Archive for January 2020

Feast of John Gray (April 1)   Leave a comment

Above:  My Copy of I & II Kings:  A Commentary (1970)

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

JOHN GRAY (JUNE 9, 1913-APRIL 1, 2000)

Scottish Presbyterian Minister, Mythologist, Biblical Scholar, and Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

To

The late Rev. Professor H. H. Rowley

in token of gratitude

for his continued help and encouragement as a colleague

and friend

for the stimulus of his many publications

for his loyal support of our present project

in his failing health

and as a parting tribute

this book is inscribed

–The dedication, I & II Kings:  A Commentary (Second Edition, 1970)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

John Gray comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Second Edition (1970) of I & II Kings:  A Commentary.  I own a copy.

Gray was a minister, a missionary, a linguist, and a scholar.  Our saint, born in Kelso, Scotland, on June 9, 1913, was a son of a master tailor.  Gray, who grew up learning self-sufficiency in nature, knew how to fish well, kept bees, and gardened.  He also excelled at Edinburgh University, where he studied classics and the Old Testament.  Our saint, furthermore, studied Arabic under the renowned Richard Bell (1876-1952), an influential scholar of the Koran.  Gray, as a Blackie Scholar, traveled in Palestine and Greece for a year.  During that year he visited the École Biblique, Jerusalem, and held the recently discovered Ras Sharma text.  Furthermore, our saint was a divinity student at Greifswald under the tutelage of Gustav Dalman (1855-1941).

The Church of Scotland ordained Gray in 1939.  He, assigned as a missionary in Haifa, went on to spend two and a half years as a chaplain to the Palestinian Police.  As a chaplain our saint traveled throughout Palestine.  He became acquainted with the people, the culture, and the topography.  Sometimes Gray disappeared into the desert with Bedouins for days.  He was gaining experience that informed his later work in Biblical scholarship.

Gray had a gift for learning languages.  In 1941, while returning to Scotland on a Norwegian ship, our saint learned Norwegian.  He retained mastery of that language years later, when he visited Oslo, to deliver two lectures in Norwegian.  One Norwegian linguist’s review of the manuscripts was that Gray had an excellent grasp of the language, but that he used nautical terms too frequently.

Gray was a parish minister in Scotland from 1942 to 1947.  He served on the island of Arran, in the Parish of Kilmory.  While in that remote setting our saint studied the Ugaritic texts he had encountered at the École Biblique, Jerusalem, years prior.  Gray also continued to study Arabic, which he found invaluable to interpreting the Ugaritic texts.

Gray became a professional academic in 1947.  H. H. Rowley (1890-1969), to whom he dedicated I & II Kings:  A Commentary (Second Edition, 1970), offered our saint a position on the faculty of Semitic Languages at Manchester University.   Gray taught at King’s College, Aberdeen, Scotland, from 1953 to 1980, when he retired.  He was a Lecturer (1953-1962) then Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages.  Gray, a dedicated researcher and writer, published, among other volumes:

  1. The Keret Text in the Literature of Ras Sharma:  A Social Myth of Ancient Canaan (1955);
  2. The Legacy of Canaan (1957);
  3. Archaeology and the Old Testament World (1962);
  4. The Canaanites (1964);
  5. I & II Kings:  A Commentary (First Edition, 1964; Second Edition, 1970);
  6. A History of Jerusalem (1969);
  7. Near Eastern Mythology:  Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine (1969);
  8. What About the Children? (1970); and
  9. The Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God (1979).

In his retirement Gray worked on the Book of Job.  He brought Arabic and Ugraritic to bear on obscure passages of that composite text.

Gray, aged 86 years, died on April 1, 2000.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 31, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREDERICK MACKENZIE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF NYASALAND, AND MARTYR, 1862

THE FEAST OF ANTHONY BÉNÉZET, FRENCH-AMERICAN QUAKER ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF LANZA DEL VASTO, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE ARK

THE FEAST OF MENNO SIMONS, MENNONITE LEADER

THE FEAST OF MARY EVELYN “MEV” PULEO, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHOTOJOURNALIST AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [John Gray and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Against Toxic Fandom   Leave a comment

Social media (properly a plural term, given that “medium” is singular  and “media” is plural) have some useful, positive functions, but are overwhelmingly destructive forces in society.  One can use social media to spread important announcements, family pictures, and cute cat memes.  One can also propagate rumors, hatred, fear, and misinformation.  Social media aid and abet the spread of toxic fandom, too.

