Posted in category "Weirdos"
Thumbing through my copy of Magnificat in church last week, I came upon the story of Saint Ethelfleda. Her tale breathes a warm, oddball humanity–in contrast to the usual Magnificat fare of sanctity, torture and grim death for aspiring saints.
Saint Ethelfleda is someone I can relate to: swims naked, prays outdoors, entertains generously, and inspires young people.
Here are her miracles of renown, and those of her teenage admirer – who went on to surpass her in weird tales.
Saint Ethelfleda (c.930 – Feast Day – October 23) was a member of the Anglo-Saxon nobility. Following the death of her husband, she spent the rest of her life as abbess of Romsey. Her devotional acts included chanting psalms while standing naked in the cold water of the River Test.
One day, as Ethelfleda was preparing for a visit from her kinsman, King Athelstan, the royal chamberlain arrived in advance to see if she had the provisions necessary to host the king and his large retinue. Upon being informed by the chamberlain that she lacked an adequate supply of ale, Ethefleda answered, “My patroness, the Virgin Mother, will send me an abundance of ale.” She thereupon withdrew to an oratory of the Blessed Virgin, where she ardently prayed for heavenly intervention.
When on the next day the king and his men arrived after attending Mass, Ethelfleda’s modest barrel of ale supplied all they wanted without running dry.
Her legend also tells that she spent time with the king and queen at court, where Ethelfleda’s habit–for “ascetic reasons” –of bathing in the nude at night was the occasion of the queen’s nervous illness, brought on by the queen’s “indiscreet curiosity” when she followed her to see where she went. The queen was afterward cured by the abbess’ intercession.
The Magnificat story ended by saying the elderly Ethelfleda was frequently visited by a teenage boy who drew inspiration from her example. The youth was the future abbot of Glastonbury and archbishop of Canterbury – Saint Dunstan.
Saint Dunstan (909?-May 19, 988, Feast Day – May 19) was born near Glastonbury and lived for a time in the household of Saint Ethelfleda’s kinsman, King Athelstan. The dreamy young man became a great favorite of the king, his relatives and other members of the court became jealous and envious. They accused Dunstan of studying heathen literature and black magic, and prevailed upon the king to order him to leave the court.
As he was departing Dunstan was attacked. According to various accounts, he was beaten and thrown in a duck pond or cesspool, where his enemies pushed him face down in the muck.
He fled to Winchester and entered the service of Bishop Aelfheah the Bald, who endeavored to persuade him to become a monk. Dunstan was doubtful about whether or not he had the vocation to celibate life, but an outbreak of tumors all over his body–probably from blood-poisoning caused by the treatment to which he had been subjected, changed his mind.
He made his profession at the hands of St. Aelfheah (“Elf-high”) and returned to live the life of a hermit at Glastonbury, working on his forge and playing his harp. Here the Devil is supposed to have appeared to tempt him, and Dunstan seized him with his blacksmith tongs and made him promise never to enter a house with a horseshoe over the doorway.
Dunstan also worked as a silversmith and in the scriptorium while he was living at Glastonbury. Dunstan drew his own self-portrait in the small, kneeling monk beside Christ in the Glastonbury Classbook. The inscription reads: “I ask you, merciful Christ, to watch over me, Dunstan. May you not permit the Taenarian storms to swallow me.”
Did Saint Dunstan delve into occult practices in his youth? Perhaps. It has been speculated that his famous fight with the Devil was in fact a battle with his own desire to fully resume his former practices and studies.
The sketch in his own hand showing Dunstan holding the hem of Christ’s garment; and his petition for Christ’s aid to save him from the underworld–or Hell–may be more illuminating than we realize about his inner and outer life.
The “heathen literature” Saint Dunstan studied when he was younger may have been some Irish manuscripts describing druid practices and beliefs that survived Saint Patrick’s efforts at destroying all of them. His early education was received from Irish monks at Glastonbury. Dunstan obviously had access to manuscripts by Ovid or other ancient Greeks with his reference to “Taenarian storms” – Taenarius or Taenarus is the path or gateway to the underworld or Hades.
At least one person thought St. Dunstan might have practiced or dabbled in magic: William Godwin (1756-1836) , who included him in his book, Lives Of The Necromancers: Or An Account Of The Most Eminent Persons In Successive Ages, Who Have Claimed For Themselves, Or To Whom Has Been Imputed By Others, The Exercise Of Magical Power. The book was published in 1834. The other necromancer of ancient Britain Godwin cited was Merlin.
Goodwin asserted that at least one of Saint Dunstan’s “miracles” was really magic. As the story goes Eadmund, a young king of 18, sought the advice of Dunstan, but the jealousy of the courtiers was aroused and he was driven from court.
