Category Archives: Era

Alopen — June 21

The Christian missionary Alopen and the Emperor Taizong, China. The first recoreded Christian missionary to reach China, arriving in 635. Educational card, late 19th or early 20th century.

Bible connection

“I see clearly now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” — The Apostle Peter tells the Gentile Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10: 34-35

“Stele to the Propagation in China of the Luminous Religion of Daqin.” Daqin was what the Chinese called the Roman Empire or Syria in particular.

All about Alopen (c. 635)

Above is The Nestorian Stele on its Tortoise Pedestal (added after its find), in Beilin Museum, Xi’an, China. The monument is a stone slab erected in 781 AD during the Tang dynasty (618-907) documenting about 150 years of Christian history in China. The writing is in Chinese and Syriac. The stele was buried in 845, probably during religious persecution, and unearthed in the late Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) around1623.

Emperor Taizong (or Tai-tsung) of Tang first heard about Jesus Christ from a Persian monk, A-lo-pen (his Chinese name — Chinese: 阿罗本 pinyin: Āluóběn), who walked all the way to the capital of China (today’s Xi’an) to bring the gospel to the Chinese. He was probably sent by Patriarch Ishoyahb II of Baghdad, who also sent missionaries to Iran, Afghanistan, Ubzekistan, and India. Most likely, Alopen had been ordained a bishop because he was able to appoint men to pastor the churches he founded. What little we know about his arrival in China and the history of the work that followed is recorded on the stele.

In 635 Alopen stood before Emperor Taizong and presented him with a New Testament. He is the first missionary we know of who travelled the Silk Road all the way to China.

The stele says:

In the time of the accomplished Emperor Tai-tsung, the illustrious and magnificent founder of the dynasty, among the enlightened and holy men who arrived was the most-virtuous Olopun, from the country of Syria…

Observing the azure clouds, he bore the true sacred books; beholding the direction  of the winds, he braved difficulties and dangers. In the year of our Lord 635 he arrived at Chang-an; the Emperor sent his Prime Minister, Duke Fang Hiuen-ling; who, carrying the official staff to the west border, conducted his guest into the interior; the sacred books were translated in the imperial library, the sovereign investigated the subject in his private apartments; when becoming deeply impressed with the rectitude and truth of the religion, he gave special orders for its dissemination.

In the seventh month of 638 the following imperial proclamation was issued:

Right principles have no invariable name, holy men have no invariable station; instruction is established in accordance with the locality, with the object of benefiting the people at large. The greatly virtuous Olopun, of the kingdom of Syria, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant part, and has presented them at our chief capital. Having examined the principles of this religion, we find them to be purely excellent and natural; investigating its originating source, we find it has taken its rise from the establishment of important truths; its ritual is free from perplexing expressions, its principles will survive when the framework is forgot; it is beneficial to all creatures; it is advantageous to mankind. Let it be published throughout the Empire, and let the proper authority build a Syrian church in the capital in the I-ning May, which shall be governed by twenty-one priests.

The “Nestorian” church

Alopen was of “the Church of the East.” The Syrian church forged a different identity from the Eurocentric church of the Roman Empire. It was called the “Nestorian” Chruch by the Roman Church. So the Christians who went to China were Nestorians — at least by Roman Catholic definition.

Nestorianism was named after the Christian theologian Nestorius (386–450), Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431. Nestorius was rebuked by the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) for his argument about the nature of Jesus as human and divine. His main contention was that Mary should not be called Theotokos (Mother of God), since that undermines the true human nature of Jesus. He argued she should be called Mother of Christ, which he considered more orthodox in that Mary bore a human in whom God dwelled as in a temple. The Councils both affirmed that Jesus, both God and human was born by Mary and his dual natures are inseparable.

They said the natures were inseparable as in “hypostatic union” (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις/hypóstasis, translated “person, subsistence”). This is the technical term in Christian theology that won the Christology battle to describe the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity. His nature is one hypostasis, or individual personhood. The views of Nestorius were a fine point of understanding hypostasis, not an assertion of exclusive natures in one person. It was not his intent to elevate the human nature. But the Councils decided otherwise. He said: The Word, which is eternal, and the Flesh, which is not, came together in a hypostatic union, “Jesus Christ.” Jesus is both fully human and fully God, of two ousia (essences) but of one prosopon (person).

Elements of the break-off church did develop theology that resembled the thinking the Councils condemned. A brief definition of Nestorian Christology could be: “Jesus Christ, who is not identical with the Son but personally united with the Son, who lives in him, is one hypostasis and one nature: human.”(Wiki).  Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism (which says the Human nature of Jesus was subsumed by the divine) were condemned as heretical at the Council of Chalcedon.

Nestorius developed his Christological views as an attempt to understand and explain rationally the incarnation of the divine Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, as the man Jesus. He had studied at the School of Antioch where his mentor had been Theodore of Mopsuestia. Theodore and other Antioch theologians had long taught a literalist interpretation of the Bible and stressed the distinctiveness of the human and divine natures of Jesus. Nestorius took his Antiochene leanings with him when he was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by Byzantine emperor Theodosius II in 428.

