is the only account that explicitly mentions the excitement that the elephant produced among the Franks. All the excitement must have faded a bit—there is no other mention of the elephant afterwards. The Saxon Poet was, however, much more fascinated with the huge tent that the caliph also sent.

Notker the Stammerer or sometimes known as the Monk of St. Gall (c. 840-912) provides some interesting details not found in any other sources. The Deeds of Emperor Charles the Great has no mention of Isaac the Jew, but includes an account of the Persian embassy, which had great difficulty reaching Aachen because of the negative reactions of the Europeans they encountered.

In addition to the elephant, which is not named, Notker added monkeys to the list of gifts from the caliph. Notker also mentioned gifts from the King of Africa: a North African lion and a Numidian bear. Charlemagne gave the caliph Spanish horses and “German” hunting dogs, the latter gift, according to Notker, really impressed the caliph. As great as these gifts were, they, including the elephant, are not mentioned again.

Biographies of Charlemagne’s descendants make no mention of the elephant at all. Thegan, Ermoldus, the Astronomer, and even Nithard, a grandson of Charlemagne, failed to include the elephant.

What I find so fascinating about this early medieval (cf. the middle ages as the“dark ages”) event is how it reveals the extent of the interconnectedness of these three powers—which were culturally, religiously, and ethnically different. Another remarkable aspect of the story is the light it sheds on one of the great world civilizations, the Abbasid caliphate, in particular, the rule of Harun al-Rashid, every bit as comparable, in truth and in legend as Charles, son of Pepin.

Now, where does the monkey and mouse fit into all of this? I kind of ran out of material. It is difficult to keep their attentions, so I started adding some creative details. The monkey was just pure luck—I found out about the monkeys (Notker) after I had already included a monkey in the bedtime story. I figured, why not a monkey? And I was right. The name of the monkey is Emma, who likes monkeys and often acts like one. The elephant I named Zoe. They met at the Baghdad Zoo. This idea came from our “research” trip to the local animal prison, the Louisville Zoo.

Most believe it was an Asian type of elephant (the African kind has larger tusks and huge flapping ears) that may have been white or albino, but I could make up the species of monkey. I concluded it was a Asian elephant, probably of the Indian Asian subspecies. Bagdad had much easier access to trained Asian elephants—places like India had a long tradition of employing Asian elephants in battle. The zoo had both kinds, equally strange and magnificent. There are a lot of different kinds of monkeys. I decided on the Gelada, a monkey/baboon, only found in the highlands of Ethiopia.

This is all part of my plan: I wanted the elephant to be Indian—introduce the girls to India and the great religious traditions and cultures of this land: Hinduism and Buddhism primarily. The monkey was Ethiopian—a great way to introduce the ancient African-Coptic Christian tradition. So, the elephant is a Hindu, the monkey is a Christian, the animal trainer/transporter a Muslim, and Isaac, Charlemagne’s legate, is a Jew. I thought it was great way to introduce them to the rich cultural context.

So, the bedtime stories are based on an aspect from the “real story.” The elephant from India—cf. Ganesh. The monkey was made up, but it had to come from somewhere, and what better way to remind my girls of the universal spread of Christianity, both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Churches. Yeah, it didn’t go over too well with the girls—they just wanted to hear about the elephant and the monkey.

Thus far we have covered their meeting (two orphans living adjoining cages at the Baghdad Zoo) and their journey from Bagdad to North Africa and then to Italy and then Aachen. I had Isaac disguise the elephant as a big wagon so they could sneak past the Byzantines. The monkey rode on the elephant the rest of the way. There were adventures in the desert, on the ships they had to travel on, the hike over the Alps, and living in Aachen.

The elephant and the monkey were met by a church mouse in the large stable that housed them. His name was Alcuin, and he wore wire rimmed glasses, was tonsured and had a tiny monk’s habit—he was a church mouse, after all. The mouse tells them about Aachen and the Franks, and Charlemagne. They talk theology and other more important things like finding bananas—the monkey was dreaming of bananas since leaving Baghdad. They go skiing in the winter time, swim with Charlemagne in the river in the summer, and unwind in Aachen’s natural hot springs. They did not like going to war with Charlemagne, who insisted on taking the elephant to battle, when the elephant was obviously a pacifist. There was an incident when a fire broke out in the palace and the elephant and the monkey came to the rescue—and the idea of the fire hose was born.

I plan on continuing my research on this extraordinary event. Any help, either with the bedtime story or the scholarship would be greatly appreciated.

Further reading:

A great place to begin is The Medieval Charlemagne Legend: An Annotated Bibliography by Susan E. Farrier (Garland Medieval Bibliographies series, 1993). The section, “Relations with Moslems,” contains a good number that re-re-reexamines Pirenne’s thesis.

Jeff Sypeck’s Becoming Charlemagne (HarperCollins, 2006) is one of the few modern biographies that explores the elephant, and includes notes on recent work on the elephant, including two children’s novels about the elephant. Sypeck notes that Isaac is missing from these accounts.

The internet has a few interesting articles on the elephant:

Jon Mandaville, “An Elephant for Charlemagne,” provides a general overview of the gift.

Kristin Zeier, “Baghdad, Jerusalem, Aachen—On the Trail of the White Elephant,” is a news story that covers reports on the “Ex oriente: Isaac and the White Elephant” exhibition in Aachen, in 2003.

Richard Hodges, “Charlemagne’s Elephant,” History Today 50, no. 12 (Dec. 2000): 21-27, places the elephant in the context of long distance trade.

Alexander Hwang is a visiting professor at Brescia University.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Religious Tourism (or Lack Thereof) in Norwich and King’s Lynn, England

Friday, July 27th, 2012

by Donna Ray

Being a fan of the medieval visionary writers Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, and assuming that many others across the globe shared my fandom, I expected at least a minor crush of tourists when I recently visited these women’s hometowns of Norwich and King’s Lynn, England. I was disappointed but not surprised to find no mention of either Julian or Margery in the official tourist literature for East Anglia despite their renown in religious and scholarly circles. Emphasis in promotional brochures was rather predictably placed on shopping, nightlife, restaurants, “family fun,” and local football.

It’s hard for long-dead religious figures to compete, however deserving: Julian (ca. 1342-ca. 1416) wrote the Revelations of Divine Love, a hopeful meditation on the tender love of God and the first known book by a woman in English. The Book of Margery Kempe, published in 1436, has less spiritual heft than Julian’s book—its protagonist being more boisterous and less stable, in every sense of the word—but is nonetheless full of theological and cultural interest and arguably the first autobiography written in English.

Norwich was up first on my trip: Only brief notice appears in a city-sponsored brochure of “numerous medieval churches” (there are, in fact, thirty-one). This paucity of boosterism, in addition to the fact that St. Julian’s Church and the Julian Centre are off the beaten path and in a rather seedy part of town, might explain why I was the only visitor there in late June.

I received a very gracious welcome, however, from the two women running the Centre (library, gift shop, and adjoining guest house), who reasoned that the recession also had something to do with the downturn in visitors; although, on a good day, they might have half a dozen. The church itself, now part of the Anglican Diocese of Norwich, is small and cozy, formally outfitted for Anglo-Catholic mass held there on Mondays and Fridays and solemn evensong on the first Sunday of each month. But the church primarily functions as a shrine to Julian, an anchoress whose small cell was attached to the south end, near the altar. An annual Julian festival and lecture are held on the grounds each May.


The south side of St. Julian’s Church, Norwich (the reconstructed anchorhold at center)


St. Julian’s Church is not far from the River Wensum, which runs through Norwich. The church can be accessed by foot by crossing the new Lady Julian Bridge (opened in 2009 and named at the behest of local Anglican nuns) over the river from a commercial district. From the quieter and older King Street on the other side, where sits a medieval trading hall, a new sign points the visitor to St. Julian’s Alley, which leads to the church.

The church and Julian Centre can also be reached by car along Rouen Road, lined with government housing, car shops, and graffiti-covered walls, just south of the city’s red-light district. Another Anglican church two blocks away serves as a drop-in counseling center for area prostitutes. Some beer cans and empty cigarette packs littered the otherwise lovely and steadfastly maintained churchyard, watched over by the Friends of Julian of Norwich and a stray white cat.


The Lady Julian Bridge, crossing the River Wensum



The neighborhood around St. Julian’s Church (not visible here, but across the street from the medieval trading hall and center)


Julian settled into her cell in 1373, at age 31, and remained there for the rest of her life. Here she led a life of prayer and devotion; wrote her Revelations, or >em>Showings; and counseled visitors who came to the south window of her cell. Another opening on the north side of the cell, toward the altar, was her window to the Blessed Sacrament; and a third allowed communication with a servant.

The original church building may have been erected in the tenth century; but the anchorhold was pulled down after the Reformation. The church was bombed and severely damaged in World War II, but it was rebuilt afterwards, including a new replica of the anchorhold based on the ancient footprint. The cell is now, however, a small carpeted chapel, so one has to mentally strip away the modern accoutrements to imagine what the space looked like when Julian lived there.


Julian’s cell as it looks now


Among the other medieval buildings of note in Norwich are the imposing Norman cathedral and castle, some distance from St. Julian’s Church but no doubt visible from it in Julian’s day. Less imposing, but important as a religious landmark, is the timber-framed Briton’s Arms, now a restaurant but once a beguinage for a small community of semi-religious women—the only surviving medieval beguinage in England, built probably in the first half of the fifteenth century. The Carmelite solitary and scholar Elizabeth Obbard is reportedly writing a book on Julian’s connection to the beguinage, possibly as a resident there before she became an anchoress. Some scholars also speculate, given Julian’s maternal sensibility, that she may have been a wife and mother before she became an anchoress. There is no evidence that she was ever a nun.


The Briton’s Arms: once a medieval beguinage, now a restaurant


Whatever the case, we know that fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Norwich was a tumultuous place: the Black Death struck there at least three times during Julian’s lifetime and wiped out half of the city’s population, perhaps including (although this is entirely speculative) Julian’s own family members. Norwich also felt the effects of the Hundred Years’ War, the Peasant Uprising of 1381, ongoing theological strife (a pit for burning Lollards stood not far from St. Julian’s Church), and papal schism. Julian’s presence must have been an eye in the storm, her cell a place of reassurance and stability. The mission of the church hasn’t changed; in its brochure, the Julian Centre says that it aims “to be a place of quietness and prayer in the midst of a busy city.” One hopes the new bridge and signage will help them fulfill that mission.



Next up on my trip was a train ride to King’s Lynn, 44 miles to the west of Norwich, on the River Ouse. Here the medieval historical sites are somewhat more front-and-center, as the town is smaller and the monuments thus loom larger. The city tourism center also offers a “pilgrimage trail” map for those wishing to see the medieval sites. On these two rainy days in early July, however, my husband and I were the only pilgrims in sight.

No one knows exactly where in the city Margery Kempe (ca. 1373-1440) lived, but her home was likely not far from the river in the market district where the well-established, wealthier families lived. (Her father was the mayor, her husband a merchant.) As in Norwich, King’s Lynn—called Bishop’s Lynn in Margery’s day, or just Lynn—is crammed with old churches and the ruins of medieval religious communities, some of them repurposed for modern non-religious use.

