Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, Missionary of Frisia, 739

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About The Commemoration

 

We know about Willibrord’s life and missionary labors through a notice in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and a biography by his younger kinsman, Alcuin. He was born in Northumbria about 658, and from the age of seven was brought up and educated at Bishop Wilfrid’s monastery at Ripon. For twelve years, 678-690, he studied in Ireland, where he acquired his thirst for missionary work.

In 690, with twelve companions, he set out for Frisia (the Netherlands), a pagan area that was increasingly coming under the domination of the Christian Franks. There Bishop Wilfrid and a few other Englishmen had made short missionary visits, but with little success. With the aid of the Frankish rulers, Willibrord established his base at Utrecht, and in 695 Pope Sergius ordained him a bishop and gave him the name Clement.

In 698 he founded the monastery of Echternach, near Trier. His work was frequently disturbed by the conflict of the pagan Frisians with the Franks, and for a time he left the area to work among the Danes. For three years, 719-722, he was assisted by Boniface, who at a later time came back to Frisia to strengthen the mission. In a very real sense, Willibrord prepared the way for Boniface’s more successful achievements  by his relations with the  Franksish rulers and he papacy, who thus became joint sponsors of missionary work. He died at Echternach, November 7, 739.

 

Collects

I. O Lord our God, who dost call whom thou willest and send them where thou choosest: We thank thee for sending thy servant Willibrord to be an apostle to the Low Countries, to turn them from the worship of idols to serve thee, the living God; and we entreat thee to preserve us from the temptation to exchange the perfect freedom of thy service for servitude to false gods and to idols of our own devising; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II. O Lord our God, you call whom you will and send them where you choose: We thank you for sending your servant Willibrord to be an apostle to the Low Countries, to turn them from the worship of idols to serve you, the living God; and we entreat you to preserve us from the temptation to exchange the perfect freedom of your service for servitude to false gods and to idols of our own devising; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Psalm 115:9-15

Lessons

Isaiah 55:1-5

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

 

Preface of Apostles

13 Responses to Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, Missionary of Frisia, 739

  1. John LaVoe says:

    “and he papacy” — THE papacy.

  2. Michael Hartney says:

    Psalm: I have commented before, but I just don’t like reading ‘middle’ verses of a Psalm. It is just awkward for the congregation. Could we at least include verses 16-18? It is just three more and would get it to the end.

  3. Steve Lusk says:

    If saints must share dates, then Willibrord and Boniface are a far better pairing than many of HWHM’s odd couples . . . They were actually colleagues for a time (although Boniface never quite mastered playing well with others), and Boniface’s later ministry was an extension eastward of Willibrord’s work.

  4. John LaVoe says:

    Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, Missionary of Frisia, 739
    .
    In regard to use in prayer (Noonday Prayer, without these readings) I didn’t find this commemoration at all engaging, which surprises me because apart from time & place his story shares some elements I find very engaging in the Anakar commemoration. Yet, not so with Willibrord. I wish I could explain if this is attributable to (a) following an intensely familiar commemoration (Wm Temple), (b) characteristics about the write-up itself, or (c) the inherent content of Willibrord’s life and ministry.
    .
    In terms of the write-up itself, I do find it infelicitous to begin with a footnote rather than a strong statement of who he was and what he did that was important (i.e., information about Bede and Alcuin, and nothing about Willibrord himself). If it’s necessary to cite sources, hold that to a less prominent point.
    .
    The second paragraph strikes me as convoluted in describing his destination as, ”a pagan area that was increasingly coming under the domination of the Christian Franks.“ (“Domination” makes it sound like a political and/or military campaign. “Increasingly coming under” sound redundant and wordy.) It leaves me unsure how to take the gist of that statement regarding Willibrord’s role in such a campaign: is he there as a missionary or what?
    .
    The next sentence is almost an aside, having little of no direct connection to, or relevance in, Willibrord’s work. “(Bishop Wilfrid and a few other Englishmen had made short missionary visits, but with little success.“) The reference to “a few other Englishmen” sounds either intentionally vague or carelessly blasé. (Why mention them if they don’t really matter at all?)
    .
    The third sentence feels solid up to the word “Utrecht” but oddly unconnected with the rest of the sentence (“With the aid of the Frankish rulers, Willibrord established his base at Utrecht, and in 695 Pope Sergius ordained him a bishop and gave him the name Clement”). If there is a connection, it’s certainly not explained. The part about being named “Clement” is anticlimactic and irrelevant to the utmost, or why aren’t we celebrating “Clement of Utrecht” today?
    .
    In the third paragraph, the lead sentence is fine, but the following one disorients me again (“His work was frequently disturbed by the conflict of the pagan Frisians with the Franks, and for a time he left the area to work among the Danes.”) Of what general nature is the “disturbance”? Is he being attacked, preached against by pagans, are his followers being killed, is a revolutionary war waging, is he just generally annoyed by pagan opinions about Franks? And, in the second part of the sentence where he leaves the area to work among the Danes, is it a strategic retreat (i.e., does he leave because of the pagan Frisians) or is he simply moving on to a further missionary challenge among the Danes? There’s a looseness in the narrative that reminds me of “I made a snowman, and my brother knocked it down, and I knocked my brother down, and then we had tea.” I’d like to know how these pieces fit together.
    .
    Again, the sequencing throws me off balance in the sentence “For three years, 719-722, he was assisted by Boniface, who at a later time came back to Frisia to strengthen the mission.” Now I’m not sure if Boniface helped him with the Danes (the last thing mentioned) or the Franks, and if together they actually accomplished anything, or if that waited until Willibrord was off the scene and Boniface came back to mop up, so to speak.
    .
    Of the remaining two sentences, the final one is clear, apt, and fits its position in the bio — (“He died at Echternach, November 7, 739.“) The prior sentence, however, seems more like an overview that would be helpful towards the beginning of the essay; (“In a very real sense, Willibrord prepared the way for Boniface’s more successful achievements by his relations with the Franksish rulers and he papacy, who thus became joint sponsors [with Willibrord] of missionary work.”) I do notice, nevertheless, that “his relations with the Frankish rulers and the papacy” are never detailed to the point of explaining their relevance in this story.
    .
    The Collects seem less than well worded to me, although the ideas expressed seem fine. The other readings seem well chosen except that I do find it odd, in a commemoration dealing with idolatry, that the part of the Psalm dealing dramatically and explicitly with idolatry is specifically omitted (vv. 3-8).

