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Hit seg[eth] on halgum bocum: the logic of composite old English homilies.

The vernacular homilies can be frustrating, the flotsam of the ages coming down through sometimes battered manuscripts, corrected perhaps, but more often riddled with absurdities or error. Many are composite, assembled from multiple sources translated from Latin or taken from earlier vernacular works. The homilists who compiled them borrowed here and there, often without regard for internal consistency. As a result, many homilies seem confused, repetitive, even self contradictory. They wander from one topic to another. Frequently it seems as though the only thing holding them together is the compiler's piety; there is no other clear organizing principle.

The results are intriguing to modern scholars, who try to explain why what seems so obvious to readers now--a lack of inner coherence--seems to have been missed by the Anglo-Saxon homilist. The explanation varies with the particular homily. Sometimes the competence of the compiler is called into question: either his Latin was at fault, so he did not understand what he was translating, or he translated so blindly and mechanically that he did not notice the logical difficulties in what he wrote. In other cases, we look for a different kind of connection, trying to identify the special interest or agenda that led him to combine two or more incongruous or contradictory sources.

There is nothing especially wrong with searching for the logic in what seems illogical. After all, we can assume that the homilies were meant to be used, even if some controversy lingers over what, precisely, they were used for; and if they were meant to be used, they were meant to make sense. There is no value at all in a sermon that does not convey an appropriate spiritual message to its audience. But what was an appropriate spiritual message for the day? Although we may have to struggle to find coherence in them, muddled texts were copied and recopied. Clearly they were valued and thought useful, despite their deficiencies, by the Anglo-Saxons who preserved them. And if that is the case, perhaps we ought to rethink the principles underlying their compilation.

It is hard to believe that the homilists saw the problems in their texts, but could not figure out how to deal with them. In this essay, I would like to suggest another possibility: that because of their background and training, which instilled in them a veneration for the written word, they simply did not see the inconsistencies that trouble modern readers. In offering this suggestion, I do not mean to maintain that the homilists were naively credulous, dull souls compared to their intellectual descendants. Some were skilled, others less so, but what they all had in common was a starting point that differed from our own. They regarded books--not just Biblical texts but any books--as a repository of religious truth; in fact, they did not always distinguish between the canon of scripture and the Fathers or other kinds of religious texts. This then affected the way they handled their Latin materials as they rendered them into Old English. They did not follow, as we might expect, the classical rules of translation; rather they applied the rules of scriptural interpretation, which permitted a measure of contradiction or "mystery."

Let me begin by setting out a few examples of the kinds of problems I mean. Blickling 13, clumsily stitched together from two Assumption accounts (the so-called Transitus B and C) has a number of peculiar readings, including multiple and inconsistent references to Mary's reception into heaven. Rudolph Willard assumed that the defects of this piece were due to the homilist's poor Latinity--and admittedly it was poor. Mary Clayton refined this position by arguing that the issue was the physical assumption-that one account left the issue somewhat ambiguous, so the homilist appended the other, where the corporeal assumption is more explicit. (1) While the arguments of both scholars have merit, it seems to me that a fundamental problem remains: it is the Old English version that has the defects. However bad his Latin was, however much he wanted to stress the corporeal assumption, the homilist should have noticed the absurdities in his translation. So also should the copyist who entered a version of the same homily in Corpus Christi College ms. 198. (2) Neither did, or if they no ticed, they apparently were untroubled by the inconsistencies.

Also in the Blickling Book is a composite homily (Blickling 4) which combines a tithing sermon of Caesarius of Aries, miscellaneous material, and an excerpt drawn from the Visio Pauli. In this homily, the biggest problem seems to be a matter of focus. It begins with an exhortation to tithing, shifts rather abruptly to pastoral care and godly behavior, then turns back to tithing again. Willard (whose concern lay mostly with the sections drawn from Caesarius) noted the wandering focus, although he thought that the various parts reflected a shared concern for church reform. (3) But as Milton McC. Gatch observed, when he looked at the homily as whole, the compiler seems to have assembled the piece without any particular audience in mind. Some parts seem directed toward lay people, other parts deal with the proper responsibilities of bishops and priests. Because of this shift between lay and clerical concerns, Gatch assumed that the homily was less a coherent work, and more "an assembling of materials for the use of or instruction of the clergy"; over all he characterized it as "deeply flawed and confused both conceptually and rhetorically." (4) Confused it may be, but this sermon too was copied more than once: it appears in Junius 85/86, a later manuscript, but with better readings, so it derives, not from the Blickling Book, but from some other exemplar. (5)

Such problems are not restricted to the Blickling Book. Modern scholars have argued over what AElfric intended when, discussing the Eucharist, he cites as authorities both Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus, two Carolingian theologians who held opposing views on the Real Presence. According to Theodore Leinbaugh, AElfric was building a "fragile synthesis" in trying to trying to reconcile the two positions, and he asserts that "AElfric was no doubt aware of the tension created by using these two controversial and doctrinally diverse sources." (6) But Lynne Grundy notes in a convincing article that "AElfric moves back and forth over the boundary line apparently without noticing it"; hence, she concludes that AElfric saw no contradiction in the use of both authors, for "by quoting the Paschasian example he was seeking to support his argument." (7)

Anyone who has spent time studying the homilies can probably think of similar instances--e.g., the "dueling judgments" of the third homily in CCCC 41. The first half of this piece, drawing on the Apocalypse of Thomas, describes Christ's return to divide mankind into the elect and the damned. Appended to it is a description of individual judgment at the point of death. In that section, good or evil angels immediately carry the lone soul off to heaven or to hell, according to its deserts; its fate is settled long before the Second Coming. Although I know of no scholarly attempt to reconcile this inconsistency, it is telling that the homily was published in two separate parts, reflecting modern editors' sense that the piece has no real unity. (8)

Yet this last example gives us, I think, the key to the puzzles, as it seems that even now the belief in an individual judgment and a collective judgment exist side-by-side in single individuals. In popular culture we find images of St. Peter at heaven's gates and devils with pitch forks patrolling hell, and at funerals one hears the comment that the deceased has gone to be with Jesus; these ideas coexist with belief in a doomsday and the last times. And while there are no doubt theological ways to reconcile the two understanding of the fate of the soul after death, it does not seem to me that the average believer is troubled by--even conscious of--the apparent inconsistencies. (9)

In essence, these views are received wisdom and little examined. And this, in some sense, is the case with the compiling homilists, although I think that in the case of Anglo-Saxon England there is a further difference: it is not simply that they inherited some sort of vague popular belief; in their case, these views are attested by incontrovertible proof--they are written down in books, and this gives them, by the standards of the day, unimpeachable authority.

