Caedmon was an illiterate English cow-herd who was given a miraculous gift to compose beautiful verses – as long as they were on Biblical subjects. His Hymn of the creation of the world is thought to have been composed between 658 and 680 A.D. and the fragment that remains is the oldest English poem we have. Old English, that is. Scholars can make it out, but most of us require a translation.
One thing I like about Caedmon’s poem is that it is an early effort to make the Bible accessible to regular folks. Few people had access to the written word, and spreading the Word in a popular medium at this time kept it from being a locked-up, unused, dusty book.
The gift was considered miraculous not just because of the quality of the verses. Caedmon had never had any talent as a singer or song writer before in his life, and he wasn’t a young man. In fact, public performance was a seriously embarrassing problem for him. It was the custom in his community during parties and celebrations to pass the harp around and show off one’s skill at singing and versifying. When the harp got a little too close to Caedmon’s end of the room, he’d slink off to avoid the issue. After one of these evenings, he went to the stable (deliberately) early to do night watch for the animals. When he fell asleep, he had a dream of a mysterious figure who came to him and asked him for a song. He explained that he couldn’t sing for beans and it was a big problem for him, but the figure insisted he sing. When he asked what subject to sing on, he was given “the creation of the world”.
In his dream, he was able to sing wonderfully. What’s a little more unusual is that when he woke up, he remembered the verses and could still sing! The gift continued. If Caedmon was told a Bible story, he could without problem turn it into wonderful verses without the slightest difficulty. The gift was limited to holy stories, however. He couldn’t do popular trash or secular stuff…
That’s another thing I like about it, and one reason I find the story convincing. I’ve heard of cases of illiterate people receiving the miraculous gift of being able to read without ever having learned. Inevitably, however, they seem unable to read anything but the Word of God! When God gives a special gift, it seems to be for a special purpose.
Now, when news of Caedmon’s versifying gift reached the local abbess, she did the intelligent, biblical thing: she assembled wise and learned men and they checked over his productions. (1 Corinthians 14: 29) They came to the conclusion that this was an undoubted gift of God.
And that’s the third thing I like about Caedmon. His gift lined up with the Word of God. Other figures in history have been approached by spiritual entities (opposition-party angels) and, not checking out these revelations with the word of God, decided they were entitled to lead other people off into any spiritual wilderness they chose. But Caedmon? The abbess talked Caedmon into becoming a monk (the expected thing among believers at the time). He did, and spent the rest of his life as a brother, versifying whenever requested. He didn’t set up his own religion. He didn’t decide he was the designated special revelator or reformer of the church. He apparently lived a pious and humble existence, and expired serenely and peacefully after praising God.
Sounds like the end of a good career to me!
By the way, here’s three biblical tests you can apply to any spiritual revelation you receive:
1: Deuteronomy 18: 22
2: Galatians 1:8
3: 1 John 2: 22, 23