Saturday, 9 March 2013

Developing academic writing skills

Oscar Wilde ... “What is the difference between literature and journalism? Journalism is unreadable, and literature is never read”

Patrick Comerford

Each month, I write a column for two diocesan magazines that runs to 1,800 words. On most months, the columns are the same, but sometimes I tweak them, and occasionally they have some major changes in them to give them local relevance.

For most people, it looks like 3,600 words, and over a year that amounts to 43,200 words. When someone asks how I manage to write that much every month or every year, I tend to respond either it takes more to write a book each year, or I make some dismissive asides about insomnia and being able to sit up all night writing.

Well, for most people it does seem like a lot.

Then, on top of that, there’s perhaps a sermon or reflection on average each week, no matter how short or long, commentary for a newspaper, or a paper for other publications.

And then, sometimes, people say things like: “It must come easily to you after all those years working as a journalist.”

Well, let me share with you two trade secrets of a writer:

● Firstly, it doesn’t come easy, ever.
● Secondly, having worked as a journalist for 30 years does not necessarily mean I am capable of writing well in other styles and genres.

The task of writing

Oscar Wilde once said: “What is the difference between literature and journalism? Journalism is unreadable, and literature is never read.”

Although Rebecca West once claimed “journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space,” some of my colleagues in The Irish Times were sub-editors but also well-known, critically acclaimed writers, regarded not as mere novelists but as key figures in modern literature.

TS Eliot ... “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers”

TS Eliot rightly recognised: “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

And one of those colleagues gave me good early advice. He gave me two valuable tips: he got up early, and wrote for a set time, let’s say, two hours every morning. And he set himself a target: write 500 words a day.

Now, his books did not amount to 182,500 words a year. His average for a book was somewhere around 70,000 words. He admits that some of what he wrote each morning was thrash, only worth pulping. I remember writing my first book in 1984 on an old-fashioned, heavy typewriter. And so many pages ended up crumpled on the floor of my study.

But I wrote each day, and set time aside each day, even if all I started with was: “The quick brown fox jumped over the fence,” even if, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I was sometimes reduced to typing nonsense sentences again and again: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

One of the most difficult tasks when sitting down to write is actually sitting down … to write.

And when you have sat down, the task of writing does not include getting up to make a cup of coffee, knocking on the next door to ask someone about last weekend or the weekend ahead, checking on your email or your Facebook page. Would you do that when you are praying?

Sit down, call up a blank screen on your laptop or PC, key in the title of your essay and assignment, go to the next line, your name, go to the next line, and key in the word “Introduction.” Believe you me, you have got past the first difficult hurdle.

Try to set aside a time each day when you can write, and set yourself a target, a manageable target, for what you would like to write each day.

If you leave every assignment until the week before it is due, none is going to be written properly.

If you start now, then you will be comfortably pleased, and physically comfortable, with what you produce.

Don’t write everything

There are two dangers to avoid, particularly when you have a limit on the number of words in an assignment. So: don’t pad it out; and don’t squeeze it all in.

You know what it’s like when a writer has entertained herself with her own recollections and her own ability to be clever. How often have you found yourself skipping parts of a book?

The American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard says: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Sometimes I just write too much because I’m not focussed and disciplined enough. More focus, more discipline would allow me to say all the things I want to say. Sometimes less actually means more. Less verbiage on my part allows the reader to grasp more of my ideas.

Sometimes we just pack too much in, trying to show that we have paid attention, trying to show what we have learned.

And then we become thieves, stealing more space surreptitiously, by cramming more detail into the footnotes.

Sometimes we pad things out because we’re not focussed enough, not directed, because we allow ourselves to ramble all over the place. As a journalist I found it was more difficult to write a story in 300 words than in 1,000 words.

I remember one prima donna demanding more words to write a report, claiming: “I can’t explain it in less.”

“If you can’t explain it in less,” the page editor retorted, “how can I believe you really understand it?”

Writing within the limit you are given is an important discipline in writing. Blaise Pascal once wrote to a friend: “I have made this letter longer only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

It takes discipline to confine yourself to what you ought to say.

But padding it out to reach the required length is also an indication of a lack of discipline, and poor research.

Try to remember how many times you have listened to a sermon, and found yourself wondering why some of those boring, personal asides were dropped in while the sermon was being written?

Was it because he had to speak for 10 or 12 minutes, and didn’t have enough good, relevant ideas?

Don’t pad it out

John Ruskin once gave the advice: “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words, or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

On the other hand, your first rector, hopefully, is going to advise you: “Don’t pack all your good sermons into one.”

If you have good ideas that you don’t want to lose, open a file where you can hold and keep them … for the future.

At an extreme level, journalists in the Sun were advised by their news editors: “Make it short. Make it snappy. Make it up.”

But there is a germ of truth in that. Say it simply, say it sweetly, and say it quickly. Use space for your ideas. Don’t use unnecessary adjectives and superlatives as a way of reaching a required length.

Mark Twain dealt with this problem by advising: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Be structured

The Red Queen advises Alice: ‘Start at the beginning, go through to the end and then stop’

The Red Queen advises Alice in Alice in Wonderland: “Start at the beginning, go through to the end and then stop.”

The secret of good story-telling remains paying attention to three details: a good story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

As Maria advised the children in The Sound of Music:

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi

Well, we’re all good at the beginning. We can set out the task we have to do. It’s like school exams: we were all good at writing our names down at the top of the exam paper.

But then we find ourselves all over the place in the middle, and run out of time at the end. Plan how much space you need for each part of your essay. Don’t leave it to chance and find you have only 50 or 100, or even 200 words for your summaries and conclusions. They tell me what you have not only learned, but assimilated and can apply. Don’t tell me you’ve learned little or nothing.

Be careful with punctuation

I hope you all know about the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynn Truss. She describes it as the “zero tolerance approach to punctuation.” The book takes its title from this joke on bad punctuation:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Do you all know about the grocer’s apostrophe?


Do you all know the difference between it’s and its?

There’s also a wonderful Facebook page called: ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ or, ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’

Punctuation saves lives!

Punctuation matters.

Punctuation matters

Think of this letter from Gloria to John:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?



Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we are apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?



Watch your sentences

And even if you are good at punctuation, don’t use too many dashes and brackets.

A good idea, when you have written something, is to read it out loud, to yourself or, preferably, to someone else. That way, you share ideas, you learn collaboration, but your colleague actually hears what you wrote, not what you think you have written.

If it’s difficult for you to read out loud, then it’s difficult for me to read when it lands on my desk.

And if you lose your train of thought as you wrestle with dashes and brackets – and you know what you intended to write, how much more difficult is it going to be for me?

Write simply, write clearly, write with your own voice.

Watch your words

Anglo-Saxon words are always better that French or Latin words. You are more likely to understand them, and to tell me precisely what you mean, and they are easier to spell.

