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God meditates: a model for the 'salvation histories' in three homilies of Aelfric and in his 'Hexameron.'

Writing at the end of the tenth century in a finely crafted vernacular, AElfric sought to convey to a contemporary audience the orthodox teaching of the Church. That audience was conceived of as urgently in need of good, correct teaching, perhaps to counter inaccurate or erroneous material in circulation, and certainly to provide a sound basis for the building-up of faith. In the Prefaces (Latin and English) to his Catholic Homilies,(1) AElfric expresses his strong desire to provide the reliable teaching that will be proof against the dangers and tribulations facing Christians at the end of the world. For him, the orthodox teaching of the Fathers, or |book-learning', is the protection each individual requires:

Gehwa maeg pe ea elicor a toweardan costnunge acuman, urh Godes fultum,

gif he bi purh boclice lare getrymmed; for an e pa beo gehealdene pe o

ende on geleafan purhwunia . (CH, I, 4)

Each person will be able, by God's help, to confront the more easily the

temptation which is to come, if he is strengthened by book-learning; for those

who continue in faith until the end will be preserved.(2)

The sources of that orthodox teaching are, of course, acknowledged: AElfric cites(3) four major patristic writers, Augustine, Jerome, Bede and Gregory, and two homilists, Haymo and Smaragdus. Among these sources, Augustine is the most profound influence. John C. Pope observes that in the homilies gathered together in his Supplementary Collection, Augustine is AElfric's primary guide.(4) This guidance can be discerned throughout AElfric's teaching, and I would suggest that for AElfric orthodoxy is largely Augustinian orthodoxy.(5)

In his faithful representation of Augustinian teaching, AElfric also shapes his material for his own particular time and place and, in so doing, he often shows a willingness to take an independent line.

In his teaching on grace, more than in any other aspect of Christian doctrine, AElfric keeps closely to an Augustinian model. The elements of his account of the historv of salvation may all be found in Augustine, beginning with the reasons for the Fall, and culminating in the Incarnation of the Son, God's gracious provision for the restoration of mankind. Augustine offers a convenient summary of his own teaching on grace in the Enchiridion, which may be compared with AElfric's treatment of the same doctrines.(6) However, despite this generally Augustinian understanding of divine grace, AElfric asserts an unexpected individuality against that model, in small but not insignificant ways.

Augustine's doctrine of grace asserts that every aspect of the Christian's conversion and salvation is dependent on the gracious provision of God. This grace, however, is unquantifiable, and appears (from a human perspective) to be somewhat arbitrarily bestowed: some will certainly be saved, others will just as certainly be lost. Augustine at his most extreme even suggests that some people are marked by God for punishment, just as others are chosen for eternal life:

bene utens et malis tanquam summe bonus, ad eorum damnationem quos iuste

praedestinauit ad poenam, et ad eorum salutem quos benigne praedestinauit ad


Supremely good Himself, He made good use also of evils, for the damnation of

those whom He had justly predestined to punishment and for the salvation of

those whom He had mercifully predestined to grace.(8)

Whilst AElfric perceives the logic of this Augustinian way of thinking, he prefers to emphasize the mercy of God over against any predestined dispensation of grace, asserting that salvation is promised by mercy to those who are obedient in love to God:

Ac eft seo miccle mildheortnys ures Drihtnes us alysde purh his menniscnysse,

gif we his bebodum mid ealre heortan gehyrsumia . (lines 19-21)

But again the great mercy of our Lord has redeemed us through his

Incarnation, if we obey his commands with all our heart.

A willingness to place faith in the boundless mercy of God, rather than worry about the extent of his gracious predestination, characterizes AElfric's teaching on grace. An illustration of this view of God's mercy is offered in the following discussion.

In De Annuntiatione Sanctae Mariae (De Annuntiatione), in De Initio Creaturae, in De Natale Domini and in the Hexameron, AElfric provides a brief summary of the history of salvation.(9) In the course of these |salvation histories', he seems to move away from the Augustinian line which in general he is happy to endorse. His reason for doing this is apparently to make a point about the compassionate nature of God. For this divergence he appears to follow a Gregorian idea, from Moralia IV, III.(10) Nevertheless, he continues to demonstrate an independence of approach.

Central to this discussion is the question of how to interpret the verb common to all four treatments of the theme, smeagan. Especially when followed by the adverb hu, this verb seems to mean 'to ponder, to think about carefully, to meditate upon' in AElfric's writings.(11) In the 'salvation histories' the subject of the verb is God.

In the passages I wish to discuss, AElfric suggests that God was moved by pity to meditate on how he might redeem his suffering creation. Disobedience had rendered mankind the miserable subjects of the Devil. The Incarnation of the Son was God's compassionate solution to this problem. That AElfric should thus account for the mission of the Son is remarkable, for to do so implies a choice of a doctrine different from the one clearly expressed by Augustine: that God knew from eternity that mankind would sin and made provision for this in his plan for the world; from the beginning even something as inimical to the divine purpose as evil was comprehended in God's plan. AElfric is not unfamiliar with this idea; he endorses Augustine's account, for example, in his homily for Epiphany (CH, I, 104-20), discussed below (pages 191-3). But in the 'salvation histories' he offers an imaginative interpretation of God's mercy: properly perceived to be timeless, mercy may here be seen to break into time on a human scale.

