Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On the Feast of Alcuin

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, in a rude and barbarous age you raised up your deacon Alcuin to rekindle the light of learning: Illumine our minds, we pray, that amid the uncertainties and confusions of our own time we may show forth your eternal truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I think of the nameless host of Deacons who've faithfully served the Kingdom of God and its saints since the birth of the Church. Stephen and Phillip are easily remembered as two of the seven original Deacons; Phillip for his Martyrdom and Phillip for his missionary efforts. Other Deacons and Deaconesses have largely faded into anonymity.
The Deacon, Alcuin of York (and later of Tours) is one Deacon who's memory and service is remembered on May 20th. Born in A.D. 730 in York, Alcuin was a student of the Venerable Bebe. He was ordained a Deacon and made Headmaster of the Cathedral school in York. His reputation spread to the continent where the Emperor Charlemagne appointed the Deacon as his Minister of Education.
Alcuin served his Emperor well, having established a number of schools at Cathedrals and Monasteries across the empire. Within this effort, Alcuin established scriptoria, dedicated to the copying and preservation of Christian and pagan works. The Deacon has also been credited with the creation of cursive script, which made for more efficient copy (and frustrating elementary school children to this day.) We could conclude that without his faithful efforts, much of our knowledge of antiquity may have been lost forever.
I see a powerful figure in the Deacon Alcuin. Rather than settling for a life of cloistered contemplation, Alcuin not only engaged his world but transformed it. His influence on Charlemagne was a watershed moment within the first millennium. Knowledge, literacy and culture where not only preserved, but transmitted from antiquity onto (by extension) our own age.

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