“For, a few days later, the king rode out to hunt the stag in Mendip Forest. He became separated from his attendants and followed a stag at great speed in the direction of the Cheddar cliffs. The stag rushed blindly over the precipice and was followed by the hounds. Eadmund endeavoured vainly to stop his horse; then, seeing death to be imminent, he remembered his harsh treatment of St. Dunstan and promised to make amends if his life was spared. At that moment his horse was stopped on the very edge of the cliff. Giving thanks to God, he returned forthwith to his palace, called for St. Dunstan and bade him follow, then rode straight to Glastonbury. Entering the church, the king first knelt in prayer before the altar, then, taking St. Dunstan by the hand, he gave him the kiss of peace, led him to the abbot’s throne and, seating him thereon, promised him all assistance in restoring Divine worship and regular observance.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
At that time Dunstan was 19 or 20 years old. He became the Keeper of the Treasure and the chief adviser to the king. When his royal friend was stabbed in May 946 by the outlaw Leof, the abbot buried him in the abbey.
It sounds like a spell Merlin would have concocted to change the king’s heart.
A counselor to successive kings, Dunstan continued to have potentially fatal run-ins with them. On the day of his coronation in 956, newly crowned King Eadwig left his banquet to join two women in bed–the king’s foster-mother, and her daughter, Aelfgifu. Dunstan followed in a fury and dragged the startled king back to the hall and his knights. The episode, no surprise, led to Dunstan’s exile and flight for his life.
Besides the number of times he was thrown out of court and then restored, Dunstan’s life was notable for the number of visions of angels and demons, including a warning by angels that he would die within three days. He did.
“..for all his life this unique and marvellous man had revelation of things distant in space and in time, and his happy spirit, full of the artist, metal-worker, lover of tunes and gay, lived on the edge of this world; the good and the evil of the unseen supported and attracted him as they do such few as are placed on the outposts of humanity.” (Hilaire Belloc, History of England)
Yesterday was a day of quotable quotes by fellow Catholics and would-be Catholics.
Vatican: In a move that caught just about everyone off guard, the Vatican said yesterday it would make it easier for conservative Anglicans uncomfortable with women priests, openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions to re-join the Roman Catholic Church. Anglicans would be able to “enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,” said Cardinal William J. Levada, the perfect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at a news conference announcing the decision. “The unity of the church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows,” he said.
“I don’t want to be a Roman Catholic,” said Martyn Minns, an Anglican bishop from Fairfax, Virginia. “There was a Reformation, remember.”
“Not all Anglo-Catholics can accept certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do they believe that they must first convert to Rome in order to be truly catholic Christians,” said the Rev. Jack Leo Iker of Fort Worth, Texas.
Your Censor Librorum says: I don’t think more than a handful of Anglican bishops, priests and congregations will take advantage of the Vatican’s new “Apostolic Constitution” to join the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops have big egos, and they will be nothing but small potatoes in the Church, because a lot of them are married. The big upside to this for liberal Catholics is the issue of a married priesthood. Why make an exception for Episcopalians, but not Catholics–Catholic priests, former priests and parishioners are going to ask. This latest Vatican outreach to bolster the fold with more conservatives is going to end up as a big pain in the neck for U.S. and other Roman Catholic bishops.
Sports: ESPN analyst and Ex-Met general manager, Steve Phillips, had a fling with a 22-year-old production assistant named Brooke Hundley over the summer. He dumped her. She got mad and wrote to his wife. The New York Post published her letter. “…he enjoys being with me,” Brooke wrote to Marni Phillips, “because I have more of a passion and drive to really do something with my life. And that you’re making him go to mass and therapy despite the fact that he doesn’t believe it will save your marriage, but he doesn’t want to lose hs kids.”
She went on..“I’m not telling you all of this to hurt you in any way, but simply to show you that I am a real person in his life and that I care deeply about his happiness. I was raised Catholic too and while I know our faith dissuades divorce, it also respects it with regards to infidelity because people should have the opportunity to be with the whomever makes them happy and can give them what they need.”
The finale is the worst: “I may be only 22, but I’m not stupid, and I hope you can understand we never wanted you to find out this way. I want you to meet me and I want to tell you anything you may want to know, my cell number is xxxxx, check the phone records you can see I’m not lying and to top it off Steve has a big birthmark on his crotch right above his penis and one on his left inner thigh, so you know I’m not being fake.”
Your Censor Librorum says: I hope Mrs. Phillips can see a way to speak to her husband again after she’s finished beating him to a pulp. As for Miss Hundley, where did you hear the Church “respects” infidelity if a married person finds someone on the side to fill an unmet emotional or sexual need? I must have missed that one in my pre-Cana conference.
American Idol: Adam Lambert is an American Idol runner-up who came out of the closet after the season ended. But a recent Details magazine shoot had Lambert in a steamy embrace, kissing a lingerie model who shed her bikini. “Women know he’s gay, but they are still crazy about him. He’s no Liberace,” said Details editor-in-chief, Dan Peres. “To put him with a beautiful female model felt absolutely right.”