In contrast to Julian, Margery gave a lot of attention to physical space and movement, with vivid accounts of the many cities to which she traveled in Europe and the Holy Land. The place that features most prominently in Margery’s biographical account, however, is her home church in Lynn: St. Margaret’s, founded in 1101 and still an active (Anglican) parish church now formally named King’s Lynn Minster.

St. Margaret’s, in contrast to St. Julian’s Church, is enormous—the architectural centerpiece of the town as well as the spiritual centerpiece of Margery’s lively and sometimes tortured spiritual narrative. Margery spent hours praying there, receiving visitations and instructions from Christ, engaging in pastoral tasks, shedding her signature tears, sometimes receiving support but often noisily irritating the people around her. By her own account, she saved the church from fire by her intercessions, which were followed by a timely snowstorm. Another time, she was allegedly hit by a heavy beam that fell from the ceiling of the church, and yet was miraculously unharmed.


St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn



Interior of St. Margaret’s Church


The narratives of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe come together briefly in Margery’s Book (1:18). During a visit to Norwich around 1413, Margery visited the cell of the renowned anchoress, who for three days gave her much needed reassurance, encouraging confidence in God and fearlessness in trouble. Margery in fact made more than one trip to Norwich, crossing the boggy expanse of Norfolk to receive the counsel of those celebrated for their piety, seeking as she did always and everywhere both peace and vindication.


Via Brother Leon of Walsingham, at St. Michael and All Angels, Brighton

Contemporary icon of the meeting between Julian of Norwich (left) and Margery Kempe


Nothing beats religious tourism for the church historian. Seeing a place, rather than just reading about it, gives a sense of scale and proximity and provides a total sensory environment. Despite the centuries of change, and sometimes neglect, that overlay historical sites, there is no better way than an on-site visit to absorb the spirit of the place and the people who lived there. In Norwich and King’s Lynn, as in so many historical religious sites, one can still perceive the spiritual liveliness and perseverance of the inhabitants.

Even in the faded and damaged places, one can get an immediate whiff of the long-term narrative and appreciate the vacillating fortunes and failures of religious institutions and people, even to the present day. For anyone who seeks them out, these places still convey a comforting sense of stability amidst chaos, whatever it may be.


Donna Ray is a lecturer in History and Religious Studies at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

The Re-Ordination of Presbyters in the Restoration Church of England

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Jonathan Warren

The ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration Church of England in 1660 produced a crisis of conscience for many of the Puritan or “godly” (as they referred to themselves) ministers who had been ordained in Presbyterian fashion (that is, who were ordained by laying on of hands by presbyters rather than by a bishop) during the Interregnum (1649-1660). A number of these ministers had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, requiring them to “endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy…superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness,” and they felt themselves bound by conscience to oppose rule by Bishops.

However, a number of ministers had never been bound by the oath, and others who had taken the oath found faults within it that excused them from obedience to it. Among these godly ministers who were Presbyterially ordained but amenable to episcopal oversight, a principal (though not the only) remaining reservation concerned the requirement imposed by the Restoration bishops of episcopal ordination or re-ordination.1 Presbyterians believed that the New Testament made no distinction between the office of presbyter and bishop, such that the ministerial power of both was identical, but many acknowledged that there could be degrees of eminence among presbyters, such that one presbyter might rule over the rest, though not in opposition to the rest.2

Those Presbyterians who allowed such a distinction often tended to distinguish between “apostolical” and “apostatical” bishops, or between episcopus praeses (presiding bishop) and episcopus princeps (ruling bishop),3 or – as we might more simply put it – “good” and “bad” bishops. They argued that Reformed Anglican bishops like Edmund Grindal, George Abbott, and James Ussher, who were opposed to grasping and lordly “prelacy” could serve as exemplars for bishops in the Restoration era.4

James Ussher (1581–1656)Wikimedia Commons

Ussher was especially reverenced among these Presbyterians, as he proposed a “primitive” or “reduced” episcopacy “balanced and managed with a due commixtion of presbyters therewith,” rather than prelatical or “popish” bishops who arrogated power to themselves. Ussher’s scheme approximated what many Presbyterians saw as the pattern in the New Testament and early church.5

Many of the Restoration bishops, however, were of what we might anachronistically refer to as a “high church” persuasion (contemporaries thought of them as “Laudians,” so named after the Catholicizing Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who was a plague to Puritans in the 1630s and was executed in 1645). They saw the office of bishop as part of the apostolic deposit and so necessary to the structure of any legitimate church.6 For these bishops, the right of ordination belonged solely to the bishop, such that presbyterial ordination was per se unlawful and null.

John Gauden (1605-1662)Wikimedia Commons

Among this group of Laudians, which included Brian Duppa, Matthew Wren, John Cosin, William Lucy, and Gilbert Sheldon, among others, there was a resolute insistence that episcopal ordination was not “re-ordination,” but first ordination, because the ordination by presbyters was invalid.7 These bishops, of course, were not the natural conversation partners for the godly, but there were other conciliatory bishops such as Edward Reynolds, John Gauden, and Thomas Sydserff (despite his earlier Laudian convictions, for which he was deposed in 1638), who ultimately insisted upon episcopal ordination, but were willing to allow compromise formulas that attempted to preserve the conscience of Presbyterians. A.G. Matthews notes that Sydserff, the Bishop of Orkney, “required of candidates for ordination no more than a general promise that they would not contravene the discipline of the church.”8

Another formula that was discussed phrased the ordination conditionally: “In a Conference (as I have heard between the Presbyterian and present Bishops, it was proposed for an Accomodation in this case, that an Hypothetical forme might be used, Si non ordinatus sit, &c.9 It was also proposed among at least some of the godly that, regardless of what the Bishop thought, ordination might be thought of as external confirmation or acknowledgement of an internal call by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a kind of licensing to practice one’s calling as a minister.10

As a result of these discussions, at least 420 of the clergy ultimately ejected in 1662 were persuaded to be episcopally ordained in the early years of the Restoration.11 It was thus the engagement with these conciliatory bishops that produced difficult soul-searching among the godly.

