Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Timely observations from St Bede

I was struck by how apposite to church life today are some of the comments in the following extract from a homily by St Bede, who died in 735. It might suggest that early eighth century Northumbrian churchmen and congregations were as fallible as their twenty-first century descendants and successors.

Here is what St Bede had to say - I have highlighted the passage which struck me.

" When the Lord first shewed forth in a figure by cursing the barren fig tree, he afterwards put before us in action even more plainly by casting the profaners out of the temple. The tree was not guilty because of her fruitlessness at this time when the Lord was hungry, for the time of figs was not yet come. But those priests were guilty because they carried on worldly business in the Lord's house, and thereby neglected to bring forth that fruit of godliness which was due, and which the Lord was hungry to find in them. The Lord made the fig tree to wither away under his curse, that all men who saw it, and all men who hear of it, might know that they will be condemned by the judgment of God, if they content themselves with the sound of good works, without the solid fruit of good works, after the fashion of that barren fig tree which gave pleasant shade and the rustle of green leaves, without the solid fruit, of which those leaves were wont to be an evidence.

But because the buyers and sellers heeded not the parable of the barren fig tree, the Lord visited them with the righteous indignation which they deserved, and cast out the traffickers in earthly things from that house. For it had been commanded that nothing should be done therein save the work of God, to wit, the offering to him of sacrifices and prayers, and the reading, teaching, and singing of his Word. Yet we may well believe that nothing was sold or bought in the temple save things needful to the service thereof, as we read in another place, that when Jesus went into the temple he found them that sold oxen and sheep and doves. For we are certainly given to understand that it was the worshippers from afar who, from the inhabitants of the place, bought such things as were needful for sacrifice in the Lord's house.

Therefore, if the Lord would not suffer even so much as the buying and selling in the temple of those things which he willed to be offered in sacrifice therein (and this, no doubt, on account of the greed and cheating which so often accompany buying and selling), with what severity, suppose ye, would he visit such as he might find idling away the time of worship in laughter, or in gossip, or in any other sin? If the Lord will not suffer to be carried on in his house such worldly business as may be freely done elsewhere, how much more shall such things as ought never to be done anywhere, draw down the anger of God if they be done in his own holy house? The words: Them that sold doves: do remind us that the Holy Ghost was given unto the Lord in the shape of a dove, and by doves therefore we are reminded of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. They, then, to this day sell doves in the temple of God, who take money in the Church for the laying on of their hands, whereby the Holy Ghost is given from heaven."

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