Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us. Come, let us adore him.
Or: O that today you would listen to his voice: harden not your hearts.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: Violet.
St Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1578 - 1622)
He was born in Sigmaringen in Germany. He joined the Capuchin Friars at the age of 35 and led a harsh life of prayer and vigils. An assiduous preacher, he was ordered by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to preach orthodox doctrine in the Grisons (part of Switzerland). He was murdered by a Calvinist mob at Seewis on 24 April 1622. See the articles in the Catholic Encyclopaedia
Other saints: St Erkenwald (- 693)
Saint Erconwald [or Erkenwald] was born at “Stallyngeton in Lindsey” (possibly Stallingborough, near Grimsby) in the early seventh century. His father is variously described as Anna or Offa, king of East Anglia, and a pagan. Erconwald was converted to Christianity at an early age by St Mellitus, the companion of Augustine and first Bishop of London [in the continuous line which ended in 1559: see the note at the bottom]. He then converted his younger sister Ethelburga and baptised her, much to the fury of their father. Ethelburga eventually fled her parents’ home with one servant to escape being forced into marriage with a pagan.
In the year 666 Erconwald founded the monastery of Chertsey, on an island in the Thames, apparently at the junction of several kingdoms. It is described as being founded in the reign of King Egbert, King of Kent; the foundation was confirmed, and richly endowed, by Frithwald, viceroy of Surrey, under Wulfhere King of Mercia. The Viceroy put himself and his son under obedience to Erconwald in return for prayers. Wulfhere confirmed this endowment. There is a further charter of Frithwald and Erconwald, to increase the lands of the monastery: the “Limites Terrarum” describes lands in Chertsey, Thorpe, Egham and adjacent parishes now attached to the monastery.
Shortly after this Erconwald founded a convent at Barking in Essex, intended to be a refuge for his sister Ethelburga. The foundation charter, countersigned by Hodilred, King of Essex, provides us with a specimen of the saint’s handwriting. In the course of building the house at Barking one beam was found to be too short, and was pulled out to the correct length by Erconwald and his sister.
Erconwald remained as Abbot of Chertsey until 675 when he was consecrated third Bishop of London by St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. St Erconwald appears to have been the first resident bishop, and probably began the building of St Paul’s, although traditionally this was adapted from a pagan temple of old Londinium. In 677 he visited Rome, and obtained a number of privileges for his diocese and monastery from Pope Agatho I.
During his time as Bishop, Erconwald became noted for miracles and for evangelization. He instructed St Neot, afterwards of Crowland Abbey, and the two Kings of Essex, Sebbi and Sigheri, the former of whom afterwards became a hermit in St Paul’s under Erconwald’s successor Waldhere.
In 690 Erconwald was summoned, together with St Wilfrid, to the deathbed of St Theodore. Both ministered to him, but Theodore was more concerned to speak to Wilfrid, whom he wished to succeed him. In 692 King Ine of Wessex mentions his “father Erconwald” who assisted him in codifying the Laws of Wessex.
Thus Erconwald is associated with the Kings of East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Wessex and Kent, all of whom seem to have had interests centering in the Chertsey area. The King of Sussex, Æthelwealh, was godson to Wulfhere of Mercia, so six of the Seven Kingdoms are involved in his story.
Towards the end of his life Erconwald was confined to a wheelchair, about which many stories are told. On one occasion a raging river parted to allow the Saint to cross in his chair; on another one wheel fell off but the chair miraculously did not upset. After his death many miracles of healing were worked by the same wheelchair.
In 693 Brithwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated Waldhere as fourth Bishop of London, so it seems likely that Erconwald died in that year, on 30th April. He died while on retreat at Barking Abbey, and there was the usual unseemly dispute over who should have the burying of him, between Barking, Chertsey and London. The Canons of St Paul’s prevailed, and despite a last-ditch attempt by the nuns of Barking, succeeded in capping their miracle with a greater. (The nuns prayed for rain to swell the river at Ilford to make it impossible for the cortege to cross, and to extinguish the candles, but the men of London persuaded the candles to relight, and the river to part again so that they crossed dry-shod.) Despite all this he was buried in a common earthen grave where he remained until 1087 when a fire destroyed the cathedral and everything in it except the coffin containing his remains. These were then translated to a splendid new shrine behind the high altar, where they remained right up to the Great Fire of 1666, despite the depredations of the Reformation. He was venerated throughout the Middle Ages.
