PATRISTICS/ Aelfric of Enysham
Ælfric of Eynsham (Old English: Ælfr'ic; Latin: Alfricus, Elphricus; c. 955 - c. 1010), sometimes modernized Alfric, was an English abbot, as well as a consummate, prolific writer in Old English of hagiography, homilies, biblical commentaries, and other genres. He is also known variously as Ælfric the Grammarian (Alfricus Grammaticus), Ælfric of Cerne, and Ælfric the Homilist.
Ælfric was educated in the Benedictine Old Minster at Winchester under Saint Æthelwold, who was bishop there from 963 to 984. Æthelwold had carried on the tradition of Dunstan in his government of the abbey of Abingdon, and at Winchester he continued his strenuous efforts. He seems to have actually taken part in the work of teaching.
Ælfric no doubt gained some reputation as a scholar at Winchester, for when, in 987, the abbey of Cerne (Cerne Abbas in Dorset) was finished, he was sent by Bishop Ælfheah (Alphege), Æthelwold's successor, at the request of the chief benefactor of the abbey, the ealdorman Æthelmaer, to teach the Benedictine monks there. This date (987) is one of only two certain dates we have for Ælfric, who was then in priest's orders. Æthelmaer and his father Æthelweard were both enlightened patrons of learning, and became Ælfric's faithful friends.
It was at Cerne, and partly at the desire, it appears, of Æthelweard, that he planned the two series of his English homilies compiled from the Christian fathers, and dedicated to Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury (990-994). The Latin preface to the first series enumerates some of Ælfric's authorities, the chief of whom was Gregory the Great, but the short list there given by no means exhausts the authors whom he consulted. In the preface to the first volume he regrets that except for Alfred's translations Englishmen had no means of learning the true doctrine as expounded by the Latin fathers
There is no certain proof that he remained at Cerne. It has been suggested that this part of his life was chiefly spent at Winchester; but his writings for the patrons of Cerne, and the fact that he wrote in 998 his Canons as a pastoral letter for Wulfsige, the bishop of Sherborne, the diocese in which the abbey was situated, afford presumption of continued residence there.
1005 is the other certain date we have for Ælfric, when he left Cerne for nobleman Æthelmær's new monastery in Eynsham, a long eighty-five mile journey inland in the direction of Oxford. Here he lived out his life as Eynsham's first abbot, from 1005 until his death.
Ælfric was a conscientious monk who left careful instructions to future scribes to copy his works carefully because he did not want his works' scholarly, salvation-bringing words marred by the introduction of unorthodox passages and scribal errors. Through the centuries, however, Ælfric's sermons were threatened by the terrorism of Viking axes and the dangerous banality of human neglect when - some seven hundred years after their composition - they nearly perished in London's Cotton Fire that scorched or destroyed close to 1,000 invaluable ancient works.
Ælfric was the most prolific writer in Old English. His main theme is God's mercy. He writes, for example: "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 fulfil God's word with goodness." ("For Pentecost Sunday")
Image: The Tower of Babel, from a manuscript of a work by Ælfric.