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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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19: The Bishop of Cyprus and his miraculous mules
PYRIDION WAS AN uneducated shepherd who tended his flock in 4th-century Cyprus and was known for his good humour, kindness, and miracles. When he was appointed bishop to do some more metaphorical flock-tending there, he kept up the day job, too.

Refreshing, isn't it, to think that with the Roman Empire becoming Christian and church leaders elevated to palaces and political banquets, some of them were happy to keep their feet on the ground? Not if you're one of the other bishops, it's not.

I mean there's this very exciting council coming up at Nicea. We're all going to get together in the palace with the Emperor (wonderful man, you know, quite charming), and sort out the Christian faith, write a creed and expel those dreadful Arian heretics from the church.

Exactly what you don't need in a situation like this is some shepherd getting confused, saying the wrong thing and embarrassing everybody.

Nevertheless, Spy set off. He walked everywhere, but this time they persuaded him and his deacon, because of the grandness of the occasion, to ride a pair of mules, one white, one brown.

En route, he met a caravan of bishops heading to the council and joined them. They were less than delighted about this, and less than welcoming. In fact they got up in the middle of the night, cut the heads of his mules and set off without him.

But Spy also got up before sunrise. And when his deacon said, "Here, you'll never guess what they've done to our mules," instead of turning back, Spy told him to put the heads back on.

In the darkness, the deacon put each head in what looked like the right place, Spy made a sign, and the two animals got up "as if from a deep sleep." The snooty bishops were horrified when they caught them up – which is all the more understandable when you realize that in the dark the deacon had put the heads back on the wrong mules.

And so, somewhat alarmingly borne, Spyridion made it to Nicea to cast his vote for orthodoxy.

You may have guessed that Loose Canons has now departed the realms of reliable history for the happy land of saintly legend. And what rich pickings there are here.

But despite the apocryphal aspects of this account, I'm sure there are some important lessons here for all of us: orthodoxy always wins in the end, you can't keep a good man down, and don't leave a bishop alone with your donkeys.

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