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King Ethelred the Unready (978-1016)
Tamed by Wisdom, Freed by Grace (1) : Abbot Elfric expounds a Palm Sunday text to explain how Christianity combines orderly behaviour with intelligent and genuine liberty.
Tamed by Wisdom, Freed by Grace
Part one

From Elfric of Eynsham’s Sermon on Palm Sunday, based on a translation from Old English by Benjamin Thorpe.

In a sermon for Palm Sunday, Abbot Elfric (955-1010) of the monastery in Eynsham in Oxfordshire drew on the Biblical account of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem to show that Christianity tames the wildness of man not by the bridle of coercion and law, but by the wisdom of reason and freewill.

‘Go into the village over against you,
and straightway ye shall find an ass tied,
and a colt with her: loose them,
and bring them unto me.’

Matthew 21:2

See also The Sunday of Palms and Willows.

AN ass is a foolish beast, and dirty,* and stupid compared with other beasts, and strong for burdens. Such were men before Christ’s advent: foolish and dirty, while they served idols and various vices, and bowed down to the images they had fashioned themselves, and said to them, “Thou art my god.” And they bore whatever burden the devil laid on them.

But when Christ came to mankind, then he turned our foolishness to reason, and our dirtiness into clean living.

The tamed ass signified the Jewish people, who were tamed under the old law. The wild foal signified all other people, who were heathen and untamed: but they became tame and believing when Christ sent his disciples over the whole earth, saying “Go over all the earth, and teach all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and bid them hold all the precepts which I have taught you.”*

* Elfric uses the word ‘unclæn’, but does not mean ‘unclean, taboo, untouchable’ as e.g. pigs are for Judaism: Christianity has no such notion, and anyway donkeys are not unclean in Judaism. The Old English word ‘unclæn’ can be used to mean quite simply ‘dirty’.

* St Matthew is the only evangelist to speak of two animals, an ass and a foal; see Matthew 21:2. St Mark and St Luke mention ‘a colt, the foal of an ass’, but emphasise that the colt has never been ridden; seeMark 11:4. Elfric harmonises these accounts to obtain his tame ass and wild foal.

From Elfric of Eynsham’s Sermon on Palm Sunday, based on a translation from Old English by Benjamin Thorpe.

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Elfric of Eynsham (9) Lives of the Saints (96) Extracts from Literature (93) Liberty and Prosperity (60) Bible and Saints (111)

Picture: Via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
A fresco depicting the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, in the crypt of the Monastery of Hosios Loukas in Boeotia, Greece. The frescos date back to the middle of the 11th century, about fifty years after the death of Elfric.
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By Elfric of Eynsham
(955-1010)

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By Elfric of Eynsham
(955-1010)
Abbot Elfric unpacks the meaning of the gifts of the Three Wise Men.
By Elfric of Eynsham
(955-1010)
Anglo-Saxon abbot Elfric tentatively likened the new-born Jesus to an egg.
To prove that steam power was the future of railways, George Stephenson held a truly historic competition.
By Saint Bede of Jarrow
(672-735)
In the fourth century, Britain’s Christians acquired a taste for watering down the mystery of their message.
The Duke of Argyll was pleasantly surprised to find one of his gardeners reading a learned book of mathematics - in Latin.
By Samuel Smiles
(1812-1904)
Samuel Smiles explains why the London and Birmingham Railway was an achievement superior to the Great Pyramid of Giza.