St Andrew's Day Essay
A Power of Love that Melts the Love of Power
by Alastair McIntosh
Published as a St Andrew's Day essay in The Herald, Glasgow, 30-11-98, p. 13.
confined to a strictly Biblical position, we Scots would be hard pushed to find
a more boring figure than Saint Andrew to symbolise the spirit of nationhood.
was the first-called of the disciples, informs Jesus of the lad with the
expandable lunch, introduces some visiting Greeks, and that’s about it.
nothing about being martyred on a cross, later symbolised as the Saltire. To
source such material we must look to a lost second-century apocryphal text, The Acts of Andrew.
work, highly influential in early church politics, was last viewed intact in the
ninth century. However, enough fragments remain for scholars like Professor
Dennis Ronald MacDonald recently to have pieced together reconstructions,
published by the Society of Biblical Literature.
Acts’ basic theme is that after Jesus’ crucifixion, Andrew goes
to evangelise Achaea whilst Matthias heads for Myrmidonia - the “city of the
Myrmidonians arrest Matthias, gouge out his eyes, and imprison him for thirty
days of fattening-up. But Andrew arrives, converts the miscreants, then takes
off on a long evangelical pilgrimage.
leads him to Patras and the family of Aegeates, the Roman proconsul. First
Stratocles, the proconsul’s brother, is converted. But what really irks
Aegeates is when his wife, Maximilla, follows suit. Worse still, she protests
her uncouth husband’s rooster-like advances by embracing celibacy.
therefore arrests Andrew on the grounds that “she now rejoices in you and your
God”. The saint is flogged and tied spreadeagled to a cross, thereby
prolonging maximum agony.
association with freeing Scotland from English domination was cemented with the
appearance to the Picts of a celestial Saltire before the eighth century Battle
of Athelstaneford. This helped propel him into a medieval linchpin position of
happened is that Anglo-Norman English overlords needed an origin-myth to
validate their colonising ambitions. In 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth obliged. He
claimed to have translated an ancient Welsh History
of the Kings of Britain, given to him by the Archdeacon of Oxford.
Subsequently this was conveniently “lost”.
The Identity of the Scottish Nation, William Ferguson remarks that,
“Long, long after Geoffrey’s history was given up by English historians his
ethos lived on: the English believed ... that they had a natural right to rule
the British Isles.”
had developed an old myth whereby, some time after the fall of Troy, Brutus had
liberated the Trojans from Greek slavery. By threatening the Greek king with
death by torture, he persuaded him to provide ships for escape and the hand of
Ignoge, his daughter, “as a comfort”.
Trojans and a sobbing Ignoge then set sail for a promised land which, according
to a goddess’ prophesy to Brutus, lay “beyond the setting of the sun, past
the realms of Gaul ... a second Troy [from which] a race of kings will be born
from your stock and the round circle of the whole earth will be subject to
makes a good start to establishing an Empire upon which the sun might never by
conducting, en route, pillaging campaigns of genocide in Africa and France.
Then, landing at Totnes in the 12th century BC, he names “Britain” after
third son, Albanactus, gives his name to “Albany” - Scotland. Picts and
Scots are represented as scurvy latecomers, thus England’s claim of suzerainty
is legitimatised within the great British project.
invasion in 1296 impelled Scottish identity to constellate around an origin-myth
that might cap that of Brutus. In 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath was therefore
dispatched, seeking Papal support.
This affirmed the Gaelic mythology of the Irish-Scots
cultural continuum as being the keystone of Scotland’s autonomous national
Legend has it that Fenius the Scythian, the first Scot, was
descended via Noah from Adam and Eve. He rescued Gaelic, the “People’s
Speech” language of Eden, from the Tower of Babel.
En route to Ireland, Fenius stopped off in Egypt where his
son, Nel, married Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh. Her father had reputedly died
in the Red Sea whilst pursuing the Israelites. This presumably mitigated any
need for paternal approval.
The “nimble” Scota sails west and gives her name to
Scotland. Accordingly, the mythological mother of our nation is, splendidly, a
black African woman. Scota’s feminist, ethnically inclusive and land-reforming
credentials can all be inferred from her daringly insubordinate rescue of Moses
from the bulrushes - an event that launched his famous quest for an ecological
eutopia on promised land.
The Declaration of Arbroath, after mentioning the Scythian
myth, attributes the “high qualities and deserts” of Scots to the fact that
Christ “called them ... almost the first to His most holy faith”. Christ did
so, it maintains, by agency of none other than “the most gentle Saint
Probably this claim rested on Andrew, according to Greek
versions of the Acts, having
evangelised the Scythians and other Black Sea tribes. For this reason Russia
also claims “first-called” status, sharing Andrew’s patronage.
The Pope was duly impressed by the Declaration of Arbroath.
Increasingly, however, Andrew’s political importance led to appropriations
that were more military than “most gentle”.
Wallace, according to Blind Harry’s 15th century epic,
established World Cup protocols when a visionary Virgin Mary etched the Saltire
on his face. Michael Turnbull’s excellent work, Saint Andrew, shows how the saint’s military associations
culminated in a bizarre London pageant at King James’ 1603 Union of the Crowns
celebration. This portrayed Andrew and Saint George joining hands in unity -
both dressed as knights in shining armour.
The lie to such portrayals is given by modern reconstructions
of the original Acts - material with
which the British church from Augustine onwards must have been familiar. These
reveal an Andrew dressed like “a simple old tramp”, thus explaining why
icons show him with a long beard, unkempt hair and his “fishers of men” net.
Far from being militaristic, we learn that Andrew’s
teachings on non-violence caused Stratocles - whose name meant
“battle-praise” - to petition Caesar to leave the army.
In arresting Andrew, one of the Roman soldiers mutinied,
telling his colleagues: “You fools, do you not see what sort of man this is?
There is no sword in his hand nor any instrument of war, yet these great acts of
power issue from his hand.”
At the closing death-row scene, Maximilla tenderly kisses the
saint’s hands. He affirms her, saying: “I recognise that you are more
powerful than those who presume to dominate you ... beyond the authorities over
whom you really are.”
It is telling that Andrew’s name means “manliness” or
“courage”. However, the Andrew of both the Acts
and Scripture turns macho values upside-down.
His concerns were for simplicity, communication, sharing,
solidarity, vision, empowerment and, through Christ, the emancipating love of
woman and the downtrodden.
This is a courage that runs deeper than patriarchal violence;
a power of love that melts the love of power and elevates true power as being
soon Andrew’s Saltire will fly over Scotland’s first ever democratic
parliament. Will it merely substitute Brutus with a xenophobic rendering of
Braveheart? Not if the true spirit of nationhood sees light.
Alastair McIntosh is a Fellow of Edinburgh’s Centre for Human Ecology.
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