A Monk, Bloody Vikings, and a God of Mercy
What could a stylus-wielding 10th-century Anglo-Saxon Benedictine monk teach third-millennium Blackberry-networking digerati?
In 998, a ruthless Viking army raided the Dorset countryside in southwest England near the rural Cernel (now Cerne Abbas) monastery. Forty-something-year-old Ælfric, a monk at Cernel, responded to this national—and, to him, universal—crisis by creating three homiletic collections (about 120 sermons), the first English translations of passages from several Old Testament books, pastoral letters, and other pedagogical materials: a grammar, a glossary, and a colloquy. He also taught novices and preached the gospel in the local parish church. Ælfric explained his purpose: "People especially need good teaching at this time, which is the ending of this world." In 1005, Ælfric moved 85 miles northeast to Eynsham, where he served as abbot until his death around 1014. When Viking invaders burned neighboring Oxford in 1009, Ælfric may have stood in the monastery yard and witnessed Oxford's smoke.
In a time of terrorism and political unrest, Ælfric's faithful outlook remained positive, and his works focused on God's mercy. His beautifully rhythmical, enduring prose teaches love as a verb, obedience as joy, and humility and kindness as synonyms. Here are some excerpts from his sermons:
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
The love that loves God is not idle. Instead, it is strong and works great things always. And if love isn't willing to work, then it isn't love. God's love must be seen in the actions of our mouths and minds and bodies. A person must fulfill God's word with goodness.
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Christ commanded us to be kind to others always, with all ...