Nestorious’ role as Patriarch was taken away and he returned to his monastery. His followers, however, applied his name to an Eastern branch of the Christian family tree. The Church of the East first blossomed in Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey) and in the well-known theological school of Nisibis (today’s Nusaybin, Turkey), where the famous poet Ephrem served as deacon. It continued to thrive in what is now eastern Turkey and Iraq.

The Church of the East is often known as the Nestorian Church, even though its connections with Nestorius are tenuous at best. The name is probably due to the fact that this church refused to recognize the 431 Council of Ephesus where Nestorius was condemned for his views on the two natures of Christ. For the most part, however, the reason for their refusal was probably more cultural rather than theological. It was a way to assert the church’s independence from the Byzantine Empire, being part of the upstart Sasanian Empire. While it’s true that Nestorianism spread to the eastern regions, many scholars agree that defining the Church of the East as Nestorian is unfair.

The official language of the Church of the East was Syriac (a form of Aramaic), one of the first languages in which the Scriptures were translated. By the eighth century, this church had spread over much of Asia and Arabia, becoming the most widely spread churches in the world.

More

A reading of the Stele:

Translation of Nestorian Stele [link]

The early Chinese church is further revealed in the Jesus Sutras, discovered in 1900 in the Dunhuang oasis on the Silk Road [link]. The Jingjiao Documents, also known as the Nestorian Documents or the Jesus Sutras, are a collection of Chinese language texts connected with the 7th century mission of Alopen, and the 8th century monk Adam. The manuscripts date from between 635, the year of Alopen’s arrival in China to around 1000, when the cave at Mogao near Dunhuang in which the documents were discovered was sealed. By 2011, four of the manuscripts were known to be in a private collection in Japan, while one was in Paris. Their language and content reflect varying levels of interaction with Chinese culture, including use of Buddhist and Taoist  terminology.

The day Alopen died is unknown. This collection uses offical saints days or death days to honor each member of our cloud of witnesses. We’ve placed Alopen’s day on June 21 to reflect the summer of love between China and the missionaries from Syria.

What do we do with this?

This history of the church is commonly unknown in the United States, mainly because the church and the nation see through a Eurocentric lens. The churches of the Sasanian Empire (Persia) rejected that lens in the 400’s. In welcoming their history, we become part of the true, transhistorical, transnational Body of Christ.

Emperor Taizong was remarkably open. Alopen and his companions were amazingly brave and bold. Whoever made the stele was very skilled and eloquent. The historians who have complied the mysteries of the past and the scholars who keep presenting them are honorable. The whole story of this missionary is full of brilliant, faithful people. Let’s celebrate them and appreciate the gifts each of us brings to the present story of Jesus, too.

Vernard Eller — June 18

Bible connection

Read John 10:14-18

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

All about Vernard Eller (1927-2007)

Vernard Eller was an Anabaptist scholar, author, and teacher during some of the most trying eras for peacemakers and simplicity practitioners—the latter half of the 20th Century. He was part of the Church of the Brethren (“cousins” to the Brethren in Christ). Most of his work was with the West Coast part of that family.

His most famous works are The Mad Morality and Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the PowersHe was known as an effective and practical interpreter of radicals like Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Jacques Ellul. Eller was an open critic of materialism and nationalism in the Church as well as a vocal advocate for simplicity, reducing possessions, radical sharing of wealth, and nonviolent conflict resolution.

In a 1980 issue of Messenger magazine Eller said:

“The primary thrust of my life has been to try to bring into focus four different elements not often seen as even being compatible: a strong Christian commitment; solid thought and scholarship; clear and powerful communication; and true wit and humor.”

“To put the matter simply the problem with today’s congregations is that they are usually far more concerned to ‘be’ somewhere than to ‘get’ somewhere; to establish and consolidate a secure position, rather than to push on toward a goal. But according to the New Testament, stability and security are precisely ‘not’ what God intended for the church. Instead, Eller believes, the church should be a do-it-yourself, de-institutionalized, de-professionalized people in a caravan – a community of the outward bound”—from The Outward Bound: Caravaning as the Style of the Church

Eller’s book, The Simple Life; the Christian Stance Toward Possessions (1973), was counterpoint and companion of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1978).

More

The MAD Morality: An Expose [link]

A short article “The Lord’s Supper is Not a Sacrament” [link]

Wikipedia article for Christian Anarchism [link]

What do we do with this?

Much of what Eller was pioneering for our age we have have summed up in the word “alternativity.” We are not only opposed to the misguided attachments of the church’s past, we are resisting the “mad” morality of the new world order. Resistance is not enough, of course, we want restoration.

It takes some thinking to be a Jesus follower! Take one aspect of this post and write a paragraph about it in your journal. Title it: “The gift Vernard Eller gave me.” Make sure to add how you expect to use the gift.

