John the Baptist (Wickhambreaux, Kent)
Augustinus se wisa us manað mid þisum wordum, and cwyð, "Besceawiað, ic bidde eow, mine gebroðra, mid gleawnysse hu wræcfull ðis andwyrde lif is; and ðeah ge ondrædað eow þæt ge hit to hrædlice forlæton. Ge lufiað þis lif, on ðam þe ge mid geswince wuniað; ðu hogast embe ðine neode; ðu yrnst, and byst geancsumod; þu erast, and sæwst, and eft gegaderast; þu grinst, and bæcst; þu wyfst, and wæda tylast, and earfoðlice wast ealra ðinra neoda getel, ægðer ge on sæ ge on lande, and scealt ealle þas foresædan ðing, and eac ðin agen lif mid earfoðnysse geendian. Leorniað nu forði, þæt ge cunnon þæt ece lif geearnian, on ðam ðe ge nan ðyssera geswinca ne ðrowiað, ac on ecnysse mid Gode rixiað."
On ðisum life we ateoriað, gif we us mid bigleofan ne ferciað; gif we ne drincað, we beoð mid þurste fornumene; gif we to lange waciað, we ateoriað; gif we lange standað, we beoð gewæhte, and þonne sittað; eft, gif we to lange sittað, us slapað ða lima. Sceawiað eac æfter ðisum, þæt nan stede nis ures lichaman: cildhad gewit to cnihthade, and cnihthad to geðungenum wæstme; se fulfremeda wæstm gebyhð to ylde, and seo yld bið mid deaðe geendod. Witodlice ne stent ure yld on nanre staþolfæstnysse, ac swa micclum swa se lichama wext swa micclum beoð his dagas gewanode. Gehwær is on urum life ateorung, and werignys, and brosnung ðæs lichaman, and ðeah-hwæðere wilnað gehwa þæt he lange lybbe. Hwæt is lange lybban buton lange swincan? Feawum mannum gelimpð on ðisum dagum, þæt he gesundfull lybbe hund-eahtatig geara, and swa hwæt swa he ofer ðam leofað, hit bið him geswinc and sarnyss, swa swa se witega cwæð, "Yfele sind ure dagas," and ðæs þe wyrsan þe we hi lufiað. Swa olæcð þes middangeard forwel menige, þæt hi nellað heora wræcfulle lif geendian. Soð lif and gesælig þæt is, þonne we arisað of deaðe, and mid Criste rixiað. On ðam life beoð gode dagas, na swa-ðeah manega dagas, ac an, se nat nænne upspring ne nane geendunge, ðam ne fyligð merigenlic dæg, forðan ðe him ne forestop se gysternlica; ac se an dæg bið ece æfre ungeendod butan ælcere nihte, butan gedreccednyssum, butan eallum geswincum þe we hwene ær on ðyssere rædinge tealdon. Þes dæg and þis lif is behaten rihtwisum cristenum, to ðam us gelæde se mildheorta Drihten, seðe leofað and rixað mid Fæder and mid Halgum Gaste a butan ende. Amen.
Augustine the wise exhorts us with these words, and says, "Consider, I pray you, my brothers, with wisdom, how wretched this present life is - and yet you are frightened that you will have to leave it too quickly! You love this life, in which you dwell with labour. You worry about your needs; you run around, and are seized with anxiety; you plough, and sow, and then gather; you grind and bake; you weave and make clothes, and with difficulty know the number of all your needs, whether on sea or on land; and all these things, and your own life too, with great hardship will end. Learn now, then, so that you may be able to earn the eternal life, in which you will suffer none of these troubles, but will reign with God in eternity."
In this life we grow faint, if we do not sustain ourselves with food. If we do not drink, we are destroyed by thirst. If we stay awake too long, we faint. If we stand up for a long time, we grow tired, and sit; then, if we sit too long, our limbs go to sleep. And consider after this, that there is no stability in our body: childhood passes to boyhood, and boyhood to full growth; full growth bows to age, and age is ended by death. Truly our age stands in no stable place, but by as much as the body grows, so much are its days lessened. Everywhere in our life are faintness and weariness, and decay of the body; and yet every one desires that he may live long. What is it to live long, except to labour long? It happens to few in these days to live in good health for eighty years, and whatever he lives more than that, it is labour and sorrow to him, as the prophet said, "Evil are our days," - and the worse is, that we love them! This world so flatters very many, that they are unwilling to end this wretched life. A true and blessed life it will be, when we arise from death and reign with Christ. In that life there will be good days - yet not many days, but one, which knows no rising nor no ending; which no tomorrow follows, because no yesterday went before; but the one day will be for ever unending, without any night, without afflictions, without all the labours which we have just been speaking of in this sermon. This day and this life are promised to righteous Christians; may we be led to it by the merciful Lord who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost ever without end. Amen.
This is the end of a sermon by Ælfric for the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, kept on 29 August. For these concluding paragraphs his source (as he tells us with his reference to 'Augustine the wise') is this sermon by St Augustine - though the theme is universal. You can read the rest of Ælfric's sermon here. Containing as it does strictures on the wickedness of women and the celebration of birthdays (!), it's not Ælfric at his most amiable; but these last two paragraphs are just beautiful writing. Cildhad gewit to cnihthade, and cnihthad to geðungenum wæstme; se fulfremeda wæstm gebyhð to ylde, and seo yld bið mid deaðe geendod. Or: On ðam life beoð gode dagas; na swa-ðeah manega dagas, ac an, se nat nænne upspring ne nane geendunge, ðam ne fyligð merigenlic dæg, forðan ðe him ne forestop se gysternlica. 'No ends or beginnings, but one equal eternity.'
Blessing for the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist
(Benedictional of St Æthelwold, BL Additional 49598, f.104v)