September 2nd, 2013


Sensible man, for a bishop

In The Barbarian Conversion, Richard Fletcher writes of the ordinary clergy trying to pastor their often-disrupted and -disrupting flocks of English and Danes during the 10th Century. The Board of Ordained Ministry should take note.

"We can learn something of their duties and of the expectations which authority held of them in a document known as the Northumbrian Priests' Law, a code of conduct probably drafted by Archbishop Wulfstan of York (1002-23). Wulfstan was a realist who did not ask the impossible of his clergy. They must shave regularly, must not bring their weapons to church, must try to keep out of fights and must not perform in taverns as 'ale minstrels' [italics mine]. It was expected that they would be married but separations and second unions were forbidden. . . . They were to be on the lookout for heathen practices: divination, sacrifices, witchcraft, idol-worship, the veneration of holy trees or stones or wells, 'or any such nonsense', as the archbishop robustly put it. Wulfstan was well aware that he led a flock whose Christian observances needed improvement."