Columba — June 9

Bible connection

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
    old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. — Psalm 148:7-13

All about Columba (521-597)

Columba is a “saint” who still appeals to our imaginations almost fifteen hundred years after his death. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. He was not only a great leader, he had a big imagination that resulted in an outbreak of Celtic art we still admire. He also had a big voice and might have sang his own version of today’s psalm, since the Celtic church had a deep respect of God’s presence in creation and Columba, no doubt, met the Lord on his many daring sea voyages and missionary journeys.

He was born in Ireland, on December 7, 521 A.D. to Fedhlimidh and Eithne in Donegal (Northern Ireland). He was of “royal blood,” and might have become High King of Ireland had he not chosen to be a priest.

As a young man, Columba soon took an interest in the church, joined the monastery at Moville, and was ordained a deacon by the famous and influential Finnian. After studying with a bard called Gemman, Columba was ordained a priest, then bishop of Clonfad. Columba entered the monastery of Mobhi Clarainech and trained with the others who became “the twelve apostles of Ireland.” When disease forced the disbanding of that monastery, Columba went north and founded the church of Derry.

Tradition has it that after founding several other monasteries, Columba copied Finnian’s psalter (or was it a precious copy of the Latin Vulgate? Sixth century history was not fastidiously collected). He did this without the permission of Finnian, and thus devalued the book and broke with common decency. When Finnian took the matter to High King Dermott for judgment, Dermott judged in favor of Finnian, stating “to every cow its calf; to every book its copy” (the first copyright law!). Columba refused to hand over the copy, claiming that his converts deserved the scripture. King Dermott forced the issue militarily. Columba’s family and clan defeated Dermott at the battle of Cooldrevny in 561.

Tradition further holds that Molaisi of Devenish, Columba’s spiritual father, ordered Columba to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as penance.

For his theft and the deaths it caused, Columba ended up in exile from Ireland. He settled at the first place where his homeland could no longer be seen across the sea. With twelve companions he started a new life, founding a monastery on the island of Iona in the year 563. They lived as Celtic monks in a community of separate cells. But Columba and his companions combined their contemplative life with extraordinary missionary activity.

Among his many accomplishments, Columba was a splendid sailor. He sailed among the islands of Scotland and traveled deep inland, making converts and founding churches. In Ireland, it is said, he had already founded a hundred churches. In Scotland he is credited with converting the Picts, including a journey to witness to the King during which he thwarted the Loch Ness monster.

Columba and the Loch Ness monster, found in British Library

Of all the Celtic saints in Scotland, Columba’s life is the best documented, because manuscripts of the Life of Columba, written by Adamnan, one of his early successors as abbot of Iona, have survived.

Columba was a poet as well as a man of action. Some of his poems in both Latin and Gaelic have come down to us, and they reveal him to be very sensitive to the beauty of his surroundings, as well as, in Adamnan’s phrase, “gladdened in his inmost heart by the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

He died on June 9 in the year 597.

More

Rod’s Columba the Creative Sufferer [link]

Dramatic video about Columba on Iona [link]

Columba (and others) and the Book of Kells [Part 1 link] [Part 2 link]

What do we do with this?

Columba might have been king if he had not been serious about Jesus. He might have been a powerful church man in Ireland if he hadn’t put himself on the wrong side of the law and started a war!

Maybe you wish you had never followed Jesus. Maybe you wish you had not done those wrong things. Maybe Jesus can use you anyway, starting on whatever little island you find yourself today, despite the desires that threaten to dominate your life. Consider what would happen if your future were in God’s hands (since it is).

Hudson Taylor — June 3

Bible connection

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. — 1 Corinthians 9:13-17

All about Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

In 1853 a small boat left Liverpool with Hudson Taylor on board, a gaunt and wild-eyed 21-year-old missionary. He was headed for a country that was just coming into the European/American Christian consciousness: China. By the time Taylor died a half-century later, China was viewed as the most fertile and challenging mission field of all and thousands volunteered annually to serve there.

Taylor was born to a Methodist couple fascinated with the Far East who had prayed for their newborn, “Grant that he may work for you in China.” Years later, a teenage Hudson experienced a spiritual birth during an intense time of prayer in which, as he later put it, life stretched out “before Him with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy.” He felt called to China. He spent the next years in frantic preparation, learning the rudiments of medicine, studying Mandarin, and immersing himself ever deeper into the Bible and prayer.

His ship arrived in Shanghai, one of five “treaty ports” China had opened to foreigners following its first Opium War with England. Almost immediately Taylor made a radical decision (as least for Protestant missionaries of the day): he decided to dress in Chinese clothes and grow a pigtail (as Chinese men did). His fellow Protestants were either incredulous or critical.

Taylor, for his part, was not happy with most missionaries he saw: he believed they were “worldly” and spent too much time with English businessmen and diplomats who needed their services as translators. Instead, Taylor wanted the Christian faith taken to the interior of China. So within months of arriving, and the native language still a challenge, Taylor, along with Joseph Edkins, set off for the interior, setting sail down the Huangpu River distributing Chinese Bibles and tracts.