John Humfrey, who we have already mentioned, was a divine who received episcopal ordination. Humfrey was persuaded by John Piers, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to accept re-ordination, which Humfrey defended in print and for which he received sustained criticism from among the godly. Humfrey argued that reordination could be conceived of as public recognition or licensing of ordination already received, and so merely a solemnization of ordination already received, akin to being married in a church after being married only civilly before.

Richard Alleine, writing anonymously, pointed out that no bishop saw the matter this way. “Let Mr. Humfrey but procure us to be ordained in such a way, as shall only license us to exercise that Ministerial Authority we already have…and then he need not doubt, but we shall most readily and thankfully accept of it.”12 The anonymous I.R. added that the fact that no bishop agreed with Humfrey’s interpretation made his distinction impossible to sustain.13

Humfrey protested that if the bishop allowed the presbyter to voice his understanding that his first ordination was not nullified by episcopal ordination, then the bishop’s intention in the matter was not an issue.14 Humfrey confessed, however, that although he was initially convinced of this argument, he later came to feel uneasy about it: “I confess I did not doubt in the least when I did this, but that my former Ordination was valid, and in the taking this new upon me, I find it is like a double garment put on for the fashion, and experiencedly proves uneasie to be worn.”15

The excruciating difficulty that many of the godly felt in this matter is visible in the fact that Humfrey eventually found he could not live with himself and recanted his re-ordination and was ejected from his living at Frome Selwood in August 1662 following the Act of Uniformity.16 A majority of the godly concluded, moreover, in contrast to Humfrey’s initial decision, that re-ordination meant renunciation of their previous ordination, which would in effect “unchurch” the Reformed churches of Europe, which accepted and practiced Presbyterial ordination. Giles Firmin, for instance, explained that

if it comes to this, that I must renounce my Presbyterial Ordination and be ordained by a Bishop, or I must be silenced, I shall desire grace from the Lord, and resolve to lay down my Ministry, before I will my Ordination: for in being re-ordained by Bishops…I must plainly condemn all Ministers of other Churches, who are ordained only by Presbyters: how abominable is this? To null all other Ministers that have not Episcopal ordination.17

The matter of re-ordination was thus a serious case of conscience for the godly in the early Restoration. By no means were all of them resolutely opposed to government by bishops, and indeed many of them were willing to accept episcopal ordination if bishops were amenable to the terms on which the godly could accept it. It was the constriction of an initially “liberal” position open to the godly at the outset of the Restoration that led to the ejection of so many of the godly after the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

Jonathan Warren is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University. He holds a B.A. from Wake Forest, a J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law, and an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His dissertation is on the life and writings of Giles Firmin, a seventeenth century Puritan and Dissenter.



[1] See Robert Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 151-3; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), 230-2. John Spurr has argued that there may have been as many as 2000 Presbyterians who, given certain allowances, would have accepted Episcopal oversight. English Puritanism, 1603-1689 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1998), 130.

[2] The parity between bishops and presbyters was a claim that animated, among other tracts, the reprint of William Prynne’s 1636 The Unbishoping of Timothy and Titus (1661). The scheme of “reduced episcopacy” was advocated by the party of the “Reconcilers,” as Richard Baxter called them. See, e.g. R. Thomas, “The Rise of the Reconcilers,” in The English Presbyterians, eds. C.G. Bolam et al. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 46-72.

[3] Giles Firmin, Questions between the Conformist and Non-Conformist (1681), 103-4.

[4] See, e.g. James Ussher, The Reduction of Episcopacie (London, 1656); I.R., A Peaceable Enquiry into that Novel Controversie about Reordination (London, 1661), 5; Giles Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated (1660), 3. Paul Lim, in discussing Richard Baxter, has shown that the godly also used a confessionalized hermeneutic for church history to substantiate this claim: “just as [Baxter] would bifurcate the Anglican bishops between the Grindal and Abbot type in one camp and the Laudians on the other, he did the same with the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries, lest he tarnish all bishops with the same brush. So Baxter extolled “Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssen, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hillary, Prosper, Fulgentius, &c.” who made a mental inward separation “from the Councils and Communion of the prevailing turbulent sort of the Prelates, to signifie their disowning of their sins.” Here in Baxter’s description, moderate Puritans of his own type found their forebears in the Cappadocians and Augustine. Thus, with the bishops of Cappadocian and Augustinian sensibilities, true piety flourished. Conversely, with the avaricious bishops only in name, “hereticating was in fashion.” Paul Lim, Mystery Unveiled (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250.

[5] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, 232ff.

[6] See, e.g. Jeremy Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 15 vols. (London, 1839), vii.77-91, 113-116, 232-235.

[6] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[7] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[8] A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), lxi.

[9] John Humfrey, A Second Discourse about Reordination (London, 1662), 25; Ian Green, The Re-Establishment of the Church of England 1660-1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130-1, 150-1.

[10] John Humfrey, The Question of Re-Ordination (London, 1661), 81-2.

[11] Matthews, Calamy Revised, lxi.

[12] Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou, 66.

[13] I.R., Peaceable Enquiry, 17-19.

[14] Humfrey, Question of Reordination, 52-55.

[15] Humfrey, Second Discourse, 96.

