St Wulfstan

st-wulfstanBorn in 1008, Wulfstan began his career at Worcester as a monk in 1038 and then became Prior of the Benedictine Cathedral Priory. When the bishop of Worcester, Ealdred, became Archbishop of York, Wulfstan was appointed the position which he reluctantly accepted.

Saint Wulfstan was known for being a spiritual shepherd and comforter of the people. Wulfstan witnessed an unpleasant transition in the history of England: the transition from Saxon rule to the rough, oppressive Norman rule begun by William the Conqueror in 1066.

After the conquest, Wulfstan submitted to William I and to his new Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, rather than risk his position (most other Saxon bishops were deposed) and thus his relationship with the people he led. Wulfstan incorporated the rules of his previous monastic life into his role as bishop, running the diocese, and sometimes others when they were vacant as if he were following a rule. He composed a policy for episcopal visitations, rebuilt Worcester Cathedral, consecrated numerous churches encouraged to be patronized by local lords, and was famous for his charity and ministry to the poor and dispossessed. It was towards the end of his career that he cooperated with Lanfranc to end the capture and sale of English slaves at Bristol by Vikings. For his submission to the new regime and his passionate undertaking of the bishopric, he was trusted and valued by the first two Norman kings even though the court claimed he was unfit for his position as he could neither speak French and was “unlearned.” Whether the latter was true or not, his leadership, charity, and devotion are ample evidence of his holiness. He died in 1095 while washing the feet of the local poor. He was the last surviving Saxon bishop when he died and was immediately venerated as a saint.

St. Wulfstan reminds us of the tentativeness, weakness, and inhumanity of all human governments and regimes. For St. Wulfstan, a Saxon or a Norman king was of little importance though of great consequence, to his duty as shepherd and caretaker his people. Christ is the only perfect, just and eternal government, all others are stained by humanity’s innate sin and fleeting. Before Wulfstan passed the government of his country from one ruler to another. He chose not to side with one or the other but with Christ, the real and only King and continued his duties as laid out under his rules.

In another sense, bishops and priests of today should look to St. Wulfstan as a model of administration. Wulfstan followed a kind of “episcopal rule” (a phrase I am making up) which allowed him to fully integrate his life with his duties as bishop. Such a rule for today’s bishops and priests, whether it was one of evangelism, visitation, or ministry in particular, or each combined, would recast a much holier light on the episcopal office as it is and was once was the regarded the office of today’s apostles and heralds of the risen Christ.

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