Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saint Afra, who knew no theology

Actually Afra, 4th century, may have known quite a bit of theology. A prostitute, who ran a brothel, would have mixed with many men. Eventually a bishop stayed with her, for protection, the same as happened to Rahab, (reminiscent, that is) - since an inn and a brothel may not be clearly differentiated in those days - or our days.

She was burned for the protection she gave the bishop, and before she died, she prayed,
    O Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ, who didst come to call not the just but sinners to repentance, thus confirming the promise thou didst vouchsafe to make saying, "In the hour when the sinner shall repent of his sins, in that same hour I will no more remember them," accept at this hour my martyrdom as a penance, and by the material fire prepared for my body deliver me from the everlasting fire which burns both body and soul.

    I give thee thanks, Lord Jesus Christ, that thou hast vouchsafed to accept me as a victim for the glory of thy name, thou who wast offered as Victim on the cross for the salvation of the whole world, the Just for the unjust, the Good for the wicked, the Blesses One for the cursed, the Innocent for the guilty. I offer my sacrifice to thee, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen.
But her prayers do not reflect the theology of an ignoramus(a), converted as she was led from brothel to pyre. Here is the prayer of Bishop Basil, the Great, 4th century,
    Lord Jesus our God, King of the ages and Creator of all, I thank You for the blessings You have granted me and for the communion of Your pure and life-giving Mysteries. I pray You, therefore, gracious Lord and Lover of Mankind, guard me under Your protection and within the shadow of Your wings; and grant me with a clear conscience till my last breath worthily to partake of Your sacred Gifts for forgivenes of sins and for life eternal. For You are the Bread of Life, the Source of Holiness, the Giver of all that is good, and to You we send up the glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
And here is Chrysostom, 4-5th century, who gives his defence for praying to Christ,
    I believe, O Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief. And I believe that this is Your pure Body and Your own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And grant that I may partake of Your Holy Mysteries without condemnation, for the remission of sins and for life eternal. Amen.
These prayers are taken from Praying to our Lord Jesus Christ: Prayers and Meditations through the Centuries by Benedict Groeschel. This post is written for Cheryl, who was so distressed in the past to read, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, page 153,
    Prayer, then, follows a paradigm that reflects the taxis of the Trinity. The Father has absolute and uncontested supremacy, including authority over the Son and the Spirit, so we pray to the Father.
Ware goes on to explain that the taxis in the eternal Trinity, the relationships of authority over and submission to, form the basis of all biblical worship and life in the church. Funny, though, I was brought up in the Brethren, its a while back now, but the existance of a clergy, the presence of an earthly hierarchy, was labelled as the 'sin against the holy spirit.' Its hard not to think, sometimes, that theologians are having a bit of a game at our expense, always peddling their own particular version as the one true religion.

(I am not sure yet where Ware gets the notion of taxis from. While it is a word which means "order" I don't know the original text from which Ware is deriving his meaning.)


Anonymous said...

The cruelty and hypocrisy of the clergy toward women whose business is pleasure knows no bounds.

On the one hand they've always been clients, (so long as it's kept swept under the rug), and on the other, they'll rail against these women with a self righteous indignation that would almost be funny if it weren't so ludicrous.

The courtesans of late 16th cent. Venice were blamed for everything from a recurrence of the black plague to bad investments made by the shipping magnates.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am deeply aware of the irony of this contrast, between prostitute and bishop. After writing this post, I raged against this language.

I used it, yes, but with painful awareness of the ridiculous nature of the labelling. Thank you for responding to this.

She is better called Saint Afra for her prayers, while the name of the bishop she succoured is long forgotten.