ROBERT GROSSETESTE, (c. 1175-1253)
A History of Preaching
F. R. Webber

More eminent than Stephen Langton, and among English Franciscans ranking second only to Roger Bacon in intellectual gifts was Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln. He was a theologian, philosopher, a leading authority on Aristotle, an educator, reformer, statesman, patriot and sharp critic of both kings and popes. Roger Bacon gives him a place as one of the foremost scientists of the age. Not only was he an eminent preacher himself, but while a teacher of homiletics at Oxford he trained men who became some of the leading preachers of the thirteenth century.

This remarkable man of wide learning was born about the year 1175 at Stradbroke, Suffolk, he studied at Oxford and is said to have continued his education in Paris; and when the Franciscans established themselves in Oxford in 1224, Friar Agnellus, the provincial, invited Grosseteste to become a lecturer to the friars. Thomas de Eccleston speaks highly of his ability and says, "under him they made extraordinary progress in sermons, as well as in subtile moral themes suitable for preaching." Grosseteste was a secular priest at this time, and a man not quite 50 years of age. Later his name appears as prebend of Lincoln, and then archdeacon of Wilts, Northants, and Leicester.

In 1235 he became bishop of Lincoln, and at once set up a systematic series of visitations during which he found considerable irregularity among his priests. Those who were unfaithful he sought to reform, and he removed seven abbots, four priors and his own dean, and suspended the prior of Lincoln. He laid great stress upon faithfulness in the performance of duty, and where there was slothfulness in the matter of instruction and in preaching, he did not hesitate to deal with such cases. In 1250 he visited Lyons, where he delivered a sharp sermon in which he criticized freely the papal court, in which he found the origin of many evils which had crept into the Church. When the pontiff sought to appoint Italians to English benefices, Grosseteste protested immediately, and in a letter to the Pope he declared that it is the duty of the Roman pontiff to build up the English Church and not to destroy it. He was equally ready to resist the English King, and when the monarch issued decrees that Grosseteste considered harmful to the Church, he refused to recognize them.

Robert Grosseteste left an enormous number of writings. A printed list of his works fills no less than 25 large pages. At least 40 of his sermons remain, and they show him to have been a man of wide learning, of courage, and possessed of skill in exposition. He considered the study of languages part of the necessary equipment of an educated clergyman, and through his influence there was a remarkable awakening of interest in ancient and contemporary languages. Like Luther he loved music, and entertained his friends with the harp. He has been called one of the forerunners of the Reformation, and his warning against the papal system, uttered during his last illness, has been quoted freely by Protestant writers and denied just as emphatically by Roman Catholics. At least six biographies of this eminent man have been published.

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