Archive for temptation

Hammer and Tongs: St. Dunstan and the Devil

Illustration copyright Wallace Tripp from A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me

Illustration copyright Wallace Tripp
from A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me


St. Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pulled the devil by the nose
With red hot tongs, which made him roar,
That could be heard ten miles or more.


Today is the feast day of St. Dunstan. If you’re not familiar with the life and legends of St. Dunstan, they’re well-worth a bit of your time. Dunstan (909-988) was educated at Glastonbury Abbey as a child. He became a skilled musician, scribe, sculptor, and metalworker. At least one of his works survives. A devout and intellectual man, he served as abbot and bishop, and eventually became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Some of the most popular stories of Dunstan involve his encounters with the devil. The one illustrated above is said to have taken place in Glastonbury during the time the saint was living as a hermit.

While he was in his cell, Dunstan was visited by a shape-changing devil who appeared first as an old man asking him to make a chalice, then a young boy, and then a seductive woman.

As Eleanor Parker relates in her most excellent blog, A Clerk of Oxford:

Dunstan realised that his guest was a devil; but, pretending not to notice, he went on with his task. He took up the tongs from among his tools and laid them in the fire, waiting until they were red-hot. Then, pulling them out of the fire, he turned round and seized the devil by the nose with the tongs. The devil struggled and screamed, but Dunstan held on until at last he felt he had triumphed. Then he threw the devil out of his cell and it fled, running down the street and crying “Woe is me! What has that bald devil done to me? Look at me, a poor wretch, look how he has tortured me!” 


Dunstan was one of the vigorous saints–going after the devil hammer and tongs. There’s even a story that he shod the devil’s cloven hoof; that tale is said to be the origin of the lucky horseshoe you see nailed over doorways. Because he was known for his metalwork at Glastonbury, Dunstan is the patron saint of goldsmiths, silversmiths, blacksmiths, armorers, and jewelers.


Dunstan shoeing the Devil's hoof illustrated by George Cruikshank Image: WIkimedia Commons

Dunstan shoes the Devil’s hoof
illus. by George Cruikshank
Image: Wikimedia Commons



He humbled you and let you hunger

Simon Bening The Temptation of Christ, 1525-1530

Simon Bening
The Temptation of Christ, 1525-1530


“All the commandment which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 8

Temptation Christ detail Walwyn Flickr

Devil, detail Temptation of Christ
Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Devil - Detail Temptation of Jesus, Cloisters. Gloucester Cathedral  Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Devil – Detail Temptation of Jesus, Cloisters. Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr

Temptation of Christ Gloucester Cathedral devil

Devil, detail Temptation of Christ
Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral
Photo by Walwyn on Flickr


Landscape with Temptation of Christ Joos de Momper National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic

Landscape with Temptation of Christ
Joos de Momper
National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic


Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91

My Jesus and I

My Jesus and I cover


Sometimes I pick up a book and worlds open.

My Jesus and I is another educational work from the Salesian order, written in 1949 by the Most Rev. Louis LaRavoire Morrow to help elementary age children prepare for their First Communion. It was originally intended for use in a classroom with an instructional poster set, both of which are still in print.

The book is gentle and directly emotional. Each page has a line of a prayer with a question or commentary underneath it, and a picture from either a Bible story or from a child’s daily life as he or she is accompanied by good and bad angels, Mary, and Jesus.

A letter printed inside the back cover explains:

My Dear Child:

I have made this little book for you, because I want you to know Jesus better and better each day. He is a good Friend, who loves little children like you….

Jesus wants little boys and girls to know how He lived, and what He taught. He wants us all to be good, loving one another, and obeying our teachers and parents.


My Jesus and I is both sweet and strange. I find I’ve grown quite fond of the helpful little angels in these illustrations. They are so busy! Sometimes they are happy, sometimes dismayed, but always present, even if they are just tending the garden while you play.


Thy will be done sick


On another page, Mother Mary wakes a sleeping child while Jesus points the way to church. These are some of my favorite angels–one holding the ringing alarm clock (see the jagged sound lines!) and the other digging a shoe out from under the bed. Oh, that Sunday morning always brought such attendants!


Sunday morning


If you look at a lot of Christian children’s books you’ll find that many of them are written by women, but My Jesus and I was written by a Catholic Bishop. Who was he? I wondered.

Born in Weatherford, Texas in 1892, Louis LaRavoire Morrow grew up in Mexico (his double surname follows Hispanic custom) and, after becoming a priest, lived in the Philippines and India. He became bishop of Krishnagar in West Bengal, India and his ministry spanned World War II, the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Partition of India. He was also a Council Father to the Second Vatican Council. The Sisters of Mary Immaculate (an order which he founded) describe him as a “staunch believer and supporter of the Human Rights Programme of the United Nations; and also an ardent advocate of women’s rights.” He was a prolific writer of educational materials.

As I mentioned, My Jesus and I is still in print, and there is some discussion surrounding its depiction of evil. The current edition has apparently replaced several of the images of Satan with something more modern and less-affecting, but judging from the comments on Amazon, not everyone is in favor of the change. They are wild images, but no scarier than the Ghost of Christmas Future, and always presented within an atmosphere of calm.


Jesus temptation Hallowed be thy name



Sometimes temptation actually looks rather friendly. “Do you want candy?” The kindly devil has brought a chair to help the child reach that forbidden treat while the good angel gently pulls the child towards a picture book.




One final note: while she is not credited, many of the illustrations in My Jesus and I are signed by Anita Magsaysay (later Magsaysay-Ho), an important Philippine modernist painter. I imagine all the original images are her work.

Anita Magsaysay signature

In her biography (written by Alfredo Roces) Magsaysay-Ho said,

“In my works I always celebrate the women of the Philippines. I regard them with deep admiration and they continue to inspire me—their movements and gestures, their expressions of happiness and frustration; their diligence and shortcomings; their joy of living. I know very well the strength, hard work and quiet dignity of Philippine women, for I am one of them.” 



Making friends of lust and anger

So what do you do when that quiet time you’ve set aside for introspection doesn’t make you peaceful and centered, but only seems to beat the grass and startle the snakes? In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen writes:


…when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence.  Two disturbing “noises” present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger, o[u]r many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.  What are we to do? ….


Nouwen goes on to say that, rather than reacting in horror and immediately trying to quash our unruly impulses, we should instead turn these inner enemies into friends.


How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, “I have some unfulfilled needs” and “Who really loves me?” Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing.  Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.


We must be merciful–even to ourselves. If we are not, we risk being unable to bear looking at our fallen reality, or if we do look, we may fail to recognize in ourselves God’s beloved.


Led or driven?

First Temptation of Christ
from Champagne-Ardenne, France c.1170-1180
Victoria & Albert Museum


Each year as Lent begins we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There are three versions found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew and Luke are similar, but for some reason, Mark leaves out all the specifics of the temptation and condenses the account to two verses.

There’s a lot to think about in this story and in the way it’s told, but the one detail that stops me every year is this: in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark says that he was driven.  Led or driven? Did he jump or was he pushed?

The Spirit in both these accounts is one I recognize.  Sometimes the Spirit leads you gently: reassuring you, beckoning you to step forward. Other times, he drives you like Jonah to Nineveh.  Don’t even try to ignore the prodding, the Holy Ghost is not going to let you be, and he won’t stand for dawdling either.  It feels like the difference between “I want to” and “I can do no other.”  Not that we always mind being compelled to action. There is a certain reassurance in feeling that God is actually telling you something specific, since he is more often vague in his communications.

But I wonder about Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Did he know what was out there before he arrived? And why is it that Luke doesn’t tell of angels ministering to Jesus (a nice, comforting detail), but says Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” making it sound like the Spirit drove Jesus out of the wilderness?

I guess for me, this one troublesome detail isn’t so much about Jesus and his preparation for ministry as it is about the Holy Spirit and the way God moves in this world among us, preparing us for difficult tasks ahead.  Sometimes he leads and sometimes he pushes.  But if we respond to the Spirit’s direction, then perhaps he will take us to the place we need to be, to learn what we need to know.  I hope so—even if it is a desert.


Martin Schongauer – The Temptation of St. Anthony
Public Domain: Wikimedia Commons