ST GEORGE PATRON OF ENGLAND
Why is that St. George is important today? Of what help can he be to us English? Firstly it would appear that he became the patron of the English Kings in the reign of Edward III, as they two earlier patrons of the English were St. Edmund the Martyr and then St. Edward the Confessor. I do remember reading years ago in the Catholic Herald in 1983 that St. Peter was the original patron of the English and that would fit in very well with the intense devotion that the Anglo Saxon kings and the Anglo Saxons in general had with regard to the Sea of Peter, which is hardly surprising as the first Papal Mission in the history of the Church was Gregory The Great’s mission to the English in 597 under St. Augustine of Canterbury.
All that we do know of St. George is that his cult was very widespread from early times. The cult was centred at Diospolis, modern day Lydda. It would seem that George was martyred in the reign of Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the 4th century. At the beginning of the 6th century he is described as a good man ‘whose deeds are known only to God’
Somehow he has been adorned with wonderful legends where he tears down an edict proclaiming the persecution of Christians and is executed as a result. The same story
is told of St. Nestor. George is also claimed to have been a fellow officer of none other than Constantine the Great. Returning to the story of the tearing down of the edict, St. George goes to the temple of Bacchus and throws down the statue of the god. He refuses to sacrifice whether to Bacchus or the Emperor it is hard to know, and not surprisingly he is tortured and killed; no doubt beheaded.
Now there was a considerable controversy in the last century as to whether Christians were pacifists or not, for there are a considerable number of soldier martyrs in the early Church. This, on one hand, has nothing to do with pacifism, and everything to do with paganism. Roman soldiers were bound to offer incense to the Emperor, and Christian soldiers could not do this.
The great soldier saint that we do know of, and who is very well documented is the lovable St. Martin of Tours, who was most probably some 50 years junior to George. Martin, a Hungarian brought up in Pavia, the son of a soldier, became a reluctant one, and when he was baptized, he felt that he could no longer be one, even though soldiers now had a Christian Emperor. He was now a soldier of Christ.
It does appear that ex-soldiers make excellent saints. We need only think of St. Francis, not a terribly efficient soldier who after the Battle of Collestrada finds himself in prison for a year, and then the excellent soldier Ignatius of Loyola founds the Jesuits on almost militaristic lines with all the efficiency of a well trained army, but perhaps the soldier saint that does get overlooked is a young contemporary of St. George, the pagan soldier Pachomius who is really the founder of what we would describe as monasticism, even though St. Antony of Egypt is the Father of Monks. The reason for this is this, that Antony’s monasticism was much more informal, one might say, even though it was very rigorous. A monk could live by himself, or with one or two, be totally solitary as was Antony for 20 years, but Pachomius introduces a monasticism which is directly based on an Army barracks , and even had whips hanging up for those who broke the rule, and this would seem to include difficult visitors. The Pacchomian monastery has none of the charm of Antony’s desert communities, nor the wonderful eccentricities of Syrian monasticism; it is all very Roman and very ordered and is like the army.
The dragon that St. George is slaying and the princess who he has saved from the hungry monster is most congenial to a spiritual interpretation. The dragon unsurprisingly is the devil, and the maiden, the Church and purity, and then if we transplant George into a monastic setting we begin to understand where the Church and Christians should be coming from.
I wonder if, with the destruction of monasticism in England, we destroyed not only an ancient and universal way of Christian living but we also destroyed the mythic and actual qualities of the perfect knight. With the destruction of medieval Catholic England we destroyed the knight and ended up with buccaneers like Drake and Hawkins. Shakespeare had to endow Henry V with wonderful qualities of knightly excellence, whereas devout though he might have been, it did not prevent him laying Normandy waste, and the Black Prince was not much better.
Sadly armies are very rarely used to defend the innocent, protect the orphan and widow, the handicapped and weak, they are usually there to promote the whims or rulers, totalitarian regimes and what are euphemistically described as democracies, but as I never tire of saying, Athenian democracy was based on slavery. There was no universal suffrage in Athens, and it is amazing that most politicians and governments seem to have a scant regard of history which is detrimental to the serenity of their citizens. If we look at most wars they are simply about grabbing land, grabbing crowns, and grabbing wealth, and of course the greatest prize of all is power.
George, Pachomius, Martin, and Ignatius are interested in only one kingdom, the only kingdom that matters the kingdom of Heaven, which is perfect in Heaven, but is suffering on Earth, as did its King. Christ suffers at the hands of the religious establishment that does not want to lose power, and the Roman Imperial government, which will brook no opposition.
Our real homeland is in Heaven, amassing great wealth in this world is a complete illusion, but it is one that fires the imaginations of those who pursue it. The only ensign that is worth fighting under is the Cross and the battle is spiritual and not physical. The real world is Heaven, and we are asked to be citizens of Heaven on Earth by being people of The Ten Commandments, people of the Beatitudes, and to resemble the Just in the great parable of The Last Judgment in the 25th chapter of St. Mathew’s Gospel.
England certainly needs a protector in St. George, but he is neither the Public School gentleman, the army officer, or a football hooligan, he is one who witnesses to the absolute supremacy of Christ, which requires the greatest courage of all namely to lay down one’s life freely. Nothing can be more noble than that; “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends”, and Jesus makes the point to his apostles “I no longer call your servants, I call you friends”.
Let us hope that before we plunge into anymore terrible conflicts we think of the building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth by Mercy and Justice, Peace and Love. The Flower Power of the Sixties and free love were misguided attempts at that, and failed because those wide eyed idealists had, for the most part, abandoned their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. I wonder how many of those men and women later on became cynical power brokers, and corrupt politicians, and worse still immoral warmongers.
Many years ago a wonderful and eccentric Capuchin called Fr. Terry More said to me “The way to stop wars is to get the politicians to fight them”. It would be interesting to see our Prime Minister or the President of the United States in the boxing ring with President Assad or the President of Iran, and it would be a lot cheaper, a lot less bloody, and might even be good entertainment; it would be certainly a lot fairer.
St. George, Patron and Protector of The English, pray for us.