Wednesday, July 05, 2006

That squish you hear the sound of marshmallow.
His dragon-slaying heroics have kept his legend alive through the centuries.
But the Church of England is considering rejecting England's patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims.

Of course, we all know that famous story - St. George slew a dragon named Osama al-Islam in fourth-century Persia, 250 years before Mohammed was born. How dare he!
The proposal has been put forward by the Rev Philip Chester, vicar of St Matthew's, Westminster, who has called the use of St George as patron saint 'dotty'.
His call for a change is based on the lack of firm historical evidence that George - said to be a Roman general from the 4th century AD who was put to death by Emperor Diocletian for professing Christianity - ever existed.
He said: 'We are sure St Alban is a real figure. What's more, he lived in this country.'

That, at least, is a fair point. Then again, St. Alban may not have such a pedigree as is assumed by the good vicar. In the meantime, the Catholic Encyclopedia says this about our resident dragon-slayer:
An ancient cultus, going back to a very early epoch and connected with a definite locality, in itself constitutes a strong historical argument. Such we have in the case of St. George. ... There seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George...

It goes into a good deal more detail in parsing out all of the outlandishness, and it also addresses that bit about being used to foster patriotism in 1940 that the article quotes. St. George's popularity in merrie olde dates back a wee bit longer: "Arculphus and Adamnan probably made him well known in Britain early in the eighth century. His Acts were translated into Anglo-Saxon, and English churches were dedicated to him before the Norman Conquest, for example one at Doncaster, in 1061." Even the Rev. Rowan Williams "is said to be cautious about relegation to George." Good for him.
The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century. An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098.

Ah. That sort of answers the question of why Muslims might take to George like they took to Piglet - and they didn't much care that the latter is a children's storybook character, so whether there's a real St. George or not makes no odds. But it does raise a different question in its place, at least for the Rev. Chester - if St. George never existed, who was that popping up over the pitch at Antioch to rally the side?
His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian's persecution of Christians.

The writer doesn't say who had this thought. I'll supply one of my own instead - the dragon has been an image of Satan since Biblical times. That's why the Archangel Michael is often depicted tossing down a serpent (usually swopping off one of several heads in the process). In St. George's case, however, neither the big man nor Diocletian seems to be the example in mind. Again, from the Catholic Encyclopedia article:
This episode of the dragon is in fact a very late development, which cannot be traced further back than the twelfth or thirteenth century. ... It may have been derived from an allegorization of the tyrant Diocletian or Dadianus, who is sometimes called a dragon (ho bythios drakon) in the older text, but despite the researches of Vetter (Reinbot von Durne, pp.lxxv-cix) the origin of the dragon story remains very obscure.

The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the "Legenda Aurea", and translated into English by Caxton...

The summary: the town is beset by a dragon that lays waste to the land and befouls the air. Many die. The king tries to buy off the dragon, first with livestock, then with humans, until St. George puts paid to the whole sorry process. He asks in return that the town be baptized, honor the clergy, and be good to the poor.

In other words, St. George's example is that of faith and bravery in the face of evil and dire difficulty, and in the service of innocence - and that appeasement doesn't work. This is the truth behind this latest bout with the wobbles. The C of E is so much in thrall to zeitgeist that it no longer feels brave enough to identify with Christ Himself half the time, so the example of St. George may well be too much for them to emulate. The question is, if they simply surrender unbidden to imaginary and unrealistic complaints, can whatever example they choose to follow ever be enough to stand fast against real evil?

(w/t to the Swillers, as usual - and check out some of the other thoughts from Deborah Gyapong and the Gateway Pundit.)

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