I am not so naïve as to imagine that human nature was less coarse prior to the dawn of social media.  I argue, however, that social media provide more outlets for both the dark and light sides of human nature.  Social media, therefore, contribute to the coarsening of cultures and the decline of what passes for discourse.  Human depravity is not an article of faith for me.  No, I have a plethora of evidence for human depravity.  I do not need faith to accept that which I can document objectively.

Much of that depravity manifests itself in toxic fandom.  This is frequently hateful, on the grounds of skin color, gender, or both.  Words matter; they convey ideas.  Based on many of the words many people write or speak via many social media websites, I conclude that a host of people define themselves by what upsets them.  Apparently, egalitarianism and diversity offend them.  Hence we have the term “social justice warrior” (abbreviated “SJW”), intended as an insult.  There are actors of African and Asian descent in Star Wars movies.  Horrors!  If one does not find that casting offensive, is one a social justice warrior?  Jodie Whittaker plays the Doctor in Doctor Who.  If one affirms that she is a fine actress and that her casting does not constitute political correctness, is one a social justice warrior?  And if one is a SJW, is that bad?  No!  And what about the newly-revealed past incarnation of the Doctor, a woman of African descent?  Jo Martin has gravitas; she plays the Doctor well.  I wonder how her incarnation fits into the timeline as I await the inevitable answer.  I also want to see more episodes with her.  If that makes me a SJW, so be it.

I first encountered toxic fandom years ago, at a now-defunct science fiction website.  I read BBS boards, where people asked and answered questions.  I stopped reading those BBS boards because many people were insulting each other and engaging in toxic fandom.  I chose not to consume that content any longer.

Toxic fandom infects many YouTube channels.  By trial and error I learn which channels to avoid for this and other reasons.  We humans need not like everything we hear, see, or watch, but we also need not define ourselves by our bigotry and what we dislike.  I offer some advice to everyone:  If you do not like some form of media, do not consume it.  When you express your displeasure, do so without resorting to bigotry and toxic fandom.  Write and speak mostly about what you like.  I consider Star Trek:  Discovery (properly abbreviated as STD) to be a series that indicates total disregard for Star Trek canon.  I am not shy about making my displeasure known, but I prefer to write about topics about which I hold positive opinions.

Being mostly positive should not be difficult.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feast of Cordelia Cox (March 30)   Leave a comment

Above:  Refugee Camp, South Sudan, 2016

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

CORDELIA COX (MARCH 30, 1901-MARCH 5, 1997)

U.S. Lutheran Social Worker, Educator, and Resettler of Refugees

++++++++++

Circumsise your heart then and be obstinate no longer, for Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, triumphant and terrible, free of favouritism, never to be bribed.  He it is who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow, who loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing.  (Love the stranger then, for you were once strangers in Egypt.)

–Deuteronomy 10:16-19, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

++++++++++

Cordelia Cox‘s life constituted a faithful response to that moral standard.  She, daughter of a minister, devoted her life to serving God in vulnerable people.

Our saint, born on March 30, 1901, was a social worker.  She, educated at the College of William and Mary then at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, worked as a serial worker then, in 1941-1948, as Professor of Casework at the Richmond School for Social Work and Public Health (a forerunner of Virginia Commonwealth University).  From 1948 to 1957 Cox served as the Director of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.  She, the first woman to lead a major Lutheran agency in the United States, presided over the resettlement of more than 57,000 refugees from Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries in the United States.  Then, in 1957-1961, Cox served as the Executive Secretary of the Lutheran Welfare Council of Metropolitan New York.  She, aged 60 years, retired from this position.

Cox spent much of her retirement in activities related to social work.  She, was a consultant to the Council on Social Work Education from 1961 to 1966.  Then, from 1966 to 1974, our saint consulted an undergraduate education for the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  Finally, from 1974 to 1976, Cox volunteered with the Peace Corps in Western Samoa.

Cox, aged 95 years, died in Richmond, Virginia, on March 5, 1997.

The divine commandment to provide proper care for the vulnerable, including refugees, remains timeless, even if politically inconvenient for many people much of the time.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Compassionate God, your commandment to care for the vulnerable,

including widows, orphans, and refugees, challenges us.

May we, collectively and individually, along with Cordelia Cox,

welcome in Christ’s name and in his love the strangers you send to us and to whom you send us.

