Thursday, March 01, 2007

Patron Saint of Historians?

The Venerable Bede, who for some reason is not the patron saint of historians.

I am shocked and dismayed to learn that there is no patron saint for historians. There are patron saints of accountants, old clothes dealers, undertakers, nail makers,
and roller skaters, but none for historians. The site I was using referred me to teachers, writers, archeologists, and translators. Okay, for teachers they list, among others, a couple of favorites: St Catherine of Alexandra, who, though a young women in a patriarchal society, converted many through her logic and erudition, and the wise and capable Pope Gregory the Great. As a teacher, I will take that into account. Historians teach, and they also write. Interesting and few choices for writers: St Francis de Sales, the apostles Paul and John, and St Lucy. St Lucy is wonderful, but I have no idea why she's a patron of writers. I love the Gospel of John and the Revelations of John the Divine, but they are two different people and neither one is the apostle.

There are three patrons of archeology, but none for history! I like that St Helen is one -- as the discoverer of the True Cross (of which I have a sliver) she really was the first Christian archeologist. But, to paraphrase Frank O'Hara, I think I would rather be an archeologist, but I am not. What's left? Translators. I have worked and occasionally still work as a translator. Who is their patron saint? Our old friend Jerome, who was, pace Talmida, a great translator and is also the patron saint of grumpy old men.

So I think we need to do something about this for the sake of historians everywhere. Everywhere there are brave women and men sneezing from archive dust, battling through dense bibliographies, and learning Estonian because the one book they need to read is only available in that language. We need someone to pray to. Bede seems an obvious choice. St Gregory of Tours is an option, despite his cruelly impenetrable and barely coherent Latin. I will be taking nominations and then we will put them up to a vote.

14 comments:

Jeff said...

Good question. The Venerable Bede is an obvious and very good choice, and deserves to be the front-runner.

May I make two nominations?

1) Desiderius Erasmus for his Greek New Testament, for being a brilliant classicist, and for being the first real "Renaissance Man".

2) Henri De Lubac SJ for his expertise in patristics and his role in the development of the nouvelle theologie/sources chretiennes/ressourcement school of thought in the Church... for going back to the sources.

Garpu the Fork said...

Hm. Makes about as much sense as St. Cecilia as patron saint of musicians. Her claim to patronage is based upon mistranslation. Never really felt much of a connection to her...I've always felt more of a connection to Hildegard of Bingen or Isidore of Seville. (And of course St. Benedict.)

Liam said...

Jeff -- Nice nominations, though it seems you're canonizing as well as assigning patronage! Which, of course, is cool...

Garpu -- St Isidore is a good choice for about anything, since he wrote on everything. I think I'll put him on the history nomination. He did write his history of the Goths, Suevi and Vandals.

I wonder about saints who have been accidentally assigned to a not so appropriate category. I suppose St Cecilia and St Lucy won't mind the prayers of musicians and writers. Perhaps they can forward them to the correct offices.

Hildegard rocks. Whose versions of her music do you prefer?

crystal said...

I cast a vote for St. Herodotus :-) or if you really need him to be christian, St. Jerome ... he was a translator.

Garpu the Fork said...

I've got the Sequentia boxed set of her music, and I like it. Come to think of it, I like a lot of what Sequentia does. Anonymous 4 is also pretty good. (I liked how they showed Hildegard's music in context of the Divine Office.)

Liam said...

Crystal -- Yeah, I think I may have to leave Herodotus with Dante's virtuous pagans. We'll put grumpy old Jerome on the ballot -- he did continue Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.

Garpu -- I have several recordings by Sequentia, both of Hilde and other things as well.

cowboyangel said...

What about Eusebius himself? Not only for the Ecclesiastical History but also for the Chronicle and the Vita Constantini? But then we're back to the un-canonized.

On the surface, Bede may seem like an obvious choice and the front-runner, but here are some things to consider: 1) If he's so great, why hasn't he ALREADY been chosen as the patron saint of historians? Don't you find that a bit odd? Maybe he does well at the beginning of the campaign but can't close the deal. 2) If you look to see who's praying to him, his patronage list simply can't compete with that of Catherine, Jerome and the others. Bede has one group: lectors. Important, no doubt, but the fact of the matter is, people just aren't praying to the guy like they are to other saints. You need a patron saint who has serious pull, but you also want someone you feel like you can have a beer with, someone who's accessible and approachable. I mean, how comfortable can you feel with someone who goes by "The Venerable"? "Hi, my name's Liam, the Really Virtuous and Heroic. Wanna go have a beer?" It's a little awkward. 3) He voted for the war. Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich are the only two who can say they didn't. Yeah, he may feel sorry about it now, but where does that leave us?