To repeat Ruskin’s advice: “Say all you have to say … in the plainest possible words, or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

Don’t rely on spell-check. Spell-check can’t tell the difference between their, there, they’re, and, if you speak like the Kerry politician Jackie Healy Rae, th(e) hair, t(he) heir, the air, and dare. Here, hear, ’ere …

It’s worth remembering: Spell-check may not understand you.

Watch your sources

Do not trust everything you find on the internet … even when it appears to come from a reputable academic source

The internet opens the world to us, and may provide you with wonderful, new and fresh insights and sources. But if you are referring in footnotes to web sources try to find another, second, preferably printed source that backs up and confirms what you have found.

And when giving web references, give the date you accessed it – because web addresses change, web pages or updated, and web pages may be taken down.

Do not trust everything you find on the internet, even when it appears to come from a reputable academic source. The Irish Times reported some time ago [16 September 2011] how a page for a fictitious lecturer went up on the website of the School of English in Trinity College Dublin [14 September 2011]. He was “Dr Conan T. Barbarian, B.A. (Cimmeria), Ph.D. (UCD), F.T.C.D., Long Room Hub Associate Professor in Hyborian Studies and Tyrant Slaying” – complete with research interests that include “Vengeance for Beginners,” and even a TCD email address.

Nor is Wikipedia a valid source to cite, as far as I am concerned. The year before last, Katie and I found ourselves in laughter when someone edited a Wikipedia page on the Apostle Philip, saying his father was a plasterer, and he was a time traveller who had made a guest appearance on Dr Who.

Reward yourself at the end

Reward yourself with a coffee and a read of the newspaper ... when you've finished the task in hand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Give up each writing task while you’re still feeling good. If you end each writing task only when you’re frustrated, flustered or exhausted, you’ll hate getting back to your laptop the next assigned time.

Then reward yourself.

Give yourself that shot of coffee or that chocolate biscuit … not in the middle, but at the end, when you’ve finished. Then the next time you know there’s a prize at the end, and that it’s worth sticking to.

Psychologically … it works.

Read what others write

Finally, read what others write, see how they do it, and learn from them.

Share your writing skills with others, learn from how they map out assignments, deal with difficult phrases, clauses and sentences, and notice how they express themselves. And don’t be afraid to ask why they wrote things that way.

And read for pleasure.

Read for pleasure and fun … including poetry and novels

Read newspapers … Karl Barth said the preacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. If I don’t know how the world thinks, how can I address its needs in the light of the Gospel?

Read poetry … John Donne and TS Eliot teach me a lot about how to use theological categories in crisp, sharp writing.

Read novels … Susan Howatch and Catherine Fox are theologians who write as novelists; they are academically sound when it comes to theology and church history, pastorally they are so insightful, as writers they truly know how to tell a story.

Read theology – for fun … Janet Soskice is Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge, but her recent book, Sisters of Sinai (Vintage, 2010), has all the fun and pace of a novel.

I read it with fun and for knowledge by the pool on a holiday in Turkey. It is theology, church history and biblical studies all in one. And if reading theology can be fun, then writing it should be fun too. And it should be. You’ll be writing theology for the test of your life, for sermons, for parish notes, for book reviews, for communicating the Good News.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a research seminar with Dr Katie Heffelfinger on “Developing Writing Skills” for Year IV part-time students on the MTh course on Saturday 9 March 2013.

Church History (part-time) 4: Challenging myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusaders

Selskar Abbey, Wexford ... intimately linked with myths and legends about Crusaders from Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

9 March 2013

2.30 p.m., Hartin Room

MTh part-time), Church History elective module (TH 7864)

Church History (part-time) 4: Challenging myths and memories (2): Invaders and Crusaders


Let me begin this session by telling you a tale or two.

I have a lot of respect for the work of local historians because they are like the coalminers of history. They burrow away in areas often ignored by professional and academic historians, and bring some valuable nuggets to light.

But local historians can also have a romantic attachment to their local area, and continue to tell local romantic stories, without critically analysing them.

Let me then tell you about two have contradictory legends:

Selskar Abbey in the centre of Wexford town is raid to stand on the very place where the first Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed when the Anglo-Normans arrived in 1169 when the town of Wexford was surrendered to Robert FitzStephen.

Another legend says that Selskar Abbey is also the place where Henry II did public penance in 1171 for his role in instigating the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This may have been a Viking foundation originally. But we have no evidence to support it. We certainly know from its dedication to Saint Peter and Saint Paul that was never a “Celtic” foundation.

Whatever its origins, it was later endowed, enlarged and given to the Canons Regular of Saint. Augustine in 1190 by – according to local legends – by Sir Alexander Roche of Artramont, outside Wexford.

The legendary accounts attached to Selskar Abbey say that when Sir Alexander Roche was a young man he became infatuated with a beautiful girl, the daughter of a poor burgess of Wexford town. To prevent their marriage, his parents persuaded him to join the Crusade, and that they sent him off on foot, to join the campaign for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

On his return from Palestine, Roche’s parents had died and he was now free to marry. But when he visited the home of the woman he wanted to marry, he found she had heard he had died in battle, and so she had entered a convent.

Roche then took a vow of celibacy, endowed Selskar Abbey, dedicated it to the Holy Sepulchre, placed relics from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the abbey church, and he became its first Prior.

Of course, it is a popular myth in Wexford.

But did Sir Alexander ever exist?

Did his childhood sweetheart ever become a nun?

Indeed, did she ever exist?

Was there ever a crusader link with Wexford Town and Selskar Abbey?

The name in Danish means Seal’s Rock, as in Selskar Rock in Bannow Bay, the site of the main Anglo-Norman landing in 1169. The existing tower is 14th century; surviving parts of the nave are 15th century; and the church you see today dates from the 19th century.

As usual, there is confusion and debate surrounding the dates: the Third Crusade (1187-1192) ended without Jerusalem being retaken; the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) never reached Jerusalem, and those involved expended their energies in sacking Byzantium. So if Sir Alexander ever existed, ad if he ever was a Crusader, and if he ever came back with relics, they were certainly not from Jerusalem and certainly not from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Indeed, the family historian says the first Alexander Roche in the Wexford family was the son of Sir Richard de la Roche, who was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1261 (Journal of the Old Wexford Society, No 2, 1969, p. 42).

He might just have been of the right age to have taken part in the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254), which only fought in Egypt; the Eighth Crusade (1270), which ended in defeat in Tunis in North Africa, and was the last major attempt to take the Holy Land; of perhaps the Ninth Crusade (1271–1272), which ended as a failure with the Knights of Saint John moving to Rhodes, and marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East. None of these Crusades reached Jerusalem, they are too late for the foundation and endowment of Selskar Abbey, and even entertaining the possibility of trying to reconcile local legend with major events in Medieval History has become absurd at this stage.