AElfric and the Augustinian tradition

According to Augustine's account of grace, God knew the history of creation from eternity. His eternal knowledge took account of all future events in predetermining the working of good:

Quia uero eum male usurum libero arbitrio, hoc est peccaturum esse,

praesciebat, ad hoc potius praeparauit uoluntatem suam ut bene ipse faceret

etiam de male faciente, ac sic hominis uoluntate mala non euacuaretur sed

nihilo minus impleretur omnipotentis bona.(12)

But because He foresaw that he would make bad use of his free will, that is,

would sin, He arranged His own design so that He would do well concerning

man, even when man did evil, and that thus the good will of the Almighty

should not be voided by the evil will of man, but might nonetheless be


Here Augustine portrays God's vision of human history as all-encompassing, because eternal. Without predetermining any individual human action, he nevertheless knows each one and its outcome, and provides for the complex interrelationship of temporal action and reaction in his purpose for the world. This purpose must finally be understood to be outside time.

AElfric agrees with Augustine: he is clear that God knew creation's history from eternity. Just as Augustine describes God making good use of even the bad effects of free will, AElfric demonstrates that God's provision for mankind is prescient (for in his eternal present God knows everything that happens) but not predestinarian: he does not trap anyone in an immutable destiny. In the homily for Epiphany (CH, 1, 104-20), AElfric explores this question of destiny, reproaching those foolish people who think they are constrained by God to live sinful lives. He explains that God gave both the angelic and the human creation perfect freedom of choice even though he knew what would happen as the result of this freedom:

George wiste se AElmihtiga Scyppend, aerdan pe he pa gesceafta gesceope, hwaet

toweard woes. (CH, I, 112)

Before he created the created things, the Almighty Creator knew very well

what was to come.

God knows the number of angels and men who will finally enjoy the kingdom with him, and yet he interferes with none individually. He does not require by his predestination that some will sin; he merely knows how each one will act:

se AElmihtiga and se Rihtwisa God naenne mann ne neadao to syngienne, ac he

wat swa eah on aer hwilce purh agenne willan syngian willao. (CH, I, 114)

the Almighty and Righteous God does not compel any person to sin, but

nevertheless he knows beforehand who will wish to sin through his own will.

AElfric acknowledges that the Devil played a considerable part in the introduction of sin into human life, but makes it clear that he holds each person individually responsible for sin. He insists that no one can blame God for the condition of sin which is common to all. Here he observes that, while the legacy of Original Sin plays a large part in the sinfulness of human nature, the burden of responsibility lies solidly upon each individual:

Ne talige nan man his yfelan daeda to Gode, ac talige aerest to pam deofle, pe

mancyn beswac, and to Adames forgaegednysse; ac oeah swioost to him sylfum,

paet him yfel gelicao, and ne licao god. (CH, I, 114)

Let no one ascribe his evil deeds to God, but ascribe them first to the Devil

who deceived mankind, and to Adam's disobedience; but most strongly to

himself, because evil pleases him and good does not.

AElfric is repelled by the perversity of choice involved: instead of delighting in the honour of being God's image, man chooses sin, the foulest thing imaginable. Evil pleases him.

Sin, AElfric explains, is seen and known by God, but it comes from the free will of the individual and is not predetermined by destiny. God's knowledge, his provision for mankind, foresees all possible adjustments that may be necessary, given the individual responses which he knows will be made; this provision is grace, and it is within the context of grace that freedom's misjudgements may be rectified. Just as human history is known to God from the beginning, his gracious provisions for its correction are also known to him from eternity:

for an pe nan man ne bio gehealden buton purh gife Haelendes Cristes: pa gife

he gearcode and forestihte on ecum raede aer middangeardes gesetnysse. (p. 114)

for no one is saved except through the grace of the Saviour Christ: the grace he

prepared and ordained in eternal counsel before the establishment of the world.

To this extent, then, AElfric is ready to follow Augustine's guidance on the matter of God's grace: it was established in readiness even before the world was made. In his |salvation histories', AElfric chooses to emphasize the compassion which informs that grace.

AElfric's |salvation histories'

In De Annuntiatione, as a prelude to what he wants to say about the announcement of Christ's birth, AElfric provides a brief summary of human history to explain how the timeless God's intervention in time - the Incarnation was the culmination of a series of events.

The place of the Incarnation in the plan of redemption was established outside time from the beginning of the world. But here Elfric locates God's response to the phenomenon of sin in time. He describes the creation of man, his deception and fall, his subjection to the Devil. Then, AElfric says, God considered with pity the way man had become trapped in the Devil's power, and sought a means by which to rescue him:

Ure se AElmihtiga Scyppend, seoe seoe ealle gesceafta, buton aelcon antimbre, purh

his wisdom gesceop, and purh his willan geliffaeste, he gesceop mancynn to oi

paet hi sceoldon mid gehyrsumnysse and eadmodnysse oa heofenlican geoincoe

geearnigan, pe se deofol mid ofermettum forwyrhte. Pa wearo eac se mann mid

deofles lotwrencum bepaeht, swa paet he tobraec his Scyppendes bebod, and

wearo deofle betaeht, and eal his ofspring into helle-wite. Da oeah-hwaeoere

ofouhte oam AElmihtigum Gode ealles mancynnes yrmoa, and smeade hu he

mihte his hand-geweorc of deofles anwealde alysan; foroi him ofhreow paes

mannes, foroon oe he waes bepaeht mid paes deofles scearocroeftum. Ac him ne

ofhreow na oaes deofles hryre; foroan oa he naes purh nane tihtinge forlaered, ac

he sylf asmeade oa up-ahefednysse pe he ourh ahreas; and he foroi a on ecnysse

wunao on forwyrde waelraew deofol. (CH, I, 192)

Our Almighty Creator, who through his wisdom made all creation without any

materials, and through his will gave it life, he created mankind in such a way

that they were to earn, with obedience and humility, the heavenly rewards

which the Devil forfeited with his pride. Then also the man was deceived by

the Devil's wiles, so that he broke his Creator's command, and was delivered to

the Devil, and all his offspring into the punishment of hell. Then, however, the

Almighty God regretted all mankind's miseries, and meditated how he might

redeem his handiwork from the Devil's power; for he took pity on man,

because he had been deceived bv the Devil's wiles. But he did not take pity on

the Devil's fall; because he had not been corrupted bv anv persuasion, but he

himself devised the pride through which he fell, and so he remains in

punishment forever to eternity, a cruel devil.

AElric's summary describes how God the Trinity created and gave life to all created things. His references to the wisdom and will of God make the triune nature of the Creator clear, for Aelfric conceives of the Son and Holy Spirit in these terms.(14) God made mankind with the intention of bestowing upon it heavenly rewards: that is to say, an eternal dwelling with him. This relationship with God was once enjoyed by all the angels before some of them fell from bliss because of their own pride. In opposition to such pride, obedience and humility were asked of mankind. But the newly created human beings were deceived by the very things that had tempted the fallen angels and, sinning in the same way as the Devil, they were necessarily delivered by the justice of God into the same eternal punishment. But this perfect justice of God is balanced by the perfect mercy of God, which now appears in the history of creation for the first time. God takes pity on humanity. Here, events which occur in time are met by a response from God, also in time. God is portrayed as meditating upon t@e rescue of mankind.

That God responded in this way to the problem of sin is a point AElfric makes also in the long narrative of creation which begins his First Series, De Initio Creaturae. Again, this account of human history involves the elements of free choice and deception by the Devil. God left it up to Adam to choose whom he would obey, and Adam chose to obey the Devil:

He wearo pa deofle gehyrsum, and Gode ungehyrsum, and wearo betaeht, he

and eal mancynn, aefter oisum life, into helle-wite, mid pam deofle oe hine

forlaerde. Pa wiste God hwaeoere paet he waes forlaered, and smeade hu he mihte

his and ealles mancynnes eft gemiltsian. (CH, I, 18).

Then he was obedient to the Devil, and disobedient to God, and was delivered,

he and all mankind, after this life, into hell-torment, with the Devil who

deceived him. But God knew, however, that he had been deceived, and

meditated how he might again be merciful to him and all mankind.

A further use of this idea is in the opening homily of the Second Series, De Natale Domini:

adam se forma mann. agylte wio god. and his scyppendes bebod tobraec. and

deofles lare gehyrsumode. and wearco deofle betaeht. he and eal mancynn into

hell wite; Pa aefre smeade god fram frymoe middaneardes. hu he mihte

mancynnes gehelpan. and fram deofles anwealde ahreddan. (CH, II, 3, lines


Adam, the first man, sinned against God and broke his Creator's command,

and was obedient to the Devil's teaching, and was delivered to the Devil, he

and all mankind into the punishment of hell. Then God meditated ever from

the beginning of the world, how he might help mankind, and rescue it from the

Devil's power.

The |salvation history' also forms a part of AElfric's Hexameron, in which he describes God's knowledge of the various stages which lead from sin to reconciliation:

Wel wyste ure Scyppend oa oa he geworhte Adam, oone frumsceapenan mann,

oaet he syngian wolde ourh bms deofles lare, swa swa he dyde syooan. And God

wyste eac swylce hu he sylf smeade embe oa bote oa iu, hu he hit gebetan mihte

ourh his halgan gife, oaet he gehulpe oam menn and eac his ofsprincge oa oe on

hine gelyfao, and mid soore lufe hine simble wuroiao. (Hexameron, lines


Our Creator knew well, when he made Adam, the first-created man, that he

would sin through the teaching of the Devil, as he afterwards did. And in the

same way God also knew how he himself considered concerning the remedy

even then, how he might amend it through his holy grace, that he might help

the man and also those of his offspring who believed in him and who always

honoured him with true love.

AElftic used material from Hexameron again in his De Creatore et Creatura, as Clemoes points out.(16) The passage in which smeagan hu is used occurs again in this second use.

By describing these events in time, AElfric is not suggesting that God was surprised by man's disobedience and had to invent an alternative plan. On the contrary, he agrees with Augustine that the grace required for salvation was established before the beginning of the world. God's |meditation' is not a new event: he already knew the necessity of intervention on man's behalf. But the idea that God thought compassionately about how he might restore his distorted, suffering creation is a vivid expression of love in action. God's |meditation' marks the beginning of the exercise of his mercy: mercy must be understood to be an eternal attribute of God, but it was only after an event in time that this divine quality was called upon. The introduction of sin into the world marks a moment of revelation about the nature of God, for mercy could not have been known in God without this impetus. It is important that mercy does not conflict with the proper requirements of justice, and the difference between the two divine characteristics is defined by God's response to the two falls, angelic and human. His judgement of the fallen angels, whom he condemned in strict justice, was untempered by mercy. Their sin is recognized as one generated by them alone, and no rebel angel is exempt from the punishment meted out by God's just wrath. Mankind, on the other hand, is seen to respond to the wiles of the Devil. The failure to resist the deception is a sin born of free will, but it is influenced by an external force. It is not self-generated. It is this factor that allows God to reveal his mercy, and it is the human creation alone that benefits. Here AElfric offers a dramatic picture of God's compassion, in which God is seen responding in time to events in time.