[16] See the entry on Humfrey by E. Vernon in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated, 29; For a comparable conclusion, see Zachary Crofton, A Serious Review of Presbyters Reordination by Bishops (n.d.), 6, cf. 11, 15, 21, 27, 29, 38 and I.R., Peaceable Inquiry, 146. Although couched with exceptions, Richard Baxter also agreed that “re-ordination morally and properly so called, is unlawful: for…it is (or implieth) a lie, viz. that we were not truly dedicated and separated to this office before.” Baxter, A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (London, 1838), i.642.

Running With Saint Columbanus

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

by Marvin Lindsay


St. Columbanus Window of the crypt of the Abbey of Bobbio. Via Wikipedia.Christian monks fancied themselves “athletes for Christ.” If so, the Irish pilgrim Columbanus was a monastic Bobby Knight, a demanding, fearsome coach of the ascetic lifestyle.

How demanding was he? Columbanus’s Rule maximized manual labor and minimized food and sleep. The Irish pilgrim permitted his monks but one meal a day, in the evening. On winter weekends, Columbanus required his charges pull back-to-back all-nighters: chant half the psalter on Saturday night and the other half on Sunday. Given that Columbanian-inspired literature assigns penances for nodding off during the divine office and for squirreling away food, it appears as though the Rule induced sleep deprivation and eating disorders in some of its adherents. Indeed, Columbanus’s Rule is a feedback loop. It produces physical symptoms that are dealt with by ratcheting up the very pressures that produced the symptoms to begin with.

“Why did they live like this?” we ask ourselves.

Like your middle school PE teacher, Columbanus lived by the maxim, “No pain; no gain.” If the rewards of the next life are “an unbearable weight of glory beyond all measure,” then such a reward would require a commensurate weight of sorrow in the present life. In addition, Columbanus regarded the human body on a good day as “full of bile, rheum, fluid, blood, and phlegm” (Sermon VII). Why indulge the loathsome flesh’s insatiable demands for food, sex and sleep?

When I run, I bring Columbanus with me. Marathon training is the closest I come to the disciplined and physically demanding lifestyle of the ancient “athletes of Christ.” Working up to last November’s race day distance of 26.2 miles (10 miles farther than the average American work commute) required me to complete innumerable eight to 12 mile runs in Richmond, Virginia’s oppressive summer heat. Those runs left me gasping for air, on the edge of dizziness and nausea, a little too keyed up to fall asleep and feeling exhausted upon waking. Halfway into my training program I was receiving PT for a strained piriformis muscle (a literal pain in the butt). The best treatment is rest, but the training program feedback loop cried for more mileage. I gave up my Sunday run anyway. I also ditched the half-marathon scheduled for the morning that Hurricane Irene’s outer bands were lashing central Virginia, much to the chagrin of my inner Columbanus. He harangued me for my lack of fidelity to the training rule and my pitiful excuses.

When he wasn’t haranguing me, Columbanus was asking me the same question that I asked him: Why are you doing this, Marvin? To stay a step ahead of the Reaper? To show up at your next reunion looking a tad fitter than most middle aged men? Columbanus just shook his head at how my bodily discipline was entwining me in the flesh rather than emancipating me from it.

I’m OK with that. I understand but do not subscribe to the ascetic mindset that sees body and spirit pitted against each other in a zero-sum game.

Besides, there’s more to running than pride and vanity. Around the 14 mile mark I experience what some people call flow. In the rhythm of pounding the pavement and the gentle up and down motion of the pack, you’re no longer running a race. You are the race. An ebullient spirit wells up and overflows.

Flow, or any other uncanny, athletic experience is not necessarily a religious experience, as Nick J. Watson points out in his essay “Nature and Transcendence: The mystical and sublime in extreme sports.” Watson calls the reader’s attention to Eckart’s warning that there is nothing spiritual about seeking a spiritual experience as an end to itself apart from efforts to purify the soul of vice. I view my running schedule as a metaphor for other, more important and purgative commitments in my life: persistence in prayer, persistence in my graduate studies, faithfulness to spouse, children and friends.

Did Columbanus experience flow? The concept of flow seems to be more congenial to Eckart’s unitive brand of mysticism than Columbanus’s world-denying asceticism. Columbanus preaches a God who is immense and incomprehensible, “wholly other” to use a 20th century term, too “big” to unite with. But maybe there is something like flow in the hagiographical accounts of Columbanus taming bears in the wilderness of the Vosges. Columbanus’s disciples remembered him as someone whose self-discipline extinguished the inner flames of vice and restored a fallen creation to its Edenic state in which an ebullient spirit united all living creatures. Perhaps that’s the standard by which to judge any discipline we would submit ourselves to: does it reconcile us to God, the world and ourselves?

Marvin Lindsay is a Ph.D. student in the History of Christianity at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.

John Knox and His Role in the English Reformation

Friday, May 11th, 2012

by Roberta Shepherd


© Copyright Gwen and James Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Via Geograph

Presbyterians are typically aware that John Knox was a leading figure in the Reformation in Scotland. He was also involved in the effort to establish the Reformation in England. Knox was born around 1514, and raised in Haddington, Scotland. Educated as a Roman Catholic priest, he did not join a priestly order but worked as a notary and as a tutor to the sons of Scottish nobles.

The Scottish government supported the Roman Catholic Church as the only true religion and allowed them to burn Protestants at the stake as heretics. During the 1540’s Knox became a Protestant, and in fear of being arrested and executed, he joined other Protestants who were seeking refuge from the Scottish government in St. Andrews’ Castle in April 1547. While at St. Andrew’s, Knox received his call to preach, and his sermons vigorously defended the Reformed faith. In August 1548 the Castle fell to the French allies of Scotland, and the inhabitants became prisoners of war. Some were imprisoned in castles in France; Knox and a few others were consigned to French galleys as slaves. After nineteen months, and extensive negotiations between the Duke of Somerset in England and the French King, some of the prisoners were released, including Knox.

