“God is our … fortress,” says Psalm 46. “And so, we won’t be afraid! Let the earth tremble. … ” The trembling of the earth may even reassure God’s children of his power, as happened on this day, St. Dunstan’s Day, May 19, 1382. St. Dunstan’s Day is named for the British politician who, having slighted the king, found himself banished to a monastery in Belgium. There he committed himself to Christ’s cause, eventually returning to England and becoming archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan died May 19, 988.
Three hundred years later another archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay, held sway. Courtenay, powerful and headstrong, raged against Oxford professor John Wycliffe, who criticized church teaching. Wycliffe believed the head of the church to be Christ, not the pope. He opposed selling indulgences and warned against superstitions associated with the Mass. We are saved, he said, by faith in Christ, Scripture alone being our authority. He pre-Luthered Luther, and thus is called The Morning Star of the Reformation.
Courtenay tried repeatedly to convict Wycliffe, but the popular professor always bested him. Finally Courtenay summoned a special committee to examine Wycliffe’s teachings, to condemn and destroy the Bible teacher. John Foxe tells the story: Here is not to be passed over the great miracle of God … for when the archbishop with other doctors of divinity and lawyers, with a great company of babbling friars and religious persons, were gathered together to consult touching Wycliffe’s books, when they were gathered in London to begin their business on St. Dunstan’s day, after dinner, about two of the clock, the very hour and instant that they should go forward, a wonderful and terrible earthquake fell throughout all England: whereupon divers of them, being affrighted, thought it good to leave off from their determinate purpose.
Wycliffe later declared that the Lord sent the earthquake “because the friars had put heresy upon Christ. The earth trembled as it did when Christ was damned to bodily death.” Wycliffe, however, didn’t tremble when the earth did, for God was his fortress. But the archbishop’s meeting has ever since been known in English history as the Earthquake Synod.
God is our mighty fortress,
Always ready to help in times of trouble.
And so, we won’t be afraid!
Let the earth tremble
And the mountains tumble into the deepest sea. (Psalm 46:1,2)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 19.