This reading of AElfric's |salvation histories' is based on my interpretation of his use of the verb smeagan together with the adverb hu. I understand AElfric to mean that God thinks carefully or meditates about the problem presented to him. That this is AElfric, meaning is borne out by his many uses of the verb. Smeagan is common in AElfric, while a count of items in the Microfiche Concordance reveals that he used the collocation smeagan hu more than thirty times. In AElfric's homilies, the activity of meditating is not confined to God; it is something that, among others, the Devil, Judas, Herod, Martin and Edmund all do at various times in response to new, puzzling or challenging conditions.

The verb is used of Lucifer (|and pa hwile pe he smeade hu he mihte daelan rice wio God': CH, I, 10-12); the Devil (|pa nam he micelne graman and andan to pam mannum, and smeade hu he hi fordon mihte': CH, I, 16); of Judas (|and he eode to pam Iudeiscum folce, and smeade wio hi, hu he Crist him belaewen mihte': CH, I, 26); of Herod, wondering how Peter escaped ('paoa se cyning smeade hu he of oam cwearterne come, pa aefter pan him com to Godes engel': CH, I, 524); of St Martin (|Pa smeade se halga wer hu he heora gehelpan mihte': LS, I, 290);(17) of St Edmund (|Hwaet pa eadmund clypode aenne bisceop./ pe him pa gehendost waes and wio hine smeade/ hu he pam repan hinguare and-wyrdan sceolde': LS, II, 318). These examples may suffice to illustrate the point that in AElfric's |salvation histories' God is imagined to confront a problem just as created beings do.

It is relevant to ask here what AElfric's sources were whenever he chose to write smeagan hu in his own words. On the sources of De ,Annuntiatione, De Initio Creaturae and De Natale Domini very little has been written, and no identification of the source of the |salvation history' theme common to all three has been proposed. Forster confesses himself defeated by De Initio Creaturae and De Natale Domini.(18) He gives as the source for De Annuntiatione Bede's Homiliae I.i and 2 for Advent,(19) but in these homilies there is no such history. Smetana, in his studies of AElfric's use of mediaeval homiliaries, offers no clues to the source of this idea.(20) Cross says that t is |very probable' that in De Natale Domini AElfric referred to the ninth and tenth items in Paul the Deacon's collection, both pseudo-Augustine texts; but neither is the source of the passage in question or offers anything comparable to it.(21) Discussing the same sermon, Zettel notes that the Passio Sancti Iacobi in the Cotton-Corpus Collection offers |very close parallels' to a passage in Aelfric's sermon which treats of a series of prophecies.(22) However, this passage occurs much later than the |salvation history". For Hexameron 397-404, Crawford identifies the following sources: |Sicut praescivit Deus hominem peccaturum, ita et praescivit qualiter illum per suam gratiam repararet, qui suo arbitrio deperire potuisset' (Isidore, Sententiarum Libri Tres, i, xi, 3); |Quia angelicum vulnus Deus non praedestinavit curare, hominis vero sanare praedestinavit' (Alcuin, Sigewulfi Interrogationes, iii).(23) In neither of these sources is God found to consider with pity mankind's predicament. (God |praescivit' or |praedestinavit' in the determined way that Augustine would have expected.

On no other occasion (beyond these |salvation histories') does AElfric use smeagan hu with God as the subject of the verb. The examples which follow indicate his use of the verb with other subjects (wherever a source offers a Latin equivalent, I give it):

a CH, I, 10, line 35 line 3: Lucifer (before the fall of the angels)

|smeade hu'; no source known to me. b CH, I, 16, lines 27- 31: the Devil 'smeade hu'; no source known to me. c CH, I, 26, lines 21-2: the Jews |smeadon hu'; the Gospel words |consilium

fecerunt' (Matthew xxvi.4) would surely have influenced AElfric here (see

also n below). d CH, I, 26, lines 22-5: Judas |smeade wio hi, hu'; the Gospel account gives

|Et exinde quaerebat opportunitatem ut eum traderet' (Matthew xxvi. 16). e CH, I, 78, lines 34-5: Herod |smeao hu'; in her notes to this homily in her

revision of Sweet's Reader, Whitelock points out that this is AElfric's own

translation of thc Gospel verse |Futurum est enim ut Herodes quaerat

puerum ad perdendum eum' (Matthew ii. 13).(24) f CH, I, 308, lines 19-20: |Us is to smeagenne hu'; |Pensate ergo', Gregory,

Homiliae in Evangelia, XXIX, 6.(25) g CH, I, 328, lines 19-21: |Be oisum is to smeagenne, hu'; |Hinc ergo

summopere colligendum est', Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia, XL, 3.(26) h CH, I, 342, lines 13-15: |Be oam is to smeagenne hu'; |Hinc ergo

colligendum est', Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia, XXXIV, 5.(27) i CH, I, 492, lines 24-5: |Gif hwa smeage hu'; Zettel points out that the

pseudo-Jerome Epistola ad Paulum et Eustochium |served as the guide for all

but the final two sections of the Old English homily (448/13-22 and

448/23-452:/23), where two exempla of Mary's beneficent intercession are

briefly narrated'.(28) However, AElfric's use of smeagan hu comes in line 24 of

p. 452, and is apparently part of his own comment on the second

exemplum. j CH, I, 524, lines 29-33: Herod |smeade hu': Forster identified as the

source of this homily. Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia, XXXVIII,(29) but the

passage c()ncerned is in a paragraph (giving some illustrative material

about persecutors) inserted between two taken from Gregory (XXXVIII, 5

and XXXVIII, 6). Smetana points to the late version of Paul the Deacon's

Homiliary, but this yields nothing comparable.(30) k CH, I, 578 lines 15-16: |Smeagao nu hu'; Davis identified the source of

the first section of Andrew, the natale, as Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia,