In Scotland the people embraced Protestantism and opposed the government imposition of religion. In contrast, in England the people believed the King had the right to establish the religious doctrine for the country and appoint the clergy. Preachers were licensed by the King to preach. The advisors to Edward VI, who was a minor, had begun to implement Protestant reforms and they needed strong preachers to support the new doctrine.

In the spring of 1549, the English and Scots were fighting each other along the Scottish border, and Knox believed he was still in danger of arrest and execution by the Roman Catholics in Scotland for his Reformed views. Knox was offered, and accepted, a position as a preacher in Berwick-on-Tweed, an English military post three miles from the Scottish border, located in the diocese of Durham. Although the first Book of Common Prayer (“common” meant public) had been published and by law was to replace the Mass, the Bishop of Durham continued to support the celebration of the Mass. Knox was the first in the diocese to preach Reformed doctrine, and he won many converts.

Reformed preachers brought a very different experience to worship from the Roman Catholic priests. Priests gave short homilies since the primary focus of the service was celebration of the Mass. In contrast, Reformation preachers, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Heinrich Bullinger, and Ulrich Zwingli, typically preached on Scripture for two or three hours at a time, sometimes several times each week. Knox preached from both the Old and New Testaments, first reading the passage, then explaining it. His preaching, which he maintained was inspired by the Holy Spirit, influenced many to convert to Reformed beliefs. Knox looked to 2 Timothy 4:2 as his guide: “Preach thou the word, be fervent, be it in season or out of season: Improve, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”

He later preached in Newcastle-on-Tyne, the seat of the diocese, as well as Berwick. His preaching is believed to have attracted Reformed Scots across the border to move to Berwick and Newcastle. During 1552 Knox was appointed as one of six Royal Chaplains to Edward VI. His role was to travel and preach. The Royal Chaplains also preached at court to the King and Council.

In the autumn of 1552, the second Book of Common Prayer was being prepared to address the shortcomings of the first edition. This contained a new instruction that the communicant was required to kneel while receiving the bread and wine. The Reformed preachers were concerned that this would encourage the communicant to worship the elements instead of Jesus. Knox rode to London with the Duke of Northumberland in October.

© Copyright kim traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Via Geograph

A few days before the Book of Common Prayer was to go to press, Knox preached a sermon to the King and Council at Windsor Castle against the new requirement to kneel during communion, preferring to sit at a table as the disciples did in the Gospels. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer defended the practice of kneeling, but the Council appeared to have been swayed by Knox’s reasoning. When the Book of Common Prayer went to press, it contained the “black rubric” that kneeling was an act of respect and did not constitute worship of the elements. A rubric was an instruction, and was normally printed with red ink. In this case, the printer was out of red ink and so printed it in black. Jasper Ridley wrote in his biography of Knox that “The black rubric would never have been issued if it had not been for Knox’s sermon at Windsor.”

That same autumn Knox also preached against one of the articles of the Forty-two Articles of Religion which declared the ceremonies in the Book of Common Prayer to be consistent with Scripture. Although several of the preachers collaborated in writing the sermon, it was Knox who delivered it before the King and Council. His objection was primarily the requirement to kneel for communion. This article was modified to state that the doctrine of the Book was consistent with Scripture. Ridley considered Knox to have been one of the leaders of the Reformed preachers in England (John Knox 126-128).

The Duke of Northumberland, a Regent for Edward VI, was displeased with the immigration of Scottish Protestants to Berwick and Newcastle to hear Knox preach. Knox was offered the post of Bishop of Rochester, and a position as Vicar at All Hallows Church in London, both of which he refused, arguing that he would better serve the church elsewhere. He was concerned that these posts would corrupt him, and he wanted to return to Berwick and Newcastle where he had close friends and a fiancée. However, he was assigned to Amersham in Buckinghamshire that spring, which was near London.

As discussed above, as a Scotsman he was not limited by the English worldview that the monarch had the right to establish the religion of the people. He was aware of two things in spring of 1553: Edward’s half sister Mary was still being allowed to celebrate Mass, and Edward was terminally ill with tuberculosis. He predicted that the Roman Catholics would again take control of England and persecute the Protestants. In the summer of 1553 Edward VI died and Mary I ascended the throne. She reinstated the Roman Catholic religion and began to arrest the Reformed preachers and bishops. Knox continued to travel and preach until the early fall, at which time he went into hiding and eventually fled to the Continent in January 1554.

While on the Continent, Knox accepted a call to preach to English exiles in Frankfurt. He participated with William Whittingham, Christopher Goodman, and others in drawing up an order of service known as the Book of Common Order as a substitute for the Book of Common Prayer. Due to political machinations by an English preacher, Dr. Cox, who preferred the Book of Common Prayer, Knox lost his post and moved to Geneva. Part of the congregation in Frankfurt followed him to Geneva and they formed a new church. John Calvin approved the Book of Common Order and its format was used by the Presbyterians in England and the Reformed Church in Scotland.

Peter Lorimer wrote that the manner in which Knox celebrated the Lord’s Supper was influential in the Puritan religion in England later that century. When Mary I died, her half-sister, Elizabeth I, reinstated Protestantism. During her reign Knox’s approach to worship spread in the northern borders of England. Goodman, Whittingham, and others of Knox’s colleagues on the Continent returned to England and formed the Puritan church. Knox returned permanently to Scotland in 1560 and was involved in the establishment of the Reformed Church in that country.

