John Coleridge Patteson Reaches Melanesia

This is the date that … John Coleridge Patteson was speared to death, in 1871.

He was born in London on 1 April, 1827, to devout upper-class parents, his father being a lawyer of good repute. Educated at Eton, he was elected captain of the College cricket team. Because it was the custom to sing ‘bawdy songs’ at the Eton Eleven’s annual dinner he resigned in protest. The team saw that he was right, asked him to remain as captain, and forsook their foolish and evil practice.

Eventually he was ordained to the Church of England ministry (14 September, 1853), and turned his eyes to the need of missionaries in the South Seas. He formed a strong friendship with Bishop Selwyn, Bishop to New Zealand, and learned from him the challenges taking the gospel to Melanesia. The multiplicity of languages was a major hurdle. Selwyn came up with the plan of taking youths to Auckland to be trained and then returned to their own islands.

When Patteson was asked to help he gladly did so and in 1855 he sailed for New Zealand with Bishop Selwyn. From Auckland the missionaries used a newly built schooner, the Southern Cross.

On May 1, 1856 the Southern Cross set sail for Melanesia. The trip took them to 66 islands, including 81 landings, and enabled them to collect a handful of young men to train back in New Zealand.

He writes to his father concerning a school he established: “I have the jolliest little fellows – about seven of them – fellows scarcely too big to take on my knee and talk to about God and Heaven and Jesus Christ…” Not all the boys survived the relocation to Auckland and the colder weather they were exposed to.

Visits to the Melanesian islands were made difficult by past violence from white men, including the Spaniards in the 1500’s. The islands were also troubled by the current practice of gathering slaves for the cane fields of Fiji and Queensland. Cannibalism was practiced on some islands as well.

In 1861 he was consecrated as the first Bishop of Melanesia. The French settlements promoted the Catholic faith and brought some opposition to the Protestant work of Patteson and his associates.

It was on a visit to the lonely island of Nukapu in the New Hebrides that his martyrdom took place a decade later. Hostile natives killed him – “in revenge for five natives who had recently died at the hands of white men…” traders who had no interest in the things of God. Apparently a ship had arrived at the island painted to resemble Patteson’s schooner, the Southern Cross. The deceivers kidnapped men and killed scores of others. Patteson had five wounds in his chest and his head had been dreadfully battered, but his face still retained its customary placid smile.

Bishop Patteson died at the age of 44.

Patteson’s death was used to urge the Queen to stop the illegal slave trade, referred to as “Blackbirding”. Britains were forbidden to enslave men, but they took them by force, supposedly as employees. The Pacific Islanders Protection Act of 1872 resulted.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

John Chrysostom with the Golden Mouth

This is the day that … John Chrysostom died in AD 407.

Actually he was not called “Chrysostom” until the 7th century (by Isadore of Seville) – and it is more of a nickname meaning “the golden mouthed”. Such was his eloquence, which still exists in his 600 written sermons.

John of Antioch” is how others describe him – for that is where he was born in AD 347 (the exact date is unknown).

His Christian mother, Anthusa, influenced him greatly. After her death he entered a monastery and then lived as a hermit for some time. He lived on bread and water and held nothing to be his personal possession. Eventually he was ordained a priest (AD 386) and 12 years later, was appointed as Archbishop of Constantinople – capital of the Eastern Empire. But he refused to go. So “under orders from an imperial edict, he was kidnapped, transported to the capital and ordained!” (Christian History, Volume 44, page 2).

Upon taking office he imposed many reforms, attacking excess and indulgence and promoting economy. His own salary was given away to the poor and to fund hospitals. He held no banquets and refused all invitations to such. He stopped the celibate priests from having a “spiritual sister”, which were nothing more than de-facto wives.

He exercised a remarkable ministry, strong in his denunciation of sin “until the Empress banished him because, she said, he had insulted her.” His sermon on “The Vices of Women” led to Eudoxia deposing him from office … and his flight. While the Emperor Arcadius prompted John’s choice for Patriarch of Constantinople, his wife, Eudoxia, was a much more powerful person persisted in her opposition to John, ultimately causing his death.