V.(31) However, AElfric's use of this homily begins at line 20 on p. 578; the

opening paragraphs appear to be AElfric's own observations on why God

chose fishermen. l CH, II, 45, lines III-16: |Pa tyliao soolice gode. pa oe ne secao heora agen

gestreon ourh gytsunge. ac smeagao ymbe Godes teolunge. hu hi magon

unriht alecgan. and rihtwisnysse fyrorian. oorum menn fremigan. mid

gecneordnysse oaere sooan lufe. and oa oe cariao mid wacelum mode hu hi

oora manna sawla gode gestrynan. and mid him to oam ecan life gelaedan';

this expands a passage from Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia, XIX, 2: |Illi

namque Domino laborant, qui non sua, sed lucra dominica cogitant, qui

zelo charitatis, studio pietatis inserviunt, animabus lucrandis invigilant,

perducere et alios secum ad vitam festinant.'(32) AE]fric's |smeagae) ... hu'

appears to combine elements of the later verbs with the sense of |cogitant'. m CH, II, 85, lines 159- 62: Cuthbert |Begann oa on mode. micclum smeagan.

hu'; Forster identified Bede's several lives of Cuthbert (the metrical and

the prose, together with Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, IV, 27) as the

sources of this homily, but regarded the metrical life as the primary

source.(33) These lines, which offer a summary of Cuthbert's miracles and

his decision to make his home on Farne because of his desire to escape

from public admiration, do not occur in the Historia Ecclesiastica. Both the

prose life and the metrical life offer comparable summaries but the

metrical contains rather stronger elements of Cuthbert's desire to

withdraw, as AElfric puts it, |py laes oe he wurde. to blisful on worulde. and

paes heofenlican lofes. fremde waere' (lines 160-2). However, interesting

information is also to be found in the heading:

Qualiter anachoresim mediatatus apud Lindisfarnenses monachos vixerit.

Talia miranturn fragili ne laude supernae

Caelestisque exsors famae foret, abdita mavult

Secreti lustrare, deo qua teste valeret

Laudis ab humanae liber munirier aura.

(Vita Sancti Cuthberti Metrica, XIV, 373-6).(34)

AElfric's smeagan hu is a direct translation of |Qualiter ... meditatus'. n CH, II, 137, lines 14-16: the Jewish elders |smeadon. hu'; Forster

identified the source of AElfric's account of the Passion as that given by

Smaragdus.(35) AElfric's |smeadon' reflects (but does not precisely translate)

the Gospel |consilium fecerunt' (Matthew XXVI.4) and Smaragdus'

|congregantur, incuntes consilium, quomodo occidant Dominum' (Collectiones

in Epistolas et Evangelia, Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi).(36) o CH, II, 152, lines 86-90: |Nu smeadon gehwilce men oft. and gyt gelome

smeagao. hu'; from line 90 onwards AElfric is certainly referring to

Ratramnus, De Corpore et Sanguine Domini,(37) but the preceding lines offer a

more generalized introduction to the questions that are asked concerning

the Eucharist than that given by Ratramnus himself (De Corpore, V-VIII),

who is responding to specific questions.(38) No precise Latin equivalent may

be offered, therefore, but Ratramnus' |Harum duarum questionum

primam inspiciamus' (VI) may lie behind AElfric's choice. p CH, II, 154, lines 157-8: |Ne sceole ge smeagan hu'; |Non istic racio qua

fieri potuerit disquirenda', Ratramnus, De Corpore, XXV.(39) q CH, II, 164, lines 92-4: |Smeagao nu mine gebroora. hu'; |Pensate, fratres',

Gregory, Homiliae in Evangelia, XXIII, 2.(40) r LS, I, 196, lines 7-8: Quintinianus |smeade hu'; |Quintinianus',

multifaria intentione perquirebat, ut ad eam pertingeret', Acta Sanctorum,

February, Vol. I (Antwerp, 1658), p. 615, quaestio I.2.(41) s LS, I, 282, lines 284: |to smeagenne hu'; no source known to me. t LS, II, 180, lines 183-7: the Devil |smeade hu'; |cum quod male

cupierant', Hilduinus, Passio Sanctorum Dionysii, Rustici et Eleutherii

Martyrum, XXIII.(42) u LS, II, 290, line 1148: |smeade se halga wer hu'; this is close to |quod ubi

Martino conpertum est', Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi, II, III.(43)

v LS, II, 318, lines 56-8: Edmund |smeade hu'; AElfric's words are a version

of Abbo's |quid super his respondere deberet consulit', Corolla Sancti

Eadmundi, VIII.(44) w SC, 442 lines 478-80: |smeagao sume men hu'; Pope's textual apparatus

for these lines indicates that AElfric is summarizing a quantity of material

from the Boulogne Excerpts and that there is no direct equivalent in the

Latin. x AH,(45) p. 67, lines 40-4: the Jews |smeadon, hu hi paet sooe lif of life

gedydon, and noldon smeagan, hu'; Pope, in his discussion of the homilies

for the Fridays in Lent, identifies the |starting point' of this homily as

Haymo, Homiliae, LXI, which is drawn from Alcuin's commentary on

John.(46) Alcuin himself drew his material from Augustine, which makes

Augustine's Tractatus in Evangelium Ioannis, XLIX, 26-8 the primary source

of this homily. The relevant lines are |Temporalia perdere timuerunt, et

uitam acternam non cogitauerunt, ac sic utrumque amiserunt' (XLIX, 26,

lines 9-10).(47) y AH, p. 96, lines 145 -7: Haman |smeade ... hu'; the preceding lines of the

homily (138-44), are a version of Esther iii.5- 6, describing Haman's anger

at Mordechai's disobedience and his decision to eliminate the Jewish

people in Ahasuerus' kingdom. Before proceeding with the story (line

148, corresponding to Esther iii.6), AElfric restates the matter of these

lines. He offers commentary in place of further translation, apparently

deeming that verse 7, on the casting of lots, contained information

unnecessary to his audience. He may have considered it unwise to suggest

that the casting of lots might be acceptable to God. z Texte und Untersuchungen,(48) p. 4, lines 17-19: Zaccheus |smeade ... hu'; this

is AElric's translation of the Gospel verse |et quaerebat videre Jesum'

