Partners in mission

Daily Reading for February 4 • Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg, Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, 865

There can be no question of Anskar’s saintliness, according to the standard of any age of Christendom. His missionary zeal and courage, his uncomplaining patience, his generosity, his spirit of foundation, whether at home or abroad, his austere self-discipline and his diligence in the work of his calling were all striking features of his character. He struggled hard and successfully against two faults, a temptation to vainglory and to discontent, the latter caused by his failure to achieve actual martyrdom, a death which he thought had been promised him in a vision in early youth. His relations with Ebo, who might so readily have been regarded as his rival, seem to have been more than friendly. He clearly regarded Ebo as his counsellor and inspirer. He evidently felt the great importance and future possibilities of their joint mission, and he seems to have done his best to leave it as a legacy to be fostered by the whole Church of Germany.

Before his death he drew up a short account of the work of the mission, and sent a copy of it to each of the bishops in that part of the empire which was ruled by Lewis, King of Germany (840 A.D.—876 A.D.), who was the third son of the Emperor, Lewis the Pious, with the following touching letter. It will be observed that he makes no mention of himself in it, but only of Ebo and others who had helped the work:—

“In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity, Ansgar, Archbishop by the grace of God, to all the prelates of the Holy Church of God, that is to say, to those dwelling within the realm of King Lewis.

“I desire that you should know that in this little book is contained how that Ebo, Archbishop of Reims, inspired by the divine Spirit, in the days of our Lord Emperor Lewis, with his consent and that of a synod gathered from almost the whole Empire, went to Rome and there obtained from the venerable Pope Paschal public licence to preach the Gospel in the parts of the North; and how afterwards the Emperor Lewis promoted this work and showed himself bounteous and kind towards it in all ways; and the other circumstances which have attended this mission (legatio). Wherefore I make earnest prayers to you that you will intercede with God, so that this mission may be permitted to increase and bear fruit in the Lord. For already, both among the Danes and the Swedes, the Church of Christ has been founded, and our priests, without hindrance, discharge their proper office. I pray also that you will cause this letter to be preserved in your library for a perpetual memory; and that, as occasion shall serve you and your successors, when you shall have found it convenient, you will make it known to all men. May Almighty God make you partners in this work by your kind good will and joint heirs with Christ in heavenly glory.”

Notwithstanding this solemn appeal, little or nothing was done for Sweden by the German mission for seventy years after Anskar’s death. His successor and sympathetic biographer, Rimbert, did not indeed forget his old master’s work during the twenty-three years of his episcopate (865 A.D.—888 A.D.). But he lived in troubled times, and had to spend his resources largely in redeeming captives.

From The National Church of Sweden by John Wordsworth (London: Mowbray, 1911).

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