23 February 2009

On St Scholastica & 'Honour Due'

In her popular book, The Cloister Walk (NY: Riverhead, 1996), on p. 124, Kathleen Norris tells the following very odd story about St Scholastica. She does not say whether she heard it or read it somewhere, or simply made it up herself. But looking through my books for references to St Scholastica, I found it and thought perhaps someone out there would know more about it than I do.

One winter night, Benedict’s sister, Scholastica, was awakened by a song bird. How can this be, she thought, and she looked out the window of her cell. Three naked men were dancing in the monastery garden by the light of the moon. One whistled like a bird and made her laugh. The men were fair to look at, Scholastica thought, but she knew she needed more rest before the first prayers of the day.

Kneeling by her bed, she closed her eyes and sleepily said a prayer for the men—if they were men—that they might find shelter, clothing, and rest for their dancing feet, and if (as she suspected) they were demons, that they might return to from whence they came.

When she awoke, her cell was filled with the scent of roses. Where the men had been dancing a rose bush had sprung up and was blooming in the snow. It bloomed all that winter, and it blooms to this day.

I'm not singling Norris out, for my beloved Adalbert de Vogüé is just as guilty of this as anyone else, but as an aside I might just mention here how annoyed I am by the habit of referring to the great Saints of the Church merely by their first names. I don't know this for certain, but it seems to me that this is a convention that originated in secular scholarship and has been picked up on by spiritual writers who have been reading scholarly stuff. But while I understand why a secular scholar may prefer not to speak of 'the Holy Benedict', in the context of spiritual writing it comes across as merely a further step in the process of making everything casual and informal, of making the Saints 'just like us' and taking all of the courtesy and ritual out of everything. One might make the same observation about the common practice of using only the last name of a writer who is a Saint or a clergyman, especially when that person is also a monastic and, at least in the Orthodox Church, has therefore basically given up his or her surname. I for one believe we need more titles, not fewer. In this respect, I say we strive harder to emulate the ways of Heaven, 'Where honour due and reverence none neglects' (Paradise Lost III.737).


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Wow. Very nice.

I did a quick search through the Patrologia Latina for "scholastica" and "rosa" but the rose bush story doesn't appear in there, which isn't surprising. It has a distinctly unorginal feel to it. Something about our Mother among the Saints Scholastica enjoying the view of a bunch of naked guys dancing around just doesn't ring true! I would guess that it's either an aetiological tale told to tourists about a flourishing rose bush in her convent, or one of those made-up 1970s "the ancients didn't have hangups like we do" kind of things, or, conceivably, both.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Oh, the "Wow. Very nice" was for your heaping helping of offerings for the day, by the way! Collect these things into a book, and sell them. The lives of the saints are things that we simply can't get enough of!

James the Thickheaded said...

What can we say except that we're not far enough past the age where a sitting U.S President signed all his bills, correspondence... everything... with his nickname. My guess is the pendulum will swing... maybe not soon enough.. but swing it will. And when it does... people... even saints... will once again be accorded respect for the more than one or two things this present age seems to value.

Aaron Taylor said...

Kevin> Thank you for the comments. I'm sure you're right about the story!

James> I'm glad you commented on this. I wonder why this whole issue doesn't seem to get more attention. Think about all of the beautiful epithets in the Akathist hymn, and then think what one of these modern writers might say: 'Hey, Mary!'