(Luke XIX. 3).(49)

It may be seen from the Latin passages quoted above that a clear source may, be identified sufficiently often to show what range of meanings in the Latin suggests smeagan hu to the homilist: the Latin sources offer verbs meaning |to think, to consider, to seek, to take counsel, to enquire'. Equally frequently. AElfric finds smeagan hu convenient when summarizing a process of enquiry or consideration on the part of the subject. Except in the |salvation histories', AElfric has as the subjects of smeagan hu only human or quasi-human agents. Yet he apparently feels free to apply the image of thinking or meditating to God, allowing a temporal element to enter into the account of the eternal characteristics of the divine.

AElfric and Gregory

Because of his respect for patristic authority, it is likely that AElfric's choice was not made without appropriate patristic support. He may have found a model for his treatment of God's response to man's predicament in Gregory's Moralia, or in a work which made use of this commentary. Gregory offers a potted history of sin and redemption similar to AElfric's in the context of a commentary on Job iii.4, |Dies ille vertatur in tenebras; non requirat eum Deus desuper, et non illustretur lumine' (|Let that day be turned into darkness, let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it').(50) This |day' is characterized for Gregory by the darkness of sin, specifically that borne by the Devil. His sin brought upon him the black night of punishment, and Gregory contrasts with this darkness the |light' offered to mankind, that of repentance and restoration. He begins with the commonplace that God is certainly able to restore his spoiled creation because he made it in the first place: his power to mend has already been manifested in his creation of good things out of nothing. God's creation, Gregory says, took two forms, the angelic and the human, but in each case pride took away the natural righteousness with which angels and people had been endowed. But the two created communities differed in one important respect: the angelic was spiritual, while the human, Gregory implies, had an intrinsic infirmity, associated with flesh:

Sed una tegmen carnis habuit, alia uero nil infirmum de carne gestauit. Angelus

namque solummodo spiritus, homo uero est spiritus et caro. (Moralia, IV, iii, 8,

lines 7-9)

But one had the clothing of the flesh, the other bore no infirmity derived from

the flesh. For an angelical being is spirit alone, but man is both spirit and


Neither Augustine before him, nor AElfric after him, dared to suggest, as Gregory seems to do here, that man was created with a certain insufficiency which might be understood to influence his ability to withstand the temptation to sin. Gregory derives from this suggestion the reason why God found it possible to pity his human creation but not his angelic:

Misertus ergo creator ut redimeret, illam ad se debuit reducere quam in

perpetratione culpae ex infirmitate aliquid constat habuisse. (ibid., lines 9-11)

Therefore, when the Creator took compassion to work redemption, it was meet

that He should bring back to Himself that creature, which, in the commission

of sin, plainly had something of infirmity.

By contrast, the angels, lacking this means of exciting God's pity, are the more zealously to be rejected by God and are driven the deeper into the abyss. Gregory illustrates God's attitude to mankind with a quotation from Psalm lXXVII.(39), |Et memoratus est quia caro sunt' ('And he remembered that they were but flesh'), which he explains with this paraphrase:

Quo eorum infirma uidit, eo districte culpas punire noluit. (ibid., lines 16-17)

Whereas He beheld their infirmities, so He would not punish their offences

with severity.

Finally, Gregory perceives one more reason why man, but not the Devil, should be pitied, noting that the angel engineered both his own downfall and that of man:

quia nimirum angelus sua malitia cecidit, hominem uero aliena prostrauit. (ibid.,

lines 19-20)

namely, in that the angel fell by his own wickedness, but the

another brought man down.

This section of Gregory's Moralia offers a close parallel to the |salvation histories' in AElfric. However, AElfric's statement that God 'smeade hu he mihte his hand-geweorc of deofles anwealde alysan' makes a slightly different point from Gregory's |misertus ergo creator ut redimeret': for Gregory the point is entirely that God acts decisively and compassionately |misertus ut redimeret' - while for AElfric the miserable downfall of the human creation is somehow played out before the eyes of the Creator, who has to consider what he sees before coming to a conclusion expressive of his pity. There is a further difference of emphasis. In Gregory's account, mankind is found to need or to deserve compassion because of the infirmity (which Gregory perceives) in the nature of human beings. AElfric admits no such infirmity, but he is interested in the point Gregory makes next, that God responds to the injustice of man's predicament. For both AElfric and Gregory, it is unjust that man should take full responsibility for his sin when he has been deceived by the Devil, and unjust that he should suffer in the same way as the Devil. AElfric has God observing man in misery, not infirmitv, and responding to that misery by considering how he might rescue mankind.

In De Annuntiatione, AElfric returns from this perception of the moment in which mercy was born to the eternal context of that compassion. If God may be understood to respond to sin in time, yet in his own timelessness the re-creation of mankind through the Son is known ftom the moment of creation itself:

Pa fram frymoe mancynnes cydde se AElmihtiga God, hwilon ourh getacnunga,

hwilon ourh witegunga, paet he wolde mancynn ahreddon purh oone pe he ealle

gesceafta mid geworhte, ourh his agen Bearn. (CH, I, 1992)

Then from the beginning of mankind the Almighty God made known,

sometimes through signs, sometimes through prophecies, that he desired to

redeem mankind through the one with whom he made all creation, through his

own Son.