May we remember that whatever we do for them, we do for you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Psalm 41

James 2:22-25

Matthew 25:31-46

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF LESSLIE NEWBIGIN, ENGLISH REFORMED MISSIONARY AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT BATHILDAS, QUEEN OF FRANCE

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK OAKELEY, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GENESIUS I OF CLERMONT AND PRAEJECTUS OF CLERMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; AND SAINT AMARIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JACQUES BUNOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feast of St. Julio Alvarez Mendoza (March 30)   4 comments

Above:  Flag of Mexico (1916-1934)

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

SAINT JULIO ALVAREZ MENDOZA (DECEMBER 20, 1866-MARCH 30, 1927)

Mexican Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr, 1927

The suppression and oppression of religion in general and of the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, in Mexico, lasted from 1917 to 1944.  The roots of this policy were pre-revolutionary; the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Mexico had supported dictators.  (That is a recurring pattern around the world and over time.)  The Church was, therefore, politically suspect to the new regime, which had its own dictatorial tendencies.  The Mexican Revolution of 1917 instituted state control of religion.  The Church could not legally teach.  It could not legally comment on or lobby regarding any policy.  Religious orders and foreign clergymen were illegal.  Priests could neither vote nor hold public office.  Priests could not hold public office.  Priests could not legally wear clerical garb outside churches.  Tensions reached a new high during the Cristero War (1926-1929).

In recent decades the Roman Catholic Church has been adding Mexican martyrs (usually priests) from this period to its calendar of saints.

St. Julio Alvarez Mendoza was one of the martyred priests.  He, born on December 20, 1866, was a native of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  Our saint, ordained to the priesthood in 1894, served as one place–Mechoacanejo, Jalisco.  He was a dutiful, dedicated parish priest.  Mendoza, not content to restrict his priestly duties to the spaces between church building walls, visited those who refused to attend Mass.  In the 1920s, when government oppression became more severe, our saint went underground.  He celebrated Masses away from the church building, for example.  The Mexican Army averted Mendoza in March 1927; the charge was being a priest.  Our saint, shot to death, received the crown of martyrdom on March 30, 1927.  Soldiers left his corpse amid garbage near the building of the parish church he had served as a shepherd.

Pope John Paul II declared Mendoza a Venerable then beatified him in 1992.  The same Supreme Pontiff canonized our saint in 2000.

Two wrongs do not make a right.  Supporting a dictatorship is wrong.  So is executing priests for being priests.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Saint Julio Alvarez Mendoza

triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death:

Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving,

to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world,

that we may receive with him the crown of life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:1-12

Psalm 116 or 116:1-8

Revelation 7:13-17

Luke 12:2-12

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 714

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feast of Blessed Stanley Rother (March 27)   3 comments

Above:  Flag of Guatemala

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

BLESSED STANLEY FRANCIS ROTHER (MARCH 27, 1935-JULY 28, 1981)

U.S. Roman Catholic Priest, Missionary, and Martyr in Guatemala, 1981

Roman Catholic feast day = July 28

Stanley Rother came to my attention in G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).  When I began to take notes, I learned that Pope Francis beatified Rother in 2017.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is one of my hobbies.  I, therefore, determine the feast days here.  Rother’s feast day, on my Ecumenical Calendar is March 27.

Rother overcame academic difficulties and low expectations to become a priest, a missionary, and a martyr.  Our saint, born in Okarche, Oklahoma, on March 27, 1935, was a son of farmers Franz Rother and Gertrude Smith (Rother).  He grew up with three siblings in a Roman Catholic family.  Stanley struggled at Assumption Seminary, San Antonio, Texas; he spent six years there and did not graduate.  He did, however, graduate from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, in 1963.  The 28-year-old joined the ranks of priests on May 25, 1963.  He served in parishes and missions in Oklahoma through 1968.

Rother became a missionary to Guatemala in 1968.  This was his request and his life’s greatest work.  The priest ministered to the Tz’utujil people; his base of operations was Santiago Atitlan.  Our saint mastered the Spanish and Tz’utujil languages, preached and celebrated Mass in Tz’utujil, founded a hospital, and taught mathematics and language via a local radio station.  Rother was a conscientious, dutiful, and dedicated shepherd of his flock.