However, an earthquake shook Constantinople and damaged Eudoxia’s bedroom! – and she begged John to return. The truce was only temporary.

Back in Constantinople again John Chrysostom once more lifted up his voice in criticism of the ruling party. “Again Herodias raves,” he cried, “again she dances, again she demands John’s head put on a charger.” (The Early Church, by H. Chadwick, page 190).

The slight, five-foot St. John stood tall in his defiance of state authority, bowing only to God and never yielding the high principles of Christianity to expediency or personal welfare. In the words of his pupil, Cassia of Marseilles, “It would be a great thing to attain his stature, but it would be difficult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent.”

John went into exile again.

“He was forced to march barefooted through the hot sand and bare-headed under the blazing sun. He died on the way …” (The Church in History, by B. Kuiper, page 46).

One delightful story concerning his ministry is that the congregation often “pushed and shoved their way to the front to hear him better”. Not only that, but they would “clap and stamp their feet whilst he was preaching”. So he delivered a stirring sermon condemning this as being “irreverent, disgraceful and dishonouring to God”.

The response was rather discouraging. When he had concluded this sermon, the congregation applauded him wildly!

John’s enduring contribution is in the wealth of writings he left behind, mostly written during his times of exile. F.F. Bruce speaks of him as “a great expositor of Scripture as well as a great preacher; the most valuable of his works are his Homilies on various books of the Bible where he displays much sound exegetical insight” (The Spreading Flame, page 330).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Aimee Semple McPherson – Evangelist

This is the day that …  Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared, in the year 1926!

On that day Cecil B. DeMille expected to pick up the morning newspaper and read front-page headlines of his latest cinematic masterpiece.  Instead of which “the front pages were pre-empted by a lady who was the most vocal enemy of the moving pictures.”

Aimee Semple McPherson was known to thousands of admiring followers as “Sister Aimee”.  Her “four-square gospel” was sounded forth dynamically by this flamboyant female evangelist, both from the pulpit of her Angelus Temple (seating more than 5000 people), and over the air-waves of her own radio station – KFSG, Los Angeles.  Time Magazine dated 12 October, 1970, spoke of “her 750 satellite churches and radio parish of millions”.

Then came the fateful day, at 1.00 p.m., when Aimee and her secretary went to the beach.  The secretary saw Sister Aimee enter the water.  But no-one saw her emerge.  Hence the headlines!

A Memorial Service was held at the Temple – a crowd of 25,000 thronged the area. 

Then, on 25 May, a ransom note!  “$500,000 was demanded for the release of Sister Aimee,” said the kidnappers.

Almost a month later, on 23 June, at 1.00 a.m., Aimee walked in from the desert explaining that she had escaped!  She was given a triumphant welcome home to Los Angeles, where 50,000 followers waited to catch a glimpse of her.

But rumour and suspicion made much of her disappearance and she was eventually charged with fraud. She endured an eight month grand jury trial and came out of the whole process triumphant.

She declared in her autobiography:  “To my dying day I must proclaim my story of the kidnapping and the escape is true.  It DID happen.  It really did happen just as I told it.” (The Story of My Life, by A.S. McPherson, page 190).

Suspicions and rumour distract from the impact of this amazing young woman who preached to enormous crowds, birthed the Church of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, motivated thousands of young couples to go to the missionfield and saw wonderful conversions and healings in her meetings.

It is said that her mother, sensing God’s call on her own life, asked God to take and use her daughter, Aimee, in her place. There is no doubt that this one individual was given great influence and achieved more in her short life than many others who preached God’s word over a greater span. Aimee died at age 54.

It is interesting to note that great men of the Bible, such as Jack Hayford, are not ashamed to be part of the Foursquare Church and to acknowledge the wonderful contribution and work done by this firebrand woman.