Jerpoint Abbey, Co Kilkenny, linked with Irish legends about Crusaders and the bones of Saint Nicholas

My second local legend sounds like something from The Da Vinci Code or The Name of the Rose.

There is a legend in Co Kilkenny that links Jerpoint Abbey with the Crusades and with Saint Nicholas of Myra – Saint Nicholas as in Santa Claus.

The Cistercian abbey at Jerpoint was founded in 1183, and served as a launch-pad for Irish-Norman Crusaders from Kilkenny in the Third Crusade (1187–1192).

Why a Cistercian Abbey? Because the initiator of the Cistercian reform within the Benedictine tradition was Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who also “preached up” the Second Crusade (1145-1149).

Jerpoint Abbey was founded during the reign of Henry II. In order to persuade the local people that the monastery was of divine origin and had supernatural powers, it was useful to have buried there a saint of high standing with a reputation as a miracle worker.

Saint Nicholas had lived in Myra, in present-day Turkey, from ca 270 until he died on 6 December 343.

In 809, Myra was captured by Muslims when the besieged town fell to Harun al-Rashid, and it fell again to Muslim conquerors between 1081 and 1118.

Taking advantage of the confusion, sailors from the port Bari in southern Italy collected half of Saint Nicholas’s skeleton in Myra in 1087, leaving the rest of his remains in the grave. These remaining remains were later collected by Venetian sailors during the First Crusade (1096–1099).

Saint Nicholas Church on Gemile Island, between Rhodes and Fethiye … was this is true burial place of Saint Nicholas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first part of his body – perhaps half his bones – arrived in Bari on 9 May 1087, and they were moved to the Church of Saint Stephen. The remaining bones were taken to Venice in 1100. Whether these were the actual remains of Saint Nicholas, but at least they were from the same body, according to the results of scientific tests. Another grave attributed to Saint Nicholas also exists on the small Turkish island of Gemile, between Fethiye and Rhodes, and some historians say this is his original grave.

The grave-slab in Newtown Jerpoint said to be carved with an image of Saint Nicholas

However, a local story in Co Kilkenny says that a band of Irish-Norman knights from Jerpoint, who had travelled to the Holy Land to take part in the Crusades, seized Saint Nicholas’s remains as they headed home to Ireland, bringing them back to Kilkenny, where they buried the bones in Jerpoint Old Town, a few miles from the abbey.

Another version of the story says a Norman family called de Frainet or Frenet, removed Saint Nicholas’s remains removed from Myra to Bari in 1169 and later brought the relics to be buried in 1200 in the Church of Saint Nicholas in the medieval village of Newtown Jerpoint.

The churchyard has graveslab dating from the 1300s with an image of a cleric, thought to be a bishop, and two other heads. The cleric is said to be Saint Nicholas and the heads the two crusaders who are said to have brought the saint’s relics to Ireland.

But this is all the stuff of myth and legend. The Normans and the Cistercians preferred to name their churches and abbeys after Biblical and Continental saints rather than the local “Celtic” saints. And in that sense, our discussion last month about Patrician and “Celtic” Christianity is linked to the Norman and subsequent identities of the Church in Ireland by the Crusades, which also provide a link in the change of patterns in Irish medieval monasticism. And looking at the Crusades also equips us to deal with some of the myths and legends that leave legacies that remain barriers to ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church, interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims, and that cast shadows over our efforts to deal with major social theological issues such as war, violence, tolerance, and Church-State relations.

Introducing the Crusades

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem … at the heart of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between 1095 and 1291 blessed by the Pope and the Church with the expressed goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the sacred city and symbol of the three principal Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was first captured by Islamic forced in the year 638. When the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army in 1071, Christian access to Jerusalem was cut off and the Emperor Alexis I feared the Turks would over-run all Asia Minor. The Byzantine emperor called on western Christian leaders and the papacy to come to the aid of Constantinople and to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule.

In all, there were nine Crusades from the 11th to the 13th century, along with many “minor” Crusades. Several hundred thousand Crusaders came from throughout western Europe, but they were not under any one unified command. Their emblem was the cross, and the term “Crusade,” although not used by the Crusaders to describe themselves, comes from the French term for taking up the cross. Many were from France and were called “Franks” – the common term used by Muslims.


The Cathedral of Pisa … funded through two raids on Muslim territories in the 11th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the decades immediately before the launch of the Crusades, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bin-Amir Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His successors allowed the Byzantine Empire to rebuild the church in 1039 and Christian pilgrims were allowed once again to visit the holy sites in Palestine.

But in the second half of the 11th century, even before the First Crusade, European forces had already been at war with Muslim forces:

● The city of Pisa in Italy funded its new cathedral through two raids on the Muslims – in Palermo (1063) and Mahdia (1087).
● In Sicily, the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered northern Sicily by 1072.
● In 1085, Moorish Toledo fell to the Kingdom of León.

The Crusades came as a response to wave-after-wave of Turkish assaults on the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine emperors sent emissaries to the Pope asking for aid in their struggles with the Seljuk Turks. In 1074, Emperor Michael VII sent a request for aid to Pope Gregory VII, but there was no practical response.

In 1095, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II for help against the Turks, and Urban II responded by launching the crusades on the last day of the Council of Clermont.

His speech is of the most influential speeches ever. He called for Christian princes across Europe to launch a holy war in the Holy Land. He vividly described attacks on Christian pilgrims and contrasted the sanctity of Jerusalem and the holy places with the plunder and desecration by the Turks. He urged the barons to give up their fratricidal and unrighteous wars in the West for the holy war in the East. He also suggested material rewards in the form of feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige, all at the expense of the Arabs and Turks.

When he finished, those present chanted: “Deus vult, God wills it.”

Immediately, thousands pledged themselves to go on the first crusade. Pope Urban’s sermon at Clermont was the start of an eight-month preaching tour he undertook throughout France. Preachers were sent throughout Western Europe to talk up the Crusade.

Urban’s example inspired the preaching of Peter the Hermit, who eventually led a “People’s Crusade” of up to 20,000 people, mostly from the lower classes, after Easter 1096. When they reached the Byzantine Empire, Alexius urged them to wait for the western nobles, but the “army” insisted on moving on. They were ambushed outside Nicaea by the Turks, and only about 3,000 people escaped the ambush.

First Crusade (1095–1099):

The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099 (Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

The leaders of the First Crusade were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke William II of Normandy, but not King Philip I of France or the German Emperor Henry IV. In all, the forces may have numbered 100,000.

The first crusader armies set off from France and Italy on 15 August 1096. They received a cautious welcome in Constantinople from the Byzantine Emperor. The main army, mostly French and Norman knights, then marched south through Anatolia and first fought the Turks at the lengthy Siege of Antioch from October 1097 to June 1098. Once inside the city, the Crusaders massacred the Muslim inhabitants and pillaged the city.