The Cold War provided the context for Rother’s work and fate, and distorted U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.  In 1954 the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) manufactured a coup and overthrew the popular, democratically-elected left-wing government that sought to prevent the United Fruit Company from continuing to exploit impoverished Guatemalans.  The C.I.A. replaced that government with a brutal military dictatorship.  The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1960 to 1996.  Government death squads supposedly targeted left-wing rebels, but really targeted innocent civilians, often at random.  Roman Catholic priests who spoke out on behalf of their poor, oppressed parishioners often became targets of Guatemalan Army death squads, which frequently operated with the support of the U.S. Government, especially in the 1980s, during the Reagan Administration.  The army death squads were not communists, at least.

Guatemalan oppression became worse in 1980 and 1981.  Forces destroyed the radio station.  Death squads abducted and murdered catechists and parishioners.  After left-wing guerrillas attacked a unit of the Guatemalan Army in the area of Santiago Atitlan in 1980, death squads killed seventeen random civilians.  Rother also became a target for death squads.  He left Guatemala in January 1981 yet returned to his flock on April 11.  A death squad executed Rother in his rectory on July 28, 1981.  He was one of ten priests death squads murdered that year, with the backing of the Reagan Administration.

A Guatemalan appellate court bowed to pressure from the Reagan Administration to overturn the convictions of the murderers.  They were not communists, at least.

What happened to ideals?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT AND HIS PUPIL, SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF DANIEL J. SIMUNDSON, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTUS COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARNBY, ANGLICAN CHURCH MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SOMERSET CORRY LOWRY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Blessed Stanley Rother

boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ

before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith:

Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us,

and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Esdras 2:42-48

Psalm 126 or 121

1 Peter 3:14-18, 22

Matthew 10:16-22

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 713

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This is post #1900 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feast of Flannery O’Connor (March 26)   3 comments

Above:  Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Milledgeville, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

MARY FLANNERY O’CONNOR (MARCH 25, 1925-AUGUST 2, 1964)

U.S. Roman Catholic Writer

Flannery O’Connor comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

O’Connor was a writer whose Roman Catholicism infused her work.  Our saint, born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925, was daughter of Regina Cline (O’Connor) and Edward Francis O’Connor, a real estate agent.  In 1940 the family moved to Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, Georgia.  Our saint’s father died of lupus the following year.  Young Flannery, a graduate of Peabody High School (1942) and Georgia State College for Women (1945), worked on student newspapers at both institutions.  Then she worked on her M.A. in journalism (1946-1947) at the University of Iowa.

O’Connor was ill for much of her life.  She, after having lived in New York and Connecticut for years, received her diagnosis of lupus in 1952.  Then our saint returned to Andalusia Farm that year.  She, aged 39 years, died in Milledgeville on August 2, 1964.

O’Connor found much time to write.  She attended Mass daily then read, wrote, and recuperated for the rest of the day.  Our saint wrote two novels and many short stories.  She also wrote essays and reviews for the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta (until 1956), the Diocese of Atlanta (1956-1962), and the Archdiocese of Atlanta (1962f).  She, as a Roman Catholic in the Bible Belt, was something of an outcast in much of her society.

O’Connor, a Thomist, infused her fiction with the sense of God being present in the world, which seldom reflects divine love and goodness.  Many of her characters were horrifying and grotesque, mired in spiritual darkness.  Yet, our saint wrote, the promises of God remained relevant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JEROME, PAULA OF ROME, EUSTOCHIUM, BLAESILLA, MARCELLA, AND LEA OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANGELA MERICI, FOUNDRESS OF THE COMPANY OF SAINT URSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAROLINA SANTOCANALE, FOUNDRESS OF THE CAPUCHIN SISTERS OF THE IMMUACULATE CONCEPTION OF LOURDES

THE FEAST OF CASPAR NEUMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERRE BATIFFOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring [Flannery O’Connor]

and all who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinithians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 728

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Feast of James Rendel Harris, Robert Lubbock Bensly, Agnes Smith Lewis, Samuel Savage Lewis, Margaret Smith Gibson, and James Young Gibson (March 26)   1 comment

Above:  St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Desert, Egypt, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-09674

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

JAMES RENDEL HARRIS (JANUARY 27, 1852-MARCH 1, 1941)

Anglo-American Congregationalist then Quaker Biblical Scholar and Orientalist

Also known as J. Rendel Harris

worked with

ROBERT LUBBOCK BENSLY (AUGUST 24, 1831-APRIL 23, 1893)

