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Ælfric
Ælfric
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writer never speaks of himself by any higher title than that of abbot, and there is no reason to doubt that Dr. Lingard (Hist. and Antiq. ii 453) is right in deciding that he was never raised to the episcopate. The tradition that he was archbishop of Canterbury probably arose from the use which has been made of his writings in theological controversy. It pleased those who insisted on his opinions being accepted as the doctrine of the church of England in early days to entertain the belief that he was its chief pastor. All that can be certainly known about Ælfric must be gleaned from his writings. In his early days he was taught by a secular priest, who could scarcely understand Latin. Ælfric despised the ignorance of the secular clergy. ‘There was no one,’ he says, ‘who could write or understand Latin letters until Dunstan and Æthelwold revived learning.’ Ælfric found a more capable teacher, for he became a pupil of Æthelwold. It is therefore probable that he was a monk of Abingdon, where Æthelwold was abbot. When Æthelwold was made bishop of Winchester (963), he expelled the secular clergy from the old minster, and sent to Abingdon for monks to fill their place (Vita S. Æthel. 12, in Chron. de Abingdon, ed. Stevenson, R. S.). Ælfric was most probably among those who came, for the next thing we know about him connects him with Winchester. Ethelmær, the ealdorman of Devonshire, the great patron of monasticism in the west, finished the monastery he was building at Cerne. At his request Ælfheah, who succeeded Æthelwold at Winchester (984–1005), sent Ælfric to rule over the new foundation. Ælfric was, he tells us, at that time ‘a monk and a mass-priest.’ He afterwards became abbot of Ensham, which was also founded by Æthelmær, and was completed, it is said, in 1005 (Dugdale, Monas. ed. 1817 &c. iii. 1). A letter to an Ælfric who was evidently a monk is attached to Ælfric's ‘Glossary.’ It describes the person addressed as high in favour with Cnut, and begs him to use his influence with the king to obtain his assent to a request. It is possible that this Ælfric may have been the abbot of Ensham; but it is more likely that the person addressed was the abbot of St. Albans of the same name [q.v.]. Ælfric remained on intimate terms with his patron Æthelmær and his son Æthelweard, and did much of his work in translating to please them. In the preface to his translation of Genesis he tells Æthelweard that he will not translate anything more, and says: ‘I pray thee, dear ealdorman, that thou bid it me no more, lest I be disobedient to you or a liar if I do it.’

The name of Ælfric has become famous from the vigour with which he opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation, and parts of his writings which treat this subject have been republished from time to time whenever any special agitation has arisen on the sacramental question in England. His school books, and especially the preface to his Grammar, show that he took a warm interest in education, which was fully in accord with the spirit of the monastic revival of his time. The employment of his talents by ealdormen and bishops is an evidence that his learning was recognised by his contemporaries. He was for the most part engaged in translation and compilation. His writings are: 1. Two books of ‘Homilies,’ each containing forty sermons. These he compiled and translated into English from the sermons of various Latin writers which were used in the church. He says that he undertook this work because there was little gospel light for any except such as could read Latin, save what was contained in the books translated by King Ælfred. These homilies are mostly appropriated to the different Sundays and saints days throughout the year. They are short and vigorous, and are usually filled with narrative. One of them, the sermon ‘on the sacrifice,’ for Easter Sunday, contains strong statements against the teaching of the Romish church on the subject of the eucharist. In this matter he probably owed much to Ratramn of Corbie (cir. 860), the opponent of Paschasius Radbert. In a sermon for St. Peter's day he also puts forth doctrine which is not in accord with the tenets of the church of Rome concerning that apostle. As the homilies were accepted by Archbishop Sigeric, and Ælfric was employed by other bishops, they may be held to express the teaching of the church of England at that time, even though the writer was never a bishop himself. For this reason the Paschal homily has been frequently used in controversy. It was published with other smaller translations in 1566. An interesting introduction on the state of the Anglo-Saxon church, and a recommendation signed by Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Young, archbishop of York, and thirteen other bishops, are appended to it. The title is ‘A Testimonie of Antiquitie, shewing the auncient fayth in the Church of England touching the Sacrament of the body and bloude of the Lord here publikely preached, and also concerning the Saxons time 800 years ago. Imprinted at London by John Day, dwelling ouer Aldersgate beneath S. Martyns.’ Extracts from Ælfric's writings concerning the sacrament were printed in Foxe's Martyrology, ed. 1610. The