When the Chinese Evangelization Society, which had sponsored Taylor, proved incapable of paying its missionaries in 1857, Taylor resigned and became an independent missionary; trusting God to meet his needs. In 1861, he became seriously ill (probably with hepatitis) and was forced to return to England to recover. In England, the restless Taylor continued translating the Bible into Chinese (a work he’d begun in China), studied to become a midwife, and recruited more missionaries. Troubled that people in England seemed to have little interest in China, he wrote China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims. In one passage, he scolded, “Can all the Christians in England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes [in China] are perishing—perishing for lack of knowledge—for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly?”

Taylor became convinced that a special organization was needed to evangelize the interior of China. He made plans to recruit 24 missionaries: two for each of the 11 unreached inland provinces and two for Mongolia. It was a visionary plan that would have left veteran recruiters breathless: it would increase the number of China missionaries by 25 percent. He was wracked with doubt about the dangers his plan presented. But at the same time he despaired for the millions of Chinese who were dying without the hope of the gospel. While walking along the beach on day, his gloom lifted:

“There the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told him that all responsibility as to the issues and consequences must rest with him; that as his servant it was mine to obey and to follow him.”

His new mission, which he called the China Inland Mission (CIM), had a number of distinctive features, including this: its missionaries would have no guaranteed salaries nor could they appeal for funds; they would simply trust God to supply their needs; furthermore, its missionaries would adopt Chinese dress and then press the gospel into the China interior. Within a year of his breakthrough, Taylor, his wife and four children, and 16 young missionaries sailed from London to join five others already in China working under Taylor’s direction.

Taylor continued to make enormous demands upon himself. He was accused of being a tyrant and people left for other missions. Yet by 1876, with 52 missionaries, CIM constituted one-fifth of the missionary force in China. Because there continued to be so many Chinese to reach, Taylor instituted another radical policy: he sent unmarried women into the interior, a move criticized by many veterans. But Taylor’s boldness knew no bounds. In 1881, he asked God for another 70 missionaries by the close of 1884: he got 76. In late 1886, Taylor prayed for another 100 within a year: by November 1887, he announced 102 candidates had been accepted for service.

His leadership style and high ideals created enormous strains between the London and China councils of the CIM. London thought Taylor autocratic; Taylor said he was only doing what he thought was best for the work, and then demanded more commitment from others:

“China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women,” …“The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary.”

Taylor’s grueling work pace, despite poor health ended in a breakdown in 1900. He also lost his wife and four of his eight children by living like the Chinese. Between his work ethic and his absolute trust in God (despite never soliciting funds, his CIM grew and prospered), he inspired thousands to forsake the comforts of the West to bring the Christian message to the vast and unknown interior of China. Though mission work in China was interrupted by the communist takeover in 1949, the CIM continues to this day under the name Overseas Missionary Fellowship (International).

More

OMF biography 

Four-minute YouTube bio [link]

Chinese pilgrimage to Barnsley, birthplace of Hudson Taylor [link]

What do we do with this?

What do you think of Taylor’s passion for evangelism? In some ways he was strikingly anticolonial. In some ways he was self-destructively obsessive. What do you do with that? What do you think God thinks of Hudson Taylor?

The Lord’s mission also ended in Jesus’ “untimely” death. Do you think we are called to imitate him in some way?

Are you aware of a people group who need to hear the truth about Jesus? Are you called to do anything about that?

Kizito — June 3

Image result for st. kizito

Bible connection

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” — Acts 4:17-32

All about Kizito (1872-1886)

Kizito* was the youngest of the Ugandan martyrs who suffered death rather than renounce his faith on June 3rd, 1886. The Ugandan Martyrs refer to a group of forty-five Christians – twenty-two Catholics and twenty-three Anglicans – who were tortured and killed over a period stretching from 1885 to 1887 for their faith.  Christians were persecuted by Mwanda,  the Kabaka (ruler) during this period.  Bugandan territory is now incorporated into the Republic of Uganda.

Priests belonging to the Missionaries in Africa, commonly referred to as the White Fathers (due to their white habits), arrived in Uganda in 1879.  Their mission was met with little resistance at first as they shared their faith among the people of Buganda.  That changed when the Kabaka, Mutesa, died and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga.  Mwanga viewed Christianity as a threat to his power.

The Christian views on morality – especially the teaching that pedophilia was a sin – did not endear them to Mwanda, who was a pedophile and routinely solicited sexual favors from his young pages.  His chief page, Joseph Mukasa was a Catholic who did his best to protect his young charges.  He even had the courage and conviction to confront Mwanga and insist he give up his sinful ways.  Mwanga’s response was to have him beheaded.

Joseph Mukasa was succeeded as chief page by Charles Lwanga who also was a Catholic and who also was vigorous in his protection of the young pages.  Mwanga became increasingly enraged as the pages, Kizito among them, continually refused and rebuffed his sexual advances. Mwanga eventually had the pages brought before him and gave them a choice to renounce their Christian faith and live or choose to keep their faith and die.