Here AElfric is Augustinian again: God's knowledge is eternal, and the promise of redemption was contained in signs from the beginning of creation, |fram ftymoe mancynnes'. Yet AElfric's use of the common, very human verb smeagan, with God as its subject, reveals God's mercy in a particularly striking way. Divine compassion is aroused by human misery: God's mercy takes precedence over his justice. The effect of the |salvation histories' is to illuminate the face of the merciful God.

In offering this understanding of God's mercy, AElfric does not stray from orthodoxy. It is by no means incompatible with Augustine's teaching, for Augustine's emphasis on divine grace certainly has the concept of mercy at its heart. But for Augustine mercy is - however slightly circumscribed by predestination. The eternal knowledge of the divine seems to leave no room for manoeuvre; the number of the elect is fixed and immutable. By a careful use of language AElfric allows himself a quiet, but telling, dissent.


Dr Joyce Hill read and commented on this, paper in draft, and I acknowledge with thanks her painstaking guidance.

(1.) The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church: the First Part, containing the |Sermones Catholi', or Homilies of AElfric, in the Original Anglo-Saxon, with an English Version, ed. by Benjamin Thorpe, 2 vols. (London, 1884-6), Vol. I (cited below as CH, I), pp. 1-8. (2.) Translations of this and other Old English passages are my own. (3.) CH. I, 1 (lines 15-18). (4.) Homilies f AElfric: a Supplementary Collection, ed. by John C. Pope, 2 vol., EETS, OS, 259, 260 (London 1967-8) (cited below as SC), p. 195. (5.) I have sought to show this in my Books and Grace:AElfric's Theology, King's College London Medieval Series, 6 (London, 1991). (6.) Augustine, Enchiridion, ed. by E. Evans, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, 46 (Turnabout, 1969), XXV, 98 - XXVIII, 107. By referring to the Enchiridion I do not wish to suggest that this work was known to AElfric, only that his teaching on grace owes a great deal to the Augustinian doctrine accessibly summarized in that work. (For a good brief account of Augustine's theology of grace, see E. TeSelle, Augustine the Theologian (London, 1970), pp. 310-38.) That AElfric sometimes turned directly to Augustine is suggested by Pope in his analysis of AElfric's sources (SC, p. 159). In particular, Pope thinks tha AElfric must have consulted Augustine's commentary on John and the Enarrationes in Psalmos: the Enchiridion is not listed in his table of sources (SC, pp. 164-6, for Augustine's works). Several copies of the Enchiridion are listed in Gneuss's handlist, but only three may be dated to the tenth century: Cambridge, 146-208; Salisbury Cathedral Library, MS 172 (Helmut Gneuss, |A preliminary list of manuscripts written or owned in England up to 1100', Anglo-Saxon England, IX (1981), 1-60). It may be noted here that AElfric's knowledge of the works of Gregory the Great, beyond the homilies on the Gospels, was limited to some parts of Dialogi and Moralia (SC, p. 159). (7) Enchiridion, XXVI, 100, lines 6-8. (8) Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity, trans. by Bernard M. Peebles, 2nd edn, The Fathers of the Church, 2 (Washington DC, 1959), p. 454. (9) The editions used for these texts in the following discussion are: for De Annuntiatione, CH, I, 192-204; for De Initio Creaturae, CH, I, 8-28; for De Natale Domini, AEfric's Catholic Homilies: the Second Series: Text, ed. by Malcolm R. Godden, EETS, ss, 5 (London, 1979) (cited below as CH, II); pp. 3-11; for Hexameron, AEfric's Exameron Anglice; or, The Old English Hexameron, ed. by S. J. Crawford, Bibliothek der angelsachsischen Prosa, 10 (Hamburg, 1921). (10) Gregory the Great, Moralia siue Expositio in Iob, ed. by M. Adriaen, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, 3 vols., 143, I43A, 143B (Turnhout, 1979-85), I. (11.) Bosworth-Toller offers this definition: |III(2), to consider, ponder, examine, enquire into, discuss, search' (Joseph Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, ed. and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1908), s.v. |smeagan'). In his glossary, Pope gives |to ponder, meditate, take thought, deliberate'. These definitions are supported by analyses of occurrences listed in Antonette diPaolo Healey and Richard L. Venezky, A Microfiche Concordance of Old English (Toronto, 1980). These analyses form part of the discussion below. (12.) Enchiridion, XXVIII, 104, lines 7-12. (13.) Faith, Hope and Charity, trans. Peebles, p. 458. (14.) See, e.g., De Sancta Trinitate (SC, pp. 463-4, lines 1-19 (esp. lines 11-16). (15.) In this passage AElfric combines the verb smeagan with two adverbs, first embe and then hu; since my particular interest here is in smeagan hu, I have not pursued AElfric's meaning in the first of these collocations, although it appears to be little different from what I take to be his meaning in the second. Because I differ from Crawford in my interpretation of this passage, I give here his translation of lines 400-2: |And God likewise knew at that time how he himself should determine with regard to the atonement, how he should amend it by his holy grace, so that he might help man' (Hexameron, ed. Crawford, p. 64). Crawford expects, and so understands, |should determine', but the grammar of the passage does seem to give equal weight to wyste and smeade; it seems to make them contemporaneous. (16) |The chronology of AElfric's works', in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in some Aspects of their History and Culture, presented to Bruce Dickins, ed. by P. A. M. Clemoes (London, 1959), p. 214 n. 2. (17) AElfric's Lives of Saints, ed. by W. W. Skeat EETS, os, 76, 82, 94, 114 (London, 1881-90; repr. as 2 vols. London, 1966) (cited below as LS). (18) |Zum schluss bleiben uns noch ein paar homilien zu nennen fur die ich gar keine quelle habe ausfindig machen konnen. Es sind dies die homilien 1, no I; II, no. I ... ': Max Forster, |Uber die Quellen von AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', Anglia, XVI (1894), 1-61 (p. 56). 