Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Baldwin of Forde: Always on Crusade

Lambeth Palace, built on land bought by Baldwin of Forde.

As the Anglican world awaits the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, it is appropriate that today the Menology remembers Baldwin of Forde, who might make ++Rowan’s critics be careful what they wish for:

At Tyr, Syria, Blessed Baldwin, Abbot of Ford, in England, later on, Bishop of Exeter, and Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of power in word and work. He was a courageous defender of the rights of his Church, a very eloquent preacher, a very learned writer. He also distinguished himself by his valour in the Crusade, where, under his banner, which bore the image of St. Thomas of Canterbury, he had five hundred soldiers, at his own expense. He died in Palestine, leaving all his money to defray the expenses of the holy war.

Baldwin was not one who believed in going along to get along when he thought that principle was at stake. He excommunicated the then Prince John for a consanguineous marriage, dueled with the Chapter of Canterbury over their laxity, and died in Palestine just before he could excommunicate the Archbishop of Pisa and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. One detractor said that Baldwin was worse for Christianity than Saladin.

Other than crowning Richard the Lionheart, Baldwin is perhaps best remembered for his battle with the Benedictines of Canterbury, whom he criticized for their laxity and whom he believed to be living too well from the income of the shrine of St. Thomas. Needless to say, they were none too thrilled to begin with at having a former Cistercian abbot thrust upon them over their objections. Baldwin was perhaps a bit extreme in locking them up in their cloister for better than a year.  In the end, Baldwin bought a piece of land across the Thames from Westminster to build his own collegiate church dedicated to the Cistercian St. Thomas. That plan was frustrated by his death, but Lambeth Palace stands on the site today as an indirect tribute to his persistence. I'm sure that there were good monks at Canterbury who thought that they were doing the right thing by staying the established course, but, seven centuries on, they don't come off so well while inconvenient old Baldwin remains in print in several languages.

For all of his quarrelsomeness, Baldwin also seems to have known himself and provides some salutary correction for those of us who are by temperament more ready to fight than to practice charity. In his Treatise on the Common Life, he writes,

Why do you command me not to hate my enemies, but to love them instead? How can I do this? Look, if I am provoked by the slightest insult, I catch fire inside and flare up! My heart burns for revenge, and my tongue falls headlong into abuse. For the moment, I am ignorant of God and do not know Your laws, and You say, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgment.’ If I say to my brother, ‘Raca!’ or ‘you fool’, You frighten me even more, for I am in danger of the council or of hellfire! Surely ‘You have commanded that Your commandments be kept diligently!’

To be quite honest, I can forget the benefits, but I cannot forget the injuries. I am, by nature, such a child of wrath that it is impossible for me not to be angry! However, You, Jesus, are You angry? You who forbid me to be angry or to be the slightest bit annoyed with my enemy, or even to grumble in my heart? Where can I find the power to make my heart so stable that I will never be annoyed at all, or that maybe, as it were, insensible to all injuries? Where can we find the power to do what You want us to do and suffer what You want us to suffer unless You who gave us the laws also give us your blessing. Where can we find the power unless You come to us first with blessings of sweetness, unless we remain in the charity of Your sweetness?

In this charity all that is bitter becomes sweet and all that is hard is softened. Here alone Your yoke is sweet and your burden light. What is difficult for someone who loves? The more strictly something is imposed upon us, the easier it becomes by devotion to charity. Charity is patient, charity is strong, labor does not tire it, nor does any burden weigh it down. It bears all things, endures all things, and although it is conscious of a holy modesty, it is also, in a reverent way, shameless. It blushes at all unseemly things, but not at the words of Christ, not at the reproach of Christ, and not at the example of Christ. Christ, who added to the law its perfection, taught us what we should do, and all that He taught He fulfilled in Himself, and he gave Himself as an example.