Anschar seems to have received his first religious impressions in the period of early childhood, through the early influence of a pious mother, whom he lost in his fifth year. When, after her death, his father sent him to school, he fell into the society of some wild boys, and was led away by them, so that those first pious impressions grew dimmer and dimmer. Still, unperceived by him, they lingered in the hidden depths of his soul. In a dream one night, this hidden feeling was called forth from the depths of his soul. "He seemed as if he found himself in a wretched place, covered with filth, from which he could scarcely find any exit. But close beside that place he seemed to see a pleasant path, and on this path a beautiful lady, richly adorned, and with her many other women in white robes, amongst whom was his mother. When he saw her he would have hastened to her, but he could not immediately get out of that filthy place. When the women came nearer, he seemed to hear from the one who stood at their head, richly adorned, who appeared to him to be the Virgin Mary, these words: My son, wilt thou come to thy mother?' And when he eagerly replied, that he longed to do so, she answered him again: If thou wilt come into our company, thou must keep thyself from all naughtiness, and lead an earnest life.'" After this dream, a remarkable change took place in him, about which his companions could not wonder enough; instead of playing, he busied himself with reading, meditation, and many serious and useful things. Afterwards, when he had become a monk in the Frankish Abbey of Corbie, and devoted himself with his whole soul to the monastic life, he had another dream, in which was mirrored his life hidden with Christ in God. He saw himself translated into the assembly of the blessed. All gazed towards the East, and praised with songs of thanksgiving Him who appeared in the East, and their accordant praises filled the souls of the hearers with unutterable joy. In the East itself was seen a wonderful glow of light -- a changeless ray, of surpassing brightness, from which the most glorious colours beamed. All the ranks of the saints who stood joyfully around on all sides, drew their joy from it. "It was such an infinite glow of light," says Anschar, "that I could see neither beginning nor end of it. And as I looked around on all sides, I could only see its surface, not what dwelt in the inmost depths of this light.
"But I believed that He was there, whom even the angels desire to see; for from Him went forth an unspeakable glory, by which the whole length and breadth of the Church of the saints were illumined. He himself was, as it were, all and all in Himself; He himself surrounded all from without; He himself was inwardly amongst them. He satisfied all their wants, and was their guiding soul. He hovered over them from above, guiding them; He was the stay which sustained them from beneath; sun and moon shone not there, neither heaven nor earth was seen. Yet it had no brightness which might have dazzled the eyes of those who looked on it -- it gave to the eye nothing but the most refreshing delight. The elders who sat there, seemed to be in Himself; for nothing was corporeal there, but all incorporeal, although the semblance of bodily things was there. It was something unutterable." When his two guides, Peter and John, had led him to this infinite light, there came to him from the majesty of God, which seemed imaged to him by this immeasurable and inapproachable light, a voice full of indescribable sweetness, and it said: "Go hence; thou shalt return to Me with the crown of martyrdom." At these words the whole multitude, which praised God on all sides, were silent, and with bowed heads, they worshipped God. But the face of Him from whom this voice came forth Anschar saw not. "After these words," he says, "I was sad, because I had to go back to the world. But the promise sustained me, that I should yet again return home from thence, so I journeyed back with these my guides. They said nothing to me on my return, as on my coming; but they looked upon me with finch a look of tender love, as that with which a mother looks on her only son. And so I came back into the body. Both in going and coming there was no effort and no pause; we were at once where we would be. And although I have said somewhat of these joys, I confess that my tongue can never utter what my soul feels. And my souk even feels it not as it was; for it seemed to me to be that which the eye hath not see; nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive."
We have given this vision according to the description of Anschar himself, because it gives us such deep insight into the God-filled life of a simple Christian soul. This vision made a powerful and inextinguishable impression on him.
He was awakened by it to a new vigour of Christian life, -- and henceforth he was animated by the thought that he was to die the precious death of a witness for the faith. Two years later, he had another remarkable dream. He had retired to pray in a chapel into which he was wont frequently to retire for quiet devotion, and when he arose from prayer, a man of a sublime countenance, clothed in Jewish garments, entered the door; his eyes shone as if they were full of light. Anschar at once recognised him as the Lord Christ, and cast himself at his feet. As he lay thus on his face, the vision desired him to rise; and as he then stood reverently. before Him and was unable to look in his face, because of the exceeding brightness of the light which beamed from His eyes, the Lord said to him in a gentle voice, "Confess thy sins, that thou mayest be justified." Anschar replied, "Lord, what can I say to Thee? Thou knowest all things, and nothing is hidden from Thee." The Lord answered. "I indeed know all things, but I will that men should confess their sins, that they may receive forgiveness." After he had made confession of his sins, and then had knelt down to pray, the Lord said to him, "Fear not -- I am He who blotted out thy sins." With these words he vanished, and Anschar awoke, full of the joyful assurance that his sins were forgiven.
He was subsequently sent with other monks from the Abbey of Corbie to the Abbey of Corvei, which had been planted as a colony from Corbie, for the diffusion of Christianity and Christian culture on the banks of the Weser, -- to direct the school there and to preach to the people. Amongst the manifold difficulties with which this monastery had to contend in a wild and destitute district, opportunities were afforded him for the exercise of Christian patience, and this was certainly a good preparation for his calling as a missionary.
When Harold, king of Jutland, who had been baptized at Jugelheim, was returning in the year 826, from a visit to his ally the Emperor Louis the Good, the emperor wished to send a zealous preacher of the Gospel with the returning Danes, for the confirming and strengthening of their own faith and for its further propagation. But it was difficult to find any one, who would not be withheld by the frightful tales of the barbarism of these Northmen, and the cruel character of their idolatry.
