September 2 – John the Faster; William of Roskilde

John the Faster (d. 595) was born to artisan parents (unless they weren’t), grew up in Constantinople (unless he didn’t), and worked as an engraver at the mint (unless he was a sculptor). He became famous for his great speed, and so he was called . . . Of course I kid. He was famous for his great asceticism. He was a deacon at Hagia Sophia, dean of monasteries, and almoner (not all simultaneously but timing is unclear). One source said his purse never went empty no matter how much he gave away, which is the kind of purse to have if you can find one (suggestion: garage sales).

Eventually he became Patriarch, and caused a great deal of ruckus by styling himself “Ecumenical Patriarch” in invitations he sent out. Although this title had a long(ish) history, no Patriarch of Constantinople had ever used it self-referentially before. The Popes of Rome (in succession, Pelagius II and Gregory I the Great) pitched a fit (John’s entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of little else), which may have been due in part to the translation of “ecumenical” into Latin as “universalis.” Whether this is ironic given subsequent claims of papal authority, I leave as an exercise for the reader. 400 to 600 words, double-spaced, APA format please.

The other thing John is famous for is his compilation of a guide (which goes by the name of kanonikon or nomokanon or maybe canonaria) for priests for setting penances for secretly-confessed, undetected sins. In it, the type of penance for any given sin is fixed, and the priest is meant to adjust the length in part based on the needs of, and degree of penitence of, the penitent. It has been translated and published multiple times, and was apparently especially popular in Kiev the seventeenth century, when and where three editions were published.

Upon John’s peaceful death it was discovered that his only possessions were a cassock, a linen shirt, and—wait for it—a wooden spoon.

William of Roskilde (d. 1067 or 1070 or 1073 or 1074 or 1076) was court chaplain to King Canute of England and Denmark. On a visit to the latter, he was “shocked by the ignorance, idolatry, and superstition,” so he stayed and got to work. Eventually he was made bishop of Roskilde (about 30 km. WSW of downtown København on the 156).

Canute’s successor Sweyn Estridsen was a bit of a hothead and a bit of a bully, which can be a bad combination in a king, and proved to be so in this instance. At one particular New Year’s Eve party, some drunken guests made some unfortunate remarks, then wobbled over to the cathedral for Matins. Sweyn’s henchmen burst in and stoned them to death. (Stones and not swords? Indoors?) When William found the carnage the next morning (what happened to the priest?), he declared that whoever had done this foul deed should not receive the Sacrament until they had confessed and done penance.

When word of this got back to the king, he immediately set out for the cathedral with a cadre of armed soldiers, only to find William standing in the door armed only with his crozier, but with a look on his face that said “You shall not pass” in a way that Ian McKellan could only envy. “Back off, executioner!” he said. The men advanced, but William stood his ground, baring his neck so they could get a clear shot. The king retreated, only to return, alone, barefoot, and wearing peasant garb, to fall at the bishop’s feet and beg forgiveness. (In token of his repentance he gave a great deal of land to the church.) The two men became such good friends that when Sweyn died, William went out to meet the funeral procession, and in his grief, fell down dead. They were buried together in the cathedral.