Scripture and the State During the English Reformation

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by André A. Gazal


Elizabeth I on the frontispiece of the Bishops’ Bible (1659)

The foundational belief of the evangelical Reformers in the sixteenth century was sola Scriptura, the principle that Scripture was the ultimate authority in determining Christian doctrine. This is not to say that they (the Anabaptists notwithstanding) discounted the interpretive function of earlier Christian tradition. Even a cursory reading of works by Martin Luther (1483-1546), Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), and John Calvin (1509-64), as well as many other Reformers, would show that they frequently cited patristic authors, especially St. Augustine (354-430), as authoritative support for their particular interpretations of various biblical texts. Rather, the Reformers asserted the supremacy of Scripture to the writings of Church Fathers and the pronouncements of general councils in establishing articles of faith, with the Church Fathers acting as helpful interpreters.

While the Reformers typically contended for Scripture as the sole basis for doctrines touching salvation such as justification, other thinkers in the sixteenth century, some of whom agreed with the Reformer’s soteriology, while others did not, argued that the same Scriptures gave divine instruction for the state and its institutions. One such place where direct appeal to Scripture was made to validate some newly acquired prerogatives by the state was Tudor England.

The account of Henry VIII’s (r. 1509-47) relentless pursuit of an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon is well known. When the controversy reached the point at which the pope summoned Henry to Rome with regards to the case, the issue came to involve more than the divorce. It now evolved into a dispute concerning the king’s authority in his own realm. At this juncture Henry’s government and apologists employed an array of means to defend the position that there was no authority superior to the king’s in his domain. One of the definitive pieces of legislation, which both facilitated the divorce and laid the basis for the eventual severance of England from Roman obedience, The Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533), averred as the grounds of the finality of royal authority “that this realm of England is an empire,” meaning the king’s power in his own realm is essentially imperial, or that it derived from that of the Roman emperors.

A year later, Parliament passed, at the urging of Henry and his government, the Act of Supremacy, which separated the Church in England from the jurisdiction of Roman see, declaring the king “Supreme Head of the Church in England.” In declaring the monarch “Supreme Head,” the Act gave him “full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may be lawfully reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, restrained, or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God….” By legislative fiat, ecclesiastical jurisdiction became a central feature of royal authority.

King Henry VIII on the frontispiece to the Great Bible (1799)


While royal supremacy became the law of the realm by act of Parliament, its authority did not rest on statute alone. Apologists for the regime presented this distinctive feature of the English national church as a doctrine deriving from Scripture as the Word of God. This required using Scripture in a particular way. These Tudor apologists, most of whom were trained theologians, regarded the historical books of the Old Testament (Joshua through Nehemiah) as normative and therefore prescriptive.

In other words, the historical narratives of the Old Testament, which specifically record the actions of Israelite kings such as David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah with regard to religious matters, showed that monarchs should exercise authority over church matters. Having established royal supremacy as a biblical doctrine in this way, the apologists would then cite the Church Fathers, civil and canon law as well as various ecclesiastical histories to confirm their interpretation and application of Scripture.

Two principal works which defend royal supremacy primarily as a biblical doctrine by employing this interpretive approach were The True Difference Between Ye Regal and Ecclesiastical Power (1534) by Edward Foxe (1496-1538), and Stephen Gardiner’s On True Obedience (1535). At this point, it is interesting to note that Foxe was an evangelical of a Lutheran persuasion while Gardiner was a traditional Catholic (who later repudiated his position on royal supremacy), which shows that during the Henrician period, royal supremacy was a doctrine promoted in England by theologians of both confessions, even though they disagreed strongly on other doctrines, like justification.

During the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI (r.1547-53), royal supremacy functioned as a biblical doctrine which served the purpose of evangelical church reform. Towards this end, evangelical proponents of royal supremacy utilized the same interpretive scheme, especially emphasizing the initiatives taken by Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah to eradicate idolatry as constituting divine, biblical mandate for the young king of England to advance aggressively the cause evangelical religion throughout the realm. A representative example of this evangelical appropriation of the doctrine of royal supremacy is the speech given by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) at Edward’s coronation. This same use of the biblical doctrine of royal supremacy is also present in the sermons of Hugh Latimer (1487-1555), who was one of the young Edward’s favorite preachers.

After the reign of Mary Tudor (r. 1553-58), who had the Act of Supremacy repealed, her sister Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) ascended to the throne. Under Elizabeth, Parliament passed another Act of Supremacy (1559) in which the monarch was styled, “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” During her long reign, royal supremacy became one of the central doctrines of an institutionalized Protestant national church. As did their predecessors, the Elizabethan apologists also portrayed royal supremacy as a biblical doctrine by assigning a normative and prescriptive function to the Old Testament narrative passages recounting the actions taken by the kings of Israel and Judah in the interest of religion.

The support of royal supremacy as a biblical idea by these means comes to most succinct, eloquent expression by John Jewel (1522-71) in his Apology of the Church of England (1562):

We truly grant no further liberty to our magistrates than that we know hath both been given by the Word of God and also confirmed by the examples of the best governed commonwealths. For, besides, that a Christian prince hath the charge of both tables committed to him by God, to the end he may understand that not temporal matters only, but also religious and ecclesiastical causes pertain to his office; besides also that God by his prophets often and earnestly commandeth the king to cut down the groves, to break down the images and altars of idols, and to write out a book of the law for himself; and besides that the prophet Isaiah saith, “A king ought to be patron and nurse of the church.”

Scripture, as the Word of God, consigns to the monarch ecclesiastical authority that he or she is to exercise for the well-being of the Church.

For the exception of Richard Hooker (1554-1600), who, towards the end of the sixteenth century, based his defense of royal supremacy on natural law, the majority of apologists continued, even into the seventeenth century, contending for it as a biblical doctrine by means of the interpretive methodology established during the reign of Henry VIII. Indeed, the Reformation in England united Scripture to the scepter so that the Church would submit to the monarch as its “head,” or “governor,” in keeping with the “Word of God.”

