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Thursday, November 20, 2008

King Alfred of England--an Orthodox Saint?

Below are a few thoughts and observations regarding the topic of whether King Alfred of England might one day become a Saint of the Orthodox Church.

There are Orthodox Christians in our days who advocate declaring King Alfred of England (849-899) a Saint of the Church.

Orthodox Christians are certainly free to advocate or campaign for the future glorification (canonisation) of a beloved Orthodox Christian who has reposed. Yet there are some difficulties with the idea of glorifying King Alfred. For example, he never had a cultus. That means that the Orthodox Anglo-Saxons who were his contemporaries did not see him as a man distinguished for holiness of life (or, at least, there is no evidence they did). And who is in a better position to judge the matter, his contemporaries or we who are alive a thousand years afterwards, and have no personal knowledge of this great King?

The first authority to declare King Alfred a Saint was a cluster of 19th century Anglo-Catholics in England. These men represented the high-church wing of Anglicanism. Could some Orthodox be assuming King Alfred is a Saint because they own Anglican-produced Lives of Saints which list Alfred? Could they be reading these sources uncritically, assuming that Alfred's inclusion means he had a cultus long ago? That is possible, but inconclusive. Mere chronological sequence proves nothing about cause and effect. An Orthodox individual who hopes today that King Alfred will be named a Saint, is not (necessarily) following the Anglican precedent.

[above: statue commemorating King Alfred of England]

I have some concerns peripheral to the question of King Alfred, which I'll state broadly. I have read a number of articles and internet posts which make conclusions about the ecclesiastical situation prevailing a millennium ago in England. Some of these conclusions tend towards the notion that England was Orthodox until 1066, falling into Roman Catholicism and schism only afterwards, as a result of the Norman invasion. To me it seems that this notion springs from a romanticised love of all things Anglo-Saxon, rather than any dogmatic, canonical, or other objective criteria. Between the Normans invading in 1066, and the Anglo-Saxons defending, there was no difference in religious beliefs, in Filioque usage, in church ritual, or in reverence towards the Roman Papacy. (Perhaps a case can be made that the Anglo-Saxons had more reverence for the Papacy, while the Normans had more political-military ties with it, rather cynical ties which had just recently been forged.)

Most of this notion that the Norman invasion resulted in "Roman Catholicism being imposed on England" seems to originate in the writings of Dr. Vladimir Moss. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Moss about this, even as I am grateful for his work in presenting to Orthodox readers the lives of Anglo-Saxon Saints in English.

But back to the 9th-century King Alfred. We're left with three difficulties: (a) King Alfred at no time had an Orthodox cultus; (b) there are no surviving relics of him; and (c) so far there has been no sign from God that God wills him to be glorified by the Church on earth. Of course, anything can happen.

Here is what can safely be said: To this day, King Alfred remains an unfadingly bright exemplar of pious Orthodox monarchy. And to this day English-speaking Orthodox Christians owe the rich flowering of tenth-century English Orthodox culture, great monuments of liturgy and sainthood and literature, to the vision, tenacity, and piety of Alfred.

May he rest in peace blissful and eternal!



Anonymous said...

Holy Alfred, Mighty King,
who tamed the barbarous Vikings and restored Wessex
and yet was subject to the scolding of a peasant woman,
Pray to God for us.


Anonymous said...

Can we have a place of "belated cultus," which falls short of formal glorification, but sanctions some sort of memorialization?

Hans Lundahl said...

Saint (as in canonized) or not, I hope to see him in heaven. He was certainly before the schism of 1054.

Estel said...

I am one Orthodox person who would love to see King Alfred as a saint. In my case, there's no influence from Anglican saints lives, though I am prejudiced by a love of things Anglo-Saxon.

Every time I read his preface to his translation of St. Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, I am struck by his faithfulness and his concern for the spiritual well-being of his people, and I love him, and wish I could venerate him properly as a saint. It is this that drove me to investigate whether or not he was an Orthodox saint. I had never heard of him as a saint in an Anglican context or any other.

