Daily Reading for April 19 • Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, 1012
There is a great deal said today in favour of the Vikings, and an impression exists that they were either fellow-Europeans looking for new trade outlets or well-meaning tourists with long hair who sometimes roughed up the natives. Whatever the hindsight of history has to say about them, the chroniclers of the times were unanimous in their view of them as mad, bad and dangerous to know. It may well have been an error of ignorance when they drank communion wine, raped nuns, burned churches, took away crosses and reliquaries; what they saw was, no doubt, wine, girls, and gold, and wooden churches easily caught fire at a party; but for the Christians, the effect was of sacrilege and the challenge that of martyrdom. . . .
There is here a key to the spirituality of the first English Christians. At first they were promised a new kingdom and tended to see God as the god of battles, who would reward devotion with victory. But they learned another lesson by experience, and that was the priority of God in all circumstances. They were concerned at first with amassing the new glories of the Mediterranean world and an ancient Christian culture; they learned to put first the love of God and the salvation of souls. They learned that belief could not be separated from conduct, and they learned to undertake specific acts of charity not for their own glory but with the humility that regards God as the only pastor, using only damaged tools. The response of these English Christians to personal anguish or to desolation on a tremendous scale lay not in despair or in applying secular solutions to spiritual ills but in the costly assertion that Christ reigns. The answer in both situations was stillness before God to allow him to act: “Nailed and spread fast on this rood in my holy order as thou was nailed for me on thy hard rood.” . . . This was the answer to sorrow for the Anglo-Saxons of those early centuries, for the Irish and missionaries from Rome, for Bede and for Cuthbert, for Alfred the Great. In darkness, desolation and shame, in facing the poverty and weakness of the heart, there is the place of the Cross and of the light of life and redemption, because that is the place where God is and no other. If Christianity is true, the only success we know anything about is a man nailed to a cross and still with the Father.
From High King of Heaven: Aspects of Early English Spirituality by Benedicta Ward SLG (Mowbray, 1999).