Thursday, 10 February 2011

Saint Scholastica's Feast Day

Today (10th February) is the Feast Day of Saint Scholastica (c.480-c.543), twin sister of Saint Benedict. Nearly everything we know about her comes from the writings of Saint Gregory, who gives an account of what was to be the last meeting between Scholastica and Benedict. Here is a summary of Gregory's account. Follow the link to read the full account in Gregory's Dialogues and for more information about St. Scholastica.

Saint Gregory tells the charming story of the last meeting of the two saints on earth. Scholastica and Benedict had spent the day in the 'mutual comfort of heavenly talk' and with nightfall approaching, Benedict prepared to leave. Scholastica, having a presentiment that it would be their last opportunity to see each other alive, asked him to spend the evening in conversation. Benedict sternly refused because he did not wish to break his own rule by spending a night away from Monte Cassino. Thereupon, Scholastica cried openly, laid her head upon the table, and prayed that God would intercede for her. As she did so, a sudden storm arose. The violent rain and hail came in such a torrential downpour that Benedict and his companions were unable to depart.
'May Almighty God forgive you, sister' said Benedict, 'for what you have done.' 
'I asked a favor of you,' Scholastica replied simply, 'and you refused it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it!' 
Just after his return to Monte Cassino, Benedict saw a vision of Scholastica's soul departing her body, ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. She died three days after their last meeting. He placed her body in the tomb he had prepared for himself, and arranged for his own to be placed there after his death.

Dear friends, there is nothing new about women's prayers and God's love conspiring to thwart men's rules.

Saint Scholastica, pray for us.


  1. Amen. Is there any significance when in paintings the Blessed Virgin Mary wears a red dress? It is very different from when she is depicted in white. Also Saint Mary Magdalene is shown here wearing red. Thank you.

  2. Traditionally, white is a symbol of purity or holiness, but it's very difficult to pin down exactly what different colours mean in different styles, contexts and eras of Christian art. Red can mean passion and earthly love, but it can also mean sacrifice as when it's worn liturgically on martyrs' feast days, and it can also be a sign of royalty. As the colour of fire, it sometimes symbolizes Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.

    Blue is associated with the sky and it can therefore represent heaven, eternity and divinity. Medieval art often shows the Virgin Mary in blue because the paint derived its colour from Lapis Lazuli which was very expensive, and therefore blue was the most precious pigment to use. In paintings in which Mary is depicted wearing red and blue, it might sometimes symbolise the incarnation (the coming together of heaven and earth, spirit and body).

    The picture of Mary Magdalene in red might be associated with the Holy Spirit, because she is telling the other disciples about the Resurrection - i.e. she is the Apostle to the Apostles. (Until the fourth century or so, the Holy Spirit was not infrequently referred to as feminine, by the way).

    Other readers might know more about the symbolism of colour and add to this comment. It would make a refreshing change from squabbling about church politics!

    Best wishes,

  3. Sounds like an impossible woman, throwing a tantrum.

  4. But she did get her own way as a result! (I think I might throw a tantrum if I thought I was about to die and my beloved brother said his religious rules prevented him from staying with me).

  5. Green, not red, is the normal colour of the Holy Spirit, especially in the East, and was in certain Western Rites. It is the sign of fecundity of the Holy Spirit, hence its use in ferial time especially "time after Pentecost".

    Red seems very much to be a Roman thing, maybe coming more from the idea of martyrdom and the passion which in Rome was the great sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit; men and women dying for the Truth.

    Smouldering coals may be red but flames rarely are.

  6. Oh! I have been fooling myself all these years thinking that the first commandment puts God first. When of course the first two are completely interchangeable. Silly me.
    Though a nice tale nevertheless.

  7. I like it: she asks, he refuses, she goes higher. Good advice for any woman.

  8. Thank you. I have checked other paintings and even the one on your earlier blog has the red robe and blue cloak. The earth and heaven interpretation seems to fit well. Perhaps the red clothing of Mary Magdalene reflects the dramatic news she brings. The books of scripture the men carry are bound in red too. It looks very symbolic.

    Our Lord seemed very sensitive to the needs of women.
    At the well he intuitively knew the woman's background. On another occasion the dull diciples almost mocked him when he knew he had been touched in a jostling crowd by a needy woman. He answered the woman's needs ignoring the rules which stigmatized her condition, despite the incomprehension of the men.
    Saint Scolastica has given much food for thought.
    God can by-pass rules which unfortunately brings us back to church politics!

  9. Pachomius the Sophist11 February 2011 at 12:05

    So far, however, the Lord has deigned not to intervene on the side of those in favour of priestesses.

    Indeed, I think there is another interpretation which fits rather better with the tradition of the Church, both of the story of St Scholastica, and that of Mary Magdalene: The Church may be infallible, and priests may preach without error, but that doesn't stop them being stupid and highly fallible as people.