English Biblical Translator and Orientalist

worked with

AGNES SMITH LEWIS (JANUARY 11, 1843-MARCH 26, 1926)

English Biblical Scholar and Linguist

wife of

SAMUEL SAVAGE LEWIS (JULY 13, 1836-MARCH 31, 1891)

Anglican Priest and Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England

brother-in-law of

MARGARET DUNLOP SMITH GIBSON (JANUARY 11, 1843-JANUARY 11, 1920)

English Biblical Scholar and Linguist

wife of

JAMES YOUNG GIBSON (FEBRUARY 19, 1826-OCTOBER 2, 1886)

Scottish Literary Translator and United Presbyterian Minister

++++++++++

INTRODUCTION

Ecclesiastical history–especially early ecclesiastical history–is a topic of little or no interest to many Low Church Protestants.  Common gaps in knowledge and interest include the time between the Apostles and the Crusades, as well as the centuries between the Crusades and the Reformation.  I recall, as a youth in rural United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the 1980s, hearing elders refer to “old songs.”  I also remember checking the dates of those “old songs” and frequently learning that they were from the early twentieth century.  Sixty or seventy years are nothing compared to two millennia.  Historical perspective is useful.

This cluster of six saints had a firm grasp of historical perspective, however.

They come to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via their connection to F. Crawford Burkitt (1864-1935), an Anglican scholar, theologian, hymn writer, and hymn translator.

THE WESTMINSTER SISTERS AND THEIR HUSBANDS

The central figures were twin sisters, Agnes Smith and Margaret Dunlop Smith, born in Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, on January 11, 1843.  Our saints never knew their mother, who died two weeks after their birth.  The father was John Smith, a solicitor who studied languages.  He raised his daughters to be linguists and sent them to private schools.  The family also traveled throughout England.  The sisters eventually settled in London and joined the Presbyterian Church at Clapham Road.  They traveled in Europe and the Middle East, and expanded their linguistic range.  Eventually the two sisters mastered at least twelve languages, including German, Italian, Greek, Arabic, and Syraic.

Agnes and Margaret, known as the Westminster Sisters, had a positive relationship with Greek Orthodoxy.  This relationship helped them to complete the main work that has brought them to this Ecumenical Calendar, in the 1890s.

Margaret married James Young Gibson on September 11, 1883, in Germany.  He, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, was a son of merchant William Gibson.  James, educated at the University of Edinburgh (1842-1846), pursued divinity studies (1847-1852) for the United Presbyterian Church.  After working for the Henry Birkbeck family as a tutor at Keswick Hall, Gibson served as a parish minister at Melrose (1853-1859).  Failing health forced him to leave that post.  Gibson traveled and studied in Europe and the Middle East.  He also translated Spanish masterworks, including Don Quixote, into English.  The marriage to Margaret was brief; he died at Ramsgate on October 2, 1886.  He was 60 years old.

Agnes married Samuel Savage Lewis on December 12, 1887.  Lewis, born in Bishopsgate, London, on July 13, 1836, was a son of surgeon William Jonas Lewis.  Poor eyesight complicated and delayed Samuel’s education at St. John’s College, Cambridge.  Surgeries improved his eyesight, however, so Lewis completed his formal education.  He, ordained a deacon (1872) then a priest (1873) in The Church of England, was the Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from 1870 to 1891, when he died.  Lewis, a classicist, traveled in Europe and the Middle East, mastered many languages, and collected ancient seals and coins.  He, Agnes, and Margaret formed a household.  Lewis died of heart failure on a train near Oxford on March 31, 1891.  He was 54 years old.

JAMES RENDEL HARRIS

The twin sisters, widows living in Cambridge, read J. Rendel Harris‘s account of his discovery of the Syraic text of the Apology of Aristides at St. Catherine’s Monastery, in the Sinai Desert, Egypt.  This inspired them them to visit the monastery in 1892.

James Rendel Harris opened the floodgates for the Westminster Sisters.  His story was interesting in its own right.  Harris, born in Plymouth, Devon, England, on January 27, 1852, grew up with ten siblings.  The father, Henry Marmaduke Harris, decorated houses.  The mother, Elizabeth Corker (Harris), operated a shop selling baby clothes.  Harris, who grew up a Congregationalist, studied at Plymouth Grammar School then at Clare College, Cambridge.