Lambert told the magazine, “I like kissing women sometimes. Women are pretty. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily sleeping with them.”
Your Censor Liborum Says: This sounds like Rock Hudson.
Mob Guy: A confessed Gambino family gunman, Robert Mormando, had a surprise for everyone in a Brooklyn courtroom on Monday. He told the judge he was gay.
Mormando, 44, was being sentenced for his part in the 2003 shooting of a bagel store owner, who was wounded in his driveway.
A divorced father of two, Mr. Mormando was born and raised in Ozone Park, Queens, a neighborhood long associated with former don, John Gotti.
Complicating matters, Mr. Mormando had a close personal friendship with Richard G. Gotti, John Gotti’s nephew. Richard Gotti is currently in prison on a federal racketeering charge. While there is no suggestion that the friendship was anything more than that, the mere fact an “avowed” gay man was once “inseparable” from a member of the Gotti family is “an intolerable stain on their name,” said a person who has knowledge of the case.
Indeed, that kind of “stain” can get you killed if you’re mobbed up. In 1992, John D’Amato,a former boss in the DeCavalcante crime family, was murdered by an underling when, after an argument, D’Amato’s girlfriend told his cronies he was gay.
Anthony Capo, a former soldier for the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family, which is often described as the real-life “Sopranos,” said he killed John “Johnny Boy” D’Amato after finding out about his secret life.
“Nobody’s gonna respect us if we have a gay homosexual boss sitting down discussing La Cosa Nostra business,” Capo told jurors in Manhattan federal court. “She told me John D’Amato and her were going to sex clubs in the city, swapping partners and John was engaging in homosexual activity,” he said.
Your Censor Liborum Says: This guy must have been absolutely nuts to come out in court. Didn’t he watch the Sopranos?
The Vatican has approved a study which concludes that men and women sin differently.
When commenting on a new book dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on the seven capital vices, Monseigneur Wojciech Giertych, personal theologian to Pope Benedict XVI, told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that “there is no sexual equality when it comes to sin.”
In the article, “The Unsuspecting Resources of Weakness,” Mgr. Giertych referred to his own anecdotal experience at the confessional, and said his insights were supported by an analysis of confessional data carried out by the Rev. Roberto Busa, a 96-year-old Jesuit priest. Fr. Busa is the author of Index Thomisticus, a complete lemmatization of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Mgr. Giertych asserts St. Thomas Aquinas taught that pride is humanity’s greatest enemy because it leads a person to believe he or she doesn’t need God and “hinders a person from having a relationship with God.”
Lust and sins against chastity “are less dangerous because they are accompanied by a strong sense of humiliation and, as such, can be an occasion to return to God.”
Mgr. Giertych describes men’s sins as “difficult,” while women’s are described as “dangerous.”
“When one looks at capital sins not from the view of their opposition to grace but at the difficulty they create,” Mgr. Geirtych states, “it is clear that men experience them differently from women. For men, the most difficult to take on is lust, followed by gluttony, sloth, anger, pride, envy and avarice. For women, the most dangerous is pride, and then envy, anger, lust, gluttony and the last is slothfulness.”
A woman described as a founder of feminist theology has a different spin on sin and the sexes.
Valerie Saiving (married name – Goldstein), a religious studies teacher at Hobart and William Smith Colleges from 1959 to 1987, published an essay in 1960 in which she appeals for greater awareness of the ways in which concepts of masculinity and femininity shape the ways in which we experience sin. Her theories have been developed and refined by two generations of female scholars.
In her article, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” she forms what can be called a feminine complaint against contemporary theologians who make the mistake, she believes, of assuming that a “thinking man’s theology is equally good for a thinking woman.”
The crux of Saiving’s argument is that the focus on pride–characteristic of traditional Christian interpretations of sin–reflects male experience in a way that is inappropriate to the experience of most, if not all, women.
A landmark in both feminism and religious studies, Saiving’s article was the first to insert gender in the study of religion. Within two months of its publication in the Journal of Religion, Time magazine ran a 700-word article on Saiving and her paper.
Read the Time article here.
I feel ashamed and very uneducated that I never heard of Valerie Saiving prior to researching this article. I’m grateful to have discovered her now. Her analysis was the starting point for the modern development of feminist theology. 20 years after her article, author and religious studies professor, Judith Plaskow, took up and developed Saiving’s analysis in Womenspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion.
I think it was intriguing for Mgr. Gierytch to partner with Fr. Roberta Busa, known for his usage of computers for literary and liturgical analysis. I was a little scandalized he used confessional data (I thought it was sacroscant?) and, the sampling was probably pretty small and select, since not that many people go to confession anymore, and most of the examples Mgr. Gierytech cites are nuns.