Only Wale, Abbot of Corbie, to which Anschar had then returned, declared to the emperor, that he knew a man of fervent zeal for the cause of God, who even longed to die for it. Anschar was summoned, and was instantly ready to travel to Denmark with King Harold. Whilst his abbot was visiting the court, Anschar prepared himself in the solitude of a vineyard, by reading the Scriptures and prayer, for his high vocation. People saw him become even more earnest and abstracted, so that those who could not see into his heart, might have imagined that he dreaded the difficulties and dangers before him and repented of his decision. But with him it merely arose from a sense of the magnitude and difficulty of the calling, which made him serious, because he did not begin the work in the pride of vain human self-reliance, but with fear and trembling, in reliance on God; fully conscious of his own unworthiness and impotence, he confided in the power of God alone, and appearing more quiet and retiring than usual in the eyes of man, he had turned his whole heart to God. When another monk, called Antbert, who wished to join him as a companion in his missionary labours, asked him if he remained steadfast to his purpose, he replied: "When I was asked if I would go amongst the heathen for the name of God, to preach the Gospel, I dared not shrink from such a call. Yea, with all my strength, I desire to go thither, and no man will make me waver in this purpose."
The most distinguished traits in the character of Anschar are his unwearying patience, his winning love, and his steadfastness of faith when dangers and hinderances opposed him. These his characteristic qualities were tested in many ways, from his first entrance on this vocation. The Danes whom he accompanied on their voyage to their native land, seem to have been at that time still strange to the essence of Christianity. Anschar met with rough treatment at their hands, until, in passing through Cologne, (whence they went down the Rhine to Holland, in order to cross thence to Denmark by sea,) Hadelbod, bishop of that city, presented him with a convenient vessel. This induced King Harold to join him, and Anschar succeeded by the power of love in vanquishing the barbarity of the Danes.
King Harold, after this, was banished from his kingdom. Anschar was able to effect nothing more than to buy some native lads, in order to educate them for teachers of their countrymen, and to found a small school in Schleswig, -- the first Christian institution in those parts. His companion Antbert was taken from him by an illness which compelled his return to his native land. But those unfavourable circumstances could not make him waver, -- a proof how free he was from self; since the more self-love is mingled with zeal flowing from the purest source, the more restless and impatient men are to see the fruit of their labours. The purer zeal is from the admixture of self, the more it will carry on the Fork of God, in the consciousness that neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but that it is God who giveth the increase; leaving it to Him to give the increase when and how He will.
In this unfavourable situation, the call came to him to a new sphere of missionary labours in Sweden, and he at once obeyed it, convinced that it was from God. As an ambassador of the Emperor Louis the Good, he went to that country in a merchant-ship, with presents from the Emperor to the King of Sweden. They were captured by pirates and lost everything. It was with difficulty that they could reach the shore and save their lives. Many of Anschar's companions wished to return; but he himself declared that "what should befall him was in the hand of God; but he was resolved not to return until he found out whether it was the will of God that the Gospel should then be preached there."
Subsequently, he himself was surprised by the heathen Normans in Hamburg, the seat of his bishopric; he lost everything, and could hardly save himself. He was compelled to seek a place of refuge on the estates of a pious and noble widow in Holstein. But as soon as he could restore security and quiet to his own diocese, it was immediately his aim once more to extend the sphere of his activity. The most unfavourable prospects, on account of the enmity of Horik, then the reigning sovereign in Denmark, who had taken an active share in those hostile devastations of the diocese of Hamburg, could not restrain him. He knew the almighty power of love, he prayed continually for the conversion and salvation of those who threatened destruction to him and all Christians with fire and sword, that God would not lay to their charge the sins which they committed in their ignorance. He allowed himself to be employed by King Louis of Germany on political embassies to King Horik, he made him presents, by his love he won his heart, and Horik at last placed such reliance on Anschar, that he would only treat with Germany through him. This attachment of the King to his person, he was then able to use, in order to effect something for the Christian Church. He procured from him permission to erect a church in the city of Schleswig, which as a place of trade was well fitted for the diffusion of Christianity farther into the country. He also received from this king a letter of recommendation to the Swedish king Olof.
Horik wrote to him, that "he had never in his life seen such a man, and had never found such fidelity in any man, and because he had found such goodness in him, he had allowed him to do what he liked with regard to Christianity in his dominions, and he hoped therefore that King Olof would permit him to preach the Gospel in his kingdom, for he would certainly do nothing but what was just and good."
When Anschar arrived in Sweden, he found the heathen there in a state of great excitement against the strange religion. His friends advised him only to employ the presents he had brought with him to rescue his life from the impending danger. But Anschar replied: "To rescue my life I will bestow nothing here; for if the Lord has so ordered it, I am prepared to suffer torture here for his name's sake, and even death." He invited the King to a feast, gave him presents, and gained his heart, because he knew how to become all things to all men; and afterwards the Lord helped him on the way which His infinite wisdom had appointed.
Anschar experienced in his laborious and perilous life, many remarkable answers to prayer. This became known, and many sick people came from a distance to be cured by his prayers.
But he himself rejected the fame of a worker of miracles, saying, "If I were worthy, I would ask one miracle of my God, that he would make of me by his grace a holy man."
When, after the labours of four-and-thirty years, he was hastening to his dissolution, amidst the sufferings of a painful sickness, he would often say with Job: "Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not also receive evil?" After receiving the Holy Supper, he raised his hands to heaven, and prayed, that the grace of God might pardon all who in any way had injured him. Then he frequently repeated the words: "Lord, in thy goodness remember me, for thy mercies' sake. Be merciful to me, a sinner; for into thy hands I commend my spirit." And when, gazing towards heaven, he had commended his spirit to the grace of God, he left this world. It was in the year 865.