Harris’s life changed in 1880, when he married Helen Balkwell (d. 1914), a Quaker from Plymouth.  She influenced him to convert in 1885, three years after he had come to the United States, where she was working as a missionary.  From 1882 to 1885 Harris was Professor of New Testament Greek at Johns Hopkins University.  His criticism of vivisection at the university created a backlash that prompted him to resign.  Then the couple spent some time in 1885-1886 in England.

Harris was Professor in Biblical Studies at Haverford College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1886 to 1891.  In 1888 and 1889 he bought 47 codices in various ancient languages in Egypt and Palestine.  He donated these codices to Haverford College.  One of these texts, which he discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery, was the Syraic text of the Apology of Aristides.

ST. CATHERINE’S MONASTERY, 1892 AND 1893

The Westminster Sisters visited St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1892.  They discovered the earliest Syraic version of the Gospels known to exist at the time.  The sisters were just getting started.  The following year they returned with F. Crawford Burkitt, Robert Lubbock Bensly, and J. Rendel Harris.  By then Harris had become Lecturer in Palaeography at Cambridge.

Robert Lubbock Bensly was an Orientalist and a Biblical translator.  He, born in Eaton, Norwich England, on August 24, 1831, was a son of Robert Bensly and Harriet Reeve (Bensly).  Young Robert studied at King’s College, London, then at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, as well as in Germany.  He was, in order, Lecturer in Hebrew and Syraic at Gonville and Caius College then, in 1887, Lord Almoner’s Professor of Arabic.  Bensly helped to translate the Old Testament (1885) of the Revised Version of the Bible.  On the personal side, Bensly married Agnes Dorothee von Blomberg in Halle on August 14, 1860.  She and their three children outlived him.

At St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1893 the Westminster Sisters et al transcribed the Syraic version of the Gospels.  Agnes and Margaret also cataloged the monastery’s collection of Arabic and Syraic texts.  They began to collect about 1,700 fragments of manuscripts, now called the Lewis-Gibson Collection.

Bensly died in Cambridge, England, on April 23, 1893.  He was 63 years old.

J. RENDEL HARRIS AND THE WESTMINSTER SISTERS

Harris became a mentor to Agnes and Margaret.  He, Lecturer in Palaeography at Cambridge (1893-1903), wrote about ancient texts, including the Didache, the Acts of Perpetua, the Odes of Solomon, the Psalms of Solomon, and the Gospel of Peter.  His course in palaeography helped Agnes to become an internationally-renowned Syraic scholar.

Agnes and Margaret, despite their accomplishments, held only honorary degrees.  The reason for this was sexism.  The University of Cambridge, for example, did not give degrees to women at the time.

Harris, also an author of devotional works, left Cambridge.  After teaching theology in Leiden (1903-1904), he became the first Principal and Director of Studies at the Friends’ Settlement for Social and Religious Study, Woodbrooke College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, England.  Then, from 1918 to 1925, Harris was the Curator of Eastern Manuscripts at the John Rylands Library, Manchester.  He, aged 89 years, died in Selly Oak, Birmingham, on March 1, 1941.

Agnes and Margaret remained active scholars into the 1910s.  One of their later achievements was to make possible the discovery of an ancient Hebrew manuscript of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus.  The sisters, members of St. Columba’s Presbyterian (now United Reformed) Church, Cambridge, constituted the core of a religious and intellectual circle.  The Westminster Sisters also endowed Westminster College, Cambridge, and assisted in the founding of the Presbyterian student chaplaincy at the University of Oxford.

Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson died on January 11, 1920., her seventy-seventh birthday.

Agnes Smith Lewis died on March 26, 1926.  She was 83 years old.

CONCLUSION

These six saints stood in the spiritual lineage of St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210/215) and his protégé, Origen (185-254).  St. Clement was the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship.  He and Origen wedded faith and intellect, not without controversy, then and subsequently.  Opponents and critics have included those infected with indifference or anti-intellectualism.

To honor God with one’s intellect is to act consistently with the commandment to love God fully with one’s being.

James Rendel Harris, Robert Lubbock Bensly, Agnes Smith Lewis, Samuel Savage Lewis, Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson, and James Young Gibson did that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TIMOTHY, TITUS, AND SILAS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of

[James Rendel Harris,

Robert Lubbock Bensly,

Agnes Smith Lewis,

Samuel Savage Lewis,

Margaret Dunlop Smith Gibson

James young Gibson. and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++