Plaudits for Ethelwold the erudite
CARDINAL Basil Hume was in Winchester at the weekend to pay tribute to another Benedictine abbot-turnedbishop — a man "austere, able and dynamic", in the words of modern scholarship, and one of the most important figures to the history of the English Bendictines and the AngloSaxon Church.
The occasion was the celebration in honour of St Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, who died one thousand years ago this year, Like Westminster today Winchester was a seat of government in the tenth century, for the ancient Kingdom of Wessex, and upon his appointment to the see in 963 Ethelwold founded there the first monastic cathedral by replacing the cathedral canons with monks.
Ethelwold was second only to the great St Dunstan in introducing the sweeping monastic reforms of the tenth century in England.
Before his appointment to Winchester he was abbot of the derelict abbey of Abingdon which he completely reformed, and he was instrumental in the promulgation at Winchester in 970 of the Regularis Concordia which regularised the life of the reformed monasteries in the south of England. He also translated the Rule of St Benedict into Old English.
Addressing the cathedral congregation on Sunday, Cardinal Hume said, "EtheIwold belongs to you, for he was a son of Winchester". But, he continued, "Ethelwold also belongs to us, sons of St Benedict. he is held in high esteem and honoured still in our monasteries, though he lived so long ago".
In his sermon the Cardinal took up a theme that he has been stressing in recent months, emphasising "the duty to praise God". While recognising that "the way we behave towards our neighbour is the measure of the degree of our love for God", he went on to say "at the heart of all religion there must be a gazing at God as the source and sum of all goodness and excellence and the expressing to him and before him of our recognition of his greatness and loveableness".
The Cardinal went on to speak of St Ethelwold's significance, "A saint speaks to us of timeless values, those which are contemporary in every age. I refer to such values as dedication to the service of God, to the worshipping of him, to the obeying of his law, to responding to the demands which the gospel imposes on us".
He stressed the importance of solitude and silence. "Every human being needs space just `to be', and 'to be' in the presence of God".
In this sense St Ethelwold's example is relevant not only for monks since, "We could each benefit personally, and our society generally, if we learned how to be alone, to be silent and in that silence and solitude to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us". "How important to steal just a few moments each day in the midst of all our preoccupations just to be alone with God".