This is, by our lights, an odd way to think about books. We have come to expect them to dispute with one another, to offer a multiplicity of views. Even the most credulous person will admit that there are false books out in circulation, although not everyone will agree on which books are false. Yet even in our own day, there are people who, while admitting that some or many books are false, nevertheless hold certain religious texts as sacrosanct and incontrovertible--they are incapable of seeing, e.g., contradictions in scripture, or if they see them, they are not troubled by them. And this reflection brings us still nearer to the position in which the homilists found themselves. They did not always distinguish between the canon of scripture and other holy books. Books--most books--were holy books, with exceptional authority, to be held in particular veneration as the conduit of holy doctrine. (10)

Again, this is not a matter of simple credulity on the part of the homilists, but of the intellectual context in which they worked. We know that they were intensely conservative, constantly citing authority, and loathing the charge of novelty--a thoroughly modern value! Moreover, they had it on good patristic authority that holy books might not be to every one and in every place equally transparent. The Fathers, of course, referred primarily to the interpretation of the canon of scripture, but the lessons had relevance to the homilists as they approached the translation of non-canonical holy books. The division between canonical and non-canonical texts, so clear to us, was for them not so obvious.

In what follows, then, I will show how, in the process of translation, the homilists signaled their reverence for books, muddling the distinction between Biblical and non-Biblical authority. Then I want to take a brief look at the principles of patristic scriptural interpretation, as they are more relevant to what the homilists were doing when they compiled their works than is any discussion of translation.


For the vernacular homilists, books were the primary vehicle of religious knowledge: they often mentioned books in their homilies, even adding references to the written word where the original Latin had none. (11) Perhaps one of the most common interpolations in translation is a phrase such as her seg[eth] on pissum bocum ["it says here in these books"], which acts in part as quotation marks: a striking example comes at the beginning of Blickling's Acta Andrea, where the homilist repeats some variation of her seg[eth] [thorn]aet four times in the first eight lines. (12) More importantly, however, such phrases serve as an attestation of authority, particularly for injunctions that might be likely to encounter resistence. (13) For example, according to Napier 58, a fragmentary sermon on Christian conduct, "it is written and read in holy books and it is entirely true" ["hit is awriten and geraedd on halgum bocum, and it is eall so[eth]"] that those who shirk mass will end up in hell; the sermon continues, "the books say and we have read [that intercourse after menopause is forbidden].... We say as we have read it in holy books." ["[thorn]e bec secga[eth] and we geraeed habba[eth].... we secga[eth], swa we hit geraedd habba[eth] on halgum bocum"]. (14) Similarly, in De falsis deis Wulfstan called on books to support his assertions about paganism: "We do not read anywhere in books that men raised heathen altars ... before Noah's flood," he began, and added that the attempt to build the tower of Babel resulted in as many languages as workers "as the books say." ["Ne raeede we [thorn]eah ahwar on bocum poet man araerde aenig hoe[eth]engyld ... aer Noes flod ... [thorn]aes [thorn]e bec secga[eth]."] (15) The genealogy of the false gods also came from books: "for we read in books, both in heathen and in Christian, that savage Jove is truly Saturn's son" ["for[eth]an [thorn]e we raeda[eth] on bocum, ge on hae[thorn]enum ge on Cristenum, [thorn]aet se hetula Iovis to so[eth]an is Saturnes sunu"]; and two manuscripts that use this passage also add, "and the books may not be discounted, which the ancient heathen wrote about them, and also we encounter it thus written in martyrs' passions" ["and [thorn]a bec ne magon beon awaegede, [thorn]e pa ealdan hae[eth]enan be him awriton [thorn]uss; and eac on martira [thorn]rowungum we gemeta[thorn] swa awriten"] . (16)

Congregations were often warned that book lore, though tedious, was vital to the soul. Napier 58 put it bluntly: "It is odious and burdensome for lay people to hear, nevertheless it is profoundly commanded to men in orders that they make known to people what is written in holy books." ["Hit is la[eth] and hefityme laewedum folce to gehiranne, and swa[eth]eahhwae[eth]ere gehadedum mannum is beboden deope, poet hi cy[thorn]an sceolan folce, hwaet on halgum bocum awriten is."] (17) Later the same homily promised an abbreviated lesson with the words: "Ne sceal nanum cristenum men aefre to langsum pincean, poet he his agene [thorn]earfe gehyre secgan and embe godes maer[eth] smeage. Hit is lang eall to areccanne, [thorn]aet we on bocum embe godes wundra raede[eth] and synga[eth]." ["It must not ever seem too tedious to any Christian man that he hear spoken about his own need and consider God's glory. It is rather long to recount all that we read and recite in books about God's marvels."] (18)

If references to books did no more than indicate an authoritative source, they would be nothing but a kind of medieval footnote, albeit a vague one. But there are other, more interesting references inserted into translations that seem to stress the special character of books as the divine conduit of faith. An example that perhaps best sets up the opposition between God's books and other kinds of knowledge is this, drawn from Napier 49 (Vercelli 10). Here the devil on Doomsday claimed sinners from God with the comment: "[thorn]onne heo gehyrdon [thorn]ine bec raedan and [thorn]in godspel segcan and heora lif rihtan and hym ecne weg cyl[thorn]an, heo simble heora earan fordyttan and hit gehyran noldan. Ac [thorn]onne ic mine hearpan genam and mine strengas styrian ongan, heo [thorn]aet lustlice gehyrdon and fram [thorn]e acerdan and to me urnan." ["When they heard your books read and your gospel told and their life corrected and the eternal way made known to them, they constantly plugged up their ears and would not hear it. But when I took my harp and began to brush the strings, they heard that gladly, and turned away from you and ran to me."] (19) The devil's speech here is loosely based on the Liber exhortationis of Paulinus of Aquileia; in both, the devil's claim is based on the soul's rejection of God and its adherence to the devil. But when contrasting the characteristic attractions of the diabolic and the divine, the homilist contributed the opposition of books and harp on his own. (20)

AElfric, like the anonymous homilists, also thought in terms of books when rewriting Latin sermons for his Anglo-Saxon audiences. Like them, he was inclined to remind his listeners that books were the source of the Christian faith and to express concern that they might find the lesson tedious. (21) It is not surprising, therefore, to find that he too modifies his translations to introduce the idea of books. In one of his Easter homilies, for instance, he worked into Gregory's commentary on the events on the road to Emmaus another passage stressing the importance of books:

He [eth]reade heora andgites heardnysse and him geopenode [eth]a halgan gewritu [thorn]e be him waeron gesette, and swa [eth]eah he waes him ge[eth]uht swilce ael[eth]eodig for [eth]aere twynunge. Be [thorn]ison we magon tocnawan [thorn]aet us is twyfeald neod on boclicum gewritum. Anfeald neod us is [thorn]aet we [eth]a boclican lare mid carfullum mode smeagan, oler [thorn]aet we hi to weorcum awendon. Gif moyses and ealle witigan witogoden [thorn]aet crist sceolde [eth]urh nearunysse his [eth]rowunge into his heofonlican wuldre faran, humeta maeeg [eth]onne se beon cristen geteald, se [eth]e nele be his andgites mae[eth]e [thorn]a boclican gewritu aspyrian.

