ALONG with Aelfric, Wulfstan represents the homiletic vigor and pastoral zeal of an age in the throes of physical and spiritual rebirth. As Bishop of London and Archbishop of York, this preacher summoned his people to judgment for their collective sins in order to avert their final condemnation on the Great Day. One discovers that prophets were not all dead when preaching could thus cite causes and propound cures with such lean rhetoric and disciplined mind. The translation is by Dr. Elizabeth W. Manwaring, of Wellesley College. Reprinted by permission of the publishers from Albert S. Cook and Chauncey B. Tinker, Select Translations from Old English Prose. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1908. Pp. 194-95, 198-99 (Cook & Tnkr.Tr.).
WULFSTAN’S SERMON TO THE ENGLISH AT A TIME WHEN THE DANES ESPECIALLY PERSECUTED THEM, WHICH WAS IN THE YEAR 1014 FROM THE INCARNATION OF OUR LORD
Dearly beloved, understand the truth: this world is in haste, and drawing nigh the end. Hence is the later in the world ever the worse, so that things must needs wax very evil before the coming of Antichrist. Likewise, consider earnestly that for these many years the devil has led this people too widely astray; that men have held little faith towards one another, for all their fair speaking; that injustice has too much prevailed in the land; and that they have been few who thought upon a remedy as diligently as they ought. Daily has evil been heaped upon evil, and men have worked iniquity and manifold unrighteousness far too generally throughout this whole nation.
On account of these things we have suffered many losses and indignities; and if we are to expect any relief, we must deserve it better at God’s hands than we have done hitherto. For with great deserts have we earned the misery which lies over us; and with exceeding great deserts we must obtain the cure from God, if our condition is henceforth to become better. We know very well that a wide breach demands much mending, and a great fire abundant water if the fire is to be in any wise quenched. The necessity is urgent upon every man henceforth to keep God’s law with diligence, and fulfil God’s commandments with uprightness.
Nor is it any wonder if we are miserable, because we know very well that for these many years men have seldom recked what they wrought, in word or in deed. This our religion, as it seems, has been greatly sinned against by manifold sins and multiplied transgressions: by deeds fell and foul, by covetousness and greed, by theft and robbery, by wrongful selling of men into slavery, by heathen practices, by treasons and plots, by violations of law, by seditions, by attacks of kinsman on kinsman, by manslaughter, by injuries of holy men, by adulteries, incests, and divers fornications. Thereto, as we said before, by violated oaths and broken pledges, and various treacheries far and wide, more than ought to be are ruined and forsworn. 123 Breaches of festivals are commonly committed. There are in this land all too many adversaries of God, malignant persecutors of the Church, and cruel tyrants in overgreat number; proud scorners of divine law and Christian practice, and foolish mockers, most often of those things that most certainly and rightfully belong to the law of God. Thereby has grown up the common evil wont, that many are ashamed of good deeds rather than of evil, because too often men contemn good deeds with derision, and overmuch revile God-fearing men; and most men despise and greet with too frequent insult such as love righteousness and have in any measure the fear of God. Because men do thus, despising all that they ought to glorify, and hating what they ought to love, they pervert all too many to evil thoughts and acts, so that they are not ashamed to sin greatly, and altogether offend against God Himself; yet because of empty words of abuse they are ashamed to amend their misdeeds, as the books teach: like fools, who, for their infirmity of pride will not save themselves until the time comes when they cannot though they would.
But oh, in God’s name, let us do as is needful for us — save ourselves as we may by utmost diligence, lest we perish all of us together! Let us do as behooves us, turn towards the right, and in some measure forsake the evil, and earnestly amend those things wherein we aforetime offended. Let us love God and follow God’s laws, and perform with eagerness that which we promised when we received baptism, or those promised who were our sponsors in baptism; and let us rightly direct both words and works, and carefully cleanse our hearts, and observe with heed oaths and pledges, and have some faith amongst us, free from wicked practices. Let us often meditate upon the Great Judgment whither we all are bound, and save ourselves with zeal from the raging fire of hell-torment, and secure for ourselves the glory and gladness which God has prepared for such as work His will upon earth. May God help us. Amen.