Friday, 23 January 2009

The swift flight of a sparrow

Why would anyone want to spend thousands of years in limbo waiting for Judgment Day, when they could get an instant ticket to a real afterlife? Had there been Heathen missionaries fourteen hundred years ago, that is the question they may have asked those about to convert to Christianity, or the Christian missionaries themselves.

Needless to say, this may have been the very question Penda asked the missionaries that caused him not to convert ala Radbod the Frisian. Radbod of Frisia had one foot in the baptismal font, and was ready to be baptized when he asked, "Where are my dead ancestors at present?" Wolfram the Christian missionary answered, ""In Hell, with all other unbelievers." Upon hearing this, Radbod removed his foot from the font and responded, "Then I would rather live there with my honourable ancestors than go to heaven with a parcel of beggars ." Wolfram and his missionaries were expelled, Wolfram narrowly escaping sacrifice to the Heathen Gods.

Such tales are rare, but it demonstrates that the Christians must have hidden the truth about their afterlife from those they were converting. According to Bede, one of King Edwin's men remarked about Heathen belief and the afterlife:

" The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the Hall wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed."

(J. H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 97-105 )

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