st. colman is remembered nowadays mostly, alas, as the "loser" at the council of whitby. as esther de waal reminds us in an essay she wrote for i have called you friends, in honor of frank t. friswold, "[whitby] was no more than a local council, common enough at the time, called by a politically motivated king for immediate practical reasons."* that is true so far as it goes. true enough, whitby was a local council, called mostly to allow domestic tranquility for oswy and his wife eanflaed. i myself have argued for an easter date corresponding to the actual equinox rather than to a mis-predicted one, and i follow neither of the customs of tonsure considered at whitby. what makes whitby so important, however, is not what was decided, but how it was decided.
to quote miss de waal: "when the saxon wilfred finished speaking, the king asked 'with a smile, that famous question: "tell me which is greater in the kingdom of heaven, columba or the apostle peter?"'"**
this morning's gospel reading for matins was peter's confession, according to mark (8:29=9:2). it is the tradition from the second century that mark's gospel is based on the recollections of peter, and in mark's account of peter's confession there is no basis for petrine primacy, no rock of the church, no keys. perhaps this is because peter well knew jesus' answers to the questions about greatness in the kingdom.
oswy asked the wrong question. wilfred gave the wrong answer. there is no "greater" in the kingdom of heaven, at least not knowable to us mortals. both peter and columba learned humility in their lives, and so both may be considered "great" in the kingdom. but neither would, i suspect, claim to be greater than the other, and certaitly any greatness they achieved was not inherited by future abbots of iona nor by bishops of rome.
unfortunately, rather than being a mark of unity, as miss de waal suggests, whitby came to be used as a precedent for the papal split of the church, resulting in lack of communion between the eastern and western church, and presenting a problem in the english church which has been only partially and painfully solved in the post-tudor english church.
*"a fresh look at the synod of whitby: a mark of unity and reconciliation," in i have called you friends (cambridge, massachussets: cowley publications), p. 31.
the morning dawns warily, with clouds and little bursts of wind that suggest rain may be coming: an appropriate beginning for a day whose matins readings are the building of the ark, and jesus with the twelve on the lake after feeding the 4,000. the 1943 lectionary skips the second reading story, which i read anyway, but it does wisely link the boat without bread with the healing of the blind man that takes two attempts.
i have read several modern scholar-critics of the lectionary who deplore the "redundancy" of including "the feeding stories" twice. we are, alas, certainly no quicker and often much slower than the twelve to see who christ jesus is and what he is doing. if we wer the blind man at bethsaida, it would almost certainly take three or more applications of spittle and mud to our eyes before we would be willing to see.
i was given a lesson in the meaning of "praise ye the lord" this morning. there is a fallen tree about thirty-five yards into the holler beyond my small yard. i often sit on that log for mattins and vespers. this morning was unremarkable enough after i went back in for my sweater, cold, overcast, still.
but in benedicte, omnia opera, my regular saturday morning canticle to celebrate creation and sabbath, when i recited the lines, "o ye winds of god, bless ye the lord: praise him and magnify him forever," a wind began to rise out of the valley. and at the lines, "o ye ice and snow, bless ye the lord: praise him and magnify him forever," flakes of snow or frozen mist began to ride on that wind.
"praise the lord" is a common enough phrase. what does it mean? it means to do that for which i am created. it means, without ceasing to be grateful to christ jesus for being my saviour, that i pay careful obedience to christ jesus my lord. it means i follow the admonition of his holy mother at the wedding in cana, "whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." it means i must attend to the voice of his father omnipotent on mount tabor, "hear ye him."
to praise the lord means we must never forget that of which annie dillard reminds us in holy the firm, that "we are created."
jubilate deo. "it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves."
"o ye servants of the lord, bless ye the lord: praise him, and magnify him for ever."
on a cold march morning in 1992 i earnestly presented a rule and made vows to bishop richard gundrey for something to be called the order of st. chad. i had chosen chad as our patron (at that time, my patron) because he lived in times just as confusing and transitional as ours, and had managed to remain faithful to his lord and the traditions in which he had been trained (by st. aidan, no less) and to remain humble even when he was made bishop.
at one time there were six of us in this little order, trying to follow a rule of life as we lived in the busyness of the modern, urban world. we dwindled, more or less, over the years. one who still follows the rule is now the directress of an orphanage. two became benedictines, and left the busyness of the modern, urban world. one decided to return to the native american traditions of his adopted father. one i have lost track of. and then here am i, in a small town in the ozarks, but certainly in the buzyness of the world.
the icon that heads this post is of st. john the wonderworker (of shanghai and san francisco). it is he who has encouraged me to start up again taking seriously the need for what st. chad and the other orthodox celtic saints have to offer us. i have followed the rule, at times less faithfully than others, for eighteen years now, and i have no regrets.
so here i will post lives of celtic saints, suggestions for a rule of life, and stories of my wanderings trying to follow my patron. in the early days of the order, we had a quarterly newsletter. now it is much easier, and i hope not too much against the spirit of st. chad, to do something similar on-line.