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 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.



Click here to view Russian icons of St Andrew   


Click here for full article on which this was based, published in Theology in Scotland

If 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.


He 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.


There’s 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.  

This 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.


The Acts’ basic theme is that after Jesus’ crucifixion, Andrew goes to evangelise Achaea whilst Matthias heads for Myrmidonia - the “city of the cannibals”.


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.


This 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.


Aegeates 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.


Andrew’s 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 national identity.


What 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”.


In 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.”


Geoffrey 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”.


The 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 them.”


Brutus 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 himself.


Ignoge’s 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.


Edward’s 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 identity.


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 Andrew.”


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 for service.


Very 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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