"Oil On Troubled Waters"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Our traditional expressions concerning the use of oil in calming troubled waters, which we use in so many ways, have their origin in a miracle recounted by Bede. He was the first important English scholar and historian, a product of that great though short-lived civilization which flourished in the kingdom of North-umbria during the seventh and eighth centuries. A learned man who wrote in Latin and knew Greek, Bede was the author of a large number of works including Bible commentaries, various treatises, and the Ecclesiastical History, for which last he is chiefly remembered. He is also believed to have originated our custom of determining dates from the year of Christ's birth. So highly was his history regarded that it was one of the books which King Alfred translated into Old English for the benefit and instruction of his people. Bede received his education in the Benedictine monastery at Wearmouth and spent his later life at its sister institution in Jarrow, living a holy life and achieving renown as teacher and scholar. He was so deeply and widely respected that during the following century the epithet "Venerable" was attached to his name. His work is of highest importance to students of early England; it is virtually the only comprehensive, contemporary account of its times. Among the many events and personages described in the history is the story of Bishop Aidan, a saintly man who died in 651 and who was said to have performed three miracles. His generosity was proverbial, as was his holiness. Of the miracles attributed to him, the third, which occurred during the last few days of his life, is given below:

. . . A certain priest, whose name was Utta, a man of great gravity and sincerity, and on that account honoured by all men, even the princes of the world, being ordered to Kent, to bring from thence, as wife for King Oswy, Eanfleda, the daughter of King Edwin, who had been carried thither when her father was killed; and intending to go thither by land, but to return with the virgin by sea, repaired to Bishop Aidan, entreating him to offer up his prayers to our Lord for him and his company, who were then to set out on their journey. He, blessing and recommending them to our Lord, at the same time gave them some holy oil, saying, "I know that when you go abroad, you will meet with a storm and contrary wind; but do you remember to cast this oil I give you into the sea, and the wind shall cease immediately; you will have pleasant calm weather, and return home safe."
All which fell out as the bishop had predicted. For in the first place, the winds raging, the sailors endeavoured to ride it out at anchor, but all to no purpose; for the sea breaking in on all sides, and the ship beginning to be filled with water, they all concluded that certain death was at hand; the priest at last, remembering the bishop's words, laid hold of the phial and cast some of the oil into the sea, which, as had been foretold, became presently calm. Thus it came to pass that the man of God, by the spirit of prophecy, foretold the storm that was to happen, and by virtue of the same spirit, though absent, appeased the same. Which miracle was not told me by a person of little credit, but by Cynemund, a most faithful priest of our church, who declared that it was related to him by Utta, the priest, on and by whom the same was wrought.