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Title: The Christology of the Anglo-Saxon homilies
Author: Bennett, Naomi
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis examines the representations of Christ in the Old English homilies, by analysing as separate groups the homilies of Ælfric, Wulfstan, and the anonymous collections in the Blickling Homiliary and the Vercelli Book. The introduction outlines the background and contexts of the homilies, their significance, and previous work in the field. A definition of Christology is given for this context, as well as a brief examination of the Christology of other Old English texts. The chapters of the thesis follow rough chronological order, beginning with the Blickling Homiliary. Although this homiliary is incomplete and its homilies are anonymous, one can gain some sense of the compiler’s attitudes, and it is a valuable record of preaching at the time. The majority of the homilies are for penitential feasts, and due to this penitential purpose there is an emphasis on Christ’s future role as Judge, rather than a personal relationship with Christ. Christ is a fairly abstracted and inactive figure, more divine than human, and his involvement in the world is often represented by intermediaries, such as the saints. Nonetheless the image of Christ is on the whole a gently compassionate one, with the homilists’ overall goal being to encourage listeners to emulate Christ and his saints in order to be with them in Heaven. The collection’s anonymity and early date suggests a more popular conception of Christ than some of the later, more deliberate collections. The Vercelli Book, of which the content is also anonymous and roughly contemporary with the Blickling Book, exhibits perhaps the most uniform Christology of any of the Old English homily collections. Whereas the Blickling Homiliary follows the sequence of the Church’s calendar, the compiler of the Vercelli Book made what is effectively a florilegium and thus had greater freedom to choose texts to fit his intended message for the collection as a whole. The Vercelli Book focuses heavily, though not exclusively, on penance and judgement, and Christ is most often portrayed as an enthroned judge, whilst the judgement itself rests less upon him than on an individual’s actions and the petitioners’ pleas. There is little emphasis on Christ’s life, though the saints’ actions reflect his teachings. The poetry of the Vercelli Book is also examined where relevant. Ælfric’s portrayal of Christ is both comprehensive and consistent. With a strong focus on scripture, Christ takes more of a predominant role. Augustine’s heavy influence brings with it the notion of grace, which allows Ælfric to focus more on the Bible’s positive messages, and less on eschatology. Ælfric depicts Christ particularly as Redeemer, significant both for individuals and humankind; his portrayal has the same gentleness as that of the Blickling Homiliary. The homilies follow the liturgical calendar, hence their wide scope. Ælfric’s varied yet deliberate presentation of Christ exemplifies his broad theological aims and his use of a wide range of sources. His homilies aimed to evoke a response from his listeners, in penitential acts, praise of God, receiving the sacraments, and thus meriting salvation. Wulfstan’s relatively succinct corpus of homilies spends little time on the gospels, and emphasises far more the need to live a good Christian life, through education in prayer, the catechism and creed. God is usually the background authority figure, with the Antichrist often taking a more prominent and defined role than Christ. Even so, the legalistic and authoritative divinity can be associated with Christ, who must be appeased for fear of the end of the world and imminent judgement, and who also mirrors the earthly rulers with whom Wulfstan would have interacted on a regular basis. In conclusion, I have found that the depiction of Christ is a telling reflection of the intents and styles of each homilist or collator. Whilst the anonymous homilies may show contradictions, the overall trajectory is coherent, and both Wulfstan and Ælfric exhibit consistent and deliberate Christologies, usually distinct from their theologies. The depiction of Christ is by no means uniform, but reflects both a wide range of sources and images, and the abilities of the respective homilists to adapt them to their own purposes, settings and audiences.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral