Saturday, 30 November 2013

St Andrew and the Bargain of Heaven

Prayers for the feast of St Andrew, BL Arundel 109, f.162

Here are some extracts from Ælfric's sermon for St Andrew's Day, 30 November, written at the end of the tenth century. (The whole sermon can be found here, but this is my translation.)

Crist on sumere tide ferde wið þære Galileiscan sæ, and geseah twegen gebroðra, Simonem, se wæs geciged Petrus, and his broðor Andream: et reliqua. 

Swa swa hi ær mid nette fixodon on sælicum yðum, swa dyde Crist þæt hi siððan mid his heofonlican lare manna sawla gefixodon; forðan ðe hi ætbrudon folces menn fram flæsclicum lustum and fram woruldlicum gedwyldum to staðolfæstnysse lybbendra eorðan, þæt is to ðam ecan eðle, be ðam cwæð se witega þurh Godes gast, "Ic asende mine fisceras, and hi gefixiað hi; mine huntan, and hi huntiað hi of ælcere dune and of ælcere hylle." Fisceras and ungetogene menn geceas Drihten him to leorningcnihtum, and hi swa geteah, þæt heora lar oferstah ealne woruldwisdom, and hi mid heora bodunge caseras and cyningas to soðum geleafan gebigdon. Gif se Hælend gecure æt fruman getinge lareowas, and woruldlice uðwitan, and ðyllice to bodigenne sende, þonne wære geðuht swilce se soða geleafa ne asprunge ðurh Godes mihte, ac of woruldlicere getingnysse. He geceas fisceras ærðan ðe he cure caseras, forðan ðe betere is þæt se casere, þonne he to Romebyrig becymð, þæt he wurpe his cynehelm, and gecneowige æt ðæs fisceres gemynde, þonne se fiscere cneowige æt þæs caseres gemynde. Caseras he geceas, ac ðeah he geendebyrde þone unspedigan fiscere ætforan ðam rican casere. Eft siððan he geceas ða welegan; ac him wære geðuht swilce hi gecorene wæron for heora æhtum, gif he ær ne gecure þearfan. He geceas siððan woruldlice uðwitan, ac hi modegodon, gif he ær ne gecure þa ungetogenan fisceras...

Wen is þæt eower sum cweðe to him sylfum on stillum geðohtum, Hwæt forleton has gebroðru, Petrus and Andreas, þe for nean nan ðing næfdon? ac we sceolon on þisum ðinge heora gewilnunge swiðor asmeagan þonne heora gestreon. Micel forlæt se ðe him sylfum nan ðing ne gehylt. Witodlice we healdað ure æhta mid micelre lufe, and ða ðing þe we nabbað we secað mid ormætre gewilnunge. Micel forlet Petrus and Andreas, ðaða heora ægðer þone willan to hæbbenne eallunga forlet, and agenum lustum wiðsoc.

Cwyð nu sum mann, Ic wolde geefenlæcan þam apostolum, þe ealle woruldðing forsawon, ac ic næbbe nane æhta to forlætenne. Ac God sceawað þæs mannes heortan, and na his æhta. Ne he ne telð hu miccle speda we on his lacum aspendon, ac cepð mid hu micelre gewilnunge we ða lac him geoffrion. Efne nu þas halgan cypan, Petrus and Andreas, mid heora nettum and scipe him þæt ece lif geceapodon. Næfð Godes rice nanes wurðes lofunge, ac bið gelofod be ðæs mannes hæfene. Heofonan rice wæs alæten þisum foresædum gebroðrum for heora nette and scipe, and eft syððan ðam rican Zacheo to healfum dæle his æhta, and sumere wudewan to anum feorðlinge, and sumum menn to anum wæteres drence... Mine gebroðra, scrutniað nu ða mid hu waclicum wurðe Godes rice bið geboht, and hu deorwurðe hit is to geagenne. Se ceap ne mæg wið nanum sceatte beon geeht, ac he bið ælcum men gelofod be his agenre hæfene.


'Christ at a certain time went by the Galilean sea, and saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, et cetera.

Just as they had first fished with nets on the waves of the sea, Christ made it so that afterwards they would fish with his heavenly teaching for the souls of men; for they drew people from bodily lusts and from worldly sins to the stability of the land of the living, that is, to that eternal homeland of which the prophet [Jeremiah] spoke through God's spirit: "I will send my fishers, and they will fish for them; my hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and from every hill." God chose fishers and untaught men for his disciples, and taught them so that their learning excelled all the wisdom of the world, and with their preaching they brought kings and emperors to the true faith.

[In Old English this opposition between untaught disciples and wisdom of the world is reinforced by the fact that the OE word for 'disciple', leorningcniht ('learning-boy') preserves the Latin's relationship to the verb 'to learn' (discere).]

