Friday, July 07, 2006

England and St. George

It is easy to be amused by this:

[...] 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.

Clergy have started a campaign to replace George with St Alban, a Christian martyr in Roman Britain.


Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams indicated support for an upgrade for Alban, although he is said to be cautious about relegation for George.

He told the Sunday Times: 'I think St Alban is irreplaceable in the history of English Christianity. Perhaps we ought to raise his profile because it's the beginning of the church in this country with martyrdom, wisdom and courage.'


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.

His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian's persecution of Christians.

Alban was martyred in 304 AD on the site of St Alban's abbey in the Hertfordshire city that now bears his name.

A Roman army officer, he was said to have converted after sheltering a Christian.
I am not sure to what degree St. Alban needs his profile raised, as he is easily as recognizable in the Anglican community as St. George. Not that I have anything against St. Alban, but I think this is yet another example of the Archbishop trying to strike a diplomatic note and missing the point completely.

There is a Byzantine icon of St. George (sans dragon) on my cubicle wall as I write this. On the back is a brief bio of the saint:
St. George was born of Christian parents (275 AD). During his childhood, his father died as a martyr. He grew up in Lydda of Palestine, the native town of his mother.

At the age of 18, he was recruited into the Roman army. Handsome, with an athletic and gentle appearance, clever and educated, courageous and brave, he was promoted to the highest military ranks in a short time.

Now Diocletian, the Roman Emperor, declared a severe persecution against the Christians and demanded that all his soldiers and officers offer pagan sacrifices as proof of their loyalty.

St. George was the first to refuse. He gave up his military commission, confessed his faith openly, and made himself available to the persecutors, obviously with the purpose of inspiring courage among the Christians.

Diocletian, unsuccessful in his efforts to change St. George's mind, ordered to put him under the cruelest tortures. He endured his martyrdom with great courage which caused the conversion of many officers and soldiers, and encouraged the Christians to stand firm in their faith. Finally, he was beheaded at Nicomedia on April 23 in the year 303 AD.
What exactly is "warlike" about this image? There are several striking similarities between this story and the one about St. Alban. As to the suggestion that St. George may not be an actual historical person, what of it? I happen to believe that he was, but the point of the story is to demonstrate an ideal of courage under duress and standing up for convictions. That is surely an ideal that we need to recover now more than ever. I would understand if the nation of England were to become so secularized that it decided to abandon its Christian heritage. But there is no excuse of the Church of England to be aiding such a movement.

The crux of the issue, of course, is not the secularization of the country but the appeasement of Muslims. The association of St. George's cross with the crusades is undeniable. But one ought to remember that the crusades were not an act of aggression by Europeans against Arab lands, but a defense of land they already owned against the invader. There are many reasons the crusades were not ultimately successful, but chief among them must be the lack of unity and conviction within the Christian camp. St. George went to his death, if the legend is to be believed, rather than bow to public pressure or pagan religion. If the Church of England is to continue its Christian witness, it will have to take note of his example and refuse to bow to either of the false gods of secularism or Islam.

(Via Mere Comments)


Giacomo said...

I'm surprised the C of E maintains that it has a patron saint. Isn't that liable to offend someone too? For that matter, I think that Christ is pretty offensive to a lot of people. Why don't we ... oh, wait, Flannery O'Connor beat me to it.

Jack said...

I'm not quite sure how it works over there. The patron saint is of England not the church, and it is a hold-over from the middle ages, but evidently the CofE recognizes his status. Anglicans look at saints as sort of Christian heroes, not having the intercessory powers ascribed to them by Rome and the East, but still worthy of respect.

sonia said...

And what about the dragon? Shouldn't he have some say into it? He was on an endangered species list, but St George still killed him, and now there are no more dragons...

Maybe St-George should be a patron saint of anti-environmentalists, instead of England...

Jack said...

Works for me. No reason why he can't be both, though, since his portfolio already includes Ethiopia and the city of Lisbon in addition to England. (I think Greece has some connection as well, but I can't remember if its the country or just some region.)

However, the suggestion that St. George killed the last dragon is disputable, since there were still dragons around in King Arthur's time.