Sermon: Alfred the Great

I will preface this sermonette on Albert the Great by telling you I have two long quotes. Longer than I should read, but too good to omit. One describes Alfred and other is a prayer he wrote.

In 849, Alfred was the fourth son born to the West Saxons’ king. Being the fourth son, he was never expected to rise to the throne; however, during his father’s life and his own, there was an ongoing war with the Vikings, which led to the death of his father and brothers, eventually leading to Alfred ascending the throne. Off the battlefield – and even on for that matter – he was a very devout man and did much good for his people, but it was in 886 that he accomplished what no other king in England had ever done: he united England.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler, in 839 the Vikings entered London and commenced with a great slaughter and again in 851, some 350 Viking ships came up the Themes River and stormed London, finally capturing the city in 867. The city was vital to the survival of the Saxons, so in 886, King Alfred rallied the people. The Chronicler reports, “All the English people that were not under subject to the Danes submitted to” Alfred, and for the first time, all of England submitted to one king.

First long quote. G. K. Chesterton writes, “King Alfred confronts us, blonde and bland, with the battle-axe and helmet of a Viking, but the face of a rather sleepy Quaker; ready to found Christianity, cricket, the Anglo-Saxon race, the Anglo-American alliance, the boy Scouts or anything else that may require a friendly person in the ninth century to find it… [But] He was an original as well as an origin… In Christian psychology, if there were nothing else, Alfred is the type of a wiry and tenacious will… but Alfred has no clear notion of what civilization he was founding; but only of what civilization his enemies were destroying… The encouraging quality in the story of Alfred is the testimony to Christian tenacity in the face of such recurrent threats of decline… [He was] a man not without subtle and quite without optimism; a true genius of the ninth century.”

Jesus said, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.” After Alfred died, London would fall again to the Vikings, but through Alfred, we begin to see the future structure of the nation. And even though the kingdom would rise and fall many more times, Alfred built within himself a spiritual fortress on the foundation of Jesus that was unconquerable.

The following prayer is one Alfred wrote at the end of his translation of Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule. Let us pray. Lord God Almighty, maker and ruler of all creatures, I beseech you on behalf of your mighty mercy and through the sign of the Holy Cross, and through St. Mary’s maidenhood, and through St. Michael’s obedience, and through the love and merits of all your saints, that you guide me better than I have done towards you; and direct me according to your will and my soul’s need better than I myself am able; and strengthen my mind to your will and to my soul’s need, and confirm me against the devil’s temptations; and keep far from me foul lust and all iniquity; and protect me from my enemies visible and invisible; and teach me to perform your will, that I may inwardly love you before all things with pure thought and clean body, for you are my Creator and my Redeemer, my sustenance, my consolation, my trust and my hope. Praise and Glory be to you now and forever, world without end. Amen.

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