If the Saviour had from the beginning chosen eloquent teachers and men wise in the world, and sent such people to preach, then it would have seemed as if the true faith had not arisen through the power of God, but through worldly eloquence. He chose fishermen before he chose emperors, because it is better that the emperor, when he comes to Rome, should cast down his crown and kneel at the tomb of the fisherman than that the fisherman should kneel at the emperor’s tomb. Emperors he did choose, but nonetheless he appointed the poor fisherman before the powerful emperor. Again, he later chose the wealthy, but it might have seemed as if they were chosen for their goods, if he had not previously chosen the poor. He later chose men wise in the world, but they would have grown proud, if he had not previously chosen the unlearned fishermen...

It may be that one of you is thinking in his secret thoughts, “What did those brothers Peter and Andrew leave, if they had almost nothing?” But in this we should consider their desire rather than their possessions. He leaves much who keeps nothing for himself. Truly, we hold on to our possessions with great love, and the things we do not have we seek for with immense desire. Peter and Andrew left much, when they both entirely left the will to possess anything, and renounced their own desires.

Now someone might say, "I would imitate the apostles, who renounced all worldly things, but I don’t have any possessions to renounce." But God considers a man’s heart, and not his possessions. He does not count what great riches we spend in offerings to him, but observes with how great a desire we make offerings to him. Now truly, these holy traders, Peter and Andrew, with their nets and boats purchased for themselves eternal life. The kingdom of God has no valuation of price, but is priced according to what a man has. The kingdom of heaven was given to these brothers in exchange for their nets and boats, and afterwards to the wealthy Zacchaeus for half his possessions, and to a certain widow for a farthing, and to a certain man for one drink of water... My brothers, consider now at how small a price God’s kingdom is purchased, and how precious it is to possess! This bargain cannot be bought with any money, but is priced for every man according to what he possesses.'

Prayers to St Andrew, Yates Thompson 13

This reflection on value and exchange plays around with the language of economic transactions: bycgan 'to buy' and ciepan 'to purchase, to barter'. It seems even more appropriate now that St Andrew's Day falls in the middle of Christmas shopping! (I assume it wasn't in Ælfric's day; at least, I don't think the Anglo-Saxons had a version of Black Friday...) Ælfric calls the kingdom of God a ceap, a 'bargain' - the word from which we get 'cheap', as well as many English place-names like Cheapside, Chipping, Chepstow, the names of places which were once (and often still are) areas of markets and trading. Peter and Andrew, who purchase heaven by giving up their boats, become halgan cypan 'holy traders' - holy hagglers, you might say.

Ælfric goes on to describe Andrew's martyrdom, and to interpret the names of the apostles; Andrew's he interprets (accurately, I think?) as 'manly', in Old English ðegenlic, 'thegn-like'.  Elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon literature, this is a term of the highest approbation applied to a warrior of Essex named Offa, who died in battle at Maldon, killed beside his lord fighting against the Vikings: he læg ðegenlice ðeodne gehende, 'he lay, as befits a thegn, next to his lord'. In Old English poetry the apostles are regularly called 'Christ's thegns' and Andrew, of course, was martyred for his lord; it's nice to think that Offa and Andrew, though their lives were so different, had something in common in their deaths.

Andrew's cult has a long history in England: Andrew was the dedicatee of one of the earliest churches founded after the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, when in 604 Archbishop Justus founded St Andrew's at Rochester (now Rochester Cathedral). Andrew is also the subject of a remarkable Old English poem, known as Andreas, which tells a fantastic story about Andrew's journey to rescue St Matthew from the hands of cannibals, guided by Christ disguised as a sailor. Perhaps St Andrew's most enthusiastic Anglo-Saxon fan was St Dunstan, who owned a staff with one of Andrew's teeth set in the top of it, encased in silver, because of his devotion to the saint. Dunstan had broken a previous staff fighting against the devil (in the shape of a bear), and made this replacement with Andrew's tooth because he said the devil would never be able to break it. In the late eleventh century, pilgrims to Canterbury were miraculously healed by water in which this staff had been dipped, infused with the joint power of Dunstan and Andrew. (I can't help imagining that the staff looked like this...)

There are also plenty of later medieval depictions of St Andrew from England, as you can see from the images in this post (which are mostly fourteenth/fifteenth century), and as late as the nineteenth century the lacemakers of Bedfordshire and the Midlands were celebrating St Andrew's feast with 'tandry cakes', cross-dressing and elderberry wine; in Kent they apparently celebrated by going squirrel-hunting on this day! In the British Isles St Andrew now belongs by right to Scotland, but he has a good venerable history in England; we should enjoy his day too ;)

Andrew, Peter and Paul, in a medieval painting at Norwich Cathedral

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