Cura Pastoralis preface (an Old English translation)

Hello, World!

I offered a little while ago to Jay to contribute some translations of Old English or other texts that he thought his readers might find interesting, and here’s the first one. It’s the first part of the preface that King Alfred the Great wrote to his translation of Pope Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis or Pastoral Care. I particularly like both the message of this text, as well as its graceful and euphonious rhythm. You can find the original Old English, as well as a tighter, almost word-by-word translation here. Enjoy! -nasa

Ælfred King bids Wærferth Bishop be greeted by his loving and friendly words; And I bid you to know that it comes very often into my mind, what wise people there used to be among us, both of the religious and the secular; And how blissful the times were then throughout England; And how the kings who held the people’s rulership heeded God and his representatives, and they maintained both peace, and right, and order within their borders, and also expanded their rule outwards; And how they succeeded and prospered both in might and in understanding; And how the clergy were eager both for learning and for lore, and eager too in all the services which it was right they render unto God; And how, if anyone desired knowledge and learning, they would come to us, and seek it here in our land; And how now we must go out from here and seek them abroad, if we would have those things at all. So completely had everything fallen in England that there were awfully few among us South of the Humber who could understand their masses [as well as if they were in ?] English, or even a brief jotting of Latin translate, and I suspect that there weren’t many beyond the Humber, neither. So few had even this little bit of learning that I can’t think of even a single one who was South of the Thames when I took office. Thank God we have any teachers at all now. For all this, then, I would ask that you do what I would love for you to do, and free yourself, as often as you can, from worldly things, and wherever you might plant the wisdom which God gave to you, plant it. Remember what punishments came upon us in this world, when we neither loved it ourselves, nor preserved it for others. Of being “Christian”, we loved only the name, and very few of the habits.

When all this recalled itself to me, then I remembered too how I saw, before it all pillaged was and burnt down, how the churches throughout England stood full of treasures and books, and also of so many of God’s servants; And yet they so awfully little use of those books ever found, because they couldn’t get a whit from them, just because they weren’t written in their own language. It’s as if they said: “Our elders — they who held these places before us — loved wisdom, and through it they made for themselves prosperity, and left it to us, but we are unable to follow after them, and therefore we have now surrendered both the weal and the wisdom, because we would not incline ourselves to the path they followed.”

When all these thoughts came to me, then I wondered greatly about the good wise people who used to be within England, and all the books that they had learned to the full, that they wouldn’t any part of them translate into their own language. But then, immediately I answered myself back again and said: “It never occurred to them — they never imagined — that people could become so reckless, and that knowledge should fall down so low: they purposely left these texts, wishing that there would be the more wisdom in our land, the more languages that we knew.”

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