The Secular Clergy Supplanted by the Monks

Book 2, Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair from 955 AD to 975 – Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy

The poor canons pleaded hard for a little time to consider of this, cruel alternative, but the unrelenting prelate would not allow them one moment. A few complied, and took the habits, but the far greater number chose rather to become beggars than forsake their wives and children, for which conduct the monkish historians give them most opprobrious names. To countenance these tyrannical proceedings, Dunstan and his’ associates represented the married clergy as monsters of wickedness for cohabiting with their wives, magnified celibacy as the only state becoming the sanctity of the sacerdotal office, and propagated a thousand lies of miracles and visions to its honour, of which the following is a specimen.

A monk, named Floberht, who had been appointed abbot of Pershore, a monastery out of which the secular canons had been turned by Oswald, was a most prodigious zealot for the monastic institutions, but in other respects of a very indifferent character. This abbot fell sick, and died, and when all the monks of his own monastery, with Germanus, abbot of Winchelcomb, and many others, were standing about his corpse, to their great astonishment, he raised himself up, and looked around him. All the monks were struck with terror, and fled, except Germanus, who asked his brother abbot, what he had seen? And what had brought him back to life? To which the other answered, that he had been introduced into heaven by St. Benedict, that God had pardoned all his sins for the merits of his beloved darling, Oswald, bishop of Worcester, and had sent him back to acquaint the world, that Oswald was one of the greatest saints that ever lived.

Being asked further by Germanus, what kind of figure St. Benedict made in heaven, how he was dressed, and how attended? He answered, that St. Benedict was one of the handsomest and best dressed saints in heaven, shining with precious stones, and attended by innumerable multitudes of monks and nuns, who were all perfect beauties. This was calculated to answer the purposes for which it was invented in that age of ignorance and credulity. By these and various other arts, Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, Oswald, bishop of Worcester, and Ethelwald, bishop of Winchester, in the course of a few years, filled no fewer than forty eight monasteries with monks of the Benedictine order. Under the auspices of these three prelates was commenced that wide extension of the monastic system which the venerable Bede dreaded, so that in a period less than a generation the number of monks had increased to such an extent that there were not left enough men to guard the country, and thus the way was prepared for renewed and more successful attacks by the Danes. Besides this weakening of the defences of the kingdom, the church had come to acquire more than a third of its landed property, which was exempt from taxes, and an order of things was being established in which the clerical interests were regarded as separate from, and opposed to, those of the commonwealth.

Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair


Origin of Anglo Saxon Surnames

Conflicting Testimony Concerning Edwy

Incident on His Coronation Day

Treatment of Elgiva

Edgar the Pacific

Chapter 8, Origin of Monasteries in England

Introduction of Celibacy

Their Rules and Practice

The Benedictines

Chapter 8, Dunstan

Sketch of Dunstan

His Alleged Visions and Miracles

Becomes Abbot, Bishop and Archbishop

Chapter 8, Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy

His Character and Policy

Aided by Bishops Oswald and Ethelwald

The Secular Clergy Supplanted by the Monks

King Edgar’s Private Life

The Worth of the Eulogies Pronounced on Him by the Monks

The Canons of Edgar

His Position Among the Anglo-Saxon Kings

Policy Towards the Danes of Northumbria


Categories: Book 2

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