This book offers readers a new understanding of the methods of religious instruction and the uses of religious texts in Anglo-Saxon England, capturing the lived significance of these texts to contemporary audiences. An examination of Anglo-Saxon texts based on their didactic strategies, succeed at teaching theology, and blended cultural influences allows us to evaluate both celebrated and neglected texts more even-handedly and in a new light. The book first deals with the history and character of the theology of Christ's Ascension. It traces the history of Ascension theology from its scriptural roots to its patristic elaborations and to its transmission in Anglo-Saxon England, presenting those doctrines and themes that become most relevant to insular authors. The history of Ascension theology shows that Anglo-Saxon authors make deliberate and innovative choices in how they present the inherited patristic theology to their contemporary audiences. The book then contends that both the martyrologist and the Blickling homilist recognize the importance of liminality to Ascension theology and use the footprints as the perfect vehicle to convey this. It also examines the ways in which Anglo-Saxon authors construct spatial relationships to establish symbolic relationships between three major Christological events: the Ascension, the Harrowing of Hell, and Christ's Entry into heaven. Analysing individual Rogationtide and Ascension homilies, both Latin and vernacular, the book moves from the formal preaching of theology to the spatial practices of Rogationtide liturgy to the popular beliefs about boundaries and the earth.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book offers a new understanding of the methods of religious instruction and the uses of religious texts in Anglo-Saxon England. It argues that Anglo-Saxon authors recognize the Ascension and its theology as essentially liminal in nature, that is, as concerned with boundaries and dual states and dwelling in dual places. The book focuses on the footprints of Christ at the place of Ascension function as a material symbol for Christ's dual nature and his physical absence but spiritual presence. It examines the motif of the gates of hell and heaven to draw attention to Christ's crossing of boundaries and the moment of salvation when he enters heaven. The book shows the Ascension is unusual in Anglo-Saxon literature and early medieval vernacular literature because of the exceptional variety of the surviving materials.
In the Anglo-Saxon sources, the author argues, the essential duality of Christ is spatially conceived as an effective way of teaching humans about Ascension theology as well as about faith, the imitation of Christ, moral action, and spiritual responsibility. This chapter begins with an identification of the basic Ascension motifs that are introduced, if only incipiently, in scriptural sources. It examines the contributions of patristic authors to the development of the theological and thematic content of the Ascension. The chapter presents the themes and doctrines that especially prepare the materialist and spatially conceived treatment of the Ascension that Anglo-Saxons preferred in their preaching and teaching. The initial theological development of these Old and New Testament themes occurs in early patristic literature, moving from the simple introduction of basic motifs to their exegesis.
Material symbolism in the Old English Martyrology and Blickling Homily 11
This chapter examines the ways in which the Old English Martyrology (OEM) and Blickling Homily (BH) 11 reveal the symbolic force of the footprint motif by integrating it with standard Ascension teachings. It argues that the footprints lend themselves so aptly to teaching theology because the motif can be used to express a range of theological ideas in different contexts. The chapter examines the transmission history of the footprint motif from early pilgrimage reports to Anglo-Saxon England. It demonstrates the innovative use of the footprints by Anglo-Saxon authors, who seem to delight particularly in the footprints and the opportunity to express Ascension doctrines through them. The Anglo-Saxon authors actively shape their source materials in the service of teaching theology. The chapter suggests that the presumed audiences and the mixed content of the OEM and BH 11 explain the interest in the footprint motif.
This chapter considers the end point of the Ascension, the arrival of Christ at the gates and eventual entry into heaven. It examines the rhetorical strategies that two authors used to establish the spatial and thus the symbolic relationships of the Ascension to two historical-mythical events in the life of Christ: the Harrowing of Hell and Christ's Entry into heaven. The chapter argues that Bede and the Trinity homilist depict the Harrowing and Christ's Entry as events that are centrally defined by the crossing of boundaries in a spatial sense. It symbolizes the inherently liminal theology of the Ascension. The chapter shows that the Ascension functions as narrative origin multiple times in Bede's hymn and TH 19, for Christ's ascending movement and his Entry into heaven do not immediately succeed the Harrowing.
Boundary rituals, community, and Ascension theology in homilies for Rogationtide
This chapter discusses Latin and vernacular homilies for Rogation and Ascension, spanning from the early to the late Anglo-Saxon period, as well as clerical and lay religious practices associated with Rogation days. It analyses the conventional and formal ways of teaching theology to the spatial and ritual practices of Rogationtide liturgy. The chapter also analyses the popular religious rituals and beliefs about the importance of the land and its boundaries. It discusses the formal teaching of theology, in both vernacular and Latin homilies by two authoritative preachers, Bede and Ælfric, to show how Rogationtide homilies teach specific Ascension doctrines. Formal preaching and popular religious rituals represent different aspects of the entire spectrum of Anglo- Saxon religious culture. Anglo-Saxon theologians agreed with their lay constituents that earth could be charged with divine power: any contact relic involving soil is a 'proper' Christian version of the same phenomenon.
This chapter examines visual representations of the Ascension and especially its liminality in Anglo-Saxon art. It analyses the iconography of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon manuscript illuminations. The chapter considers the light of some of the central doctrines associated with the Ascension: Christ's dual nature, his physical absence but spiritual presence, and the totus Christus. It focuses on the disappearing Christ as imagery both native to Anglo-Saxon England and speaking pointedly to the perception of the Ascension as liminal. The chapter argues that the disappearing Christ is a liminal image that corresponds to and concretely visualizes the liminality of Ascension theology. The feet in the visual iconography invite a comparative reading with the footprints of Christ in the Old English texts, which marked the starting point of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book begins with the footprints of Christ that mark the beginning of the Ascension, soared to the heights of heaven and travelled into the lives of Anglo-Saxon Christians. It focuses on to a different model of imagining the significance of the Ascension and of explaining its theology: Cynewulf's metaphor of the 'sea of this life' at the conclusion of Christ II. The book describes the disappearing Christ in Anglo-Saxon art. The images and motifs chosen to teach Ascension theology are marked as both abstract and concrete. It elucidates a different aspect of how patristic teachings were transmitted, adapted, and disseminated to Anglo-Saxon audiences. Sustained diachronic studies of Anglo-Saxon theology can widen the view outwards from important and much-studied theologians, such as Bede and Ælfric.