Most of the surviving crusader army then marched south, finally reaching the walls of Jerusalem on 7 June 1099 with only a fraction of their original forces. Although Jerusalem was defended by its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, who fought alongside each other, the crusaders entered the city on 15 July 1099. They proceeded to massacre the remaining Jewish and Muslim civilians and pillaged or destroyed the mosques and the city itself.

As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, at most 120,000 Franks ruled over 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and e Eastern Christians. The other Crusader states were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.

Eventually, the Muslims began to reunite and Edessa was retaken in 1144 It was the first city to fall to the Crusaders, and was the first city recaptured by the Muslims. This led the Pope to call for a second Crusade.

The historian Steven Runciman summarises the First Crusade as a barbarian invasion of the civilised and sophisticated Byzantine empire, ultimately bringing about the ruin of Byzantine civilization.

The Second Crusade (1147–1149):

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

After a period of relative peace in the Holy Land, the Muslims reconquered Edessa and a new crusade was called for by various preachers, especially Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. However, Saint Bernard was upset with the amount of misdirected violence and the slaughter of the Jewish population of the Rhineland.

French and German armies under the King Louis VII and King Conrad III marched to Jerusalem in 1147 but failed to win any major victories. Even the pre-emptive siege of Damascus was a failure. By 1150, the kings of France and Germany had returned home without any gains. As part of the wave created by the Second Crusade, however, Lisbon was retaken from the Muslims in 1147, and Tortosa was captured in 1148.

The Third Crusade (1187-1192)

The Crusaders before Saladin

The divided Muslim forces and powers were united by Saladin, who created a single powerful state. Following his victory at the Battle of Hattin, he overwhelmed the disunited crusaders in 1187 and all of the crusader holdings except a few coastal cities. The Byzantines, who now feared the Crusaders, made a strategic alliance with Saladin.

Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. When he heard of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), Pope Urban VIII died of a heart attack on 19 October 1187. On 29 October, Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull calling for the Third Crusade. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip II of France and King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England responded by organising a crusade.

But Frederick died on the way and few of his men reached the Holy Land. The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels. Philip returned to France. Richard captured Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191, recaptured the cities of Acre and Jaffa, and his Crusader army marched south to Jerusalem. However, Richard did not believe he could hold Jerusalem once it was captured.

The crusade ended without Jerusalem being retaken. Instead, Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin allowing merchants to trade and unarmed Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204):

The Crusaders assault Constantinople in 1204

The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III, with a plan to invade the Holy Land through Egypt, with a fleet contracted from Venice. But the crusaders lost the support of the Pope and were excommunicated.

They lacked supplies, the leases on their vessels were running out when they turned on Constantinople and tried to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. In 1204, the Crusaders sacked the city and established the so-called “Latin Empire” and a collection of petty Crusader states throughout the Byzantine Empire.

Finally, the Pope returned his support to the Crusade, and backed a plan for a forced reunion between the Churches of the east and the West. But this forced but short-lived reunion was the final breaking point of the Great Schism.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221):

Saint Francis of Assisi before the Sultan at Damietta in 1219

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council formulated yet another crusade plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Austria and Hungary joined the forces of the “King of Jerusalem” and the “Prince of Antioch” to retake Jerusalem.

In the second phase, the Crusader forces captured Damietta in Egypt in 1219. Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan, who was impressed by Francis and spent some time with him. Francis was given safe passage and his action eventually led to the establishment of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

But in 1221, the Crusaders launched a foolhardy attack on Cairo, where they were turned back and forced to retreat.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229):

The Dome of the Rock ... left in Muslim hands by the Sixth Crusade

Emperor Frederick II launched the Sixth Crusade in 1228, when he set sail from Brindisi for Saint-Jean d’Acre. There were no battles in the Crusade, and Frederick signed a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt allowing Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem and a strip of territory from Acre to Jerusalem, while the Muslims had control of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque. In 1228, Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem. The peace lasted for about ten years. Following the Siege of Jerusalem in 1244, the Muslims regained control of the city.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254):

King Louis IX of France organised a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254. The crusaders were decisively defeated on their way to Cairo and King Louis was captured, released only after a large ransom had been paid.

The Eighth Crusade (1270):

Louis IX again attacked the Arabs in 1270, this time in Tunis in North Africa. The king died in Tunisia, ending this last major attempt to take the Holy Land.

The Ninth Crusade (1271–1272):

The future Edward I of England, who had accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade, launched his own Crusade in 1271. But the Ninth Crusade was a failure and it marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East.

Antioch had fallen in 1268, Tripoli fell in 1289, Acre n 1291, and the island of Ruad, 3 km off the Syrian shore, was captured by the Mamluks in 1302. The last traces of Christian rule in the Levant disappeared.

The Knights of Saint John relocated themselves to the island of Rhodes, which they held until 1522. Cyprus remained under the House of Lusignan until 1474, and then in the hands of Venice until 1570.

Some other ‘Crusades’:

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania in southern France. It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with heresy. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomy of southern France came to an end.

The “Children’s Crusade” The chronicles report a spontaneous youth movement in France and Germany attracted large numbers of peasant teenagers and young people in 1212, convinced they could succeed where older and more sinful crusaders had failed. Many of the children died of hunger or exhaustion on the hot summer’s journey to the port of Marseilles, others were captured and sold into slavery. At Marseilles, seven ships were put at their disposal. It was 18 years before anything more was heard of them.

Evaluating the Crusades:

The Crusades had political, economic, and social impacts on western Europe. Later consequences were, on the one hand, the way they weakened the Byzantine Empire, which fell eventually to the Muslim Turks; and on the other hand a long period of wars in Spain and Portugal leading to a Christian conquest or reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. The Crusades allowed the Papacy to assert its independence of secular rulers and developed the arguments for the proper use of armed force by Christians, leading eventually to the development of the “Just War” theories.

Some historians have argued that the Crusades opened up European culture to the world, especially Asia, and gave Christian Europe a more cosmopolitan world view that led to its world-wide empires.

Sir Steven Runciman says of the Crusades: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

Runciman has highlighted the tension between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and the Popes in Rome during the Crusades, and the more tolerant attitude of the Byzantines towards Muslim powers. For Runciman, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was the culmination of the mounting dislike and suspicion that western Christendom felt towards Byzantium.

The West misunderstood Byzantium, and could not accept the ideas that the Roman inheritance had shifted from Rome to Constantinople and that the civilised, Christian world was centred on Constantinople. For their part, the Byzantines had a deep-rooted antipathy towards the West, convinced of Byzantine cultural and religious superiority, despite Byzantium’s military and political weakness.

Nevertheless, the Crusades had an enormous influence on the Church and on western Europe in the Middle Ages. In part, they contributed to the development of nation states such as France, England, Spain, Burgundy and Portugal.

Much knowledge in areas such as science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and architecture were introduced to Europe from the Islamic world during the crusades.

