Roman Empire (27 BC - AD 1453)
Redeemed for Five Shillings : Elfric, the tenth-century English abbot, suggests a practical way of thinking about the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
Redeemed for Five Shillings

From ‘A Sermon on the Purification of the Virgin Mary’ by Elfric of Eynsham, translated from the Old English by Benjamin Thorpe.

Where ancient Judaism favoured the close regulation of society and individual actions by the state, Christianity emphasises individual responsibility, a major influence on the Britain’s famously liberal constitution. Elfric, Abbot of Eynsham in the reign of Æthelred the Unready, gave a rather clever example of how this works in a sermon for Candlemas, kept each year on February 2nd.

GOD, in the old law, commanded his people, that they should offer to him every firstborn male child, or redeem it with five shillings. Of their cattle also, to bring whatever was firstborn to God’s house, and there offer it to God. But if it were an unclean beast, then should the master slay it, or give to God another clean beast.

We need not now hold these commands bodily, but spiritually.

When in our mind something good is brought forth and we turn it to action, then should we account that as God's grace, and consign it to God.

Our evil thoughts or actions we should redeem with five shillings; that is, we should repent of our wickedness with our five senses, which are, sight, and hearing, and taste, and smell, and touch.

So also as the unclean beasts betoken our unclean thoughts and actions, these we should always kill or exchange for pure; that is, we should always destroy our impurity and our wickedness, and forsake evil, and do good.

From ‘A Sermon on the Purification of the Virgin Mary’ by Elfric of Eynsham, translated from the Old English by Benjamin Thorpe.

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Picture: © Yuvral, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
Two turtle doves, photographed in Israel. Jesus was redeemed from the Temple for the price of two turtle doves (or perhaps two young pigeons, an acceptable alternative by law). Elfric, who obviously liked turtle doves, wrote: “These two birds sing not like other birds, but they murmur; for they betoken the groaning of holy men in this life, as Christ said to his apostles, ‘Ye will be sad in this life, but your sadness will be turned to everlasting bliss’.” The RSPB has a recording.
By Elfric of Eynsham
By Elfric of Eynsham

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