Many of the pages including Charles Lwanga and Kizito chose their faith.  There were fifteen in the group who were bound and made to walk two days to Namugongo where they would be killed.  One of the Christians, Matthias Kalemba, was martyred enroute.

Upon reaching Namugongo, Charles Lwanga was the first to be burned at the stake.  The following is a moving excerpt taken from the Catholic News agency:

The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained.  Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith.  He refused saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.”  He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire.

The other pages were burned alive together.  As they were being executed, their faith remained strong until the end, as they prayed and sang hymns.

The death of these martyrs had quite the opposite effect the Kabaka intended. Many witnessing the horrific deaths of these amazing young men who gave their young lives so willingly for their faith asked to be baptized.

* This description of  Bugandan kinship structure may be unfamiliar to you if you grew up in the United States. Kizito’s birth father was Lukomera of the Lungfish (Mamba) Clan, and his mother, who bore Lukomera nine children before she deserted him and died, was Wanga¬bira of the Civet-cat (Ffumbe) Clan. Nyika, or Nyikomuyonga, Guardian of Mwanga’s umbilical cord, often said to be the father of Kizito, was his father by adoption only. The relationship arose from a blood-pact between Nyika’s father Kiggwe and a member of the Lungfish Clan named Mitalekoya. Kiggwe, a descendent of Kabaka (King) Kateregga and a member of the Leopard (Ngo) Clan, was county chief of Ggomba when he made this alliance. Later he incurred the royal displeasure, was deprived of his office and possessions and became virtually an outlaw, because he was out of favor with the Kabaka. In this time of adversity, the blood-pact stood him in good stead. Because of it, the Lungfish Clan gave him and his family asylum and aid, and Mitalekoya became a second father to his son Nyika.

More

Uganda martyrs: Tracing the roots of St. Kizito

Mwanga – the king who killed the Uganda martyrs

What do we do with this?

The church in Uganda remains attentive to sexuality. That seems predictable, since some of its foundation is resistance to sexual predators. Most contexts prove dangerous for Christians, if not everyone. What is prowling around like a lion, as Peter sees it, trying to devour your heart and soul?

The main pressure the King of Buganda felt in the time of Kizito was from colonizers. The French Catholics and English Anglicans were in league with their respective country’s rush to “protect” areas of Africa. Muslim traders were eager to have fortified trading posts and a beachhead for Islam. Evangelism coupled with colonization is one of the stains on Christian history. Like Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil but God used it for good.” Africa is now the continent with the most Christians. Have you experienced or done anything evil that God used for good? Praise God for the goodness, and consider what justice and forgiveness mean to you.

Bede — May 26

The Venerable Bede writing. Detail from a 12th century codex

Bible connection

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. — Hebrews 11:13

All about the Venerable Bede (c. 673-735)

“The Venerable Bede” died on this day in 735. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars. When he was seven, Bede was sent to Benedict Biscop at the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth, Northumbria, for his education; when he was nine he moved a short distance to the sister house in Jarrow, where he would live out the rest of his days. Bede became a deacon at age 19 and priest at 30.

Page from History

Eventually, Bede was the first native of the British Isles to be named by the Pope as Doctor of the Church (in 1899). His most famous work, which is a key source for understanding early British history and the arrival of Christianity, is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or The Ecclesiastical History of the English People which was completed in 731 AD. It is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used.

Much of Bede’s observations and writings were focused on the natural world. His scholarship is notably advanced because of his ability to weave together fragments into coherent works with very limited resources.

Here is a bit from his most famous work:

“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

Try on this quote:

“Better a stupid and unlettered brother who, working the good things he knows, merits life in Heaven than one who though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a doctor, lacks the bread of love.”

This is also a good image:

“Jesus opened the tavern of heaven and poured out the wine of the Holy Ghost.”

Bede’s work was so famous and respected that it earned him an honorific addition to his name. The title Venerabilis [Venerable] was associated with the name of Bede within two generations after his death. There is no proof for the legend that an unskilled monk composing an epitaph on Bede was at a loss to complete the line: Hac sunt in fossa Bedae . . . . ossa (in this grave are Bede…bones) and then found the next morning that angels had filled the gap with the word venerabilis [venerable]. The title is used by Alcuin (a Northumbrian teacher who became the lead scholar in Charlemagne’s court), Amalarius of Metz and Paul the Deacon within years of his death. The important Council of Aachen in 835 describes him as venerabilis [venerable] et modernis temporibus doctor admirabilis Beda [venerable and admirable doctor of our time, Bede].

More 

Want to read Bede’s groundbreaking book? [link]

More from English people who love him? [link] 

Additions from Orthodox Wiki: [link]

This Channel 4 story takes less than 2 minutes:

What do we do with this?

Bede was a writer and researcher. He was a preserver of good things and true things. If you are a writer, too, take your art seriously and tell the truth. Maybe you should write a little history of your church, your team, or of a person you admire. Or write your spiritual autobiography! Bede’s work has made a difference for 1300 years!