    St Peter surely is the archetype of this - he is given the keys to the Kingdom, but this doesn't protect him from being a coward during the Passion.

    St Damien de Veurster comes to mind as another example. A great saint, yes, but also an incredibly awkward and difficult man to deal with personally, by many accounts.

    This seems to me a far more likely reading of both narratives than the (highly eisegetical) interpretation that God favours women in the priesthood of the New Covenant.

  10. St. Scholastica, pray for our weeping,dying church. Pachomius, it would appear that God is favouring neither sex for the priesthood of our church. RCs are voting with their feet. Any slight increase in UK statistics can be accounted for by European immigration.
    The hierarchy's resistance to change expressed in your attitude to womens ordination suggests that you favour Assisted Dying.
    On RC decline David Voas, a professor of population studies at the Institute for Social Change at the University of Manchester, said: “The difficulty is in retaining the children who have churchgoing parents. So long as churchgoing is something that gets you laughed at, so long as there is a social stigma attached to being a churchgoing young person, it will be difficult to reverse the trend.”
    While 1,000 new people are joining a church each week, 2,500 are leaving.
    The popularity of the Pope's visit is of no more significance than the Nuremburg Rallies. People love a hero and a party.
    St Mary Magdalene, pray for our weeping, dying church.

  11. @ Pachomius and Tina Beattie
    Translated from the Italian:
    "I am a post-operative transsexual-Alessandro, formerly Alessandra. In appearance and voice I am totally male. Can I represent Christ at the altar now?
    My DNA remains female."
    This will be sent to a "traditionalist" blog. aslo.

  12. ...from the library. "Save Our Libraries".
    Hello. I am surprised no-one has remarked that the red robes of Mary Magdalene might be representing the old belief that she was the prostitute. Archbishop Nichols repeated this error fairly recently on television.
    Tina, which is your favourite painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Do you have one of the Lord? I like to think He could have looked like Durer's self-portrait at 28.

  13. Reply received from "traditionalist" .
    "DNA has never been an issue in the Church to determine gender, it has always been genitalia with which one is born. Therefore the answer is No.
    In the case of someone with male genitalia whose DNA is female the answer would be Yes."

    What about physical inter-sexuality ie exactly how big does the male genitalia of a genetically female person have to be?
    Who decides?

  14. @pp Alessandro
    I think this exchange is evidence of how problematic the situation becomes when the theology of priesthood is inseparable from sexual biology.

  15. @Saturday Surfer
    I shall revel in selecting some favourite paintings of the Virgin and Christ when I have time, but in the meantime, for those of you who think that humour is a neglected grace, do click on the link to the Squishy Jesus Taxonomy on the right above.

    Best wishes,

  16. "Pachomius, it would appear that God is favouring neither sex for the priesthood of our church. RCs are voting with their feet."

    The voice of the majority is not the voice of God. Would have thought that was obvious, really.

    "Any slight increase in UK statistics can be accounted for by European immigration."

    I didn't mention numbers, or indeed, anything about success, so I don't see the relevance of this comment. Actually, I agree with you on this entirely.

    (On the question at hand, remember that Christ himself was hardly a runaway success with the people of his own time - "the stone which the builders rejected", and so forth.)

    "The hierarchy's resistance to change expressed in your attitude to womens ordination suggests that you favour Assisted Dying."

    I certainly do not, and I don't see how you can possibly support such a claim. But if you really want to argue on popularity, I will once again reiterate, the truth is not a democracy.

    Furthermore, there is no reason to suggest that the introduction of either married priests or priestesses will cause any reverse in the decline. It's a cruel irony that despite having women in the priesthood, the Church of England is still facing a shortage of priests. Despite having 'liberalised' (for want of a better term), the Anglican church is not doing much better than we are.

    Indeed, the Episcopalian Church is, so far as I know, in decline. During the 1990s it experienced a flat level of membership, then a brief spike in the early new century, but is reported to have lost 115,000 members between 2003 and 2005, and to have had its membership shrink by 3% between 2008 and 2009.

    Far from allowing it to experience a boom in numbers, the Episcopalian Church's 'liberalising' (for want of a better term, again) has in fact not done anything for their decline.

    "On RC decline David Voas, a professor of population studies at the Institute for Social Change at the University of Manchester, said: “The difficulty is in retaining the children who have churchgoing parents. So long as churchgoing is something that gets you laughed at, so long as there is a social stigma attached to being a churchgoing young person, it will be difficult to reverse the trend.”
    While 1,000 new people are joining a church each week, 2,500 are leaving.
    The popularity of the Pope's visit is of no more significance than the Nuremburg Rallies. People love a hero and a party."

    Again, I don't see the relevance of any of this to my points. But (for the third time): the truth is not a democracy, and Christianity does not exist to be fashionable.

    I never mentioned popularity in my post, so I don't see the significance of any of this to the questions I did raise. Your post, indeed, is a perfect example of the very sort of eisegesis I referred to.

