PRAISE OF THE GREAT ALFRED
found learning dead
Inscription on the Statue to Alfred the Great in Wantage
the second millennium men have for the most part forgotten holiness. Those
considered to be great are those who ordered our material lives, and not
our spiritual lives. Hence the spiritual disorder and deregulation of
the second millennium. This was not always so. For example, it is impossible
to know of the history of the First England, the England of the first
millennium, without knowing of the spirit of holiness in the lives of
her saints. Thus the lives of the Two Apostles of the English, St Gregory
and St Augustine, together with those of St Augustine's followers, portray
the first part of the spiritual golden age of our history. The lives of
later saints like St Oswald, St Aidan, St Cuthbert, St Audrey, St Hilda,
St Theodore and St Bede describe the second part. The lives of St Swithun,
St Edmund and the other martyrs of the ninth century speak to us of the
third and closing period of that golden age, before, and at the beginning
of, the dark times of the heathen Danes.
How many other kingdoms and empires have fallen under a yoke and then been swept utterly away from the remembrance of mankind! In the panorama of history, it seems highly unlikely that the young English people, who barely possessed any sort of national consciousness, only receiving the word of Christ some two hundred and fifty years before the birth of Alfred, would have survived the catastrophic invasions of heathen men, even less have risen from the ashes after them. Logically, even the idea of England should have disappeared in the ninth century, swallowed up by heathen chieftains and divided into tribal territories, her story just a fleeting moment in the flood-tide of human history.
The resistance to paganism came from royal Athelney, a tiny, flood-girt isle in the south-west of England, and was led by one man, Alfred. At Ascensiontide in 878, when spring was at its greenest, Alfred was to go out over the marshlands to meet his destiny at Edington, standing alone in Western Europe against the pagan tide, vanquishing evil through the White Christ. Alfred's story is the story of David and Goliath in the old Bible, played out once more. It is the story of Alfred the Great, Alfred the Wise, Founder of the Nation, the Restorer of the Glory of Englishkind through the Humility of the Galilean. Alfred's story is that of a true Defender of the Faith.
Moreover, all that has come to pass, in the eleven hundred years and more of England since Alfred, would never have come to pass without him. Nothing can be understood without him, nothing can be seen without his presence. Yes, it is true that after the silver age of the tenth century, England would sink again under the yoke of other Northmen, but even they would never be able to erase Alfred's example, his memory and his achievements. Although the details of Alfred's English Kingdom were later modified, its structure was lasting and has never been destroyed.
Moreover, history has had the habit of repeating itself. All the glorious hours of English history were reruns of Alfred's first achievement: Magna Carta and the foreign King, which led to the revival of England and English from the Norman yoke; Drake and the Armada, which brought a growing spirit of freedom; Dunkirk and the Nazis, which was a timely reminder that might is not right and that prayer defeats even the most wicked of tyrants.
Like Alfred, these were all Davids, pitted against Goliaths. Indeed, it can be said that all the terrible errors and misdeeds of our history have happened whenever and wherever we forgot the spirit of Alfred. And all the great moments of our history are Alfredian. His presence is a constant, haunting our history, a beneficent ghost down all the ages. Embodying Faith and Truth, Wisdom and the Law, Alfred is England's Darling and England's Shepherd, and his Christ is England's only Greatness:
Alfred born in Wantage
G.K. Chesterton, 'The Ballad of the White Horse'.