This is how I intended to begin my “visual tour” of our chapel – with the image of the man himself, Saint Aelfric. There aren’t a lot of images of Aelfric out there, unfortunately, but this rather fetching stained-glass picture is from the church in Eynsham, the town where he was an abbot for many years.
The quote below the picture is from one of his Easter Homilies. It reads “This mystery [of the Holy Communion] is a pledge and symbol; Christ’s body is truth. This pledge we hold mystically until we come to the truth, and then will this pledge be ended. But it is, as we before said, Christ’s body and his blood, not bodily but spiritually. Ye are not to inquire how it is done, but to hold in your belief that it is so done.” Nearly 500 years before the Protestant Reformation began, Aelfric is a witness to the ancient Christian faith that confidently spoke of the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, yet without resorting to fanciful explanations that the medieval church would eventually fall into, particularly in the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation. His writings, therefore, as well as the earlier Church Fathers from whom he drew, were of great importance to the English Reformers as they sought to correct the recent Roman errors and restore the true teaching of the Catholic Church.
But why is Saint Aelfric the namesake, or patron, of my ministry, this blog, and this chapel? Well first of all Saint Aelfric himself is a difficult historical figure to identify. Historically he was understood to be the Abbot of Eynsham who wrote many biblical commentaries, sermons, and hagiographies in Old English, and the 28th Archbishop of Canterbury. In modern times “Aelfric of Eynsham” and “Aelfric of Abingdon, Archbishop” tend to be identified as two different men. Both lived in the late 900’s and died in the early 1000’s. Both of them are considered the namesake, or patron, of my ministry.
For one, the Aelfric who wrote all those treatises may also be responsible for some of the earliest Bible translation in the English language. Centuries before Wycliffe, significant parts of the Bible were translated into Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, of which the four Gospels, the Psalms, and other fragments survive to this day. Curiously, however, Aelfric was said to have been reluctant to do this; he apparently preferred the Latin Scriptures and liturgy, which were widely understood by all who learned to read and write, but he made his translation out of acquiescence to royal demand. My approach to liturgy and worship, and ministry in general, reflects that sense of caution, acquiescing to the authority of the Book of Common Prayer (2019) as set forth by the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), yet looking back to the long-standing tradition of Anglican worship that was interrupted in the late 20th century. Rather than revert to the “only-ism” characteristic of many traditionalists, it is my aim to follow the present standards with our Great Tradition in mind whenever possible.
The split identity of Aelfric –the Abbot of Eynsham or the Abbot of Abingdon who became the Archbishop– also plays into the context of our church at large. As it stands, the ACNA has its own form of identity crisis: traditional hymnody versus contemporary praise songs, solemn liturgical standards versus charismatic leniency, disagreement over ordination, a wide range of interpretation regarding the wearing of clerical vestments… all making this province a colorful and confusing place. It is my aim to worship and minister in such a way that Christians of all stripes may benefit from the riches of our historic tradition without too much intrusion from the particular preferences of the milieu of today.
Thus the faithful spirit and example of St. Aelfric is a constant companion in my service to the Lord and his flock.