Along with trade, new scientific discoveries and inventions made their way east or west. Arab and classical Greek advances, including the development of algebra and optics and the refinement of engineering, made their way west and sped the course of advancement in European universities that led to the Renaissance in later centuries.

Maritime passage brought the rise of Western European and Mediterranean trading and naval powers such as the Sicilian Normans and the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.

Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice ... a statement in church architecture that Venice had become the new Byzantium (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Following the Crusade that proved a disaster for Byzantium, Venice began to assert its claims to be the Byzantium of the West. Treasures looted from Byzantium were put on public display and became emblematic of Venice, including the four bronze horses from the Hippodrome, carved pillars from the Church of Saint Polyeuktos, and the porphyry sculpture of the Ten Tetrarchs now at the Basilica of San Marco.

Saint Mark’s Basilica itself is a statement in church architecture that Venice is the new Byzantium. Why, even the Bishop of Venice assumed the title of Patriarch.

Trade routes opened across Europe, bringing many things to Europeans that were once unknown or rare, including a variety of spices, ivory, jade, diamonds, improved glass-manufacturing techniques, early forms of gun powder, oranges, apples, and other Asian crops and produce.

Judith Herrin, in Byzantium, the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (London: Penguin, 2007), reminds us that it could be said that many instruments that we take for granted today, from the fork to the organ, were introduced to the West from Byzantium through Venice.

The Crusades mark Europe’s recovery from the Dark Ages (ca 700–1000). The economy of Western Europe advanced, and the Renaissance began in the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa which were opened to the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

But the rising Ottoman Empire would pose a new threat to Western Europe in advance of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492 and the opening of the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century.

Next (April weekend):

Church History (part-time) 5: A Reformed and Disestablished Church

Church History (part-time) 6: Challenging Myths and memories (3): memories and the decade of centenaries

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This essay is based on notes used for a lecture on the Church History module (TH 7864) with part-time MTh students on 9 March 2013.

Church History (part-time) 3: An introduction to Patristics and the Early Fathers

The Church Fathers … in a Greek Orthodox icon

Patrick Comerford

9 March 2013

1.30 p.m., Hartin Room

MTh part-time), Church History elective module (TH 7864)

Church History (part-time) 3: An introduction to Patristics and the Early Fathers


There was a time when Patristics would have been one of the core First Year modules for ordinands in an Anglican theological college. Scholars like Bishop JB Lightfoot (1828-1899) and Bishop Brooke Westcott (1825-1901) placed Patristics at the heart of Anglican theology from the late 19th century on, for many generations.

Today, there is may be less enthusiasm for Patristics, and Professor Alister McGrath, looking at the obstacles to our understanding of Patristics in the 21st century, identifies four reasons why understanding Patristics can be difficult today:

● Some of the debates appear to have little relevance to the modern world;
● The use of classical philosophy;
● The doctrinal diversity;
● The divisions between East and West, or between Greek and Latin methods of theology, and the extent to which they use classical philosophy.

He might have added that some of them think in ways that are totally alien to us today, such as Saint Simeon the Stylite (ca 390-459), who achieved fame as an ascetic because he lived on a small platform on the top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria for 39 years.

But do not be frightened by this topic, or think it is irrelevant or of merely antiquarian interest. From the Liturgy module earlier this year, you will ought to be familiar with the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, anonymous works dating from the same period as the Apostolic Fathers, and perhaps with the Apostolic Constitutions, important texts in understanding the Liturgical practices and beliefs of the Early Church.

And the teachings of the later Church Fathers are keys to understanding the debates over the Canon of the Bible and the formulation of the Creeds of Nicaea (321), Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451).

The Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The field of Patristics is that of the Early Christian writers known as the Church Fathers and their writings. The name comes from the Greek πατέρας (pateras) and the Latin pater (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of the New Testament period or the end of the Apostolic Age (ca 100 AD) to either the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, or even to the Second Council of Nicaea in the eighth century (787 AD).

Lancelot Andrewes ... roots Anglican theology in the patristic writings of the first five centuries

The Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes summarises the Anglican understanding of doctrinal authority in memorable form: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

Many scholars today would prefer to refer not to Patristics but to Early Christian Studies. But Patristics is more than the study of historical figures and historical writers. It is not merely an exploration in antiquity that has the church as its main field of interest. It is the very study in which we come to understand how the continuity of the Apostolic and the post-Apostolic Church in prayer life, in spirituality, in sacramental life, in trying to hold together our unity as the Body of Christ, and in a spirituality that found its expression too in our Creedal and Trinitarian formulas.

The Church Fathers

The prominent early Church Fathers whose writings form the basis for Patristics include Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110), Justin Martyr (ca 100-ca 165), Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130- ca 200), Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215), Cyprian of Carthage (died 258), Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 296-ca 373), Gregory of Nazianus (329-389), Basil of Caesarea (ca 330-379), Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-ca 395), Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca 350-428), Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Vincent of Lérin (died before 450) and Cyril of Alexandria (died 444).

Their thinking and their writings are found in epistles or letters, apologetics or defence of the developing and unfolding doctrine of the Church, in sermons, in accounts of their saintly lives and their martyrdom – for it was said in those days the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church – in philosophical writings, and in accounts of pilgrimages, particularly to Jerusalem.

Their concerns include the Liturgy, personal and corporate prayer, how to live an ascetic life that remains appropriate, penance, the corpus of scripture, schism and heresy, creation and ethics.

The Church Fathers are generally divided into the Ante-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote before the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote after 325. In addition, the division of the Fathers into Greek and Latin writers is also common.

Some of the most prominent Greek Fathers are: Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexander. The Latin Fathers include Cyprian, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory the Great and Augustine of Hippo. They lived and wrote across the Mediterranean world, in Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Rome and the area of north Africa around Carthage, as well as Milan and Jerusalem.

The Apostolic Fathers

The view of the Coliseum from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Apostolic Fathers, who are a small number of Early Christian writers, lived and wrote in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century. They are acknowledged as leaders in the Early Church, and although their writings are not included in the New Testament, many are regarded as contemporaries of or students and followers of the Apostles, the generation that had personal contact with the Disciples. In this way, they are seen as the link between the Apostles, who had personal contact with Christ, and the later generations of Church Fathers.

The Apostolic Fathers include: Clement of Rome, who was alive around 96 AD; Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.

Saint Clement of Rome was the author of the epistle known as I Clement (ca 96 AD). This is generally considered the oldest surviving Christian epistle outside the canon of the New Testament. In this letter, he calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order.

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna, the only surviving classical site in Izmir. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters, including one to the Church in Smyrna, while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110) is said to have directly known Saint John the Evangelist. On his way to martyrdom in Rome, he wrote a series of letters that provide an example of the theology of the early Christians. In his letters, he discusses ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role and authority of bishops.

He identifies a local church structure of bishops, priest and deacons, with the bishop in the place of God, the priests in the place of Apostles, and the deacons serving as Christ served: “Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy in the place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest” – To the Magnesians, 6 (Andrew Louth).