I hesitate to propose that he *should* be glorified, because what do I really know? And the three difficulties that you mention are worth considering. But again, I love him and wish I could venerate him properly.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

PS: one thing that has probably been used in context of seing Pre-Invasion England as Orthodox was this:

The then Pope decided in favour of William of Normandy. Because of promise made by St Ed (-mund? or -ward?).

Stigand was a bishop (of Canterbury, I think) who sided with Harold Godwinson, he allied himself against the Pope with - Cearularius.

Fr. Aidan said...

To respond to Matthew's comment, there are in fact clergy who already reference King Alfred as a Saint, and perhaps have said some prayer to him in church. I don't think any special permission is required for that sort of thing.

To respond to Hans-Georg's comment, I'm not certain that being "my enemy's enemy" makes a person my friend. To extrapolate, I'm unsure that Abp. Stigand being under criminal charges, thereby ensures his True Orthodoxy, unless it can be proven the charges were false. No one has proven that. Also, those who believe that 1066 was the end of Orthodoxy in England also view King Edward the Confessor as a Saint, and he is the very one who appointed William le Batard as King of England. That was long before the Pope got involved. And then there is the thorny issue that no change in doctrine occurred between 1053 and 1080, in England. The faith "brought" to England by the Normans, was identical to the faith already believed in by the Anglo-Saxons. A temporary power shift aligned the Normans with their enemy (the Roman Papacy so venerated by the Anglo-Saxons) and this occurred in time for the invasion, but this is more politics than any issue of dogma, doctrine, or intercommunion.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

I find that wisely spoken.

What think you of Pope Leo III? The man who told Aachen:

"I have given you permission to sing the creed, not to add to it,"

in the same letter or at least correspondence stating he regarded filioque as doctrinally true, but not to be added since no dogm.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

PS - why should the Papacy, revered by Anglo-Saxons, have been the "enemy" of the Normans? As you say yourself, there was no difference between the faith had by Anglo-Saxons and the one brought by Normans.

Indeed, at one point after an insurrection, the common faith was what enabled the Anglo-Saxons to expressely and publically forgive the Normans who had taken part of their lands.

Fr. Aidan said...

It was in 1053 that the Papacy actually raised an army to attack the Norman armies and considered the Normans brigands and pirates. The Normans at that time even had the custom of waylaying and murdering pilgrims to the Holy Land and other holy places. The Norman leaders, heedless of having been excommunicated by the Pope, waged a formidable battle against the Papacy and defeated its army. The Pope died in exile (Leo IX).

It wasn't until the winds of fortune shifted, and the Papacy worked out a political deal with the Normans against the Germans, that the Normans wrung a windfall of politico-religious advantages out of the Papacy (among them, Papal blessing for the invasion of England).

To go back to the idea of belated cultus, there was apparently some interest in the late middle ages in glorifying King Alfred as a saint, but it is signal to me that never, in the 250 years that Orthodoxy was thriving in England (thanks to King Alfred!), was there a cultus of this good king. No Saints felt he should be made a Saint. So from the ninth century to the twentieth, there was no feeling amongst the Orthodox that King Alfred should be a Saint. That absence is glaring but does not, admittedly, bind our hands, since there is such a thing as "newly-revealed" martyrs whose cultus was non-existent till some late point. Still, in the case of those newly-revealed martyrs, God wished to glorify them and so they appeared, they worked wonders, heaven got the ball rolling. If this should ever happen in the case of King Alfred, I hope to be among the first to venerate a newly-revealed confessor.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Newadvent Catholic Encyclopedia about Normandy in the period in question:

The ducal family of Normandy early determined to have an historiographer whom they sought in France, one Dudon, dean of the chapter of St. Quentin, who between 1015-30 wrote in Latin half verse, half prose, a history of the family according to the traditions and accounts transmitted to him by Raoul, Count of Ivry grandson of Rollo and brother of Richard I Alinea. Duke Robert the Devil (1027-35) was already powerful enough to interfere efficaciously in the struggles of Henry I of France against his own brother and the Counts of Champagne and Flanders. In gratitude the king bestowed on Robert the Devil, Pontoise, Chaumont en Vexin, and the whole of French Vexin. It was under Robert the Devil that the ducal family of Normandy first cast covetous glances towards England. He sent an embassy to Canute the Great, King of England, in order that the sons of Ethelred, Alfred and Edward, might recover their patrimony. The petition having been denied he made ready a naval expedition against England, destroyed by a tempest. He died while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre.

