The Gregorian Blog
Robert the Bruce, Braveheart, Benedictines, and Three Important Lessons for Life
I have a friend who believes that the litmus test for masculinity is whether or not a man has seen—and loves—the movie, Braveheart. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is certainly a movie that inspires me to be a better man; to show courage, to remain true to my convictions, and to fight for what is right—even in the face of persecution and death.
Although the film tells the story of Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, the very end of it focuses on Robert the Bruce. He was the heir to the Scottish throne who led his countrymen into the Battle of Bannockburn. In the words of the narrator of Braveheart:
In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland - starving and outnumbered - charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.
(I always get goosebumps when I hear—or read—those words; and I feel blessed that I’m at least 1/8th Scottish.)
For whatever reason, I thought of Braveheart yesterday; specifically, Robert the Bruce, and this led me to invest 45 minutes of my life Googling my way to a deeper knowledge of the man beyond the movie.
As it turns out, Robert the Bruce died 683 years ago this month. It is no surprise to most people that he was Catholic. What may surprise, and interest, those of us at the Gregorian Institute, as well as those with ties to the Benedictine monastic tradition, is that, when he died, two things happened:
1. His body was buried at Dumferline Abbey.
2. (According to some reports) his heart was interred at Melrose Abbey.
The former is currently a Church of Scotland Parish Church; it used to be a Benedictine Abbey that was sacked in 1560 during the Scottish Reformation. The latter is a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1136; the Cistercians were a reform-minded group of monks committed to a more literal reading of the Rule of St. Benedict.
So, Robert the Bruce has ties to the Benedictines (and, hence, to Benedictine College) in a roundabout sort of way. I think that’s great.
In addition to this interesting tidbit, I learned these incontrovertible historical facts:
• Robert the Bruce is still considered one of Scotland’s greatest kings. Given his training as a feudal knight, he was one of the first to wage war using essentially guerilla tactics. It is for this reason, quite possibly, that he was successful in soundly defeating Edward the Longshanks and leading Scotland to independence.
• The hesitancy and uncertainty that we see in the Braveheart character was, at least at one point, true of the real man. Earlier in his life, Robert the Bruce’s allegiance would waffle between Scotland and England. As a result, many Scots did not trust him and considered other Lords more viable claimants to the crown.
• In 1306, in response to perceived betrayal, Robert the Bruce killed John Comyn, a strong rival for the Scottish crown. Bruce killed Comyn before the high altar at the Church of Greyfriars in Dumfries, Scotland. For his violence and sacrilege, he was excommunicated from the Church.
• Robert the Bruce later made a confession of his sin to Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow. He was granted absolution, but remained excommunicated until 1320, when he was restored to full communion by Pope John XXII.
As you might expect, there is some discrepancy between the character in Braveheart and the man of history. But, there is enough in common to draw these three lessons from his life:
First, people who change history—for good or bad—are willing to sacrifice everything. As Braveheart rightly reveals, Robert the Bruce would have gained much by submitting to Edward the Longshanks and forming a treaty with England; he would have added to his land and holdings, flourished financially, and lived in relative stability and peace. But if he claimed the throne, he would throw Scotland into another series of wars, endanger his large family, and possibly sacrifice everyone and everything he knew.
He risked everything—and changed the course of history. Likewise, those in the Church cannot expect to influence the world for Christ without the willingness to sacrifice everything dear to us—including our lives. “He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).
Second, history-changing people are often world-class sinners, too. So, let’s remember to influence the present and future by living for eternity. He may go down as one of the greatest kings of Scotland, but Robert the Bruce murdered a man a few feet from where bread and wine became the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. If he never repented of that, or the other sins of his life, no amount of heroism or victory in battle would have saved his soul.
In the same way, it’s nice for our lives to be remembered, but it means nothing if Christ says to us, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23). Our main concern isn’t to make a name for ourselves, but to exalt the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:6-11).
Third, there’s nothing in history that will endure—except the Church. There’s an old saying, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past / Only what’s done for Christ will last." I admire Robert the Bruce and his loyalty to his people and nation, but Scotland will not last forever. Many of us are very patriotic; we love the United States with everything in us. But America, too, will pass. So, our ultimate allegiance should be to the Church. It should command the greatest investment of our talent, time, and treasure. After all, the purpose of the Church is to bring glory to Jesus Christ—and this is a purpose that will never become outdated, but will endure forever.
I hope you enjoyed learning a little about Robert the Bruce and the lessons of his life. Hopefully, these lessons will help us re-commit ourselves to heroism, saintliness, and (you knew I had to say it)…