    3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
    4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
    5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
    6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
    7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
    they make no sound in their throats.
    8 Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.

    I suppose I would omit this commemoration based on my response to it, which is probably a premature reaction on my part. Failing that, I would like to see it undergo a thorough re-write.

  5. John LaVoe says:

    Regarding the title, are missionaries “of” or “to”? I haven’t looked at others in HWHM to see which style prevails. This one says he’s missionary “of” Frisia.

    • Michael Hartney says:

      I have checked all of the other title regarding Missionaries.
      When they go to other countries it is ‘to’; when they stay home (example: Patrick) it is ‘of’ or in the case of Jackson Kemper it is ‘in.’
      One non-conforming one is Lottie Moon (a favorite among the Baptists). She is styled as a ‘Missionary in China.’ That seems odd since she was not Chinese. I will try to remember that comment when her day comes up on December 22.

      • Michael Hartney says:

        And I guess according to this review, I would agree that Willibrord should be a Missionary toFrisia as he was not a Frisian himself.

  6. John LaVoe says:

    In my first paragraph, where I typed “Anakar” I meant to type “Anskar.” Sorry.

    • djgrieser says:

      Boniface should be commemorated with Leoba. Boniface asked that they be buried in the same tomb in Fulda, but the scandalized monks refused. It’s said she haunted the church until they moved her tomb closer to his.

  7. djgrieser says:

    On the appropriateness of a commemoration of Willibrord–the biography seems to downplay his significance (we know of him from Bede and Alcuin; Boniface’s work was more successful). Willibrord is important in his own right. The Franks were expanding their influence which brought them into conflict with the Frisian, whose reputation for military prowess dated back to the Romans. The attempt to pacify them by Christianizing them was a tactic that would be used as well when Charles the Great came into conflict with the Saxons. Perhaps Willibrord’s greatest legacy was establishing the Archbishopric of Utrecht. He is known as “The Apostle to the Frisians.”

  8. Suzanne Sauter says:

    Please give more detail about the location of Ripon. Please include North Yorkshire, England. If not, then please give its location among the 7th-8th century Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

    Utrecht is probably well enough known that the fact that it is in the modern Netherlands does not need to be mentioned.

    The village of Echternach and its abbey are less well known. It would be helpful to know that the town is now in Luxembourg. The town is located on the Sauer River which separates Luzembourg from modern Germany. The abbey was under the supervision of the see of Trier, which is now in Germany. The fact that Trier was an important church north of the Alps, and important in the conversion of pagan tribes of north Europe to Christianity needs to be mentioned.

    The reference to the “Danes” is a bit confusing for me. I think during the period of St. Willibrord, the “Danes” were actually Angles and so was St. Willibrord. Admittedly my knowlege of early medieval history is a bit lacking.

    On the whole, the biography of Willibrord is so short that it could be filled out a bit so that the “average” Episcopalian could understand more about St. Willibrord’s importance in the Christianization of northwestern Europe.

  9. I like the collect. The attitude of freedom in serving Christ is in contrast to serving idols. False gods and idols may look different today, but we certainly get taken in by advertising and a culture that would have us on a perpetual treadmill to appease today’s gods. Empty but powerful are idols if we don’t focus on God with a big g.

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