It was reserved for his son William the Bastard, later called William the Conqueror, to make England a Norman colony by the expedition which resulted in the victory of Hastings or Senlac (1066).

The Pope's trouble with Normans in Sicily:

The Norman question was henceforth ever present to the pope's mind. Constantly oppressed by the Normans, the people of Southern Italy ceased not to implore the pope to come and help them. The Greeks, fearful of being expelled from the peninsula altogether, begged Leo to co-operate with them against the common foe. Thus urged, Leo sought assistance on all sides. Failing to obtain it, he again tried the effect of personal mediation (1052). But again failure attended his efforts. He began to be convinced that appeal would have to be made to the sword.

to be continued ...

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

continued from other comment:

At this juncture an embassy arrived from the Hungarians, entreating him to come and make peace between them and the emperor. Again Leo crossed the Alps, but, thinking he was sure of success, Henry would not accept the terms proposed by the pope, with the result that his expedition against the Hungarians proved a failure. And though he at first undertook to let Leo have a German force to act against the Normans, he afterwards withdrew his promise, and the pope had to return to Italy with only a few German troops raised by his relatives (1053). In March, 1053, Leo was back in Rome. Finding the state of affairs in Southern Italy worse than ever, he raised what forces he could among the Italian princes, and, declaring war on the Normans, tried to effect a junction with the Greek general. But the Normans defeated first the Greeks and then the pope at Civitella (June, 1053). After the battle Leo gave himself up to his conquerors, who treated him with the utmost respect and consideration, and professed themselves his soldiers.

After which comes his relation to Cærularius.

His relation to England:

The annals of England show that Leo had many relations with that country, and its saintly King Edward. He dispensed the king from a vow which he had taken to make a pilgrimage to Rome, on condition that he give alms to the poor, and endow a monastery in honour of St. Peter. Leo also authorized the translation of the See of Crediton to Exeter, and forbade the consecration of the unworthy Abbot of Abingdon (Spearhafor) as Bishop of London. Throughout the troubles which Robert of Jumièges, Archbishop of Canterbury, had with the family of Earl Godwin, he received the support of the pope, who sent him the pallium and condemned Stigand, the usurper of his see (1053?). King Macbeth, the supposed murderer of Duncan, whom Shakespeare has immortalized, is believed to have visited Rome during Leo's pontificate, and may be thought to have exposed the needs of his soul to that tender father. After the battle of Civitella Leo never recovered his spirits. Seized at length with a mortal illness, he caused himself to be carried to Rome (March, 1054), where he died a most edifying death. He was buried in St. Peter's, was a worker of miracles both in life and in death, and found a place in the Roman Martyrology.

Your story, where does it come from?

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Some readers may not have noticed that you authorised my second comment before and above my first of the last two.


Pope St Leo IX had enmity with Norman soldiery on Sicily.

This did not stop him from having already a habit of sending (or pparoving) clergy from Normandy to England, the very issue that united Stigand with Cærularius. And the Restoration of Anglo-Saxon as opposed to Danish dynasty (Edward as opposed to Canute) was partly at least due to Norman support, though with hindthoughts.

So much is clear from the stories in articles Normandy (under N) and Leo IX (under L) at Catholic Encyclopedia. (Hope the link works).

Where did you get your story from?

Fr. Aidan said...

I got some of my information from "Sacred Conquest and Ecclesiastical Politics: the Normans and the Church in the Eleventh Century," by Sean McGee. Otherwise, just years of reading, no time to assemble any bibliography, even a limited one.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Sean McGee - will look up thank you!

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Not this Sean McGee, I presume? I tried to find him on facebook and found this black singer.

Fr. Aidan said...

You wrote:

> ... Not this Sean McGee, I presume? I tried to find him on facebook and found this black singer.

I can't say for certain whether they are the same. I won't voice my, er, speculations.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Right McGee with right opus (opusculum) found

BUT (I claim after reading hastily some pages in key positions) it treats only of Normans in the South, very little of Normandy, if you can point to a page treating about English conquest, please show me.