Friday, June 3, 2016

Christian Progress

Too often progress is thought of in terms of things outside of man:  a new medicine, more college graduates, and so on.  There is nothing essentially wrong with some of these things, but without progress inside of man, they may well lead him into difficulties he did not foresee.

But the Church teaches us another way, especially in the lives of Her saints:  that progress is ghostly (spiritual), that it is the acquisition of the virtues, of holiness, of the Holy Ghost Himself, and that these things often happen more readily through a man’s forsaking of material abundance, of the world’s outward progress.  But it is just such acts that do bring true advancement to the material world; for as a man’s inner life is healed and rightly ordered, then the world outside of him will also partake of his blessedness, as the Grace of God overflows from within him to all people and things that are around him, leading to repentance, healing of diseases, taming of wild beasts, the understanding of mysteries, and more of such things.

St Walstan of Bawburgh (+1016) is a wonderful picture of this.  As a lowly farm worker, having renounced the privileges of æþeldom (nobility), he shows what is possible for each of us in the Christian life, and should be especially known and loved by agrarian peoples like the South.

An account of his life begins in this way:

In the year 975 a child was born in the village of Bawburgh, a few miles to the west of Norwich in Norfolk(1). His parents were called Benedict and Blide and were nobles related to the English Royal Family of the House of Wessex. His mother indeed was a kinswoman of King Ethelred and his son Edmund Ironside(2). This child was baptized Walstan.

From the example of his parents, who possessed books, the child Walstan studied the Scriptures. In particular he was troubled by the meaning and implications of a verse in the Gospel of St Luke (14, 33): 'Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple'. At the age of seven Walstan received instruction in the Faith from Bishop Theodred of Elmham with the assistance of Fr Ælred, the parish priest of Bawburgh. At this early date the child Walstan pledged to renounce all for love of God, asking not for an earthly crown as he of noble blood might perhaps expect, but for a crown of thorns and an eternal reward. He vowed to devote himself to God in humility and anonymity, forsaking the material security of his home and his ties of nobility.

Shortly before his thirteenth birthday, Walstan told his parents that he must now leave their home. Although forewarned of their son's renunciation in a dream, Benedict and Blide were reluctant to let their son depart. Eventually, however, they realised that this was God's Will for him and they consented to his wish(3).

Thus Walstan left his parents' home and took to the road. Almost at once he met two beggars to whom he gave his rich garments. He then walked on northwards, clad in the poorest of clothes, with no outward sign of his parents' wealth. Within an hour or so the path had taken him to the village of Taverham, only a few miles north of Bawburgh, where he rested. A landed peasant called Nalga saw him and, in need of a labourer, offered Walstan work. The latter agreed.

Walstan soon gained a reputation for hard work and piety and also developed an affinity with the poor and was charitable in the extreme, giving both his food and clothing to those less fortunate than himself. Often he would carry out his work barefoot, having given away even his shoes.  . . .

Source:  Fr Andrew Phillips, ‘St Walstan of Bawburgh’,, accessed 31 May 2016

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