Hear how Ignatius weaves together, in one of his letters, his Trinitarian faith, his understanding of the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, and links his Christology with his Ecclesiology: “Do your utmost to stand firm in the precepts of the Lord and the Apostles, so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual chaplet, your clergy and godly minded deacons. Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to his Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as the spirit.” – To the Magnesians, 13 (Andrew Louth)

Ignatius claims to have spoken in some of the Churches through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In an early Patristic poem, he teaches the deity of Christ and his human and divine natures:

“There is only one Physician –

Very Flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed;
Very-Life-in-Death indeed;
Fruit of God and of Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as Lord we know.”

To the Ephesians, 7 (Andrew Louth).

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

He is the second writer after Clement to mention Saint Paul’s Epistles, and he is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal,” “complete” and “whole” to describe the Church, writing:

“Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts [the Eucharist] without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God’s approval too.” – To the Smyrnaeans 8 (Andrew Louth).

Ignatius is also the first of the Church Fathers to speak about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He thought of the Church as a Eucharistic society which only realised its true nature when it celebrated the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.” [Ignatius, quoted in Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 242.]

The 42-hectare Kültürpark was laid out on the ruins of the Greek quarter of Smyrna ... Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and was martyred there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Polycarp (ca 69-ca 155) was the Bishop of Smyrna (present-day Izmir in western Turkey). Irenaeus says “Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna.” (Adversus haereses, 3.3.4).

According to the early Church historian, Eusebius, Irenaeus says that as a boy he had listened to accounts by Polycarp of his friendships with “John and with the others who had seen the Lord.” Polycarp died as a martyr in Smyrna in 155 AD.

The Greek, Latin and Desert Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers were followed by the Greek Fathers, including: Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, the Cappdocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Peter of Sebeste and Gregory of Nyssa), Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus.

Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity is to humbly accept one doctrinal authority – episcopal councils, and he proposed that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John should all be accepted as canonical Gospels.

Clement of Alexandria united Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine.

Athanasius of Alexandria is remembered for his role in the conflict with Arianism and for his affirmation of the Trinity. At the First Council of Nicaea (325), he argued against Arius, who said Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father.

The Cappadocian Fathers made major contributions to the definition of the Trinity, finalised at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the final version of the Nicene Creed, which was agreed there.

Among the Latin Fathers of the Church were Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Gregory the Great.

The Desert Fathers were early monastics in the Egyptian Desert. Although their writings are not as extensive, their influence was immense. They include Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Pachomius. Many of their short and pithy sayings are collected in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

A small number of Church Fathers wrote in other languages: Saint Ephrem the Syrian and Saint Isaac the Syrian, for example, wrote in Syriac, although their works were widely translated into Latin and Greek; others wrote in Ethiopic.

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers

In patristic writings, we find a non-negotiable concern for the poor, the sick, and those in prison, balanced with demands for personal responsibility, honest work, and an orderly social life.

Saint Basil the Great wrote: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

The Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos has the skull of Saint John Chrysostom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John Chrysostom, the great conscience of the Church on these matters, closed his second sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man, preached in Antioch in the late fourth century, imploring his congregation to keep one main thing in mind: “I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life. We do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

It is a common Patristic saying that of the two, schism is worse than heresy. Behind this thinking is the presumption that a heretic is sincere in his belief — however erroneous — and so it could be that God may at least judge him on the basis of his sincerity, his personal integrity, and his consistency of action in regard to his principles. The schismatic, on the other hand, has willfully separated himself from others who share the same beliefs, thus denying the truth that unity and communion exist in the very confession of the same truth. Heresy might be seen as a sin of error, while schism is a sin against truth itself.

If I ever had any doubts about the potential for humour among the Early Fathers, my misgivings were dispelled a few years ago by Dr George Bebabwi, an Egyptian scholar now living in Indianapolis.

In the course of a lecture in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he told a story from the Abbot Sophronius of a desert monk who was called on for an exorcism. The monk slowly took out the scroll of the Book Genesis and started to read methodically and carefully at Chapter 1, Verse 1, not verse-by-verse, or even word-by-word, but letter-by-letter: “I-N T-H-E B-E-G-I-N-N-I-N-G, G-O- …”

Before he got any further, the Devil interrupted the monk, demanding in an outraged voice: “This is an exorcism – aren’t you supposed to be reading the Psalms.”

“I’ll get to them, in my own good time,” the monk replied nonchalantly.

“I can’t wait that long,” was the impatient response. “I’m out of here now.”

If you are in danger of thinking the Desert Fathers are concerned only with their own personal salvation, and not with the salvation of the whole world, then they also warn against what may be described as “learning wisdom.” The Egyptian Desert Father, Abba Poemen, said: “A man who teaches without doing what he teaches is like a spring which cleanses and gives drinks to everyone, but is not able to purify itself.”

There was a monk in Egypt who wanted to be martyr. His abbot warned him against false heroism and told him it was easy to be unusual. True heroism, the abbot said, is found in daily life, looking for reality and finding God’s will there. The monk persisted in his quest for martyrdom, however, and headed off to an area controlled by nomadic tribes, and he demanded to become a martyr.

But once the nomadic people captured the monk, he was unable to resist, and rather than accept the pain of martyrdom he worshipped their idols. He returned to the monastery, where the abbot reminded him that true heroism often lies in dealing with daily realities rather than seeking to be dramatic or unusual.

If your image of the Early Fathers, particularly the Desert Fathers, is of humourless men stuck on the top of pillars or columns, sending down baskets with human waste and hauling them back up again full of food and drink, then think again of Saint Anthony, the founder of monasticism, saying: “Joy and not fear are the signs of the holy.”

When we look at the spirituality of the Church Fathers we should also remember those who were later regarded as heretics, including Tertullian (ca 160-ca 225), Origen (ca 185-ca 254), Pelagius and Nestorius (died ca 451). Although they never came to be regarded as Church Fathers, their writings help us to understand what the Church Fathers were countering, and who they were debating with. Indeed it was Tertullian who first said: “The blood of the martyrs is seed of the Church.”

Nor were all the Patristic writers men, either. One of the greatest descriptions of pilgrimage we have at time is by Egregia, who travelled from Gaul (France), spending three years in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, describing the churches and the liturgies, and seeking out healing centres such as that of Saint Thecla in Isauria, an inland district in south-central Anatolia

The rediscovery of Patristic texts and writings in the 15th and 16th centuries, following the exodus of Greek scholars with the fall of Byzantium is a major factor in understanding the Reformations, in particular the Anglican Reformation. And so, I conclude this part of our module this afternoon with the “Prayer of Saint Chrysostom” introduced to Anglicanism by Thomas Cranmer:

“Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfil now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.”