[He (Christ) rebuked the denseness of their understanding and opened to them the holy scriptures that were set forth about him, and yet he seemed to them like a stranger because of their doubt. By this we may recognize that there is a double duty for us in the writings of books--the first duty for us is that we consider the teaching of books with careful mind, the other that we turn it to works.] (22)

Only the beginning of the passage resembles Gregory's: "Duritiam intellectus increpavit; sacrae Scripturae mysteria quae de se ipso erant aperuit, et tamen quia adhuc in eorum cordibus peregrinus erat a fide, se ire longius finxit. Fingere namque componere dicimus, unde et compositores luti figulos vocamus." ["He rebuked the denseness of their understanding; he opened the mysteries of holy scripture which were about him, and yet because he was still a stranger from belief in their hearts, he made up a story that he would travel further. For we say that to make up is to compose, whence we also call composers of clay 'makers (lit. potters).' Thus the pure Truth did nothing out of duplicity, but bodily showed himself to them as he was to them in their mind."] (23) Gregory's point is that the travelers' hearts were blind to Christ's true nature, so they did not recognize him outwardly either, at least not until they showed him charity by inviting him to dinner. When he broke the bread, they finally realized who he was, but by his act, not his words. From this, Gregory draws a lesson not unlike AElfric's on the importance of works: "Therefore whoever wishes to understand what he has heard, let him hasten to implement in deed those things which he was already able to understand." ["Quisquis ergo vult audita intelligere, festinet ea quae iam intelligere potuit opere implere."] (24) The difference is that what Gregory presented as derived from listening, AElfric put in terms of boclicum lare.


It is not surprising that the homilies should point to books as the repository of holy doctrine. Christianity is, after all, a religion of the book; and medieval veneration of the Bible might translate into respect for the sacred character and authority of writing in general. (25) But the vernacular homilists seem to go beyond their Latin counterparts in stressing God's role in the making of holy books: they suggest, not mere inspiration, but an active participation in the creation of the text. For instance, the tenth Vercelli homily spoke of "the gospel of the almighty Lord, which he himself made through his holy power" ["aelmihtiges Dryhtnes godspelle pe he him sylfum purh his [eth]a halegan mihte geworhte"]. (26) The Lord also seems to have transcribed the so-called "Sunday letter" on proper Sunday observance, at least according to one vernacular translation (now lost); in it, the letter was described as "the third writing that was sent from the heavens, and after this will never come another.... it was not invented by any earthly man, but written by the hands of the holy Savior" ["paet [eth]ridde gewrit paet waes asend of heofonum, and aefter [eth]isson ne cyme[eth] nefre nan o[eth]er.... hit nis afunden fram aenigan eor[eth]lice men, ac gewriten fram handum [eth]es haligan haelendes"]. (27) Another translation of this letter, perhaps to preserve the divine dignity, allowed for an angelic amanuensis, but insisted that the Holy Trinity dictated: "and that letter was not written by any earthly man, but by God's own angel, as the Holy Trinity itself composed it" ["and paet gewrit na awrat nan eor[eth]lic man, ac godes agen aengel, swa swa seo haligen prynnys hit sylf gedihte"]. (28) Yet another anonymous homilist added the detail that the letter was "written with gold letters" ["awriten mid gyldenum staefum"], intending perhaps to enhance its authority by equating it with decorated Gospels. (29) In all these cases the vernacular homilists went beyond what they found in their sources: while Latin tradition agreed on the heavenly origins of this document, the emphatic assertion of divine participation and the stress on the physical appearance of the text were peculiar to the vernacular.

Books were associated with judgment from very early in Christian history: the Book with seven seals figures prominently in the Revelation of St. John. (30) Again not surprisingly, echoes come into the homilies, sometimes by way of the Latin source, but also without prompting. When, for example, in an AElfrician sermon, a youth resurrected from the dead warns of souls "blotted out from the living book" ["adylegode of paere liflican bec"], the reference comes from the apocryphal Passion of John. (31) An anonymous author, who may have been working independently of a source, uses similar language, explaining that because of the Fall, "we were blotted out from the original [variants: 'first-created,' 'glorious'] writing in which we were written into heaven" ["we waeron adilegode of ham frympelican (variants: 'frumsceapenan'; Vercelli: 'pry[eth]fullan') frumgewrite, pe we to heofonum awritene waeron"]. (32) Both cases are a reminiscence of Revelations 3:5, "I will not blot his name out of the book of life"--indeed the seemingly odd characterization of the writing as frympelican frumgewrite (the elements frym and frum denoting "beginning" or "origin") came from apocalyptic references to the book of life "written before the foundation of the world." (33)

Such references to judgment books were common enough in both Latin and Old English; however the Anglo-Saxon homilists sometimes elaborated the idea in novel ways. For one anonymous writer, pious footsteps on earth became writing above: he advised his flock that "each of the steps and footprints that we take toward church for fear of God and for his love, all those will be measured and marked out with golden letters in heaven" ["aelc paera staepa and fotlaesta, pe we to cyricean weard for godes ege and for his lufu gestaeppa[eth], ealle hi beo[eth] amette and amearcode mid gildenum stafum on heofonum"]. (34) Other homilists expanded the idea of judgment books to include diabolical as well as celestial forces. For instance, according to the Old English version of the Visio Pauli, "it is said in holy books" that each person has a pair of advisors--a devil and an angel--and each reports to God in writing his charge's good and evil deeds: "then they bring to God in writing, the angel all that we did in the night for good, and the devil all that we do and perform for evil" ["ponne bringap hy gode on gewrite, se engel eall, paet we on paere nihte to gode gedolp, and se deofol eall, paet we to yfel gedo[eth] and gefremma[eth]"]--a detail found nowhere in the Latin. (35) A similar change was made in the translation of the final "Three Utterances" of the dying soul: in the contest for the evil soul, "the devils tell and recount all the evil that he ever did, and they have it written down in their books" ["pa deoflu secgac[eth] and recca[eth] eal pa yfel pe he aefre gefremede, and hi hit on heora bocum awriten habba[eth]"]. (36) The angels defending the good soul likewise have books; they "begin to tell and read very amicably all the good that she ever did from the beginning of her life to her days' end; and they had it all written down in their books" ["onginna[eth] secgan and raedan swy[eth]e freondlice eall [eth]a god [eth]e heo aefre fram frym[eth]e hyre lifes o[eth] hire daga ende gefremede; and heo hit eall on heora bocum awriten habba[eth]"]. (37) Joyce Bazire and James E. Cross, who edited this homily, remark that "this idea appears in none of the extant Latin texts," and they speculate that in giving both devils and angels books, the Old English "may well preserve some of the balance of the original." (38) But since this "expansion of literacy" does not occur in the Latin but does show up in other Old English homilies, it is more likely to reflects a characteristic pattern of thought: to the homilists, divine (and even diabolic) communications meant books and writing. Hence, they translated into their texts an idea that should have been there--or even, from their perspective, that was there implicitly.


If the homilists were thinking of books, first and foremost, when they were thinking of religious matters, did they distinguish, as modern Christians might, between the canon and commentary, the one the very words of God, the other a matter of interpretation? The evidence of the Old English homilies suggests that they did not, for they handled Biblical texts with the same freedom they handled any other materials, misquoting, misattributing, or interpolating them without apparent concern that they were altering a divinely inspired text. At times, even the terminology seems fluid. In Blickling 4, for instance, the homilist attributes Caesarius' words to the Gospel of Christ:

Geherap nu, men Da leofestan, hwaet se aepele lareow saegde be manna teopungsceape; he cwaep, "Nu nealaecep paet we sceolan ure aehta and ure waestmas gesamnian, donne we Donne geornelice Drihtnes Dancas De us Da waestmas sealde"; and syn we gemyndige paes pe us Crist sylfa bebead on pyssum godspelle; he cwaep paet we symle emb twelf monap ageafon Done teopan dael paes we on ceape habban.

[Let us hear now, dearly beloved, what the noble teacher said (variant: what it says here in these books) about people's tithe payments. He said, "It now approaches (the time) when we should gather our goods and our fruits. Then do we offer eagerly our thanks to who gave us the fruits." And let us be mindful of that which Christ himself commanded us in this gospel. He said that about once a year we should always give the tenth part of what we have in goods.] (39)

A little later the homilist adds, "in this gospel it says that our tithe payment is tribute to poor people" ["on pissum godspelle saegp paet ure teopan sceattas syn earmra manna gafol"]. (40)

Gatch found this usage "mystifying"; (41) in his view one of the many defects of this homily is that it "cites sources in difficult and misleading ways. Its use of godspel for a source that is not a pericope from the canonical gospels is especially worrisome.... it is misleading and wrong in its citation of authority, even by the standards of its age." (42) I am inclined to put another construction on the use of the term: that the homilist had in mind, not one of the books of the Bible but, more generically, Christian doctrine. Elsewhere in the same homily he seems to use godspel to mean religious teaching in general. In this passage, the homilist advises: "Ne sceolan pa lareowas agimeleasian pa lare, ne paet folc ne sceal forhycggan paet hi to him hi geeapmedon, gif hi willon Godes forginesse habban; forpon paer mon paet godspel saegp, maniges mannes heorte bip onbryrded, and God bip milde paem monnum pe mid eapmodre heortan on hine gelefap." ["Nor should the teachers neglect the teaching, so that the people will not despise to humble themselves to him if they wish to have God's forgiveness; for where one says the gospel, many men's hearts will be converted, and God will be merciful to the man who believes in him with humble heart."] (43) Godspel also seems to have this more generic sense in the beginning of Vercelli 10: "peah man anum men godspel secge, ponne bio ic pereonmiddan." And [eth]am biop synna forgifene pe [eth]aet godspel seg[eth] and gecwi[eth], and synna pam bio[eth] forgifene pe hit for Godes naman lustlice gehyre[eth]." ["Though someone tells the gospel to one person, I will be there among them. And for him who says and proclaims the gospel, his sins will be forgiven, and the sins will be forgiven for those who gladly hear it for God's name."] (44)

Notice that in this Vercelli passage, the quotation of the canonical scriptures is less than exact. "Though someone tells the gospel to one person" presumably renders Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Such free translations are not unusual, nor is it unusual to give non-canonical injunctions scriptural authority. In support of his assertions, the homilist of Blickling 4 piled name upon holy name: "Swa Sanctus Paulus saede, paet Crist sylfa bebude Moyse paet he oprum lareowum saegde, gif hi paet Cristene folc mid lufan ne mehton gecyrron paet hi Godes aewe on riht geheoldan, paet hit ponne manige yfele men mid heora feore gebohtan, ponne gecyrde paet older folc on Godes pone sopan peodom." ["So St. Paul said that Christ himself commanded Moses to tell other teachers, if they might not convert the Christian people with love so that they righteously keep God's law, that many evil men will then pay for it with their lives, then the other people will turn to the true service of God."] (45) The source of this statement seems to be Hebrews 10:28: "A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses." (46) There is nothing in the Pauline passage, however, about Christ speaking to Moses or other teachers, and Paul's point--God's severity toward apostates--is quite different from the homilist's concern for episcopal responsibility. A similar case, taken from the same homily, is Saint Paul's cry that "it is the devil's treasury that one hide his sins from his confessor" ["paet bip deofles goldhord, paet mon his synna dyrne his scrifte"]. (47) Here there seems to be no parallel in either the Pauline Epistles, nor even in the apocryphal Visio Pauli (used elsewhere in this homily). In particular, the reference to a scrift, suggesting private confession, is anachronistic in an ancient source; more likely it reflects what was for the homilist contemporary practice.

According to Blickling 5, "Christ himself said with his own mouth, 'When you see growing and blooming all the fruits of the earth, and smell the sweet fragrance of the plants of the wood, then soon after they will wither and die from the heat of the summer.'" ["Crist sylfa cwaeb purh his sylfes mup, 'ponne ge geseop growende and blowende ealle eorpan waestmas, and pa swetan stencas gestinca[eth] para wuduwyhta, pa sona eft adrugiap and forp gewitap for paes sumores haeton."] (48) While scripture at various places compares the withering of spring with the passing of human life, (49) no verse, to the best of my knowledge, sufficiently resembles this passage to be attributed to the lips of the Lord. More probably Pseudo-Basil deserved the credit: "Does not (the flesh) as hay when it is struck by the summer's heat wither and bit by bit lose its former beauty?" ["Nonne sicut fenum cum a fervore aestatis percussum fuerit, arescit et paulatim pristinum decorem amittat?"] (50)

St. Paul's authority likewise supported a remark in Blickling 6: "As Saint Paul the apostle said, we can anoint the Lord's feet if we do good things for other faithful people and help the poor, insofar as each (of us) can, and (if we) are always compassionate in another's misfortunes, as well as rejoicing greatly in another's good." ["Swa Paulus se apostol cwaep, Drihtnes fet we magon smerian, gif we willap oprum geleaffullum teala don, and helpan paes earman se pe bet maege, and beon symle efenprowgende opres earfopum, swyce eac on opres gode beon swipe gefeonde."] (51) The passage perhaps echoes Romans 12:13, 15--"Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.... Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep"--but the association with the anointment of feet does not derive from Paul. (52) Also according to the Blickling 6, "the evangelist said that Martha and Mary signify this transitory and brief life" ["cwaep se godspellere, Martha & Maria getacniap pis laenlice lif & pis gewitendlice"], (53) but this is clearly an exegete's interpretation and not the evangelist's. And, in a similar case, Blickling 14 begins: "Men pa leofestan, her us manap and mynegap on pissum bocum and on pissum halgum gewrite, be pisse halgan tide weorpunga pe we nu todaeg maersian sceolan and weorpian, ponne is paet seo foremaere gebyrd Sancte Iohannes paes fulwihtweres.... forpon pe we gehyrdon pa paet halige godspel raedd waes paet naeniges Godes haligra gebyrd, ne his heahfaedera, ne his witgana, ne his apostola, ciricean ne maersiap nempe Cristes sylfes and pyses Iohannes." ["Dearly beloved, we are here reminded and warned in this books and in these holy writings, about the celebration of this holy time that we now today celebrate and honor, which is the birth of John the Baptist.... For we heard when the Gospel was read that the churches do not celebrate the birth of any of God's saints, nor his patriarchs, nor his prophets, nor his apostles, except for Christ's himself, and this John's."] (54) The introduction, "For we hear when the gospel was read," sounds like a reference to the pericope, but no reading from the Gospel makes--or could make--this claim.