Brendan — May 16

By Rachel Arbuckle. Click the pic for her store.

Bible connection

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

All about Brendan the Navigator (c. 484 – c. 577) 

Brendan was an Irish monk called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, and “the Bold,” a man who was inspired to walk in extreme vulnerability. His example made him a sturdy leader and winsome evangelist as the Church was built in Ireland.

The story goes like this. Brendan and his companions went on a nautical pilgrimage in the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Island of Paradise. They searched for seven years and had many adventures along the way. The chronicle of Brendan’s journey [Navigatio Brendani] became a medieval blockbuster. Much later, some historians decided that Brendan actually made it to the America’s in his leather bound boat (a “coracle”). Brendan’s outer quest reflected his inner quest to put himself at the mercy of God, which is always the greatest adventure.

Brendan was born in Tralee in southwest of Ireland. His parents were Finnlug and Cara. He was baptized by Saint Erc, and was originally named “Mobhí.” But the signs and portents attending his birth and baptism led to be christened Broen-finn, meaning fair-drop. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita. When he was six he was sent to Saint Jarlath’s monastery school to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”, one of those  tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan was ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founded a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage took him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a community. He also visited Hinba (Argyll), an island off Scotland where he is said to have met Columba. On the same voyage he traveled to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon. From there he set out on his famous seven-year voyage looking for Paradise.

St. Brendan’s Prayer

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

More

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day [link to Development]. Memorial to Brendan [poem]

From St. Brendan’s monastery in Maine [link]

Poem: The Death of St. Brendan by J.R.R. Tolkien. [link]

Frederick Buechner’s Brendan: A Novel.

Revisioning the inspiration for one of the most popular and enduring medieval legends, Frederick Buechner tells the tale of the colorful sixth-century Irish saint Brendan through the eyes of his loyal friend and follower, Finn. This animated vision of Brendan’s dynamic path chronicles the Celtic world of fifteen hundred years ago and contains all the complex moral messages that abound in the best mythology. 

Brendan’s life illustrated by Irish children:

What do we do with this?

May we quest so boldly toward new waters with God. May we face the fears of the deep and unknown so faithfully. See if you can pray Brendan’s prayer for yourself. Maybe you can even envision you and your friends in a coracle, testing your trust on the sea. What kind of “sea” is it for you. How are you called to voyage?

Here is another rendition of his prayer for you to pray:

Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

Frances Perkins — May 14

Bible connection

Perkins’ motto: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” — 1 Cor 15:58 (ESV) 

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
    but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. — Proverbs 14:31 (NIV)

All about Frances Perkins (1880-1965)

Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet member in U. S. history. She was born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. at Mount Holyoke College in 1902. While a student there, Perkins heard a speaker vividly describe the nation’s growing urban and industrial problems. She found her calling.

David Brooks writes of former days in the U.S.A. and Frances Perkins :

Much of American moral education drew on an ethos expressed by the headmaster of the Stowe School, in England, who wrote in 1930 that the purpose of his institution was to turn out young men who were “acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.” America’s National Institute for Moral Instruction was founded in 1911 and published a “Children’s Morality Code,” with 10 rules for right living. At the turn of the 20th century, Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s institution, was an example of an intentionally thick moral community. When a young Frances Perkins was a student there, her Latin teacher detected a certain laziness in her. She forced Perkins to spend hours conjugating Latin verbs, to cultivate self-discipline. Perkins grew to appreciate this: “For the first time I became conscious of character.” The school also called upon women to follow morally ambitious paths. “Do what nobody else wants to do; go where nobody else wants to go,” the school’s founder implored. Holyoke launched women into lives of service in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Perkins, who would become the first woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet (Franklin D. Roosevelt’s), was galvanized there.

When she was living in Lake Forest, Illinois, and working in Chicago, she was attracted to the Episcopal Church. Perkins was confirmed at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, on June 11, 1905. She remained a life-long Episcopalian.

While working at a Chicago settlement house, she determined to “do something about unnecessary hazards to life, unnecessary poverty” because “our Lord has directed all those who thought they were following in His path to visit the widows, the orphans, the fatherless, the prisoners and so forth.”

Perkins earned an M.A. at Columbia University in 1910. In 1911 she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York in which 146 factory workers died. She took up industrial safety work for the City of New York. Perkins continued her work in industrial relations, serving at the state level with Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt during their respective terms as Governor of New York.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her Secretary of Labor. Before accepting the job, she consulted with her friend, Suffragan Bishop Charles K. Gilbert of New York. Receiving spiritual direction was one of her disciplines. She was an associate of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and she spent one day a month in silent retreat at their Catonsville, Maryland convent throughout her twelve years in the cabinet

Frances Perkins had a clear vision of her priorities—what God wanted came first. As secretary of Labor under Frankin Roosevelt, she developed programs that bettered the lives of the American people. These included Social Security, workplace safety regulations, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage laws, and the forty hour work week. Throughout a life spent championing the rights of working people, the poor, children, and the disadvantaged, Perkins used her Christian faith as her guide. When friends asked why it was important for the fortunate to help the poor she told them, “that it was what Jesus would want them to do.”  [See Michelle Kew at the Francis Perkins Center]

As Secretary of Labor, she was instrumental in helping draft and implement Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. Perkins resigned her post shortly after Roosevelt’s death in 1945.