Westcott House, Cambridge … the theological college is named in honour of the great Anglican patristic scholar, Bishop Brooke Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Selected Reading and Bibliography

SA Harvey, DG Hunter (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (Oxford: OUP, 2008/2010).
MB Cunningham, E. Theokritoff (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge, CUP, 2008).
JB Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers (London: MacMillan, 1891, 1907)
Andrew Louth (ed), Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin, 1987).
Cyril Richardson (ed), Early Christian Fathers (London: SCM Press, 1953).
JWC Wand, The Greek Doctors (London: Faith Press, 1950).
Benedicta Ward, The Desert Fathers, Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin, 2003).

The Ladder of Divine Ascent … is an icon from Mount Sinai based on a book of the same name on the ascetic and monastic life, written ca 600 AD by Saint John Klimakos

Appendix 1:

Prayers of Saint John Chrysostom:

Saint John Chrysostom

1. O Lord, deprive me not of your heavenly blessings.
2. O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment.
3. O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word or deed, forgive me.
4. O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart.
5. O Lord, deliver me from every temptation.
6. O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires.
7. O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; I ask you, being God, to forgive me in your loving kindness, for you know the weakness of my soul.
8. O Lord, send down your grace to help me, that I may glorify your holy Name.
9. O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, your servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end.
10. O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in your sight, yet grant me, according to your grace, that I may make a start in doing good.
11. O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of your grace.
12. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, your sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in your Kingdom.
13. O Lord, receive me in repentance.
14. O Lord, leave me not.
15. O Lord, save me from temptation.
16. O Lord, grant me pure thoughts.
17. O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace.
18. O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins.
19. O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience.
20. O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness.
21. O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of you in my heart.
22. O Lord, grant that I may love you with all my heart and soul, and that in all things I may obey your will.
23. O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters.
24. O Lord, who knows your creation and what you have willed for it; may your will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for you art blessed for evermore. Amen.

Excerpts from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

1, “A hermit said, ‘Take care to be silent. Empty your mind. Attend to your meditation in the fear of God, whether you are resting or at work. If you do this, you will not fear the attacks of the demons.”
2, Abba Moses, “Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you all.”
3, “Somebody asked Anthony, ‘What shall I do in order to please God?’ He replied, ‘Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guidelines, you will be saved’.”
4, “He (Evagrius) also said, ‘A monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger, ‘Do not blaspheme. My Father cannot die’.”
5, Abbot Pastor said, “If someone does evil to you, you should do good to him, so that by your good work you may drive out his malice.”
6, An Elder said, “A man who keeps death before his eyes will at all times overcome his cowardliness.”
7, Blessed Macarius said, “This is the truth, if a monk regards contempt as praise, poverty as riches, and hunger as a feast, he will never die.”
8, “It happened that as Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good’.”

Some additional sayings of the Fathers:

“Do your utmost to stand firm in the precepts of the Lord and the Apostles, so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual chaplet, your clergy and godly minded deacons. Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to his Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as the spirit.” – Ignatius, To the Magnesians, 13 (Andrew Louth)

“There is only one Physician –
Very Flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed;
Very-Life-in-Death indeed;
Fruit of God and of Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as Lord we know.

– Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 7 (Andrew Louth).

“Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts [the Eucharist] without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God’s approval too.” – Ignatius, To the Smyrnaeans 8 (Andrew Louth).

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.” – Saint Basil the Great.

“I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life. We do not possess our own wealth but theirs.” – Saint John Chrysostom


Church History (part-time) 4: Challenging Myths (2): Invaders and Crusaders

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This essay is based on notes used for a lecture on the Church History module (TH 7864) with part-time I MTh students on 9 March 2013.

Preaching from an Apocryphal book on Saint Patrick’s Day

Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, after Adam Elsheimer (mid-17th century, The National Gallery, London)

Patrick Comerford

The Revised Common Lectionary provides for the possibility of three Old Testament readings on Sunday week, 17 March:

● Isaiah 43: 16-21 (for the Fifth Sunday in Lent);
● Tobit 13: 1b-7 (for Saint Patrick’s Day);
● Deuteronomy 32: 1-9 (for those who do not want to use a Deuterocanonical reading on Saint Patrick’s Day).

I thought I should prepare some notes on Tobit for this morning’s Bible study, as for some of you this may be one of your few chances to consider how you might use an “Apocryphal” reading in preparation for a sermon.

Tobit 13: 1b-7

‘Blessed be God who lives for ever,
because his kingdom lasts throughout all ages.
For he afflicts, and he shows mercy;
he leads down to Hades in the lowest regions of the earth,
and he brings up from the great abyss,
and there is nothing that can escape his hand.
Acknowledge him before the nations, O children of Israel;
for he has scattered you among them.
He has shown you his greatness even there.
Exalt him in the presence of every living being,
because he is our Lord and he is our God;
he is our Father and he is God for ever.
He will afflict you for your iniquities,
but he will again show mercy on all of you.
He will gather you from all the nations
among whom you have been scattered.
If you turn to him with all your heart and with all your soul,
to do what is true before him,
then he will turn to you
and will no longer hide his face from you.
So now see what he has done for you;
acknowledge him at the top of your voice.
Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of the ages.
In the land of my exile I acknowledge him,
and show his power and majesty to a nation of sinners:
“Turn back, you sinners, and do what is right before him;
perhaps he may look with favour upon you and show you mercy.”
As for me, I exalt my God,
and my soul rejoices in the King of heaven.


The version of the Book of Tobit in the New Revised Standard Version Bible, unlike most other translations of the Book of Tobit in the English language, is based upon a longer version of the text in Greek found in the Codex Sinaiticus and supplemented from the Old Latin. The shorter version of the text in Greek has been the traditional Greek text used for translating the book throughout the history of the Church. However, the longer text is now almost universally judged to be the more original of the two texts.

There is a third text in some English translations based on the text of the Latin Vulgate.

The book was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, probably between the years 225 and 175 BC. The oldest text fragments of the Book of Tobit are in Hebrew and were recovered in the 20th century in the Dead Sea Scroll caves (Cave IV) at Qumran and in excavations at Masada.

The Book of Tobit introduces a new genre of literature to the Bible – the novel, and he uses a variety of literary techniques, including monologue and dialogue, prayers and hymns, demonology and angelology, wisdom sayings and deathbed testimonies. The writer may have used true events for the background of the drama in the book, but in the first chapter, the writer indicates his intention to communicate truth through the medium of novel.

The writer introduces a number of comical historical anachronisms that would have been immediately apparent to Jewish readers at the time. The book’s primary emphasis is on the everyday practical, moral and wisdom-tradition aspects of being good and doing good.

Perhaps the author is suggesting that although this book should not be considered among the corpus of sacred histories, nevertheless it contains timeless morality and spiritual lesson that show the sovereign care exercised by God on behalf of those who fear him.

