Today, on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate another disciple of Christ, Robert Grosseteste (an interesting name, by the way, from the French Grosse Tête, which translates either “Big Head” or “Fat Head”!). He was born around 1175 into a peasant family from Suffolk. He distinguished himself at Oxford University in law, medicine, languages, natural sciences, and theology and became what is now called Chancellor of Oxford University.
In 1235, he was elected Bishop of Lincoln, geographically, the largest diocese in England. After his installation, he promptly visited all the churches in his diocese and quickly removed many of the prominent clergy because they were neglecting their pastoral duties. He insisted that his priests spend their time in prayer, study and in the service of their people. He spoke against unlawful usurpations of power by the monarchy, and was present at the signing of the Magna Carta.
His scholarly writings embraced many fields of learning. He translated into Latin the Ethics of Aristotle and the theological works of John of Damascus and of the fifth-century writer known as Dionysius the Areopagite. He was also skilled in writing poetry, composing music, architectural design, mathematics, astronomy, optics, and physics (one of his pupils was Roger Bacon). His writings on the first chapter of Genesis include an interesting anticipation of modern cosmological ideas. (He read that the first thing created was light, and said that the universe began with pure energy exploding from a point source.) Proficient in both Hebrew and Greek, his commentaries are a notable contribution to Biblical scholarship.
The dedicatory plaque on his tomb in his memorial chapel within Lincoln Cathedral reads,
He was a man of learning and an inspiration to scholars, a wise administrator while a true shepherd of his flock, ever concerned to lead them to Christ in whose service he strove to temper justice with mercy, hating the sin while loving the sinner, not sparing the rod though cherishing the weak.
Let us give thanks for his example and for accompanying us on this faith journey.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington