Before we come to some details about St Etheldreda, her exemplary Christian virtues, and why this website is named after her, it’s important to approach this subject from the right perspective.
First it must be said that a Christian is someone who follows our Lord Jesus Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews emphasized, we’re ‘looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith’(Hebrews 12:2), and as the apostle Peter preached, ‘“There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!”’(Acts 4:12) (see the ‘Christian?’ links).
However, the apostles also taught that it can be helpful to follow their own Christ-like example. The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, ‘The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things’(Philippians 4:9). Beyond that, he encouraged the Philippians to learn from believers who were already following his example, ‘Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example’(Philippians 3:17). So following the example of other Christians is certainly a good Biblical principle.
But we must be careful, since our fellow disciples aren’t perfect. We need to make sure we’re admiring and modelling the life of Christ in each other, not copying our fellow Christians’ mistakes and unhelpful practices. That said, the author of this website believes that there are some valuable Christ-like examples we can learn from in the lives of our ancient monastic brothers and sisters in Christ, and St Etheldreda is a particularly lovely case in point.
Etheldreda was a 7th century Anglo-Saxon princess, born in Exning, now a small village several miles south of Ely. Her father became King of East Anglia when she was about 10 years old. Rather than indulge herself in a royal life of relative luxury, the young Etheldreda grew to long for a humble life of singleness/celibacy, simplicity/self-denial, spiritual disciplines and Christian service. Against all social pressures to the contrary, including two nominal forced political marriages, she eventually achieved her goal, founding a monastery deep in the East Anglian fens at Ely, that went on to become present day Ely Cathedral.
The author of this website has an association with the medieval priors of Ely, and has gained comfort, inspiration and encouragement from the life and example of St Etheldreda, so her name seemed particularly fitting for this website.
The foursquare Christ-like example of St Etheldreda that the author of this website admires, wants to promote, and by the grace of God follow in the 21st century, is the way she pursued a life of:-
Singleness/celibacy*: thus being wHOlLY devoted to the Lord; ‘The unmarried woman [or man – see verse 32] cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit.’(1 Corinthians 7:34)
Simplicity/self-denial: renouncing the Mammon this world worships; ‘Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.’(Philippians 2:5-8)
Spiritual disciplines: earnestly seeking after God, thus finding true riches; ‘They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer.’(Acts 2:42)
Christian service: helping to establish and express Jesus’ truth, grace and love on earth; ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them.’(Ephesians 2:10)
I can’t help thinking that had Etheldreda lived several hundred years earlier she would have been a great friend of the single minded, celibate*, self-sacrificial servant of Christ who was the apostle Paul, and that had she lived several hundred years later she would have been very much at home with the conscientious passionate piety of the puritans. I count all of them as my friends, partners, examples and guides in the Christian life. I hope they approve of Etheldreda.net.
Why .net? Surely all Christian websites should be ‘.net’ – Matthew 4:18-20!
* This requires some clarification. God is not anti-sex. In fact He invented it as a good gift to be enjoyed as part of His creation, the family and children being associated blessings. However, the New Testament presents the gift of being single as a preferable state to marriage, because it frees the single person up from distractions to spiritual devotions and Christian service. Presumably this is at least partly why Jesus was single, and an important reason behind why the apostle Paul remained single. We will all be single in eternity anyway (Mark 12:24-25). Etheldreda.net believes that this is a neglected teaching that the example of our ancient monastic brothers and sisters in Christ (and the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7) can remind us of.† Singleness is a condition to be encouraged and regarded as a blessing. However, singleness for the Christian necessarily involves celibacy, since sexual activity is to be confined to exclusive love-marriage relationships between a husband and wife.
† I would recommend studying the whole of 1 Corinthians 7 and Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-12 to avoid any unintended take home messages from this page, but 1 Corinthians 7:1,32-35&40 and Matthew 19:12 in particular reward consideration.
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