Suggestion for a secondary school assembly

Supposing you were on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and you were asked, 'Who was Erasmus'?

You would be given four options, of course. Perhaps he was a footballer, or a 1960s pop star, or a sixteenth century scholar, or an American president.

I wonder whether you would ask the audience?

Let me ask you. (Invite a show of hands for each of the four options

In fact Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch scholar. He was also an Augustinian monk. He was very much opposed to religious bigotry. He had considerable influence on some of the English men, like Sir Thomas More, at the time of the Reformation.

But the reason I am referring to Erasmus today is because in 1512 he visited Canterbury Cathedral and he described it. He said, 'It erects itself to Heaven with such majesty that even from a distance it strikes religious awe into its beholders. 'Even from a distance it strikes religious awe into its beholders.'

What does that phrase mean, religious awe?

Perhaps it is something you have felt yourselves. It is a sort of mixture of fear, and reverence, and love. When we feel it we become aware of the presence of something divine, of that which we call God.

Great cathedrals, houses for the worship of God, are awe-inspiring. You may find that other things give you this mixed feeling of love, awe and reverence - a clear star-lit sky, for example. Or a vast stretch of sea. Always, I think, awe makes us feel rather small and humbled. We are aware of something much much bigger than ourselves, of great power. But at the same time we feel reassured. We are ourselves a part of this worship-inspiring world.

Find out more about Canterbury Cathedral

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