The current book by my armchair is The Power and the Glory: Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II’s Vatican by David Yallop. In the chapter, “The Marketplace” the author discusses the discreet, but powerful involvement of money in the popular Medjugorje pilgrimage site. A series of local bishops declared the apparitions a hoax and the visionaries liars, but so far the Vatican has declined to make a pronouncement.
On page 221 of the book the author quotes this gem from a member of the Secretariat of State about Medjugorje: “Of course its a fraud but the money is genuine.”
On January 6, 2009, the conservative Italian Catholic website “Petrus” broke a story that Pope Benedict has instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prepare a vademecum, or handbook, on how to deal with alleged Marian apparations and visions such as those at Medjugorje. It actually amounts to an update of a 1978 document on the same subject.
It would reportedly require individuals who said they have experienced appearances or visions of the Virgin Mary to remain silent while their claims are investigated carefully by Church authorities.
The document was also rumoured to specify that local bishops should set up commissions composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, theologians and priests to investigate the claimed apparitions.
The commission is supposed to establish whether the visionary seems psychologically unstable; whether trickery or economic interests may be involved; whether any alleged revelation is consistent with church teaching; and whether there are grounds to suspect demonic influence.
One interesting winkle: according to the Petrus report the alleged seers will be required to turn over their computers to investigators, who are supposed to determine if they’ve gone online researching miracles and wonders–suggesting that perhaps they wanted to minic other famed incidents.
In the background to these alleged new guidelines lurks the continuing controversy over Medjugorje, the Bosnian site where the Virgin Mary has been delivering revelation to a group of local seers since 1981. Medjugorje has become a pilgrimage destination for millions of devotees every year, despite the fact the church has never authenticated the visions. Pope John Paul II was a believer.
Vatican concern has also been shaped by ferment in Italy over the “Madonnina” or “little Madonna” of Civitavecchia–a small statute of the Virgin, originally purchased in Medjugorje, which has reportedly been shedding tears of blood since the mid-1990s.
In May 2008, his excellency Andrea Gemma, 78, bishop emeritus of the Isernia-Venafro Diocese northeast of Rome and one of Italy’s best known exorcists, announced in Petrus that the Catholic Church had officially stated that the Blessed Mother had never appeared in Medjugorje and that the entire operation was the “work of the devil.” When asked to be more specific about the interests motivating involvement in Medjugorje, the bishop declared, “I’m referring to the devil’s shit, money.”
The fact that many priests from around the world continue to lead pilgrimages there is “a disgrace,” the bishop added. “The phony seers and their assistants make money hand over fist, while at the same time the devil creates dissension between the faithful and the Church.”
The well known theologian Rene Laurentin, after years of research, has recorded over 2,450 Marian documented events in the history of the church. But out of almost 300 requests for investigation initiated in the last 100 years, church authorities have officially certified as true only a dozen appearances. The most recent recognition is “Our Lady of Laus,” in France, which took place on May 8, 2008.
The local diocese declared the apparition as authentic in 1665. It only took the Vatican three and a half centuries to concur.
New Calvinist Mark Driscoll, 38, is the head preacher at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He believes Christianity has gone soft on sin, women should submit to their husbands, and the Gospels have been watered down to a glorified self-help program. In regards to church music, “Iâ€™ll be happy,” he said, “when we have more than just prom songs to Jesus sung by some effeminate guy on an acoustic guitar offered as mainstream worship music.”
Driscoll says he admires Martin Luther, the vulgar, beer-swilling theological rebel who sparked the Reformation. “I found him to be something of a mentor. I didn’t have all the baggage he did. But you can see him with a quill in one hand and a drink in the other. He married a brewer and renegade nun. His story is kind of indie rock.”
Driscoll was raised Roman Catholic. In high school he met a pretty blond pastor’s daughter named Grace who gave him his first Bible. He was “born again” at 19. “God talked to me,” Driscoll said. “He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, plant churches and train men.”
The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that..would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
Driscoll takes issue with any group who would rename the Trinity (like “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier”) “The One God has kindly told us who He isâ€”Father, Son, and Spirit. But some chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists and minors in â€œwomynâ€™s studiesâ€ are not happy because two persons of the Trinity have a dude-ish ring.”
“There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.”
Mark Driscoll certainly is up for a butch, rough trade Jesus. If he ever wants to come back to Catholicsm, he can always hook up with the Dignity leather group, The Defenders.
The web is loaded with praise, criticism and withering commentary on Driscoll, his church, and his brand of New Calvinism. Two of the funniest are Ultimate Fighting Jesus by Dan Savage, and David Goldstein’s Huffington Post blog, Who’s to blame for Pastor Haggard’s fall from grace? His fat, lazy wife.