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Striving With Grace

Striving With Grace: Views of Free Will in Anglo-Saxon England

  • Book Info
    Striving With Grace
    Book Description:

    The question of whether or not our decisions and efforts make a difference in an uncertain and uncontrollable world had enormous significance for writers in Anglo-Saxon England.Striving with Gracelooks at seven authors who wrote either in Latin or Old English, and the ways in which they sought to resolve this fundamental question. For Anglo-Saxon England, as for so much of the medieval West, the problem of individual will was complicated by a widespread theistic tradition that influenced writers, thinkers, and their hypotheses.

    Aaron J Kleist examines the many factors that produced strikingly different, though often complementary, explanations of free will in early England. Having first established the perspectives of Augustine, he considers two Church Fathers who rivalled Augustine's impact on early England, Gregory the Great and the Venerable Bede, and reconstructs their influence on later English writers. He goes on to examine Alfred the Great'sOld English Boethiusand Lantfred of Winchester'sCarmen de libero arbitrio, and the debt that both texts owe to Boethius' classicDe consolatione Philosophiae. Finally, Kleist discusses Wulfstan the Homilist and Ælfric of Eynsham, two seminal writers of late Anglo-Saxon England.Striving with Graceshows that all of these authors, despite striking differences in their sources and logic, underscore humanity's need for grace even as they labour to affirm the legitimacy of human effort.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8923-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    This is not a book primarily about theology, though theological issues are central to its focus. It is not a book primarily about translation, though how writers translated ideas across centuries is likewise a crucial concern. Rather, this work considers a fundamental question of human experience and ways in which writers have sought to resolve it: in this uncertain world filled with factors beyond our control, to what extent do our decisions and efforts make a difference? For Anglo-Saxon England, as for so much of the medieval West, the problem was compounded by a theistic tradition. Does the existence of...

  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE A Doctrine Defined: The Influence of Augustine
    (pp. 3-38)

    The theological influence of Augustine of Hippo is vast. From Anglo-Saxon England alone, some 107 manuscripts survive that contain material attributed to him – nearly a tenth of the surviving corpus as a whole.¹ On numerous subjects, his teaching for centuries provided the foundation for orthodox thought in the West, and as a result he plays a unique role in our inquiry. While to the modern academic it may be the sheer variety of Anglo-Saxon theological perspectives that is of interest, to some Anglo-Saxons theological correctness was more important than ideological diversity. Such was true for the figures treated in this...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Cooperating with Grace: Gregory the Great, Apostle to the English
    (pp. 39-57)

    Perhaps the most widely read author in the Western church until the revival of interest in Augustine’s works in the twelfth century,¹ Gregory the Great was a man whose impact on Anglo-Saxon England was profound, for it was he who was responsible for the mission of Augustine of Canterbury in 596 which led to both the conversion of England to Roman Christianity and the introduction of the Benedictine Order.² Ælfric, for example, names Gregory theEngliscre ðeode apostol(Apostle to the English);³ he is an authority upon whom Ælfric draws in over half of theSermones catholiciand to whom...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Meriting Grace: The Venerable Bede
    (pp. 58-82)

    Between 673 and 674, the lands near the Northumbrian river Tyne saw two births that would prove of no minor import: that of a child named Bede and of the monastic community in which he would spend his days.¹ Entrusted to the monastery at Wearmouth at the age of seven and transferred to its twin foundation at Jarrow some years later, Bede lived in a world carefully circumscribed by the ritual, the walls of which, save for a few short trips, he would never leave. From those walls, however, and from the exceptional library which they contained, Bede engaged a...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Alfred the Great and the Old English Boethius
    (pp. 83-120)

    Around 855, at the age of six, the boy who would become known as Alfred the Great accompanied his father, Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons, on his pilgrimage to Rome. At the time, few would have thought that Alfred was destined for the throne: four brothers, after all, preceded him by birth. When to the throne Alfred did come, however, the journey of his childhood seems to have had a lasting effect on his endeavours. One endeavour perhaps influenced both by his memory of Rome and by his struggles thereafter was a translation of what may have been the...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Lantfred of Winchester and the Carmen de libero arbitrio
    (pp. 121-144)

    In responding to the need for learning in the late ninth century, Alfred had made a remarkable investment in providing vernacular translations for his people. To a certain extent, moreover, he had sought to address the Vikings’ decimation of centres of learning, founding a monastery at Athelney and a nunnery at Shaftesbury, for example. It would be a few more decades, however, before widespread efforts would be made to revitalize English monastic communities – and with them, Latin education. When those efforts came, exchanges between the English reformers and their counterparts on the Continent would bring to Winchester a monk named...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Wulfstan the Homilist and De adiutorio Dei et libero arbitrio
    (pp. 145-165)

    A few decades after the composition of theCarmen de libero arbitrio, a different study of free will was written or sponsored by another of Ælfric’s contemporaries: the prolific author and influential statesman known variously as Wulfstan Lupus, Wulfstan of York, or Wulfstan the Homilist.¹ Like Lantfred and Ælfric, he was closely associated with a major centre of the Benedictine Reform. Like both these figures, his works were influential enough to be copied down through the eleventh century.² Where Lantfred draws on Boethius, and Ælfric on the Church Fathers, for their understanding of human volition, however, Wulfstan relies on a...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Ælfric of Eynsham and the Sermones catholici
    (pp. 166-212)

    Around 987, some fourteen years after Lantfred’s departure from England and fifteen years before Wulfstan would take up his duties at York and Worcester, a young monk and priest left the walls of Winchester to set out for his first post.¹ Behind him were decades of training at one of the finest centres of learning in the land. Before him was the humble abbey of Cerne Abbas, newly founded (or refounded) by Æthelmær, pious layman and later ealdorman of the Western Shires. Unknown to him, the years at Cerne and later at Æthelmær’s abbey of Eynsham would see the foundation...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 213-220)

    Our exploration of views of free will in Anglo-Saxon England has revealed a picture that is far from straightforward. To begin with, we examined the teaching of Augustine of Hippo, setting it as a benchmark against which later perspectives might be measured. While his works before his episcopate suggest that humans have the unhindered ability to choose either good or evil, Augustine’s mature view emphasizes the corrupting effects of the Fall and humanity’s consequent dependence on grace. Adam’s disobedience, Augustine says, has marred human nature, so that while they still have the capacity to choose good or evil, their desires...

  14. APPENDIX I Patristic Texts in Paul the Deacon and Smaragdus
    (pp. 221-246)
  15. APPENDIX II Bede’s Homiliae– Editions and Parallels to In Lucaeand In Marci euangelium expositio
    (pp. 247-266)
  16. APPENDIX III Primary Texts
    (pp. 267-282)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 283-362)
  18. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 363-400)
  19. Index
    (pp. 401-418)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 419-420)