So were the homilists playing fast and loose with the footnotes? They were not critically trained nor were they accustomed to sorting their texts into categories, as we do so readily in the modern West. At the same time, however, they were probably doing an honest job, according to their lights. When they claimed that the Lord said thus, they undoubtedly meant it, even if the language into which they cast the Lord's words wandered well away from the literal meaning of scripture.

Let us consider another passage of Vercelli 10, a popular sermon whose departures a litteris we have already had occasion to notice. Here the homilist ascribes to the Lord and his writing the following statement:

Swa hit awriten is, and he sylf cwaep: "Se [eth]e haef[eth] minne lufan in him and his bene to me sende[eth], ic hine symle gehyre and mine miltse ofer hyne sende. And pa pe to me cyrrap fram hyra gyltum, and geandettap on minum naman, and bote mid faestenum do[eth] and mid tearum and mid genedum, ponne ic him forlaete mine miltse to, and forgifenysse sylle, and mine rice alyfe, and heofonlicne weg taece, paer bib a god and sio hea blis and sio mycle reed. For pam ior[eth]licum ic sylle heofonlican, for pyssum [h]wilendlicum pa ecan, for pyssum laenan life paet unlaene, for pyssum uncorenan life paet corenan, for pyssum earmlican life paet eadige. Gesaelige bio[eth] pa [eth]e pet rice gemunap: unlaede bio[eth] pa pe pam wi[eth]acap. Hwaet hylpe[eth] pam men aht, peah he ealne middangeard on his anes aeht eal gestryne, gif eft paet dioful genime[eth] pa sawle. Ne him no pe bet ne bi[eth], peah he her on life lifige pusend wintra, gifhe aefter his deape bi[eth] laeded on helle and paer on witum wunap a butan end."

[So it is written and he (the Lord) himself says, "He that has my love in him and offers his prayers to me, I will always hear him and send my mercy over him. And those that turn from their sin and confess in my name, and atone with fasts and with tears and with prayers, then I will grant him my mercy and give forgiveness and allow him my kingdom, and each the heavenly way, where there is always goodness and high joy and great reward. For the earthly, I will give the heavenly; for this transitory, the eternal; for this temporary life, the permanent; for this non-elect life, the elect; for this miserable life, the blessed. What does it profit a man at all, though he amass all earth in his own possession, if the devil later takes his soul? It would not be the better for him, though he lived here alive a thousand years, if after his death he is led into hell and dwells there in punishment without end."]" (55)

It is obvious that the homilist is not quoting scripture as we think of the term. The closest we can come to a Biblical source for this passage is Mark 8:36: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"--and even there the homilist's translation is not exact. There may be other echoes as well. The beginning of the passage is reminiscent of John 15:7, 9: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you ... abide in my love"; perhaps the final sentence derives from Mark 9:43: "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire." And yet the ideas in this passage are in scripture, if not set out precisely in this form. One who godlessly "gains the world and forfeits his life" will of course end up in the devil's hands. Similarly the homilist has not gone far astray when he substitutes "though someone tells the gospel" for when "two or three are gathered in my name," for the gospel would be recited in church, where surely Christ would be present among the worshipers.

These examples are drawn from the early anonymous collections, the Blickling and Vercelli Books. As one would expect, AElfric, writing after AEthelwold's reform had begun to regularize religious terminology, is more precise both in translating scripture and distinguishing scripture from commentary. (56) Godspel, as in modern English, refers to the first four books of the New Testament or, more specifically to the pericope (also godspelican rcedinge, daegperlice gospel), while traht, trahtnung (verb: trahtnian) indicate the exposition of a text. (57) Yet despite the greater precision of his terminology, AElfric seems to share with the anonymous homilists something of their attitude to holy books. In his Latin preface to the Catholic Homilies, AElfric refers to everything he translated as sacra scriptura ("holy scripture" or "holy writing")--that is, both exegesis of the pericope (evangeliorum tractatus) and the legends (passiones vel vitas) of the saints. (58) In his Old English Preface, he mentions as his motive for translation his regret that his countrymen lacked godspellican lare ["gospel teaching"] in their own language, "except for the books that King Alfred wisely turned from Latin to English" ["buton pam bocum [eth]e AElfred cyning snoterlice awend of ledene on englisc"]. (59) Alfred's translations--Gregory's Pastoral Care, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, the histories of Orosius and Bede--can be considered "gospel teaching" only in the broadest sense, though they were composed by Christian authors and convey moral lessons consonant with Christianity. (60) In other words, even for the careful AElfric, "holy writing" encompasses a wide variety of works, including canon, commentary, legend, history--in short, almost anything handed down by tradition as authoritative.

AElfric is also a more careful translator, but like the anonymous homilists, he too modifies where he thinks it suitable, and this includes his handling of biblical passages as well as other sorts of works. He is quite straightforward about his general approach to translation. In his Latin Preface, he states that he has simplified these works for the unlearned, and he apologizes in advance for his abbreviated and less than literal renditions of his source materials. (61) But scripture, like exegesis, may be a stumbling block for the uneducated, so AElfric does not always translate word for word. For instance, in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden, the Serpent tells Eve that they "will become like gods" (sicut dii) if they eat the forbidden fruit; in De initio creaturae, however, AElfric says they "will become like angels" (englum gelice) (62) One can easily see why he made the switch (although it might have been easier to dismiss the devil's words as a lie)--having begun his sermon by stressing the unique nature of God, AElfric would have been hard put to explain why created beings might be "like gods." And in fact, as Godden notes, AElfric's account of the fall differs from Genesis in its ordering of events and its incorporation of traditional, non Biblical material. (63) Similarly, in his translation of the pericope for the Feast of the Innocents (Matt. 2:1-15), AElfric also added details in order to bring it into line with traditions of Christ's birth: he tells us that there were three magi (Matthew does not specify a number) and refers to Joseph as Christ's foster father (Matthew merely says Ioseph). (64) In the reading for Christmas, he makes the same addition to Joseph's name, and he associates Mary with David's royal line. (65) He also expands on the verse describing the imperial decree that brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem, incorporating information that seems to be derived from one of his sources, a Latin homily by Hericus. (66) While none of these are particularly profound changes--certainly nothing as egregious as the ones we have seen in the Blickling homilies--they do suggest that AElfric, like his fellow sermon writers, did not find it inappropriate to mingle canon and commentary, even where one might expect the most exactitude, in the translations of the pericope.


The boundary between scripture and exegetes was blurred to a greater or lesser degree by all the homilists, but not from a lack of respect for the integrity of scripture, although this might be a reasonable conclusion to draw from their inexact translations. They believed rather that all writing (or in AElfric's case, most writing) (67) bore something of the sacred character that comes from having its ultimate source in God. Indeed, if we consider the matter, there is a sense in which interpretations are contained in scripture--a sense in which even an injunction to tithe, to hear mass, to contemplate the brevity of life--are also in the Gospel, especially if we think of the Gospel as the "good news" (its literal sense) that encompasses all the teachings of the church. The Gospel might take many forms: from the homilists' point of view there was no great difference between God's truth as set out in the Old and New Testaments and God's truth as elaborated and explained by one of God's divinely inspired commentators.

And this brings us back to the problem of contradictions and inconsistencies. If there were no profound differences between canon and commentary, and if all derived ultimately from God, then all must agree. To suppose otherwise would be, in effect, to hold that the truth could contradict itself, a logical impossibility.

There, of course, lies the rub for moderns, but medieval men and women had inherited a long tradition of dealing with incompatible but (as they saw it) incontrovertible truths. Very early in the development of Christian doctrine theologians were confronted with the problem of the Old Testament, so often at odds in tenor and depiction of the deity with the message of the four evangelists. Christians could not repudiate the traditional scriptures of Judaism, since it was a basic tenet of their faith that Christ, the promised Messiah, had come in answer to the recorded prophecies; therefore they were obliged to reconcile them to the principles of Christianity. The great Fathers of the church--Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome among them--worked out a method of treating the Old Testament allegorically, demonstrating that in troublesome passages--say, the Book of Job or the Song of Solomon--the Old Law prefigured the New. In so doing, they were (in their view) uncovering Christian doctrine (we might even say the gospel) that was latent in Hebrew scriptures. Over time, and especially as the age of christological controversies faded, the Fathers themselves acquired authority, as their writings too set forth the teachings of the Gospel. Their successors forgot, as Jaroslav Pelikan points out, that the authorities could disagree. They regarded the Fathers, like the Bible itself, as divinely inspired; and if God was guiding them, it stood to reason that they attested, unanimously and harmoniously, to a single truth. (68) While we might regard, for example, Genesis 22 (the sacrifice of Isaac), Luke's description of the crucifixion of Jesus, and Augustine's commentary on Genesis as very different kinds of texts, from a medieval perspective, all said the same thing.

Inherently conservative, humble before the face of the past, and fearful of the accusation of novelty, few homilists, I suspect, even noticed the inconsistencies in their texts. (69) Indeed, their reverence for the past was the primary reason to ascribe their works to some authority before them. This too was traditional: Alcuin claimed his works were based on patristic consensus, "introducing nothing novel and accepting nothing but what is to be found in their catholic writing." (70) His contemporary, Claude de Turin remarked: "The exegete cannot work of his own authority, but must take account of auctoritates who preceded him." (71) Hence AElfric lists his sources authors "whose authority is most willingly accepted by all catholics" ["horum denique auctoritas ab omnibus catholicis libentissime suscipitur"], (72) and his fellow homilists call on holy books to prove that there was no novelty in their teaching.

This was their protection and their reassurance, even if it seemed that the material they were rendering into English was sometimes at odds with itself, for venerable authority assured them that there was no reason to worry about apparent inconsistencies. In composing the vernacular sermons, they took their inspiration from the exegetes--Augustine, Gregory, and Jerome--and they thought of their task, not as translation (which would have sent them in the direction of the literary models of classical antiquity), but as scriptural interpretation. The Fathers had long since addressed the problem of contradictions in scripture while championing the belief in a single, consistently attested spiritual truth; they had also dealt with the problems that occurred when a holy text came from one language (Greek) to another (Latin). These were the same kinds of problems that the Anglo-Saxons faced, and here they too followed the weighty authority of learned and pious men.


In explaining the peculiarities of Anglo-Saxon translation--especially the claim to adhere to past authority while translating so freely as to be nearly independent--scholars have looked to precedents established in classical Rome and handed down to the Middle Ages through the medium of the church fathers. (73) To some extent, the view of an inherited theory of translation makes sense. Like the Anglo-Saxons, the Romans confronted a more sophisticated culture, the Greeks', whose literary accomplishments they learned to admire. When they began to create a literature of their own, they started by translating the works of their teachers rather than by attempting to write original prose. (74) Indeed, the history of Roman literature begins with the Latin Odyssey of Livius Andronicus and the plays of Naevius and Plautus, also based on Greek models. Again like the English, the Romans did not produce close translations but elaborated and altered their Greek texts with considerable freedom. When they began to reflect on their methods, they developed theories to explain their approach. According to Cicero, the process of translation was the "imitation of outstanding qualities." (75) Transmitting the vigor and ideas of the source counted for more than verbal fidelity; and so he handled the Greek texts, he said, not "not as an interpreter, but as an orator ... with words appropriate to our usage" ["ut interpres, sed ut orator ... verbis ad nostram consuetudinem aptis"]. (76) Horace likewise cautioned the budding writer against translating as a "faithful interpreter" (fidus interpres) word for word; while Quintilian, the grammarian, demanded that translation be not only a paraphrase, "but a contest or striving over the same ideas" ["sed circa eosdem sensus certamen atque aemulationem"]. (77) The classical ideal of translation then was aemulatio--a kind of rivalry with the Greeks, intended to match or surpass their literary accomplishments.

The classical authors provided the foundation for patristic theories of translation. Jerome, whose reputation in after years came largely from his Latin version of the Bible and who left, in various letters and prefaces, a substantial commentary on the principles of translation, expressly claimed Ciceronian precedent for translating sense rather than words:

Ego non solum fateor, sed libera voce profiteor me in interpretatione Graecorum absque scripturis sanctis, ubi et verborum ordo mysterium est, non verbo e verbo, sed sensum exprimere de sensu. Habeoque huius rei magistrum Tullium, qui Protagoram Platonis et Oeconomicum Xenofontis et Aeschini et Demosthenis duas contra se orationes pulcherrimas transtulit. Quanta in illis praetermiserit, quanta addiderit, quanta mutaverit, ut proprietates alterius linguae suis proprietatibus explicaret, non est huius temporis dicere.

[I not only admit but freely declare that in the translation of the Greeks (i.e., the Greek Fathers), except for holy scripture where even the order of the words is a mystery, I expressed not word from word, but sense from sense. And I had Tullius as a teacher in this matter, who translated Plato's Protagoras and Xenophon's Oeconomicus and the two beautiful speeches of Aeschines and Demosthenes against each other. This is not the time to discuss how much in them he omitted, how much he added, how much he changed, in order to treat the qualities of the second language according to its own particular characteristics.] (78)

He went on to quote two passages from Cicero's De optimo genere oratorum, as well as adducing the authority of Horace and the example of the playwrights, Terence, Plautus, and Caecilius. His phrase, "non verbum e verbo," which mirrored Cicero's "non pro verbo verbum," caught the eye of the translators who followed him, and it was cited as a guiding principle by Anglo-Saxon writers such as Bede and Alfred, and finally AElfric. (79) Jerome then seems a potential bridge between Cicero and the vernacular homilists. (80)

It is certainly possible that other homilists knew the Hieronyman tag, although AElfric is the only one to cite it. (He is also, of course, the only one to leave prefaces discussing his homiletic method.) Nevertheless, Jerome's precepts could not have directly affected their methods of translation. As we have already noted, the homilists tended to treat the Bible with the same freedom that they treated any other text, even though Jerome had insisted that the one sort of text to be handled as literally as possible was "the holy scriptures where even the order of the words is a mystery" ["scripturis sanctis ubi et verborum ordo mysterium est"]. (81) Nor was Jerome alone in regarding the scriptures as exceptional and worthy therefore of special handling. The Bible, in the words of St. Augustine, was "not composed by human industry, but wisely and eloquently poured from the divine mind" ["neque ... humana industria composita, sed divina mente sunt fusa et sapienter et eloquenter"] (82)--a concept inherited by Christians from the Jewish belief in an inspired holy canon. (83) Justin Martyr called the alteration of scripture the gravest sin, "worse than falling down before the golden calf, sacrificing to Moloch, and killing prophets." (84)

In Bible translation, therefore, the classical ideal of aemulatio could not apply. The guiding principle was to reproduce as closely as possible the sense of the original Hebrew or Greek, for to add or change anything in it would be gainsaying God. This, of course, placed a considerable burden on the translator, for if divine wisdom lay concealed even in the order of the words, the scripture must inevitably be marred by syntactical or semantic changes unavoidable in any translation. (85) Hence came the legends surrounding the production of the Septuagint, in order to validate it as an authentic text. If seventy-two translators, locked into individual cells for seventy days, emerged at last with an identical Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, God must surely have had a direct hand in the result. (86) While St. Jerome rejected this tale and claimed no special inspiration for his own translation of the Old Testament, he still believed that the original Hebrew texts were inspired and he stressed the need to adhere to them as closely as possible in translation; (87) accordingly, he handled the Bible with considerably less freedom than he had used in rendering the Greek fathers. (88) His scholarship eventually earned for his Latin the kind of authority granted the Septuagint in the Greek. (89) Augustine, who accepted the legend of the Seventy, nevertheless used Jerome's work because it came from a translator "skilled in both languages" ["utriusque linguae perito"] (90) and who therefore could accurately reproduce the word of God.

If the homilists had adopted their translation techniques from the Fathers, their failure to absorb at the same time the patristic concern for the precise rendering of Biblical texts is inexplicable. Indeed, considered in light of other characteristics of AngloSaxon Christianity, we might have expected them even to outdo the Fathers in zeal for the preservation of the word. As we have already seen, they showed a remarkable reverence for holy books, making little distinction between gospel, apocrypha (such as the Visio Pauli), orthodox Fathers, or suspect and even absurd texts. (91) In such a climate, we might expect a special awe for the legacy handed down from the past and an attempt to preserve it unaltered at all costs.

That they did not may be due in part to the fact that even the Latin Bible circulated in multiple versions, so that the words "the Lord spoke with his own mouth" could vary from codex to codex. (92) But more to the point, I think, is that the homilists' most obvious approach to their task was also the one most familiar to them: not classical aemulatio or its patristic offspring, but Bible interpretation. They may or may not have had easy access to Jerome's Ad Pammachium, but they could scarcely avoid an abundance of works that pulled multiple, often hidden meanings from what might seem otherwise straightforward narrations from the Old and New Testaments.

This is not to suggest that they subjected their texts to allegorical interpretation in the manner of a scripture exegete; rather they adopted the more general attitude that a text was capable of bearing layers of meanings, and that the literal sense was not necessarily the most important. The translator's responsibility, therefore, was not to the text nor even quite to the audience, as Jeanette Beer suggests (93), (although it behooved the audience to heed what was said); the translator's true responsibility was to God.

From Augustine the homilists learned that a scriptural figure "means not single things but several of them, not only two different things, but some times even many things, according to the context of the passage where it appears." ["Sic et alia res nonsingulae, sed unaquaeque earum, non solum duo aliqua diversa, sed etiam non nunquam multa significat, pro loco sententiae, sicut posita reperitur."] (94) While the variety of possible meanings might seem to lead to confusion, Augustine had suggested that the validity of an interpretation could be tested by its conformity to the rest of scripture, for a truth expressed obscurely in one place would be set out more clearly in another. (95) Assuming that a reading passed this test of integrity, the only other thing that counted was the reader's spiritual benefit. Thus, although he knew of a case where one translation of Isaiah contradicted another, Augustine remained untroubled, for "from either, something important is imparted to those who read knowledgeably" ["ex utroque magnum aliquid insinuatur scienter legentibus"]. (96)

The twin pillars of scriptural integrity and spiritual benefit were guideposts through the thickets of exegesis, not only for Augustine, but for any commentator trying to bring contradictory statements into line. Gregory I, for example, when confronted by an apparent inconsistency in the book of Ecclesiastes, explained that "Unde et alia sunt quae in libro eodem per inquisitionem moventur, atque alia quae per rationem satisfaciunt; alia quae ex tentati profert animo, atque adhuc huius mundi delectationibus dediti; alia vero in quibus ea quae rationis sunt disserit, ut animum a delectione compescat." ["Hence in the same book there are some things which are proposed as a matter for investigation, and others which stand sufficient through their reason. There are some things which [the author] puts forward as from a spirit tempted and still given to worldly pleasures, others indeed in which he discusses the dictates of reason so that he holds back the spirit from pleasure."] (97) After elaborating on the underlying meanings of the passages in question, he concluded that "in either of such disparate expressions the Preacher is shown to be truthful; he brought up one idea from carnal temptation and then explained the other according to the spiritual truth." ["Sed in utraqua tam dispari sententiae demonstratur quia concionator verax et illud ex tentatione carnali intulit, et hoc postmodum ex spirituali veritate definivit."] (98) Similarly the Carolingians celebrated the spiritual depths they found in the Bible. According to Hrabanus Maurus, there were "as many senses in Scripture as in the tail of a peacock," and John Scotus Eriugena concurred: "The Holy Spirit has placed in the sacred text an infinite number of senses, which is why the interpretation of any commentator does not destroy those of others, as long as it is in accordance with sound faith and the catholic profession." (99)

Naturally, the homilists did not share the exegete's desire to search out the deep mysteries hidden in scripture, for they belonged to a less critical, less philosophical age. But they did become accustomed to thinking in terms of multiple meanings in holy books. They found contradictions and inconsistencies no more disturbing than the exegete did, for they knew that at a deeper level all holy books attested a common truth. Their task was not to transmit the words, but to deliver the underlying truth, deleting such aspects as might prove a stumbling block to the ignorant, amplifying where necessary to drive home the essential point, but offering nothing incompatible with riht geleafa, true faith.

The exegetical technique--probing a text for truths that might not literally be present--could be applied to any holy writing. Thus not only were Latin sermons expanded, condensed, or reinterpreted, but even a ritualistic piece such as the Creed, which we might expect to be closely rendered, underwent considerable modification when presented in a vernacular homily. In Wulfstan's To eallum folk, for example, the Creed is interpreted with stress on Christ's divinity and especially on judgment: gone are references to "the holy catholic church," "the remission of sins," and (surprisingly) the Holy Spirit. To the judgment of the quick and the dead, (100) Wulfstan adds that "sinners shall go thence to hell and ever after dwell with devils in the burning fire and eternal destruction." ["And we gelyfa[eth] paet [eth]a synfullan sculon panon on an to helle faran and paer a sy[eth]an mid deoflum wunian on byrnendum fyre and on ecan forwyrde." (101) While the Creed might not make such specific threats, Wulfstan was in some sense justified to consider them there by implication.

