Mar 20, 2024



On paper, they seemed like an odd match. King Charlemagne was worldly and aggressive. Cleric Alcuin (735-804) was gentle and scholarly. One of Alcuin’s contemporaries described him as “the most learned man anywhere to be found.” Charlemagne invited Alcuin to join his court as a scholar in residence in 781AD. Alcuin taught at the palace school, which included Charlemagne’s sons. Alcuin was a one-man liberal arts machine. His syllabus included Bible, classical Greek and Roman authors, rhetoric, grammar, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. He became one of Charlemagne’s trusted advisors. Alcuin showed respect to the king yet also openly disagreed with him. While they shared mutual respect, there was room for dissent. Case in point: Alcuin successfully persuaded the overzealous king to stop executing persons who refused to be baptized. Charlemagne appointed Alcuin to lead the St. Martin’s Monastery (France) in 796 AD. Alcuin wrote in a letter to the king, “I, your Flaccus (Alcuin’s Latin name) am doing as you have urged and wished. To some who are beneath the roof of St. Martin, I am striving to dispense the honey of Holy Scripture; to others I am eager to intoxicate with the wine of apples of grammatical refinement; and there are some whom I long to adorn with the knowledge of astronomy.” Alcuin composed his own epitaph and described himself with the words, “Alcuin was my name, learning I loved.” He loved learning for its own sake, rather than what he could get out of it. Most germane to our prayer focus, he recognized a reciprocal relationship between Bible reading and prayer. When we pray, we talk to God. When we read, God speaks to us. Alcuin leads us to pray:

O eternal Light, shine into our hearts.O eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil.
O eternal Power, be our support.
O eternal Wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance.
O eternal Pity, have mercy on us.
Grant that with all our hearts, and minds, and strength,
we may always seek your face.
In your infinite mercy, bring us into your holy presence.
Strengthen our weakness
that we follow in the footsteps of your blessed Son,
obtain your mercy and enter your promised joy.

Erin Doom “Alcuin of York, Letters, Poem, Epitaph”

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.