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ALCUIN ON TRUE MISSIONARY LABOURS.
THE cause of the first failure of the mission amongst the Saxons, may serve as a lesson and a warning to all times. It was this: that they sought to introduce from without what can only be effected from within; that worldly aims were blended with the diffusion of Christianity; that men did not follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who, in preaching the Gospel, allowed the Jews to remain Jews, and the Greeks, Greeks, and knew how to become to the Jews as a Jew, and to the Greeks as a Greek. The pious and wise Abbot Alcuin, directed the attention of Charlemagne to these defects and mistakes. He writes to the emperor: “Seek for the new nation preachers of upright conduct, who are well taught in the faith, who follow the example of the Apostles in preaching the Gospel; in the beginning, feeding their hearers with the milk of the faith, that is, with comfortable doctrines. (1 Cor. iii, 1, 2.) The teacher of the world sought thus to show, according to the inspiration of the indwelling Christ, that the yet tender faith of recently converted tribes should, as infancy with milk, be nourished with gentle commands, lest the still feeble heart, and terrified by the sterner commands, should reject the food already received.” Alcuin was able to recognise, in the mode in which Christ trained the Apostles and fitted them for their office, as He Himself describes 252 it, the model of all training and educating of nations and individuals in all succeeding centuries. He refers to the fact, that when Christ was asked why his disciples did not fast, he replied: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles, lest the bottles burst, and the new wine be spilled, and the bottles perish.” “You may gather hence,” he adds, “whether or no it is wise to impose on these savage tribes, in the commencement of their faith, the yoke of tithes, (the ecclesiastical impost, so hateful to the free Saxons;) whether the Apostles, taught by the Lord Christ himself, and sent forth to preach by him, ever demanded tithes, or ordered them to be demanded.” It should also be well attended to, that the office of preaching and the sacrament of baptism be used in the right way, lest the outward baptism of the body become useless, because not preceded by the knowledge of the faith in the reasoning soul. The Lord himself commands (Matt. xxviii, 19) that teaching should precede baptism. At due times the doctrines of the Gospel should frequently be repeated, until the man grow to perfect manhood, —until he become a worthy temple of the Holy Ghost, and a perfect child of God in works of mercy, as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In the same strain he writes to Arno, Bishop of Salzburg, to whom Charlemagne had committed the conversion of the Avari: “What avails baptism without faith? since the Apostle says, Without faith it is impossible to please God. It is on this 253account that the unhappy nation of the Saxons has so often abused the sacrament of baptism, because the foundation of faith was not laid in the heart. But this also we ought to acknowledge, that faith, as Saint Augustine says, is a thing of free will, not of constraint. How can a man be compelled to believe what he does not believe? Men may indeed be forced to the font but not to the faith. Man, endowed as he is with reason, must be instructed and led on by many teachings before he can perceive the truth of the faith. And especially must we seek the grace of the Almighty God on his behalf; for powerless is the tongue of the teacher, if divine grace does not penetrate the heart of the hearer, as the Truth himself saith, ‘No man can come unto Me except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him;’ and in another place, ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by Me;’ and of the Holy Spirit, ‘Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ For what the priest, in a visible way, does for the body by the baptism of water, the Holy Ghost does in an invisible way, through faith, for the soul. There are, in baptism, three visible and three invisible things. The visible: the priest, the body, and the water; the invisible: the spirit, the soul, and faith. These three visible things avail nothing by their outward operation, if the three invisible things do not work within. The priest washes the body with water; the Holy Ghost justifies the soul by faith.” After saying 254something similar to the letter quoted above, and quoting the words of Christ (Matt. ix, 17) to the same effect, he adds: “What else are the old bottles than those who are hardened in the delusions of heathenism? If, in the commencement of the preaching of the new faith, the sterner commandments are laid upon them, they fly off, and fall back into their old unbelief. The soul already long strengthened by faith, is far more capable of all good works, than one but just introduced into the new doctrine. The confession of Peter, after he had been filled with the new wine of the Spirit, before the emperor Nero in the imperial palace, is another thing to his answer to the maid in the house of Caiaphas. This Peter is an instance of human weakness—that, of the power of God. Christ reminded him of his high calling after His resurrection, in that he required from him a threefold confession of his love, and desired him to feed the sheep which He had purchased with His own blood; so that the good shepherd should acknowledge that suppliants should not always be chastised with harsh admonitions, but often their improvement sought through affectionate persuasions.”
To Meganfried, an imperial Privy Counsellor, Alcuin wrote: “We read in the Acts of the Apostles, that Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem, to James and the other Apostles, in order to consult how best the Gospel could be preached to the . heathen. And they resolved unanimously, 255that nothing of a legal yoke should be laid upon them. The Apostle of the Gentiles even glories in living by the work of his hands. This he did, that he might entirely remove from preachers of the Gospel all opportunities of selfish profit, so that only those who were inflamed with the love of Christ, might proclaim the Word of God, as He himself prescribes to his disciples: ‘Freely ye have received, freely give.’ If the gentle yoke and light burden of Christ were preached to the stiff-necked Saxon tribes, with the same zeal with which tithes and severe penalties for the pettiest offences are laid on them, they would probably not have contended so fiercely against baptism. May there arise at length teachers of the faith, moulded after the model of the Apostles,—preachers, not robbers; may they rely on the grace of Him who says, ‘Take no scrip, neither shoes.’” (Luke x, 5.) So also he writes to Archbishop Arno: “Be a preacher of godliness, not a tithe collector. The tithes have well-nigh ruined the faith of the Saxons. Why must a yoke be laid on these rude tribes, which neither we nor our brethren have been able to bear? Thus we trust that the souls of believers will be saved by faith in Christ.”256
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