February 4: Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg, Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, 865

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About this commemoration

Anskar (Latinized as Ansgarius) was one of those valiant Christians of whom it might be said, “These shall plant the seed, but others shall reap the harvest.” As Archbishop of Hamburg, he was papal legate for missionary work among the Scandinavians. The immediate result of his devoted and perilous labors was slight: two churches established on the border of Denmark and one priest settled in Sweden. He also participated in the consecration of Gotbert, first bishop in Sweden.

Anskar was born in Corbie, France, in 801, and educated in the outstanding monastic school there. His teaching skill led him to be chosen master of a new monastery school, sent out by Corbie, in Saxon Germany. His strongest call, however, was to be a missionary.

He was stirred, his biographer Rimbert says, by a prolonged vision, in which a voice said, “Go and return to me crowned with martyrdom.” When King Harald of Denmark sought missionaries for that country in 826, Anskar was one of those selected. Rimbert notes that Anskar’s missionary purpose caused astonishment. Why should he wish to leave his brothers to deal with “unknown and barbarous folk?” Some of the brethren tried to deter him; others considered him a freak.

Steadfast in his resolve, Anskar established a school and mission in Denmark, working conscientiously but unsuccessfully to convert and evangelize. He was not totally discouraged. Another vision appeared, with a voice saying, “Go and declare the work of God to the nations.” Shortly afterward (about 829), he was called to Sweden and eagerly accepted. Meager aid both from the monastery and the emperor frustrated his efforts.

While still a young man, Anskar was consecrated Archbishop of Hamburg in 831, and continued his work among the Scandinavians until 848, when he retired to the See of Bremen. The seeds of his efforts were not to bear fruit until over one hundred years later, when Viking devastation, weakness in the Frankish Church, and the lowest ebb of missionary enthusiasm, came to an end. The rich harvest of conversion was three generations away. Nevertheless, Anskar is looked upon by Scandinavians as their apostle.

I    Almighty and everlasting God, who didst send thy servant Anskar as an apostle to the people of Scandinavia, and didst enable him to lay a firm foundation for their conversion, though he did not see the results of his labors: Keep thy Church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when thou hast begun a good work thou wilt bring it to a fruitful conclusion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II    Almighty and everlasting God, you sent your servant Anskar as an apostle to the people of Scandinavia, and enabled him to lay a firm foundation for their conversion, though he did not see the results of his labors: Keep your Church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when you have begun a good work you will bring it to a fruitful conclusion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Anskar


Zephaniah 3:9–12

Acts 1:1–9

Mark 6:7–13

Psalm 69:13–16

Preface of Apostles

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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6 thoughts on “February 4: Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg, Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, 865

  1. Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg, Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, 865
    Anskar has been an important figure to me as a priest whose ministry was spent in small churches where it frequently seemed measurable progress and needed change was kept strictly under control by the combined efforts of the “Commission for the Preservation of Homeostasis” and the “Saint Moribund Guild.” The collect’s petition has been a cornerstone of encouragement and trust in the principle that the Church’s ministry is only properly measured by reference to God’s will and purposes, not the number of dollars in the till or of people in the pew: “keep your Church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when you have begun a good work you will bring it to a fruitful conclusion.” In a time such as the church finds itself in at present, with a crisis of faith endemic in the culture, and a false hope for salvation through technology, nationalistic chauvinism, and materialistic assumptions about what makes for a good life and a good world, many ministries and faith communities, from national programs to tiny rural parishes, are beset with “discouragement in the day of small things.” I love this commemoration and, with another priest, have adopted it (with a smile) as our patronal festival.
    The biography is more than adequate (except for the “freak” reference). The one element I wish were revealed is HOW Anskar’s unsuccessful ministry provided “a firm foundation for their conversion” “over 100 years later.” That, of course, depends on IF the assumption is true, and God’s providing the result is not the entire teaching and guidance to be derived from the commemoration. My fear is that there’s no answer to my question; his prominence being simply retrojected in the heady exuberance of later successes. The biography doesn’t explain the “how” – it merely maintains the claim that he somehow sowed seeds that later provided a harvest.
    COLLECT: There’s no “so that” clause, but the petition is nevertheless a prayer worth praying.
    LESSONS: We probably needed a Scripture Index in HWHM so we could see where and how frequently various passages were assigned, especially when recommending changes. I don’t find the Zephaniah selection a felicitous choice. I suggest an alternative from Isaiah (see below).
    Zephaniah 3:9–12 (Appointed)
    9 At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.
    10 From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, my scattered ones, shall bring my offering.
    11 On that day you shall not be put to shame because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
    12 For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD—
    Isaiah 49:1-6 (Suggested alternative)
    49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
    2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
    3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
    4 But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”
    5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength–
    6 he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
    The Psalm: Psalm 69 would have been a good selection yesterday, with all its “waters up to my neck,” and “do not let me sink” references (Dorchester Chaplains). For Anskar I just don’t see it as strongly apropos: they murmur about me, drunkards sing about me, do not let me sink, let me be rescued from those who hate me – who would that be, the “brothers” who called Anskar a freak? The most pertinent phrase is “at the time you have set, O LORD.” Beyond that, I don’t see these verses as a “fit.” I have printed it, and an alternative suggestion, below. Psalm 108:1-6 seems more in tune with a dedicated and persistent missionary trust in God, and 108:3 and 6 seem especially apropos for Anskar.
    Psalm 69:13–16 BCP (Appointed)
    13 Those who sit at the gate murmur about me,* and the drunkards make songs about me.
    14 But as for me, this is my prayer to you,* At the time you have set, O LORD:
    15 “In your great mercy, O God,* answer me with your unfailing help.
    16 Save me from the mire; do not let me be sink;* let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
    Psalm 108:1-6 BCP (Suggested alternative)
    1. My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed;* I will sing and make melody.
    2. Wake up, my spirit; awake, lute and harp;* I myself will waken the dawn.
    3. I will confess you among the people, O LORD;* I will sing praises to you among the nations.
    4. For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens,* and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
    5. Exult yourself above the heavens, O God,* and your glory over all the earth.
    6. So that those who are dear to you may be delivered,* save with your right hand and answer me.
    Second Reading: I’m not sure how to take the reading appointed from Acts. Partly, it summarizes the Christian preaching, but with a radically succinct selectivity. Verse 7, on the other hand, could apply to Anskar’s not being privileged to know if or when his work would bear fruit. It may be perfectly adequate and I wouldn’t go read Aquinas in protest if it remained unchanged, but I provided an alternative selection from Revelation 22:1-6, a vision of the Heavenly City, the water and tree of life, the vision of God, and the implication of eternal life with God. Other readings may be equally good or better selections for the commemoration, but this one seemed good to me.
    Acts 1:1–9 (Appointed selection)
    Acts 1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning
    2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
    3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
    4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;
    5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
    6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
    7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
    8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
    9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
    Rev. 22:1-6 (Alternate suggestion)
    22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
    2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
    3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;
    4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
    5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
    6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
    The gospel selection seems good as it is, except that Anakar didn’t “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” when they didn’t receive him. But, he was following Plan B. I do think verse 13 doesn’t quite fit the commemoration, but it belongs with this reading and if it were to be left off to make it more amenable to the Anskar story, that would be a dishonest use of scripture. (Sorry, no alternative suggestion.)
    Mark 6:7–13
    7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
    8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;
    9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
    10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.
    11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
    12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.
    13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

  2. Rather than the “freak” reference, how about something like, “Rimbert notes that Anskar’s missionary purpose caused astonishment among his fellow monks. Why should he wish to leave his brothers to deal with “unknown and barbarous folk?” The brethren tried to dissuade him, and some even mocked him for considering such a mission.”
    John’s comment on “sowing the seeds” is on target. It’s not that Anskar’s efforts bore delayed fruit, as I don’t think anyone’s found an institutional link between Anskar’s ministry and the later successful missions. It’s just that after other missionaries had brought to fruition the task he had been forced to abandon, the churches they planted adopted Anskar as their apostle. It’s like the Diocese of North Carolina tracing its foundation to the Roanoke Island colony, but if the conceit pleases the Swedes, who are we to object?

  3. In the sub-title, I suggest deleting his episcopal status. The other words express why he is included here. That he served as Archbishop of Hamburg appears early in the text, and in the fifth paragraph..

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