Note: A pedant informs us – and we gratefully acknowledge it – that the above notes are not quite correct. There were Bishops of London long before the first Bishop of London. There may have been up to 16 Bishops of London in Romano-British times; then again, there may not. Bishops from York and from London are documented as having attended the Council of Arles in the year 314. Actually, the record says there were two Bishops of London at the Council, which is impossible. One, Restitutus, was “de civitate Londenensi”, “from the city of London”, which seems reasonable enough. The other, Adelfius, was “de civitate Colonia Londenensium” and this may be a mistake for “de civitate Camulodunensium” – “the city of the people of Camulodunum”, or Colchester. Then again, another scholar has argued that he might have been from Caerleon. The history of our own times may one day be as thin as this!
Other saints: Saint Egbert (639-729)
Argyll & the Isles
Ecgberht was an Anglo-Saxon nobleman, probably from Northumbria. In his youth he travelled to Ireland in 664, to study. One of his acquaintances at this time was Chad. He settled at the monastery of Rathelmigisi (Rathmelsigi). His Northumbrian traveling companions, including Æthelhun, died of the plague, and he contracted it as well. He vowed that if he recovered he would become a peregrinus, on perpetual pilgrimage from his homeland of Britain, and would lead a life of penitential prayer and fasting. He was then 25, and when he recovered he kept his vow until his death at the age of 90.
He began to organize monks in Ireland to proselytize in Frisia, in what is now north-western Germany. Many other high-born notables were associated with his work: Saint Adalbert, Saint Swithbert, and Saint Chad.
He had influential contacts with the kings of Northumbria and of the Picts, as well as with Iona, which he persuaded to adopt the Roman dating of Easter. He became bishop of Lindisfarne. He died on the first day that the Easter feast was observed on this date in his monastery, on 24 April 729.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Gregory Nazianzen (329 - 390)
Gregory Nazianzen, “Gregory of Nazianzus”, was the son of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, a Christian convert. (Nazianzus is a small town in Cappadocia, now the village of Nenizi in the Turkish province of Aksaray).
The culture of the Hellenic world means that a religion is not merely something to be lived: it also has to make sense. It has to work not only in practice, but in theory as well. Despite the passionate anti-Greek reaction of the Reformation, we are still, in this sense, all Greeks today. Take the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. Some people reject it because it sounds like polytheism. Instead, they make Jesus not God but something created by God – either a supremely favoured man or some kind of intermediate being. The Arians had such a view, and so does the Koran. Or they make Jesus only God, not man, relegating the intense humanity of the Passion to the status of a mere performance, a show put on by God through phantoms and angels rather than something utterly real and of eternal significance. Both these responses show a general feature of heresies, which is that they simplify the richness of orthodoxy and flatten it into a shadow of itself. “Simpler” may well mean “more easily acceptable”, but that is not the same as “true”. One could simplify quantum physics and get rid of its paradoxes until there is no metaphysical weirdness for anyone to object to – that might well make more people happy, but it would not be true.
The three men we call “the Cappadocian Fathers” were active after the Council of Nicaea, working to formulate Trinitarian doctrine precisely and, in particular, to pin down the meaning and role of the least humanly comprehensible member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. St Basil of Caesarea, “St Basil the Great”, was the leader and organizer; Gregory of Nazianzus was the thinker, the orator, the poet, pushed into administrative and episcopal roles by circumstances and by Basil; and Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, although not a great stylist, was the most gifted of the three as a philosopher and theologian. Together, the Cappadocian Fathers hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity like blacksmiths forging a piece of metal by hammer-blows into its perfect, destined shape. They were champions – and successful champions – of orthodoxy against Arianism, a battle that had to be conducted as much on the worldly and political plane as on the philosophical and theological one. The sciences ought not to have to work like this, but all of them, at one time or other in their history, do.
It is a relief to us as readers to note, after all this, that St Gregory of Nazianzus, as well as receiving the title of Doctor of the Church, is acknowledged as the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age, and that this “style” does not adopt the over-ripe excesses of some late-imperial rhetoric (Augustine can get carried away in this direction sometimes, and Cassiodorus, in the sixth century, spends altogether too much of his time there). Gregory’s Second Readings do sound almost operatic at times, but the grandeur of the style does not exist for its own sake but comes from the splendour of its subject-matter. It is possible to be carried away by it, and enjoyable, even, to let that happen; but underlying the experience there is always a sense of being carried away in the direction of somewhere definite and somewhere worthwhile.
Liturgical colour: violet
Violet is a dark colour, ‘the gloomy cast of the mortified, denoting affliction and melancholy’. Liturgically, it is the colour of Advent and Lent, the seasons of penance and preparation.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 John 1:8-9 ©|
If we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth; but if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 John 2:1-2 ©|
If anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just. He is the sacrifice that takes our sins away; and not only ours, but the whole world’s.
|Afternoon reading (None)||1 John 2:8-10 ©|
The night is over and the real light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling.