Today the church honors an oft-forgotten saint, but one with a funny story: 10th Century Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Saint Dunstan is largely regarded as the person behind introducing the Benedictine Rule to Britain. After the Viking raids had largely decimated the churches and demoralized the clergy to the point of disrepair, he brought back the Rule of St. Benedict to the Island (as he had previously been exiled to Belgium for criticizing King Edward’s conduct) at the invitation of King Edgar in 957, and slowly but surely began the rebuilding process.
He retrained the clergy, re-established the liturgy, and with the protection of King Edgar, began movements among the people to free them from indentured servitude, the landlord system of organization, and provide for better education for lay people and clergy alike.
But that’s not the funny story.
Dunstan was said to have been a keen metal worker, and was rumored to have cast bells and built organs in his time as a priest. One day while working in his foundry, the devil apparently showed up in the form of a townsperson. Dunstan saw through the ruse, though, and as he was attending to his work, he turned around, clasped the nose of the devil with the metal tongs he was working with, and tweaked it until the demon ran off.
This is why, in iconography, Dunstan is often depicted holding tongs.
He is a welcome reminder for the church, and all of us, that initial defeats will not, in the end, define our lives. After all, how many people have been fired from their job, forced out of work, been the victim of office politics, or spoken up and paid the consequences for right action, and yet remain resiliant and continue to make a difference? Dunstan’s exile to Belgium was political, but he stuck to his convictions, his Rule of St. Benedict, and eventually returned to change the lives, hearts, and situation of many.
He is also a reminder that, if you get the chance to tweak evil’s nose, don’t hesitate.