EDUCATED under Aethelwold, Aelfric steeped himself in Christian literature and saints’ lore. He became the first abbot of Eynsham, near Oxford, in which office he died. He produced various homiletical, grammatical, and hagiographical works to earn the distinction of having been, not only one of the leading scholars of his age, but also a sensitive collector and editor of effective homilies. The following selection with its emphasis on the pastoral virtues is from Ael.Thrp. I, 239-45.
This gospel, which has now been read, says, that Jesus said of himself, I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his own life for his sheep. The hireling, who is not the right shepherd, seeth the wolf coming, and he forsaketh the sheep and fleeth; and the wolf teareth one, and scattereth the others . . . (vss. 11-12).
Christ is good by nature, and in sooth there is nothing good, save God only. If any creature is good, then is its goodness of the Creator, who is supremely good. He said, the good shepherd giveth his own life for his sheep. Our Redeemer is the good shepherd, and we christian men are his sheep and he gave his own life for our redemption. He did as he exhorted, and he thereby manifested what he enjoined. A good shepherd was Peter, and good was Paul, and good were the apostles, who gave their lives for God’s people and for the right faith; but their goodness was of the head, which is Christ, who is their head, and they are his limbs.
Every bishop and every teacher is placed as a shepherd over God’s people, that they may shield the people against the wolf. The wolf is the devil, who lies in ambush about God’s church, and watches how he may fordo the souls of christian men with sins. Then shall the shepherd, that is, the bishop or other teacher, withstand the fierce wolf with doctrine and with prayers. With doctrine he shall teach them, that they may know what the devil teaches for men’s perdition, and what God commands to be observed for the attainment of everlasting life. He shall pray for them, that God may preserve the strong and heal the weak. He is to be accounted strong who withstands the precepts of the devil; he is weak who falls into sins. But the teacher will be guiltless, if he direct the people with doctrine, and mediate for them with God. These two things he shall do for the people, and also help others with his own, and if it so happen, give his own life for the saving of the people.
The hireling fleeth when he seeth the wolf. He is a hireling and not a shepherd, who is engaged in worldly things, and loves dignity and perishable rewards, and has no inward love for God’s sheep. He 119 takes heed of treasures, and rejoices in dignity, and has his reward in this life, and will be cut off from the everlasting reward. Thou knowest not who is a hireling, who a shepherd, before the wolf comes; but the wolf makes manifest in what manner he watches the sheep. The wolf comes to the sheep, and some he devours, some he scatters, when the fierce devil instigates christian men, some to adultery, some he inflames to covetousness, some he lifts up to pride, some through anger he divides, and with divers temptations spiritually slays: for the hireling is excited neither by care nor love, but flees, because he considers worldly advantages, and leaves unheeded the loss of the sheep. He flees not with body, but with mind. He flees because he saw iniquity and held silence. He flees because he is a hireling and not a shepherd, as though it were so said, He cannot stand against the perils of the sheep, who guardeth not the sheep with love, but provideth for himself; that is, he loves worldly gain and not God’s folk.
The unrighteous powerful man also is a wolf, who robs christians, and oppresses the humble with his power: for the hireling, or the mercenary, dares not withstand his unrighteousness lest he lose his dignity, and the worldly gain which he loves more than christian men. Concerning this the prophet Ezechiel wrote, thus saying, Ye shepherds, hear the word of God: My sheep are scattered through your heedlessness, and are devoured. Ye care for your own sustenance, and not for that of the sheep; therefore I will require the sheep at your hands, and I will cause you to depart from the fold, and I will deliver my flock from you. I myself will gather my sheep that were scattered, and I will feed them in an abundant pasture: that which was lost I will seek and bring again; that which was maimed I will heal; the sick I will strengthen, and feed the strong, and I will pasture them in judgment and in righteousness (cf. Ezek. 34:7-16).
These words spake God through the prophet Ezechiel, concerning teachers and concerning his people. Ye should be zealous for your own need (though it so happen that the teacher be heedless), and do as Christ taught, “If the teacher teach well, and give evil example, do as he teacheth, and not according to his example.” Jesus says of himself, I am a good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and they know me (John 10:14). That is, I love them, and they love me. He who 120 loves not truth, he yet knows not God. But consider whether ye are God’s sheep, whether ye yet know him, whether ye with truth love him. He said, As my Father knoweth me, I also know him, and I give my own life for my sheep (vs. 15). He knows his Father through himself, and we know him through him. With that love with which he would die for mankind, he manifested how greatly he loves his Father. He said, I have other sheep which are not of this fold, and those I shall bring, and they will hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd (vs. 16).
This he spake in the land of Judah: there was a fold of men who believed in God in that nation. The other sheep are those of all other countries who incline to God; and Christ will bring them all to one fold in eternal life. Many are the shepherds under Christ, and yet he alone is Shepherd of them all, who liveth and ruleth with the Father and with the Holy Ghost ever to eternity. Amen.