Just a Beginning

“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm,” says Goethe. “In the real world all rests on perseverance.” These words would seem to fit very well two sides of Saint Andrew, whose feast it is today. Fisherman, disciple of John the Baptist, and first of the apostles, he was, according to Anne Catherine Emmerich, the oldest of the twelve. He was the brother of Peter and is presented in the Gospel as bringing Peter to Jesus almost as soon as he himself had come to understand who Jesus was:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas,” which is the same name as Peter and means a rock. (John 1:35-42).

In years, Andrew may well have been oldest among the disciples, but considering what Thoreau has to say about enthusiasm – none are so old as those who have outlived it – we might easily otherwise see him as among them the youngest. From one of his homilies on the Gospel of John, consider what Saint John Chrysostom has to say about this apostle:

After Andrew had stayed with Jesus and had learned much from him, he did not keep this treasure to himself, but hastened to share it with his brother Peter. Notice what Andrew said to him: “We have found the Messiah, that is to say, the Christ.” Notice how his words reveal what he has learned in so short a time. They show the power of the master who has convinced them of this truth. Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others. To support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, loving kinship and sincere affection.

And here is what Emmerich in The Life of Jesus Christ has to say about Andrew after John had pointed to Jesus across the Jordan, calling him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”:

Andrew and Saturnin, who had been standing near John, hurried over the river by the same way that Jesus had passed. They were followed by one of the cousins of Joseph of Arimathea, and two others of John’s disciples. They ran after Jesus, who, turning, came to meet them, asking what they wanted. Andrew, overjoyed at having found Him once more, asked Him where He dwelt. Jesus answered by bidding them follow Him, and He led them to an inn near the water and outside of Bethabara. There they entered and sat down. Jesus stayed all this day with the five disciples in Bethabara, and took a meal with them. He talked of His teaching mission about to begin and of His intention to choose His disciples. Andrew mentioned to Him many of his own acquaintances whom he recommended as suitable for the work, among others Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. (Tan Books and Publishers, 2004, Vol. II, p. 21)

Emmerich informs us that on the following day, under the direction of Jesus, Andrew and Saturnin administered baptism to many others, commenting:

Andrew had not as yet been formally received as a disciple; indeed, Jesus had not yet even called him. He had come of himself, had offered himself, for he would gladly be near Jesus. He was more eager to serve, more eager to offer service than Peter. Peter was ever ready to quiet himself with the thought: “Oh, I am too weak for that! That is beyond my strength,” and so went about his own affairs. (Ibid p. 23)

Eusebius quotes Origen as saying that later, after the Resurrection and the Whitsun event, Andrew preached in Asia Minor and in Scythia, along the Black Sea as far as the Volga and Kiev, by way of these missions becoming a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Installing Stachys as bishop, he founded according to long-standing tradition the See of Byzantium (Constantinople) in the year 38, his presence in Byzantium being mentioned also in the apocryphal, second century Acts of Andrew. It is this diocese that would later develop into the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with Andrew becoming its patron saint. Patron also of Greece, he eventually became, as is generally known, patron of Scotland as well.

If Emerson is right in saying that enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved – and of course he is right, he is always right –, then we have here to do with a fine example of effort made magical through enthusiasm, really the only way to have brought the way, the truth, and the life into these regions of the ancient world, a world in large part on verge of apathy, even of despair. We might aptly ask though how anyone gets enthusiasm in the first place, this touch of the magic wand upon effort. Also we are reminded here of Goethe’s remark, that whereas in the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm, in the real world all rests on perseverance. “Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm,” the historian Arnold J. Toynbee is supposed to have said, “and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.”

The ideal that took Andrew’s imagination by storm was of course utterly real, the living, flesh-and-blood, transfigured, risen Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we can certainly speak of an ideal that lived in his personal understanding of Christ. In her Book of All Saints Adrienne von Speyer (1902 -1967), Swiss medical doctor, Catholic mystic and stigmatic, explains Andrew’s personal understanding of Christ in the following words:

The feature of the Lord he understands above all is his goodness, his gentleness. He is different from John, whom love has so powerfully seized that he never has enough of loving and being loved, a person who makes demands in love. Andrew is constancy, gentleness in love. He responded to the Lord and entrusted himself to him in peace; he remains with him; he does his will and carries all of it out in perfect equanimity, in certainty and the greatest conciliatory spirit. He does not perform any feats of love, like John, but does have proportionate achievements, which does not mean that he holds himself to the most minimal standard. Instead, his program is the following: to make accessible the most he is able to grasp – which in his eyes is little. To establish a beginning is the most he is able to grasp. He is completely aware of the fact that it is just a beginning. He remains the one who seeks in peace, who does not need to find the ultimate; he is not at all looking for an absolute discovery; that is, in a certain sense, not on his mind. He remains in a constant openness to everything that occurs, without making demands. Indeed, he would be happy if everyone could get along with one another. For what he has grasped has a strong effect on the way people live together. His inner attitude is perhaps best described in terms of this demand, which elevates his behavior toward his fellowmen. He desires to love them but not to overwhelm them. He desires to clean the air between people. (Ignatius Press, 2008, Part One, p. 271)

Understanding above all in the Son of Man his goodness and gentleness, Andrew desired to “clean the air between people”, seeking to establish a “beginning”, which is the most he feels he is able to grasp. This establishment of a “beginning” of understanding of Christ, this accomplishment of “cleaning the air” between people, which was his intelligible plan, would manifestly require much perseverance, the other outstanding virtue of Saint Andrew. His perseverance, together with his deep desire to establish a beginning of understanding of Christ in souls – this done in gentleness of love – is well exemplified, I think, in the following legend:

An old man named Nicholas came to Andrew and told him: “Master, I am now seventy years old and have always been given to sins of lust. Yet I have read the gospel and have prayed to God to grant me the gift of continence, but I cannot resist concupiscence, and I fall back into my evil ways. Now it has happened that driven by lust and forgetting that I carried the gospel on my person, I went to a brothel; but the harlot, when she saw me, cried out: “Get out, old man, get out!” Don’t touch me or try to come near me. I see marvelous things about you, and I know you are an angel of God!” Astonished by what she said, I remembered that I was carrying the gospel. Now, holy man of God, let your prayer obtain my salvation!” Hearing all this, the saint began to weep and remained in prayer for hours; and then refused to eat, saying: “I will eat nothing until I know that the Lord will take pity on this old man.” After he had fasted for five days, a voice came to him: “Andrew, your prayer is granted. But just as you mortified your body by fasting for him, so likewise he must fast in order to win salvation.” The old man did so. For six months he fasted on bread and water, and then fell asleep in peace, full of good works. And again Andrew heard the voice, this time saying to him: “Your prayer has restored to me Nicholas whom I had lost.” (Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. William Granger Ryan, Princeton University Press 1993,Vol.1 p.15)

That Andrew wept for Nicolas is surely a sign of the power of his praying, of enthusiasm becoming in him what the word literally signified, God in him: of perseverance becoming in him a divine passion for a new beginning in seventy year-old Nicholas, so that this old man after all might really become an angel of God.

The legend tells us that Andrew was martyred by crucifixion, describing him not nailed, but bound, to a Roman cross of the kind on which Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified. The tradition developed however that Andrew, deeming himself unworthy to die on the same kind of cross on which his Lord, gentle Goodness itself, had died, had been at his own request crucified on a cross of the form called crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or “saltire”), now commonly known as a “Saint Andrew’s Cross”.

This death on an X-shaped cross, it seems to me, speaks powerfully to the imagination of our time. This is the time, after all, of the boot in the face, the X-ing out of the person in the living flesh. Whether this is accomplished through advertising or statistical analysis, through political calculation of voting numbers or bottom-line economics, through drone attacks or water-boarding, does not in the end really matter. X marks the spot, the spot being the human face, the human face of gentleness, the human face of goodness, the gentle face of reconciliation, the shining, open, compassionate face of new beginnings of understanding. It is said that Andrew, brutally flogged beforehand, suffered two days on this cross before he died, praying at the end that the Lord take back the body which was entrusted to him, saying, “Commend it to the earth so that I will not have to take care of it, and it will not curb and hamper me, thirsting as I am to come freely to you, the inexhaustible source of life and joy”(ibid p. 18). Thus finally came into full flower his enthusiasm and perseverance.

In this time of near-exclusive dedication to the physical body and to the accoutrements of physical existence, in this time of the reduction of the human person to a Darwinian nullity of winning the mean battle for survival, is not this crucifixion on an X a sharp reminder of the destiny for any who would affirm the person in face of an impersonal universe, the human in the face of an inhuman governance? Whatever kind of cross I might find myself nailed or tied to, may it be for me as it was according to legend for Andrew: that as “the dazzling light shone out from heaven and enveloped him for the space of a half hour, hiding him from sight” before finally he gave up the spirit, so might it be the same for me in my enthusiasm for all that is good and gentle in humanity, so might it be the same for me in my perseverance toward the blessings of Divine Mercy that live in the beginning of anyone’s understanding of Christ.

As with Andrew – so might it be for me – just a beginning, yet a beginning in certainty and in the greatest conciliatory spirit, a beginning in gentleness and in constancy of love, a beginning of the cleaning of the air between people, so that the face of Christ, in perfect equanimity, may be seen by all in all on that day of his coming in clouds with great glory.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

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