September 20: John Coleridge Patteson and his Companions; Bishop of Melanesia, Martyrs, 1871

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

The death of Bishop Patteson and his companions at the hands of Melanesian islanders, whom Patteson had sought to protect from slave-traders, aroused the British government to take serious measures to prevent piratical man-hunting in the South Seas. Their martyrdom was the seed that produced the strong and vigorous Church which flourishes in Melanesia today.

Patteson was born in London, April 1, 1827, of a Devonshire family. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1849. After travel in Europe and a study of languages, at which he was adept, he became a Fellow of Merton College in 1852, and was ordained the following year.

While serving as a curate of Alphington, Devonshire, near his family home, he responded to Bishop G. A. Selwyn’s call in 1855 for helpers in New Zealand. He established a school for boys on Norfolk Island to train native Christian workers. It is said that he learned to speak some twenty-three of the languages of the Melanesian people. On February 24, 1861, he was consecrated Bishop of Melanesia.

On a visit to the island of Nakapu, in the Santa Cruz group, Patteson was stabbed five times in the breast, in mistaken retaliation for the brutal outrages committed some time earlier by slave-traders. In the attack, several of Patteson’s company were also killed or wounded. Bishop Selwyn later reconciled the natives of Melanesia to the memory of one who came to help and not to hurt.

COLLECTS

 Almighty God, who didst call thy faithful servants John Coleridge Patteson and his companions to be witnesses and martyrs in the islands of Melanesia, and by their labors and sufferings didst raise up a people for thine own possession: Pour forth thy Holy Spirit upon thy Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many, thy holy Name may be glorified and thy kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, you called your faithful servant John Coleridge Patteson and his companions to be witnesses and martyrs in the islands of Melanesia, and by their labors and sufferings raised up a people for your own possession: Pour out your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many, your holy Name may be glorified and your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Jeremiah 22:1–4

1 Peter 4:12–19

Mark 8:34–38

Psalm 119:49–56

Preface of Holy Week

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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5 Responses to September 20: John Coleridge Patteson and his Companions; Bishop of Melanesia, Martyrs, 1871

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    New Psalm and New Hebrew reading: Both of these changes seem to be appropriate to the commemoration.

  2. John LaVoe says:

    September 20: John Coleridge Patteson and his Companions; Bishop of Melanesia, Martyrs, 1871
    .
    FROM THE COLLECT: “that by the service and sacrifice of many, your holy Name may be glorified and your kingdom enlarged”
    .
    The wording “and sacrifice” in this context can be taken in various ways, including a fanatical distortion that justifies or sanctifies a death wish as a desirable means to a presumed advantageous and pious end, not unlike Kool-aide Jim Jones, the Waco Davidians, or the Hale-Bopp Comet (Heaven’s Gate) cult, not to mention other fanatical religious distortions.
    .
    I don’t see why “the [faith and] service of many” or “the faithful service of many” wouldn’t suffice here. When martyrdom occurs, it can indeed be (and here was) “the seed of the church,” but martyrdom is a consequence of the sin of murder, not God having the idea, “I think I’ll commend going out and getting killed as a great idea, or a meritorious devotional practice to pursue.” Why would God’s holy Name more desirably be glorified, or God’s kingdom more desirably enlarged, by the “sacrifice” (singular) of many? I could even see using “sacrifices” (plural — not implying one single kind of sacrifice,.viz., loss of life). Patterson and his companions lost their lives because they were faithful to their Lord, not because they went out seeking to sacrifice themselves. I wouldn’t make “sacrifice,” in a context that suggests martyrdom specifically, such a pivotal point in the Collect.

  3. Philip Wainwright says:

    Is ‘stabbed in mistaken retaliation for the brutal outrages committed some time earlier by slave-traders’ martyrdom? There ought to be another word we could use for the deaths of Christians who knowingly risk their lives in Christian service and end up giving those lives. So many doctors, nurses, missionaries, etc, deserve such recognition, and we could retain the term ‘martyrdom’ for those put to death solely for believing in Christ.

    Perhaps the old epitaph, ‘faithful unto death’, could be used.

    • John LaVoe says:

      Philip — I had the same thought about other commemorations, as well, but another priest told me there were traditions about different kinds of “martyrs” — red martyrdom being the kind I always heard about (i.e., being killed outright, specifically for belief in Christ).

      White martyrdom is something else entirely. Two others, more commonly “green martyrdom,” and less commonly, “blue martyrdom,” are also mentioned. (A search will turn up various references about these, one such being http://hefenfelth.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/martyrdom-red-white-and-blue/ .

      I leave it to you to decide whether to look into details, and what to make of them if you do. My sentiments are with your observation, but I have to grudgingly admit to other usages and criteria, also. Dying from a plague (the Martyrs of Memphis) or for taking part in a freedom demonstration (Johathan Myrick Daniels) — either of which are “equal opportunity” deaths come to mind (Christian faith not required). But in both cases, Christian service was certainly part of their motivation. –John

  4. Pingback: John Coleridge Patteson | Hear what the Spirit is saying

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