    Indeed, to David Voas I reply, "Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

    You might recognise that passage.

    To summarise, then, truth is not a democracy (4 times!), and a more 'liberal' approach is not going to revive western Christianity (and isn't very popular elsewhere in the world - and yes, the world is bigger than Western Europe and the United States of America).

    God bless you.

  17. The failure of the Church to accommodate the findings of endocrinology and human physiology bears a resemblance to its initial rejection of the scientific progress of Galileo with similar dire consequences.
    The choice of genital shape and size as the basis of who shall represent Christ at the altar is fraught with danger in view of our current knowledge.
    In medical circles, it is,sad to say, laughable.

  18. St Scholastica was a feminist too? Of course. How silly of us to think she was a woman dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

  19. To "The Admonisher" aka "The Astonishing"
    The continuing reluctance of the Church to incorporate advances in science beggars belief.
    Below a comment(14 Feb www)on the German theologians' letter-
    "The fundamental issue at play here is the right to theological freedom, the notion — closely associated with that more standard academic freedom — that for theologians to be able to do their work for the good of the Church and the world, there must be the freedom for open dialogue, research, publication and teaching on issues of theological and ecclesiological import without fear of censure. In a sense, these theologians... are preempting precisely that concern. They wish to dialogue about important, practical theological concerns that have, after the last papacy, been effectively “taken off the table.”

    Before this blog moves on and whilst we are considering the saints, perhaps prayers are required to Scholastica, Mary Magdalene and all the company of heaven that the German theologians' meetings in March will be productive.
    God has been known to change his mind.(Nineveh) Shame if the Keys are taken away or the locks changed.

  20. "By the power of Christ, she overcame the serpents among which she was thrown." Very appropriate.
    Saint Christina the Astonishing.
    Feastday. 24 July.
    My cousin lives in Palermo. Anyone fancy a trip to Sicily to venerate her relics?

  21. MMnn nothing from Tina B now for a few days. I am almost sure I spotted her at high Mass in The Oratory on Sunday. Perhaps she is still recovernig....!!??

  22. @Anonymous
    I do occasionally go to Mass at the Brompton Oratory, but to catch me last Sunday you'd have had to go to the 8.00 am Mass at St. James's, Strawberry Vale. That evening I preached at Evensong at Jesus College, Cambridge, which reminded me how very beautiful Anglican sung liturgies can be ... but sorry to disappoint some of you, I've no immediate plans to don goggles and flippers and swim across the Tiber. I'm not that into high gloss worship as a permanent feature of my Sundays - which is why I don't go to the Oratory more often.

  23. I don't think she looks like Sarah Palin, but she's likeable still.

  24. I was in London for a few days from the wilds of Greenock( see previous post). Whilst I could not envisage going to the main show at the Oratory every week , it sure does make a pleasant change from the usual fayre up here. The liturgy superb, music stunning, sermon well thought out and thought provoking.
    I do agree about Anglican Evensong etc,one of the reasons I welcome the converts with open arms. Things can only get better!

  25. On paintings.
    (The Ears have returned from self-imposed blogging exile having contracted severe ear-ache listening to the painful politics of organised religion in the media)

    S. Andrea delle Fratte, Rome.
    Walked into this dark church at a moment in the day when a broad shaft of golden sunlight from a high window fell on the painting of the vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Alphonse Ratisbonne. The visitors gasped at this instant of illumination.
    The painting by Natale Carta, was said to have been closely supervised by Ratisbonne.
    Not sure if it has artistic merit but I was struck by the more middle-eastern appearance of the subject which set me on the path of research into apparitions in their social context. That they reflect the experience and expectations of the visionary seems likely. They are no less real for that.

  26. Pleased to see the word " preached " at Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge.

    Here is one person's sad comment on Facebook under "Women preachers are all false prophets"-
    "Say what you will, women are more vulnerable to Satanic deceptions than are men. Do you know why there are over one billion hellbound Roman Catholics in this world? It's because of mamas!".

    If St. James's is your regular place of worship watch out now for the "Trads" after a photo of you on your knees! Suggest you wear full make-up, eyelashes, and preferably a sequined, black mantilla. Give the poor souls a good show!
    Actually its unlikely. Far too early.

  27. "High gloss worship", Traditionalism, Tridentinism?

    Ossified forms
    Ritual before reason
    High "camp" before High Christ
    Vestments and vanity
    A ferry North across the Tiber
    A parody of the Last Supper
    Magical incomprehensible incantations

    St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us

  28. Vatican II Baby. Is that how you describe the Church for the almost 2000 years before 1970?

  29. "Probably no one in history has set out as seriously as did Francis to imitate the life of Christ and to carry out so literally Christ’s work in Christ’s own way. This is the key to the character and spirit of St. Francis and helps explain his veneration for the Eucharist."
    The Rev. Ignatius Charles Brady, O.F.M.


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.