Silence as an Answer: Dead Ends as Progress

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

by George Faithful

It is a rare privilege to interview a leader of a living religious community, the historical roots of which one has been researching. I had such a privilege in June, 2010, when my wife and I had tea with Sister Verita of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany.

My research concerned the formation and early years of the sisterhood. I had many questions. How were its founders shaped by their experience of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich? To what extent had the sisterhood’s message and mission developed since its formal founding in 1946? What do the living sisters remember from those early years? And has the sisterhood maintained any sort of archive?


The gates of Kanaan, the devotional gardens and site of the motherhouse of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, Darmstadt, Germany. Usually, to the left of the gate stands a relief of angels and the word “Repent!” It was then under renovation. Photo © 2010 Enelia V. Faithful

Sister Verita had few answers to my specific questions, though she filled us with crackers and Cup o’ Soup, for which I was extremely grateful, with an athlete’s appetite on a grad student’s budget.

Beyond what Mother Basilea herself had written in her published works, there was little to say about the early years. The girls who would become the first sisters were members of a Bible study led by the future founding mothers. They begged God to forgive them and their country on the night of the Allied bombing of their city on September 11, 1944. This moment became cemented into the sisterhood’s founding narrative.

The sisterhood’s message did develop over time, with an increasing emphasis on reconciliation and repentance toward Jewish people by the mid-1950s. These insights were amply recorded by Mother Basilea and there was little that current sisters could do, beyond confirming what she had already said.

The first generation of sisters was passing. Those still living had all been fairly young during the war. None were available for comment, infirm but well-cared for by the younger sisters.

No, an archive did not exist.

I came seeking personal insight in vivid detail. Mid-conversation, I realized that my remaining questions were irrelevant, not in terms of my research but in terms of the current community.

I was concerned with the past. For answers to my questions, I needed to turn to regional church archives and to the national library (where, Gott sei Dank, everything Basilea ever published is on file, including many early works that are now out-of-print, even at the sisters’ self-run publishing house).

The sisters are now and have always been concerned with the present and the future. Since the mid-1940s, they have been preaching that God’s judgment looms on the horizon. With such an imminent expectation, what would be the purpose of keeping detailed records? Of recording minutiae?

Even those elements of the sisters’ mission that seem backward facing have either a present application or a future orientation. They repent for Christians’ sins against Jewish people, including those of Germans in the Holocaust, in order to divert God’s wrath now and to secure their rightful place at his side when Christ returns.

The sisters’ silence about the past spoke volumes about their identity in the present. That was all the answer I needed. Few ends are truly dead.

Martyrs and Protestant-Catholic Relations

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

by Adrian Weimer


Edmund Campion

A colleague and I were recently discussing a Vatican program to collect the stories of contemporary Christian martyrs. The Christian church has collected martyr stories for millennia – what is new about the Vatican’s effort is its deliberate ecumenism. In a program initiated by John Paul II for the 2000 Jubilee, Catholics are deliberately reaching across confessional lines, honoring Protestant and Orthodox martyrs alongside Catholic ones. The desire to commemorate those who have died for the faith, both as a devotional resource and as a kind of competition for religious legitimacy, is an important strand in the history of Protestant-Catholic relations, so it is worth thinking about the Vatican’s effort in longer context.


“Who is holier, Edmund Campion or Hugh Latimer?” was a politically charged and devotionally heated question in the English-speaking world of the sixteenth century.


Edmund Campion, a Jesuit hanged during the reign of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, and Hugh Latimer, an Anglican burned during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, were the heroes of the age. As an early modern English man or woman, you would not have honored both.


Martyrdom of Bishop Ridley and Father Latimer. John Foxe, Actes and Monuments.

Thousands of pages of print were devoted to defining a “true” or a “false” martyr.
Even Roger Williams entered into the debate. Arguing with puritans about freedom of conscience, Williams told the story of an English Catholic who received his death sentence in Protestant England with the words, “If I had ten thousand millions of lives, I would spend them all for the Faith of Rome, &c.”  Williams acknowledged with grudging admiration the Catholic martyr’s zeal, though in the end declared him false (because Catholic and so unorthodox). Nonetheless, according to Williams, such Catholics should not burn because the magistrate had no right to judge cases of conscience. The idea that martyrs were “false” because of the Augustinian formula, “not the punishment but the cause” makes a true martyr tied the definition of martyrdom inextricably to theological orthodoxy. So even missionaries killed by indigenous tribes, or those killed by a common enemy, if not of your own orthodoxy, were unlikely to be recognized. This intransigence on both sides toward recognizing the other’s martyrs as “true” persisted well into the nineteenth, and even the twentieth century.


Is the Catholic commemoration of Protestant and Orthodox martyrs an important ecumenical moment? If so, there has been surprisingly little response. The most vocal commentary on the Vatican’s effort has come from conservative Catholics who see this kind of ecumenism as a betrayal of Catholic identity.


Though Protestant leaders did attend the Commemoration for New Martyrs held at the Colosseum in 2000, many Protestants are either not aware of the effort, or do not think it goes far enough. In Lübeck, Germany, last year, Lutherans were upset that of four clergy beheaded for resistance to the Nazi regime, Rome only beatified the three who were Catholic. The fourth, a Lutheran, was honored as a martyr but not beatified.


Several aspects of the Vatican effort deserve exploration. What was the process of collecting the stories? Which non-Catholic communities were approached (and not approached) and were they involved in the decision on whether their stories would be included on the New Martyr lists? Even so, given the long history of judgments on “false” martyrs, and animosity that continues to this day (as I write, anti-Catholic hackers just took down the Vatican website) this turn to martyrdom as ecumenism bears reflection alongside other more prominent (and more virulent) discourses of martyrdom.