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Tradition and Belief: Religious Writing in Late Anglo-Saxon England

Clare A. Lees
Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Tradition and Belief
    Book Description:

    In this major study of Anglo-Saxon religious texts-sermons, homilies, and saints’ lives written in Old English-Clare A. Lees reveals how the invention of preaching transformed the early medieval church, and thus the culture of medieval England. By placing Anglo-Saxon prose within a social matrix, her work offers a new way of seeing medieval literature through the lens of culture. By concentrating on the theoretically problematic areas of history, religious belief, and aesthetics-the book contributes to debates about the evolving meaning of culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8841-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION: Culture and Belief
    (pp. 1-18)

    The three-day general penance enjoined on the English people in 1009 seems one of the more improbable responses to yet another threat of a Danish invasion. Issued during the politically turbulent years toward the end of Æthelred II’s reign, VII Æthelred (″δa se micele here com to lande″),² is extant in both Latin and Old English versions. The code was drafted by Wulfstan (bishop of London from 996 to 1002, bishop of Worcester and archbishop of York from 1002 until his death in 1023), premier legislator of his age and one of the two best-known religious writers of Anglo-Saxon England....

  8. CHAPTER 1 Tradition, Literature, History
    (pp. 19-45)

    Late Anglo-Saxon sermons, homilies, and saints’ lives are a genre of religious writing best described as traditional. The very workings of tradition in this genre have obscured its newness in England, however. While the texts themselves regularly conform to the generic conventions of Latin sermons and indeed depend on the works of the Fathers for their spiritual and intellectual authority, they are written in English. Ælfric’s Latin preface to his First Series ofCatholic Homilies, quoted in the epigraph, neatly points out this paradox, whereby his homilies make the Latin “auctores” available for a vernacular audience. English is not the...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Aesthetics and Belief: Ælfric’s False Gods
    (pp. 46-77)

    The Anglo-Saxons were as interested in the origins of their culture as are Anglo-Saxonists. Contemporary investigation of Anglo-Saxon origins tends to be partial, however. Critical fascination with the beginnings of English culture most frequently takes the shape of analyses of ethnic origins and cultural affiliations.¹ We are stirred by the dramatic accounts of the migration, the invasions and settlement of the Danes, and the tenth-century poetic versions of Germanic myth. Bede’sHistoria ecclesiastica, theAnglo-Saxon Chronicle, andBeowulfoffer classic scripts for thinking about Anglo-Saxon cultural identity (cf. Howe, 1989; Hill, 1995; Davis, 1992). The English Renaissance, by contrast, looked...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Conventions of Time in the Old English Homiletic Corpus
    (pp. 78-105)

    Traditional genres such as wisdom literature, heroic legends, or myths construct particular notions of time. From the perspective of the present of the narrative, the past is hardly chronologically specific; that is, few clear distinctions are made between kinds of pastness (the distant or the immediate, for example). The Germanic legendary past, which spans the entire migration period, is recreated in Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry from just such a stance.The Battle of Maldon(ed. Scragg, 1981), which presents the defeat of Byrhtnoth and his army against the Vikings in 991 through the lens of a triumphant heroic ethos, is the...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Didacticism and the Christian Community: The Teachers and the Taught
    (pp. 106-132)

    ″Scholarly tradition,″ remarks Roberta Frank, ″wants us to speak well of the works we study; there would be little point in talking about something that was not beautiful and truthful, not ′interesting′″ (1991, 88). As for works, so, too, periods. Although Anglo-Saxonists may disagree about the emphases of their interpretations of the Benedictine reforms, the late tenth century is usually characterized with good reason as a ″golden age.″¹

    The contribution of the vernacular homilies to this ″cultural renascence″ (Greenfield and Calder, 1986, 68) of the intellectual and cultural achievements of the Anglo-Saxons, while appreciated, is nonetheless underestimated. As the preceding...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Chastity and Charity: Ælfric, Women, and the Female Saints
    (pp. 133-153)

    Homiletic ideals of Christian community and identity are constructed as a socially structured system of belief. Belief defines social and familial bonds in an educational process that emphasizes Christian knowledge and action, made manifest in the responsibilities pertaining to rank or state. This ideal community and the obligations of the Christian individual relative to it appear, on the face of it, strikingly disinterested in issues of gender. Ælfric’s First Series Circumcision homily, for example, pays scant attention to the specific roles and duties of women within the Christian community, while other examples explored in chapter 4 recognize the Christian as...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 154-156)

    Homilists and hagiographers produced in late Anglo-Saxon England a corpus of texts that created a tradition of vernacular Christian teaching unique in Western Europe. That corpus is internally consistent, unified, and cohesive to the extent that differences between individual perspectives measure the success with which it negotiates its own tradition-dependent conflicts. As a result, Anglo-Saxon homilies and saints’ lives in English present an image of a devout Christian society as a living institution, with its own practices, rituals, and intellectual rationale, whatever the real circumstances of its reception. The work of culture that this material argues for and performs is...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 157-172)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 173-188)
  16. Index
    (pp. 189-196)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)