12 October 2009

St Wilfrid

In preparation for Mass I have been reading about St Wilfrid, sometimes called St Wilfrid of York. There is some dispute as to whether his See was, indeed, York, or was it the ancient area of Deira. Without doubt he was a bishop of Northumbria, but some report he saw himself as the 'metropolitan' of the North. This was at a time when York was not a metropolitan, though it's certainly possible there had been talk of it so becoming.

Wilfrid came to prominence during the Synod of Whitby as the spokesman for the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter. It is hard, today, to imagine that there was division amongst the Church in these lands as to when the greatest feast of the liturgical year should be celebrated. Harder still to imagine that whilst some where engaged in their Lenten fast others, down the road, might be feasting and celebrating the Risen Christ. It puts into context the variance within our own Church of some celebrating the ordinary form of the Roman Rite and some the extraordinary. Perhaps we read more division into this current state of affairs than there actually need be.

Wilfrid comes across, to me, as very much towing the Roman line. He was hugely influenced by Rome and the Church in Europe during his pilgrimage to the Eternal City. It is recorded that, together with Benedict Biscop, he was the first native Anglo Saxon to make the pilgrimage to Rome. It set him on a course that would spar with St Hilda, St Cedd and the then Bishop of Lindisfarne. Some serious opposition. Wilfrid, of course, won the argument and now we celebrate Easter at the same time as the rest of the Latin Church. There are no clashes of menu!

What is the link with Birmingham, however, and why might we want to celebrate the feast of St Wilfrid. Well, it seems, he was so concerned that the current haul of bishops in the north might not be validly ordained (or consecrated as they might have understood it at that time) that he set off for France to find three legit bishops under the authority of the Pope. Seems he rather liked the lifestyle (or maybe he was prevented from returning) and stayed away for such a while that St Chad was chosen to replace him as Bishop of the area. When, in due time, the mess was sorted out by the new Archbishop of Canterbury (St Theodore of Tarsus) sent by the Pope, he was so impressed that Chad humbly returned to life in the monastery in order that Wilfrid might take up possession of his see, he later sent Chad to none other than Mercia to be Bishop. Chad, as you may know, centred his diocese in Lichfield and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wilfrid, as might have been expected, soon fell out with Theodore and when the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to bring sanctions against our miscreant Bishop of York, what do you suppose he did? He appealed to Rome, again the first to do so, and the Pope agreed with both Wilfrid and Theodore and found a via media as they say. Such, today, all of the characters in our great saga are named amongst the saints in heaven.

Is this in-house cat fighting, is this development, is this the old succumbing to the new or is it simply the pilgrim Church on earth?


  1. I studied in the diocese of St Poelten (Hippolit) in Austria. Hippolit the anti-pope. As one of our lecturers used to say, in the early church they were all so holy that even the antipopes were saints :-)

  2. Thanks for this, exlaodicea. I'm sure even the worst amongst have the potential to be saints one day!

  3. Indeed, the same lecturer used to say "Better a whole-hearted murderer than a luke-warm Catholic. The murderer can still convert!" :-)



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