22 January 2009

Ss Hadrian of Canterbury and Fillan of Strathfillan


Today is the feastday of St Hadrian of Canterbury (c. 635-710) and St Fillan of Strathfillan. According to St Bede the Venerable, the former was ‘a man of African race and well versed in the holy Scriptures, trained both in monastic and ecclesiastical ways and equally skilled in the Greek and Latin tongues’ (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Bertram Colgrave, ed. Judith McClure & Roger Collins, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994, p. 170). Although this is all that St Bede tells us about his background, as an interesting aside Michael Lapidge has pointed out the likelihood that we can safely infer that St Hadrian was a native speaker of Greek and came from the Greek-speaking provinces of North Africa rather than the Latin-speaking ones (Introduction, Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian, ed. Bernhard Bischoff and Michael Lapidge [Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1995], pp. 84-5).

At any rate, St Hadrian was at a monastery near Naples (at that time part of the East Roman empire), when Pope St Vitalian attempted to consecrate him a bishop and send him to England to take over the see of Canterbury. St Hadrian, in his humility, would not accept this honour, and proposed St Theodore of Tarsus instead. St Vitalian accepted the substitute, but only on condition that St Hadrian accompany the new bishop as an assistant (see St Bede, pp. 170-1). As it turned out, the arrangement was entirely providential. St Hadrian succeeded St Benedict Biscop as abbot of the St Peter Monastery at Canterbury—founded by St Augustine of Canterbury and later named ‘St Austin’s’ after the venerable missionary to the Anglo-Saxons—and established a school there where he and St Theodore—

attracted a crowd of students into whose minds they daily poured the streams of wholesome learning. They gave their hearers instruction not only in the books of holy Scripture but also in the art of metre, astronomy, and ecclesiastical computation. As evidence of this, some of their students still survive who know Latin and Greek just as well as their native tongue. (St Bede, p. 172)

Indeed, this pædagogical activity of the holy Fathers was responsible for an unprecedented inflow of books into England, and a number of Scriptural commentaries produced by the Canterbury school were discovered in 1936 in Milan that reveal a knowledge of the Greek Fathers extremely rare in the West at that time (see the volume by Bischoff and Lapidge cited above). As Michael Ott observed in the Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘In these schools of Adrian were educated many of the saints, scholars, and missionaries, who during the next century rekindled the waning light of faith and learning in France and Germany.’ St Hadrian laboured in Britain for thirty-nine years before falling asleep in the Lord at his monastery. According to one site, he ‘was known for miracles that helped students in trouble with their masters’.

St Fillan († c. 777) was the son of St Kentigerna, whom we commemorated two days ago. He travelled a great deal around Scotland, living in monasteries and hermitages, even in a cave (St Fillan’s cave at Pittenweem). According to Butler’s Lives:

He was buried in Strathfillan, where his relics were preserved and honoured for many years. Many miracles of healing were attributed to his intercession. More importantly, as a saint without any English associations, he belonged to the pantheon of guardians and guarantors of the Scottish national consciousness. King Robert the Bruce had a special lifelong devotion to Fillan, a saint with a suitably royal lineage who had nevertheless dedicated himself to God’s cause and could intercede for the community of the realm, which was Bruce’s guiding notion. . . . He venerated the saint’s arm bone and other relics in the charge of Abbot Maurice of Inchaffray on the eve of the battle of Bannockburn (though he would not, as is sometimes claimed, have taken them into the conflict with him: ‘As gude king Robert in that samin nicht / Befoir the field, at his devotioun / Walkit that nicht, into his orisoun / To Sanct Phelen most speciall of the laif / Becaus the Scottis was wont to haif / His richt arme bane into ane siluer cace . . .’ (Boece/Stewart). . . . Before and after the battle the Bruce attributed his victory over the English to the saint’s intercession.

Unfortunately, there is a blog called ‘Saint Fillan’, which appears to be the work of an atheist whose sole purpose in life is to mock belief in God, and Christianity in particular. Indeed, in part, I think, because so many legends have grown up around St Fillan, and partly because he was known as a powerful intercessor for the insane (and we all know ‘science’ has entirely solved the problem of mental illness), if one searches for his name he seems to turn up on a number of atheist sites as an object of ridicule. As Ioane Sabanisdze said of those who denounced St Abo and disposed of his relics, at the Final Judgement, ‘What shame for their demented frenzy will fall upon those who denied Christ and smote and persecuted and destroyed those saints of His whom then He will be admitting into His heaven!’

5 comments:

Matt said...

What a wonderful post! Very interesting. Thank you.

aaronandbrighid said...

I'm glad you liked it!

orrologion said...

I learned two little things here that I hadn't before: Adrian is a form of Hadrian and Austin a form of Augustine.

That St. Fillan blog really is sad. It reminds me of the sections in Fr. Seraphim Rose's biography where they talk about how angry he was at the God he was daring to strike him down, just so he could know for sure whether God existed and who He was.

aaronandbrighid said...

The different forms of names is a subject that has always fascinated me. I'll have to make more mention of it on here.

I know what you mean about that blog. I just thought this guy must really have some issues to be devoting so much energy to something he claims not to believe in!

orrologion said...

I would appreciate more mentions of name derivation, as you come across interesting examples. Such came in very helpful when trying to accommodate the non-Orthodox wife as she suggested baby names - as did lists of pre-Schism saints. Who ever would have thought Jasper and Casper were forms of Gaspar the Magi without looking it up? well, the similarities are obvious when they're written next to each other, but not otherwise.

I am generally pretty flexible with what people call me: Chris or Christopher. I do have to admit I bristle a little when called Christophoros. I know it is the original form and I know the Greeks and Greek-Americans (including the priest) don't mean anything by it, but it's just another example where it feels like that lack of cultural boundaries in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' where everything is based in Greek and the importance of Greek must always be highlighted. It's hard not to point out more modern history and culture; the Assyrians were HUGE at one point, too, and the Chinese and Indians did a lot of the same things at the same time or sooner, so...

I digress.