Despite the fictional historical settings for the events, we can see evidence of the prophetic within the book. In Chapter 13, Tobit prophesies the future blessings for the righteous in the New Jerusalem. In language that seems to anticipate information God would later reveal in the New Testament to Saint John in the Book of Revelation, Tobit speaks of the glories of the New Jerusalem, whose gates “will be built with sapphire and emerald” (13: 16), and whose streets and buildings will be encrusted with precious stones and gold.

Summarising the story:

An icon telling the story of Tobit, Tobias and Raphael

The Book of Tobit tells the story of Tobit, a faithful Jew from the tribe of Naphtali whose family are exiled from Samaria into Upper Galilee and who continues to worship in Jerusalem until he is forced into exile in Nineveh in Assyria.

Tobit is struck blind and falls into poverty and is blinded by cataracts as a direct result of the pious deed of burying fellow Jews who have been murdered on the last day of Pentecost. He sends his son Tobias into a far land to find a wife and to obtain an inheritance.

While doing this, Tobias delivers the woman Sarah from Asmodeus, the demon who had claimed the lives of her seven previous husbands on their wedding night. He secures this with the help of the angel Raphael disguised as Azariah and by the sacrifice of a fish. Of course, the fish would later become the earliest of all Christian symbols for Christ, and the wedding banquet is a Gospel image of the Kingdom of God.

When the wedding celebrations are over, Tobias and Sarah return to Tobit’s house. On his deathbed, Tobit has Tobias promise to move the family from Nineveh to Ecbatana in Media, where Tobias lived to a rich old age.

Some scholars believe that the closing chapters (13 and 14) were added at a later stage. These chapters include Tobit’s hymn of praise (13: 1-17), from which this reading is excerpted.

This hymn of praise, which echoes many New Testament passages, including Isaiah 40-55, is divided into two parts:

● The first part (verses 1–8) is a song of praise that echoes themes from the Psalms, I Samuel and Isaiah.
● The second part (verses 9–18) is addressed to Jerusalem in the style of those prophets who spoke of a new and ideal Jerusalem (see Isaiah 60; cf. Revelation 21).

Joyful praise and words for joy and gladness occur throughout this hymn of praise (see verses 1, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18).

Preaching from the reading:

The Book of Tobit is replete with the commandments and wisdom of God as well as parallels with the story of Christ – the only Son who is sent by the Father to redeem a Bride from death. This story has inspired an oratorio by Handel, and many great works of art – by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Abraham De Pape, Jan Massys, Barent Fabritius, Bernardo Strozzi, Pieter Lastman, Gerrit Dou … and so on.

There is even a stained glass window depicting Tobias and the Fish in Whitechurch Church of Ireland parish church in Rathfarnham, given by Don Tidey in thanksgiving for being freed from his kidnapping.

But how would you relate this story to Saint Patrick on Sunday week, 17 March? Perhaps a new Pope will be elected by then, and you may want to say something about that instead of working your way through the choice of readings. But if you are preaching on Sunday week, these are some of the themes that might emerge:

● The stories about Tobias and Patrick are about slavery and liberation from darkness
● They are stories about exile and being protected by God
● They are stories about deliverance from evil, represented in banishing the snakes or killing the fish
● They are about faithfulness in the midst of idolatry
● They are about bringing God’s message to other nations
● They are stories that teach the value of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving

What else can you find in this reading?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with part-time students on the MTh course on 9 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (25): Saint Gregory of Nyssa, 9 March

Saint Gregory of Nyssa … one of the Cappadocian Fathers, he helped phrased the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople

Patrick Comerford

Saint Gregory of Nyssa was born at Caesarea in what is now Turkey around the year 330, the child of an aristocratic Christian family.

Unlike his elder brother, Saint Basil, he was academically undistinguished, but he became the most original of the theologians among the Cappadocian Fathers. Saint Gregory, his brother Saint Basil of Caesarea, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

Apocryphal hagiographies depict him studying at Athens, but this is speculation probably based on the life of his brother Basil. While he was young, Saint Gregory was at best a lukewarm Christian. However, when he was 20, some of the relics of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste were transferred to a chapel near his home, and their presence made a deep impression on him, confronting him with the fact that to acknowledge God at all is to acknowledge his right to demand a total commitment.

Saint Gregory was introduced to the spiritual life by his elder sister He may have been a reluctant Christian, but he became a man enchanted with Christ and dazzled by the meaning of his Passion.

After the death of their father, Saint Macrina converted the family home into a sort of monastery on one of the family estates. Saint Gregory married Theosebia, a deeply spiritual woman, and at first he refused ordination, pursuing a secular career as a rhetorician.

He was ordained only later in life, and in 372 was chosen to be Bishop of Nyssa. When his brother Saint Basil died in 379, Saint Gregory was shocked by his death . Several months later, he received another shock: his beloved sister Saint Macrina was dying. Saint Gregory hastened to Annesi and conversed with her for two days about death, and the soul, and the meaning of the resurrection. Choking with asthma, Saint Macrina died in her brother’s arms.

The two deaths, while stunning Gregory, also freed him to develop as a deeper and richer philosopher and theologian. He reveals his delight in the created order in his treatise, On the Making of Man. He exposes the depth of his contemplative and mystical nature in his Life of Moses and again in his Commentary on the Song of Songs. His Great Catechism is still considered second only to Origen’s treatise, On First Principles.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa was an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene Creed. For Saint Gregory, God is met not as an object to be understood, but as a mystery to be loved.

As Bishop of Nyssa, Saint Gregory faced opposition from Arians in the city, and in 373 Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium visited the city to quell discontent. In 375, Bishop Desmothenes of Pontus convened a synod at Ancyra to try Saint Gregory on charges of embezzlement of church funds and the irregular ordination of bishops. He was arrested by imperial troops in the winter of the same year, but escaped. He was deposed by the Synod of Nyssa in 376.

However, Saint Gregory regained his see in 378, the same year Saint Basil died. A year later, he attended the Synod of Antioch in 379, where he failed to reconcile the followers of Meletius of Antioch with those of Paulinus. After visiting the village of Annisa to see his dying sister Saint Macrina, he returned to Nyssa.

He visited Sebaste in 380 to support a pro-Nicene candidate as bishop, but was elected himself. However, after several months, he returned home to Nyssa.

In 381, . Saint Gregory tattended the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, where he was honoured as the “pillar of the Church.” At the council, he defined the Trinity as “one essence [οὐσία] in three persons [ὑποστάσεις], the formula adopted by the Council and now incorporated in the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa died on 9 March 394. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches.

The Roman Martyrology commemorates his death of on 9 March.

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge is holding a Community Day with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on Saint Gregory of Nyssa on Saturday 22 June. For more details visit:


Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Gregory of Nyssa, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.


Wisdom 7:24–28; Psalm 19: 7–11 (12–14); Ephesians 2: 17–22; John 14: 23–26.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your servants Gregory and Macrina
to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (10 March): The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.