(Bishop, philosopher and scientist, 1253)
Psalm 55.22 (New International Version)
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Having read about Robert Grosseteste’s life these passages seem quite appropriate. He was a brilliant man – intellectual and a man of vision. A man of high standards who was unafraid to confront others when he saw the need.
Robert was born in Stowe (Suffolk), and educated at a cathedral school. This was possibly Hereford as he joined the household of the Bishop of Hereford in 1192. Robert was noted for his studies in liberal arts, canon law and medicine.
We don’t know much about his life from that point. The next time we hear about him is in 1225, when he was given a parish in the diocese of Lincoln. In 1229 he was made Archdeacon of Leicester, became a canon in Lincoln Cathedral, and taught theology in Oxford.
In 1232 he became seriously ill. He took this to be a sign that God was not happy with him holding more than one office at the same time. As a result, he resigned all his positions, except that of canon at the cathedral. In 1235, the cathedral chapter elected Robert as bishop, and he remained bishop of the largest diocese in England for the next 18 years.
Robert had a brilliant mind and wrote on many subjects including liberal arts, astronomy and cosmology. His writings include a tract on the theology of penance and confession. He aimed to produce theology that was not only useful to the ordinary parish priest but that also met the intellectual standards of academia.
At the time Oxford University was part of the Diocese of Lincoln and so he had responsibility for the oversight of theology teaching within the university. He influenced many students, particularly by his translations of Scripture and his emphasis on the necessity of understanding the Greek text.
Robert was also a brilliant but demanding church leader. His high standards for Christian practice and ministry landed him in a number of disputes with various parts of his diocese and his own cathedral chapter.
When the chapter refused to allow an inspection of the cathedral in 1239, he had to resort to a lengthy court case. During this court case he wrote a comprehensive manual of church leadership with particular emphasis upon the authority and role of leadership within the Church.
His high standards meant that he clashed with the Archbishop of Canterbury on more than one occasion. He saw the Archbishop of Canterbury as the principal cause of the then unhealthy state of the Church in England. He was also happy to lecture the Pope over the complacency and lethargy of the papal office when he appeared before the papal court in 1250!
I’d like to think that the bible passages I’ve selected both informed and sustained his life and his faith. The passages and Robert’s life also inspire and challenge us. May our lives be worthy of the call that God has placed on each of us. And may we speak up for our faith and speak out against injustice. May we not worry about what the world thinks but lean into God and his word.
I’d like to end with today’s collect
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face:
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
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