19 Ibid., P. 21 ([sub-section] 73). (20) C. L. Smetana, |AElfric, |AElfric and the nearly medieval homiliary', Traditio, XV (1959), 163-204; |AElfric and the Homiliary of Haymo of Halberstadt', Traditio, XVII (1961), 457-69. (21) J. E. Cross, AEfric and the Medieval Homiliary - Objection and Contribution, Scriptora Minora Regiae Societatis Humaniorum Litterarum Lundensis, 3961-2, no. 4 (Lund, 1963), 1-34 (p. 14). The sermons are by Ildefonsus and Quodvultdeus respectively. (22) Patrick Zettel, |AEfric's hagiographic sources and the Latin legendary preserved in BL MS Cotton Nero E.i and CCCC MS 9 and other manuscripts' (unpub. D. Phil. diss., University of Oxford, 1979), PP. 274-8. (23) Isidore, Sententiarum Libri Tres (PL, LXXXIII, col. 560), and Alcuin, Sigewulfi Interrogationes (PL, C, col. 517). The sources are identified by Crawford in his notes for these lines (Hexameron, ed. Crawford, pp. 82-3). (24) Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse, rev. edn, ed. by Dorothy Whitelock (Oxford, 1967), p. 251. (25) PL, LXXVI, col. 1217; the source was identified by Forster (ibid., [sub-section] 45). (26) PL, LXXVI, col. 1305; the source was identified by Forster (ibid., [sub-section] 46). (27) PL, LXXVI, col. 1248; the source was identified by Forster (ibid., [sub-section] 46). (28) Zettel, | AElfric's hagiographic sources', p. 180. (29) Forster, |AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae ', [sub-section] 51). (30) Smetana, |AElfric and the early medieval homiliary', section 29. I have not been able to see the manuscripts to which he refers, but I have seen a microfilm of the early printed edition of the |late' Paul the Deacon (Homiliae), of Eucharius Cervicornus (1539). I was guided to this printed text (owned by the University of Lund) by Cross, AElfric and the Medieval Homiliary, p. 20 n. 4. (31) C. R. Davis, |Two new sources for AElfric's Catholic Homilies', JEGP, XLI (1942), 510-13 (p. 510). (32) PL, LXXVI, co. 1155; the source was identified by Forster (|AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', [sub-section] 43). (33) Forster, Uber die Quellen von AElfrics Homiliae Catholicae, I: Legenden (Berlin, 1892), [sub-section] Zettel, |Hagiographic sources', p. 85 n. 219. (34) Bedas metrische Vita Sancti Cuthberti, ed. bv W. Jaager, Palaestra, 198 (Leipzig, 1935), pp. 24-32. (35) Forster |AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', [sub-section] 113. (36) PL, CII, col. 175. (37) Forster, |AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', [sub-section], 130. (38) Ratramnus: |De Corpore et Sanguine Domini'. Texte original et notice bibliographique, ed. by J. N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, 2nd edn, Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, 87 (Amsterdam; London, 1974). (39) The correspondence is documented in De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, ed. Bakhuizen van den Brink, who presents AElfric (in translation) and Ratramnus in parallel columns for this passage, among others (p. 125). He points out that the correspondence of these lines was first noticed by William Hopkins in 1686 (ibid., pp. 123, 125). (40) Forster, |AElfrics exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', [sub-section]53, (41) The source was identified in J. H. Ott, Uber die Quellen der Heiligenleben in Aelfrics |Lives of Saints', Vol. I (Halle, 1892), pp. 29-31. (42) PL, CVI, col. 42. The source was identified in G. Loomis, |Further sources of AElfric's saints' lives', Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, XIII (1931), 1-8 (p. 4 n. 7). (43) Sulpicii Severi Libri qui Supersunt, ed. by C. Halm, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, 1 (Vienna, 1866), p. 202 (lines 3-4). The source of this passage was identified in G. H. Gerould, |AElfric's lives of St Martin of Tours', JEGP, XXIV (1925), 206-10 (p. 208 n. 12). (44) Corolla Sancti Eadmundi: the Garland of St Edmund, King and Martyr, ed. by Francis Hervey (London, 1907), p. 24. Aelfric himself states that Abobo is his source: LS, II, 314, lines 1-10. (45) Angelsachsische Homilien und Heiligenleben, ed. by B. Assmann, Bibliothek der angelsachsischen Prosa, 3 (Kassel, 1889); repr. with an introduction by P. A. M. Clemoes (Darmstadt, 1964). (46) SC, p. 160. (47) Augustine, Tractatus in Euangelium Ioannis, ed. by D. R. Willems, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, 36 (Turnhout, 1954). (48) Texte und Untersuchungen zur altenglischen Literatur und Kirchengeschichte, ed. by R. Brotanek (Halle, 1913). (49) Brotanek points this out in his note on the sources (ibid., p. 96). (50) Translations of quotations from Moralia (here and below) are from that by C. M., A Library of the Fathers, 18 (Oxford; London, 1844), p. 189.
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Author:Grundy, Lynne
Publication:Medium Aevum
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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