You didn't mention it, but Catherine and Jerome are also the patron saints of Archivists (and Librarians), which seems related to what you do, along with another heavy-hitter, San Lorenzo/Saint Lawrence, who I think you should consider. Talk about serious patronage power - people like the guy and a lot of them are praying to him. And I think he fits well for historians. Not only is he the patron of archives and archivists, but his long list of supporters includes brewers; comedians; lumbago sufferers; paupers; poor people; students; vine growers; vintners; and wine makers, all of whom you should feel at home with. And he's the patron saint of cooks, since he himself was grilled to death, a conection I find really disturbing, but that might come in handy when you're going in to defend your dissertation. He's also the patron of Rome - not bad for a historian to have connections there, right? And he's Spanish, born in Huesca.

Then there's Eric Hobsbawm. Apart, I mean, from the fact that he's Jewish. And a Marxist. And probably an atheist. And still alive. But he does dig and write about jazz in addition to history, and that should count for something, no?

Finally, don't forget about the Virgin Mary herself. No one can intercede better, and with 22,000 vocations in Spain alone, her track record speaks for itself. According to Wikipedia, where I go for all my theological needs, "The Blessed Virgin Mary may be taken as a patroness of any good activity." If we can have Our Lady of Hermits, Bees, Bicylcists, drapers, boatmen, Teutonic Knights, Good Books, upholsterers, the Narrow Wall, etc., why not Our Lady of Historians? And let's face it, does anyone have more pull than a Jewish mother with her son?

Liam said...

William,
I think you're confused about Bede. Dead for 1,300 years, he did not vote to authorize the war. Perhaps you have confused him with Biden the Venerable, who is somewhat less venerable after his comments regarding Barack Obama.

We can put on Eusebius. St Lawrence is a good choice. I remember a nun telling us fifth graders about Lawrence on the grill saying, "turn me over, I'm done on this side." What I don't remember is whether that freaked me out or whether I thought it was cool. Probably the latter. Actually the only teacher who freaked me out when I was a child was my first grade teacher, Miss Grasser, who kept telling us medical things. She told us about a friend of hers who had an ulcer, which she described as "a hole in her stomach." My six-year-old mind conjured up a vision of some poor woman with a huge bloody opening in her torso. She also went on and on about tapeworms. To this day, I can read martyrdom stories all day long, but if someone brings up health issues, I have to leave the room. But I digress...

I like Lawrence's commection to beer and wine (surprise). Of course, the BVM should always been considered.

cowboyangel said...

1,300 years old? Wow, that's almost as old as McCain. Doesn't bode well (Bede well?), as voters say they prefer a black or woman as a patron saint more than someone who's over 1200 years old.

So, why do you think that historians don't have a patron saint yet? Are they all Marxist atheists or something? Librarian's have 3 patron saints. (And, Lord knows, they need all 3 pretty badly these days.) But it seems that a group of people - bee-keepers or Slinky-makers or roller skaters, for instance - would get together and petition the Church for a patron saint. Is that how it works? So why haven't historians as a group done this? Or have they tried and their choices have been rejected? I think there's a publication in this just waiting to happen. Especially if you really petition Rome.

I want to know how it works. I want to talk to them about a patron saint of jazz.

Oh, a plus for Jerome - his feast day is May 25, the same as that of The Venerable Bob.

I remember a nun telling us fifth graders about Lawrence on the grill saying, "turn me over, I'm done on this side."

That's totally sick, dude. Belongs in a film.

Talmida said...

Oh rats, I'm too late!!


What about St. Thomas More? Didn't he essentially rewrite history, vilifying Richard III in order to make his own usurping bosses, the Tudors look good? Made up that whole business about the princes in the tower that Shakespeare went to town on?

Anonymous said...

Dear Liam,

I think St. Bede is also a good choice--he wrote almost until the moment of his death and was obviously a dedicated historian. I can only guess what homiletics is--the study of homilies?

Alexandra

latinlad said...

As a historian I have also been puzzled as to why there is no patron saint who will oversee my dusty archival research and protect me from bad flavor-of-the-day currents (DaVinci Code anyone? Tomb of "Jesus"?). Now Eusebius seems an obvious choice but the reason he has never been canonized is because he had Arian leanings.
The Venerable Bede is definitely a possibility--as would be St Isidore of Seville who wrote his History of the Goths---but he is too busy serving as patron saint of the internet these days. St Augustine of Hippo conceived of a historiographical schema in his City of God so he is a possibility. I have a soft spot for Colombanus who started a war simply because he refused to return a book. Many historians I know would sympathize with him.
Then there is St Luke the Evangelist. In addition to the Gospel he, of course, wrote the Acts of the Apostles, the record of the first few decades of the Church's history.
Out of canonical saints I would lean to Luke and Bede.

However, if we are going to look at non-canonized persons I would propose Eusebius or, to bring a more modern person into the picture, the late Jaroslav Pelikan whose many incredible works of historical insight and variety would merit him the honor.

-Joel

Liam said...

Joel --

Well, we had a vote on this page and Bede came out the winner, though Eusebius gave him a run for his money.

I would support any honor awarded to the late great Jaroslav Pelikan.

Thanks for stopping by.

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