In 1955 she joined the faculty of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She remained active in teaching and lecturing until her death in New York City.

Quotes

  • I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.
  • The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.
  • The accusation that I am a woman is incontrovertible.
  • It’s only when we’re relaxed that the thing way down deep in all of us – call it the subconscious mind, the spirit, what you will – has a chance to well up and tell us how we shall go.
  • You can always get sympathy by using the word small. With little industries you feel as you do about a little puppy.

What do we do with this?

Frances Perkins was given a unique opportunity because she held on to her unqiue convictions. They were not uunusual to Jesus, but she stood out in comparison to many people. Her faith and courage made her notable.

Capitalism wants to extract the most profit it can from its workforce. There is always a drift toward injustice and even slavery within it. Recently, the demands for a minimum wage and the rights of unions within the new giant corporations like Apple and Amazon have renewed the fight Perkins succeeded in so well. Human rights assumes people must be responsible for one another. The quest for the “freedom” of individualism is always an aggressive counterpoint to that responsibility. Where are your thoughts on that spectrum? Where is Jesus, as far as you can tell?

Nikolaus Zinzendorf  — May 9

Bible connection

Read Isaiah 58

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

All about Nicolaus Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Nicholas Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf, was born in Dresden in 1700. He was deeply involved in the Pietist movement in Germany, which emphasized personal devotion and the emotional component of life in Christ. This was in contrast to the state Lutheran Church of the day, which had grown to symbolize a largely intellectual faith centered on belief in specific doctrines. He believed in “heart religion,” a personal salvation built on the individual’s spiritual relationship with Christ.

In 2000, German Moravians created a trail of sculptures commemorating the 300th birthday of Zinzendorf. This one features the Count with children, whom he believed modeled the kind of faith we are to have. The gray figures behind represent the rigidness of those leading the old church. Photo taken in Großhennersdorf, Herrnhut, Germany.

Zinzendorf was born into one of the most noble families of Europe. His father died when he was an infant, and he was raised by his Pietist pioneer grandmother, Henrietta Catherina, Baroness von Gersdorff, at her castle Gros Hennersdorf. There are many stories about his deep faith during childhood. As a young man he struggled with his desire to study for the ministry and the expectation that he would fulfill his hereditary role as a Count. As a teenager at Halle Academy, he and several other young nobles formed a secret society, The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed. The stated purpose of this order was that the members would use their position and influence to spread the Gospel. As an adult, Zinzendorf later reactivated this adolescent society, and many influential leaders of Europe ended up joining the group. Their number included the King of Denmark, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Paris.

Zinzendorf was one of the most controversial figures of the early eighteenth century. The crowned heads of Europe and religious leaders of both Europe and America all knew him or knew of him — and either loved him or hated him.

Although born to an aristocratic family, Zinzendorf decided to use his wealth to shelter a group of Christian radicals: the Unitas Fratrum (The Latinized form of the Czech jednota bratrská/society of brethren. This name was was assumed by the branch of the Hussites known as the Bohemian Brethren and their successors, the Moravian Brethren).  It was a tumultuous time in Europe when it was unsafe to not be part of an established state church.  In 1722 a small band of Jesus-followers who chose not to be part of the state church crossed the border from Moravia to settle in a town they built on Zinzendorff’s estate. They called it  Herrnhut, or “the Lord’s Watch.”

During its first five years of existence the settlement showed few signs of spiritual power. By the beginning of 1727 the community of about three hundred people was wracked by dissension and bickering. So the village was an unlikely site for a revival! Zinzendorf and others, however, covenanted to prayer and labor for the Holy Spirit to move among them. Largely due to Zinzendorf’s leadership in daily Bible studies, the group came to formulate a unique document, known as the Brotherly Agreement, which set forth basic tenets of Christian behavior. Residents of Herrnhut were required to sign a pledge to abide by these Biblical principals. There followed an intense and powerful experience of renewal, often described as the “Moravian Pentecost.”

On May 12, 1727 during a communion service, the entire congregation felt a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, and felt their previous differences swept away. This experience began the Moravian renewal which led to remarkable ministry. Christians were aglow with new life and power, dissension vanished and unbelievers were converted. Looking back to that day and the four amazing months that followed, Zinzendorf later recalled: “The whole place represented truly a visible habitation of God among men.”

A spirit of prayer was immediately evident in the fellowship and continued throughout that “golden summer of 1727,” as the Moravians came to designate the period. On August 27 of that year twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted to spend one hour each day in scheduled prayer. Some others enlisted in the “hourly intercession.” For over a hundred years members of the Moravian Church maintained this continual prayer. “At home and abroad, on land and sea, this prayer watch ascended unceasingly to the Lord,” stated historian A. J. Lewis.

