EFFIGIES and MARKERS

Friday, September 19, 2008

Alfred the Great

by Christy K. Robinson

My ancestor was the ninth-century Alfred the Great, King of England. Although there’s no King Alfred Version, he’s one of the reasons that we have Bibles translated into everyday English.

Anglo-Saxon Alfred was born in 849 and spent most of his 50 years of life fighting with Viking invaders. When peace had been accomplished in southern Britain, Alfred finally had time to pursue an education. And not only for himself, but he compelled his officials, his daughters (who became European queens), and even the clergy, to learn to read. As a boy, he’d learned to read and write in Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, but now he set out to learn Latin so he could read the Bible, which was only available in Latin.

Above all, Alfred loved the Lord and wanted to know God’s wisdom and ways. The first Bibles in English, read in the everyday vernacular to people in the churches, were commissioned and partly translated by Alfred himself. In the fifth century, the Latin Vulgate (which hardly anyone could understand 400 years later) quoted Proverbs 18:4: “As deep waters, so are the words of a [wise] man.” Alfred put it in English: A very deep pool is dammed up in the wise man’s mind.

He set aside time daily to translate religious works into his notebooks. When he founded schools for his people, he translated biographies of saints, complete with dragons, miracles, and martyrdoms, action-adventure stories calculated to enthrall the ignorant and bring them back hungry for more.

He commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, going back to the Saxon invasion of England, and a running history that would be kept up until the fourteenth century. Alfred compiled laws for his war-torn kingdom, and based the code upon the Ten Commandments “given by God…fulfilled and interpreted by the love and compassion of His Son, the Healer, the Lord Christ; continued in the teachings of the Apostles, and thence down the ages by synods of the church and decrees of kings.”

Because he was so committed to righteousness for himself and his nation, Alfred created a renaissance of spirituality and enlightenment. He loved and lived God’s Word, and brought God’s Word to light the darkness. And we thank God for his amazing vision and energy that gave us the first glimmer of light in our own language!

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