Of England & Saint George

One of the first indications that England might be going squishy, was the replacement of Edward the Confessor as her patron saint, by Saint George in the 14th century. While I have no objection to the slaying of dragons, or even of foreigners in certain situations, my view of nationalism tends towards the grim, and I’m particularly suspicious of pop enthusiasms. Saint George has had the misfortune to be associated with jingo thuggery, especially in the far West (England; also Portugal, &c).

Shakespeare’s celebration of Henry V is more ambiguous than, I think, England’s patriotic scholars have assumed. I do not think the dramatist concealed the thug aspect in King Henry’s manipulation of chauvinist emotions on the battlefield. He was orchestrating carnage. Saint George in the West has ever been depicted on the attack.

I prefer his muscular, yet gentler behaviour in the East, for instance Ethiopia and of course Georgia, and even among the Crusaders, rescuing lost Christian tribes. For here Saint George’s rôle as a defender of scattered Christians is the better pronounced. Remember that even before the Mussulmans, we had to deal with the Parsis, who were the more aggressive, once upon a time. Indeed, we sometimes welcomed the Arabs, at first, to save us from worse enemies. Too, there is an aspect of Saint George, that I detect in eastern icons, where the spooky flavour of an Elijah is presented in his character.

Today, for instance, I pray towards Saint George for the succour of our persecuted Christians in Red China. May he slay the Communist dragon.

But in England, at the Protestant Reformation, his image was flown as a replacement for all religious flags, and made a symbol for the Tudors, finally against their pope. His cross became the maritime symbol, and flew on that remarkable fleet of ships that first extended English commerce, across the wide seas. They were engaged mostly in piracy, against the chiefmost Catholic power of the time. I insist that we retain this detail.

My association of violence with mental squishiness may be deemed controversial, however. To me it seems obvious, and to others it might, if they made it a topic for philosophical contemplation. It is when the hard unchangeables of our Faith are selectively abandoned, and the empty spaces they leave are plugged with crowd emotions, that we become the worst representatives of ourselves. This is where the blubbering squishiness  comes in: where sentimentality invades our reason. It is all blancmange or custard on the surface, but beneath this we find the howling murderous rage.