In 1731, while attending the coronation of Christian VI in Copenhagen, the young Count met a converted slave from the West Indies, Anthony Ulrich. Anthony’s tale of his people’s plight moved Zinzendorf, who brought him back to Herrnhut. As a result, two young men, Leonard Dober and David Nitchmann, were sent to St. Thomas to live among the slaves and share the good news about Jesus. This was the first organized Protestant mission work, and grew rapidly to Africa, America, Russia, and other parts of the world. By 1791, sixty-five years after starting their hourly intercession, the small Moravian community had placed 300 missionaries from Greenland to South Africa, literally from one end of the earth to the other.

Members of the Mo­ra­vi­an Church helped populate the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. They are known as an historic Peace Church, as are the Brethren in Christ and Mennonites.

More 

Zinzendorf in America

Zinzendorf the hymn writer [people singing one at Herrnhut]

Christian History 1) bio, 2) Magazine: Zinzendorf and the Moravians

The early Moravians were accused of sexual impropriety. The criticism may have been appropriate, at times. Here’s an investigation: Wound Worship, “Enthusiasts” and “Sodomites”: A History of Radical Moravians (2019)

1982 movie:

All sorts of stuff at Zinzendorf.com. You need to work at this old website to reveal its treasures.

What do we do with this?

Pray: May our whole church be a truly visible habitation of God.

The Pietists wanted heart religion. They used Bible study, prayer and intentional community to grow it. They shared resources and went on mission to show it. What do you want? What yearning in your spirit meets the passion of God’s Spirit?

Julian of Norwich — May 8

Statue of Julian of Norwich, Norwich Cathedral, by David Holgate FSDC (2010)

Bible connection

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14-19

All about Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)

Julian of Norwich is known to us almost exclusively through her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which is widely acknowledged as one of the great classics on the spiritual life in Christ. She is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in English which has survived.

We do not know Julian’s actual name. Her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. We know from the medieval literary work, The Book of Margery Kempe, that Julian was known as a spiritual counselor. People would come to her cell in Norwich to seek advice. Considering that, at the time, the citizens of Norwich suffered from plague and poverty, as well as a famine, she must have counseled a lot of people in pain. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in God’s goodness.

Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love is based on a series of sixteen visions she received on the 8th of May 1373. Julian was lying on, what was thought at the time, to be her deathbed when suddenly she saw Christ bleeding in front of her. She received insight into his sufferings and his love for us.

Julian’s message is one of hope and trust in God, whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath —

all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God’s Spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love.

Julian did not perceive God as blaming or judging us, but as enfolding us in love. Famously, Julian used women’s experience of motherhood to explore how God loves us, referring to Jesus as our Mother.

The Revelations of Divine Love comes to us in two versions; the first (the short text) written shortly after the revelation given to Julian , the second (the long text) written twenty years later. The long text is greatly expanded to include her meditations on what she had been shown. Today, only seventeenth century copies of earlier manuscripts of the long text, and fragments from the fifteenth century survive.

Julian recounts that she was thirty and a half years old when she received her visions and this is how we know she was born in 1342. (An editor to one of the surviving manuscripts speaks of her as a “devout woman, who is a recluse at Norwich, and still alive, A.D. 1413”). There is further evidence to be found in a contemporary will that she was alive in 1416, and that she had a maid who lived in a room next to the cell. Apart from that, we know nothing else about Julian’s life. However, reading Revelations of Divine Love, reveals an intelligent, sensitive and very down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear and deep theological questions.

St Julian's Church, Norwich, 2009.jpg
The building where she lived

Interest in Julian’s writings has grown over recent decades More and more people have discovered the significance of her book. Her lyrical language and positive image of God speak to the present-day reader. Her work is well-respected by theologians, historians and literary scholars, and there are now dozens of translations of her Revelations, together with countless commentaries. Modern poets and writers as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Denise Levertov, and Iris Murdoch reference Julian in their writing.

Julian’s Shrine, off Rouen Rd. in Norwich (above), is visited by pilgrims from all over the world.

Quotes

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever Shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.

Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.

Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.

More

Revelations of Divine Love [audio book]

Robert Fruehwirth’s book that puts Julian into action [Amazon] [lecture]

Julian was not alone. Other women of her time were writing down similar experiences. You might like to know her predecessors from among the beguines: Mechthild von Magdeburg (ca. 1207-ca. 1294) and Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th centruy). Her contemporary, John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) writes in and about the tradition Julian resembles.

What do we do with this?

Julian’s revelations are not unattainable to any person who is seeking. Maybe we all have some kind of early experience that informs much of our lifelong walk with Jesus. Try the prayer of imagination.

Spend some time seeking. Let God clarify for you just what you should be hearing. If you really want to take Julian’s example, you will dare to write it all down and meditate on it another day.