Wednesday, April 9, 2014

‘ . . . mighty men which were of old, men of renown’ -- Genesis 6:4

Southrons and many other Westerners have had their connections to the past cut quite short, replaced by the passing desires and comforts of the moment.  For those who wish to begin repairing those ties with our forefathers and the Christian civilization they built, a great place to start is St Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  In it one will find holy men and women worthy of our honor and our prayers and our walking-after, men and women of our own Christian Faith and our own flesh and blood. 

In an age of artificially fabricated idols with whom we share no true or lasting bond (be they actors, musicians, athletes, politicians, etc.), we need more than ever to gather near to ourselves our kinfolk of the British and Irish Isles, Africa, and the other lands of our mothers and fathers and listen to them, learn from their lives and teachings, and pass them on to our children and those after them.  Then our extended family will come closer to reaching its proper bounds, as we live and rejoice in those who are in heaven as well as in those who are on the earth.  For the Body of Christ is one, and death cannot separate us even now.

We have already seen some of the life of holy St Oswald in an earlier posting; let us now read some of the life of his predecessor, the holy King Edwin of Northumbria, who brought the Orthodox Christian Faith to his people in the 7th century after Christ’s Incarnation and later died a martyr.

KING EDWIN, therefore, with all the nobility of the nation, and a large number of the common sort, received the faith, and the washing of regeneration, in the eleventh year of his reign, which is the year of the incarnation of our Lord 627, and about one hundred and eighty after the coming of the English into Britain. He was baptized at York, on the holy day of Easter, being the 12th of April, in the church of St. Peter the Apostle, which he himself had built of timber, whilst he was catechising and instructing In order to receive baptism. In that city also he appointed the see of the bishopric of his instructor and bishop, Paulinus. But as soon as he was baptized, he took care, by the direction of the same Paulinus, to build in the same place a larger and nobler church of stone, in the midst whereof that same oratory which he had first erected should be enclosed. Having therefore laid the foundation, he began to build the church square, encompassing the former oratory. But before the whole was raised to the proper height, the wicked assassination of the king left that work to be finished by Oswald his sucessor. Paulinus, for the space of six years from that time, that is, till the end of the reign of that king, by his consent and favour, preached the word of God in that Country, and all that were preordained to eternal life believed and were baptized. Among whom were Osfrid and Eadfrid, King Edwin's sons, who were both born to him, whilst he was in banishment, of Quenberga, the daughter of Ceari, king of the Mercians.

Afterwards other children of his by Queen Ethelberga were baptized, viz. Ethelhun and his daughter Etheidrith, and another, Wuscfrea, a son; the first two of which were snatched out of this life whilst they were still in their white garments, and buried in the church at York. Ifli, the son of Osfrid, was also baptized, and many more noble and illustrious persons. So great was then the fervour of the faith, as is reported, and the desire of the washing of salvation among the nation of the Northumbrians, that Paulinus at a certain time coming with the king and queen the royal country-seat, which is called Adgefrin, stayed there with them thirty-six days, fully occupied in catechising and baptizing; during which days, from morning till night, he did nothing else but instruct the people resorting from all villages and places, in Christ's saving word; and when instructed, he washed them with the water of absolution in the river Glen, which is close by. This town, under the following kings, was abandoned, and another was built intead of it, at the place called Melmin.

These things happened in the province of the Bernicians; but in that of the Deiri also, where he was wont often to be with the king, he baptized in the river Swale, which runs by the village of Cataract; for as yet oratories, or fonts, could not be made in the early infancy of the church in those parts. But he built a church in Campodonum, which afterwards the pagans, by whom King Edwin was slain, burnt, together with all the town. In the place of which the later kings built themselves a country-seat in the Country called Loidis. But the altar, being of stone, escaped the fire and is still preserved in the monastery of the most reverend abbot and priest, Thridwulf, which is in Elsiete wood.

. . .

PAULINUS also preached the word to the province of Lindsey, which is the first on the south side of the river Humber, stretching out as far as the sea; and he first converted the governor of the city of Lincoln, whose name was Blecca, with his whole family. He likewise built, in that city, a stone church of beautiful workmanship; the roof of which having either fallen through age, or been thrown down by enemies, the walls are still to be seen standing, and every year some miraculous cures are wrought in that place, for the benefit of those who have faith to seek the same. In that church, Justus having departed to Christ, Paulinus consecrated Honorius bishop in his stead, as will be hereafter mentioned in its proper place. A certain abbot and priest of the monastery of Peartaneu, a man of singular veracity, whose name was Deda, in relation to the faith of this province told me that one of the oldest persons had informed him, that he himself had been baptized at noon-day, by the Bishop Paulinus, in the presence of King Edwin, with a great number of the people, in the river Trent, near the city, which in the English tongue is called Tiovulfingacestir; and he was also wont to describe the person of the same Paulinus, that he was tall of stature, a little stooping, his hair black, his visage meagre, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and majestic. He had also with him in the ministry, James, the deacon, a man of zeal and great fame in Christ's church, who lived even to our days.

It is reported that there was then such perfect peace in Britain, wheresoever the dominion of King Edwin extended, that, as is still proverbially said, a woman with her newborn babe might walk throughout the island, from sea to sea, without receiving any harm. That king took such care for the good of his nation, that in several places where he had seen clear springs near the highways he caused stakes to be fixed, with brass dishes hanging at them, for the conveniency of travellers; nor durst any man touch them for any other purpose than that for which they were designed, either through the dread they had of the king, or for the affection which they bore him. His dignity was so great throughout his dominions, that his banners were not only borne before him in battle, but even in time of peace, when he rode about his cities, towns, or provinces, with his officers, the standard-bearer was wont to go before him. Also, when he walked along the streets, that sort of banner which the Romans call Tufa, and the English, Tuuf, was in like manner borne before him (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapters XIV and XVI,, posted August 1998 by Paul Halsall, accessed 9 April 2014).

When one thinks of King Edwin riding on horseback through his realms, receiving due love from his people, and then thinks of similar scenes in the South with Washington, Lee, Johnston, Jackson, or others riding with their majestic bearing and being honored by thankful Southerners, one is struck at how little, in some ways, things had changed in the ways of life of Englishmen from that time up to the time of the War in the South.

Through the prayers of the saints, the mercies of God, and our own prayers, fasting, and other efforts, perhaps we Southerners will see once again pious, evangelistic, folk-loving kings riding (not driving a barbarous motor car) into our towns and villages with the shepherds of the Church to help and sanctify us.  May we be so blessed as to enter into such a venerable tradition.

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