This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29 -- Feast of Saint Richard Rolle

Richard Rolle in the Wild
I've been listening to the audiobook version of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless, a young man whose demand for philosophical perfection led him to his death in the Alaskan wilderness.  I've been trying to see this young man in a sympathetic light.  It's my second attempt -- the first time, I was so irritated by him that I didn't finish the book.  I suppose it is easier to listen while I am driving because I don't actually have a volume in hand to throw across the room.  Other people, even people I respect as thinkers and readers, seem to find far more to appreciate about McCandless than I, but reading about folks like Richard Rolle help me to see him in a gentler light.

Rolle, the son of a prosperous farmer, was an especially promising student.  The Archdeacon of Durham, Thomas de Neville, took Rolle with him to Oxford, where the boy enrolled.  Many of the students embroiled themselves in the hot debates of the day, but Richard preferred translation and Bible study.  At age nineteen, he left the place even though he had excelled academically.  His explanation was that he had become too tempted by worldly pleasures and he feared further temptation would take him further astray.

Chris McCandless in the Wild
He set about living a hermit's life to perfect his soul.  At first he stayed at his family's property, but as they enjoined him to make something of himself, he began to fear they would commit him.  He bolted and wandered for a while, until a chance meeting with an old schoolmate opened a second opportunity.  He was invited by John Dalton to set up on his property, but Dalton's wife was kind of funny.  ["I know.  Everybody funny.  Now you funny too."  -George Thoroughgood.]  He was back on the road.  Clergy didn't like him (ascetics tended to be critical and rock the boat); women didn't like him (creepy, and probably smelly); nobody wanted him. 

Rolle's writings: Are you Ric-rolled?
He was a mystic, experiencing an internal heat he believed was from the Lord, and he was awkward around people, but he wasn't a nut.  After wandering for a while, he made his way to the Sorbonne where he lived among the scholars, translating scriptures and writing about mysticism.  I'm sure he was more reclusive than most faculty, but he was accepted by them and tolerated their companionship while he worked.  He might have even been ordained as a priest there; when he returned to England, he lived near a Cistercian nunnery and served as its chaplain or spiritual director. 

Rolle acknowledged the debate about those who contemplate God for their own spiritual perfection and those who are actively pursuing good works.  About this, he said, "There are many active men better than some contemplatives," [though] "the best contemplatives are better than the best actives." 

Maybe.  Or maybe they're just different, without being better.  Rolle hasn't cured me of my irritation with McCandless, but seeing an example of the hermetic impulse in the fourteenth century helps me to sympathize with it (a little) in the twentieth century. 

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