Likewise a homilist could legitimately weld together biblical quotation and patristic commentary. Thus, for instance, Blickling 3 expands Matthew's Vade, Satana by putting Gregory's exegesis into Christ's mouth. Gregory had identified three kinds of temptation in his discussion of Christ's forty-day fast (Matt. 4:1-11); hence, in Blickling, Christ dismisses the devil with these words: "Ga pu onbaecling, and gemyne pe sylfne hu mycel yfel pe gelamp for pinre gitsunga and oforhydo, and for pinum idlan gilpe; and forpon ic pe ne fylge, forpon on pyssum prim pu eart oforswiped." ["Get behind me, and consider yourself, how much evil happened to you because of your greed and excessive pride and because of your vainglory. And I will not follow you therefore, for in these three (temptations) you are vanquished."] (102) In other words, if the holy Gregory spoke truth about the nature of temptation--and how could the homilist have doubted it?--Christ's words meant everything the homilist had added to it. The homilist merely made the underlying meaning explicit and properly attributed the speech to Christ. (103)

Fidelity to God first might even mean that the Old English translator reversed the meaning of the text he rendered. When the Blickling homilist substituted "You need not think that you give that [tithe] for free ... though you do not get the reward immediately" ["ne purfon ge wenan paet ge paet orcheape sellon ... peah ge hi staepes paere mede ne onfon."] for Caesarius' "You do not offer this [tithe] for free, which you get back quickly with interest" ["Ne praestas hoc gratis, quod cito recipes cum fenore"], Willard took the change as evidence that the translator misunderstood his source. (104) It is quite possible, however, that he did understand his source. Certainly he manages to render far more difficult sentences correctly. Moreover the Old English translation is quite close to the Latin in rendering word-by-word: pact for hoc, ge sellon for praestas, orcheape for gratis, etc.; even mede is a reasonable choice for fenore in a society with little sophisticated commercial activity. It may well be that the homilist read Caesarius correctly, but went for a meaning with a more immediate impact on his auditors. One can, indeed, reasonably say that the heavenly reward for tithe-paying is both slow and quick in coming: slow in human terms, for as long as death is delayed, but very soon sub specie aeternitatis. In this, the homilist might justly say with Gregory (above), "In either of such disparate expressions the Preacher is shown to be truthful" in offering either carnal or a spiritual truth.

The homilists' approach, in short, was very different from the translators of the classical world, who strove by aemulatio to create something new. The homilists wished only to bring out the truths embodied in their texts, not to innovate, and so they might try to reproduce (as this last example shows) even the words of their holy books. They might with equal spiritual integrity combine contradictory texts, elaborate scriptural references, link together discursive discourses, and attribute their precepts to "God's own mouth." What counted was the salutary message, consistent with God's ultimate truth.


We have seen that the homilists, while stressing their indebtedness to holy books, felt no particular obligation to render them exactly. They combined authorities in what seems like quite haphazard ways, added to or altered the sense of their texts, and gave exegetical commentary the status of scripture. The Bible itself was not immune to alteration. While such revisions seem at first sight to indicate the homilists' laxness with respect to their religious authorities, a consideration of the particular case of scripture suggests just the opposite. In earlier ages, exegetes sought in Bible passages a universal truth that might be concealed in a literal reading. The Anglo-Saxon homilist handled all holy books with techniques once reserved for the Bible, looking beyond the letter for an appropriate meaning, and raising them, in effect, to the exalted status of scripture.

Such a conclusion accords with certain other characteristics of Anglo-Saxon homiletics already identified: the insistence that a particular homily was based on holy books, the veneration in which books in general seem to have been held, and the blurring of distinctions between biblical citations and godspel of other sorts. It also helps to explain the sort of anomalies with which we began: the willingness to combine disparate sources with apparent unconsciousness of incongruity. Although holy books did not set out their message everywhere with equal clarity, their authority came from divine inspiration, and therefore they attested to the truth. If they spoke of judgment both at death and on Doomsday, then there must be some sense in which both are true. If they recorded oddities in the Assumption of the Virgin, who would be so rash as to contest them? Ratramnus' and Radpertus' views must be, as AElfric thought, somehow consistent, for both were supported by the testimony of holy books, the Bible and the Fathers. If in bringing his materials together, the homilist noticed any incongruity, he probably accounted it a spiritual mystery. One suspects, however, that he seldom noticed. (105) Indeed, since sources were read, not for literal meanings, but for concordance with truth, we can even see why lessons drawn from nonscriptural sources might be attributed to "the Lord's own mouth"--from the homilist's point of view, the truth was the Word of God, and "Christ's books" might be either the Bible or Caesarius.

California State University, Hayward


(1) On the compilation of this homily see Rudolph Willard, "The Two Accounts of the Assumption in Blickling Homily XIII," RES 14 (1938): 1-19; and Mary Clayton, "Blickling Homily XIII Reconsidered," Leeds Studies in English 17 (1986): 25-40. The homily is printed by Richard Morris, The Blickling Homilies, Early English Text Society (EETS) o.s. 58, 63, 73 (London: N. Trubner and Co., 1874-80; reprint Oxford U. Press, 1967), 137-59.

(2) Willard argues that the later CCCC 198 did not derive from the Blickling Book, which suggests at least three copies of this homily were circulating in Anglo-Saxon England and perhaps more. See "On Blickling Homily XIII: The Assumption of the Virgin," RES12 (1936): 1-17 at 4-5.

(3) Rudolph Willard, "The Blickling-Junius Tithing Homily and Caesarius of Arles," in Philologica: The Malone Anniversary Studies, ed. Thomas A. Kirby and Henry Bosley Woolf (Johns Hopkins Press, 1949), 65-78 at 65, 71.

(4) Milton McC. Gatch, "The Unknowable Audience of the Blickling Homilies," Anglo-Saxon England 18 (1989): 99-115 at 104-5.

(5) Willard, "Blickling-Junius Tithing Homily," 67. He prints the Caesarian parts of this homily at pp. 72-78.

(6) Theodore Leinbaugh, "The Sources for AElfric's Easter Sermon: The History of a Controversy and a New Source," N&Q n.s. 33 (September 1986): 294-311 at 308.

(7) Lynne Grundy, "AElfric's Sermo de Sacrificio in Die Pascae: Figura and Veritas," N&Q 235 (1990): 265-69 at 266 and at 268. A similar inconsistency, though one which is not confined to a single composite homily, but runs throughout AElfric's work is discussed by M. R. Godden, "AElfric's Saints' Lives and the Problem of Miracles," in Marie Collins et al., eds., Sources and Relations: Studies in Honour of J. E. Cross (U. of Leeds Press, 1985), 83-100. AElfric, in a phrase taken from Gregory the Great, asserts that miracles are no longer necessary, yet he frequently recounts tales of contemporary miracle working in his homilies. Godden suggested, 97, that AElfric, "despite his misgivings," retained the stories for their moral value.

(8) Max Forster, "A New Version of the Apocalypse of Thomas in Old English," Anglia 73 (1955): 6-36; and Rudolph Willard, Two Apocrypha in Old English Homilies, Beitrage zur englischen Philologie 30 (Leipzig: Bernahrd Tauchnitz, 1935; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967), 4-6.

(9) Lynne Grundy, Books and Grace: AElfric's Theology, King's College London Medieval Studies 6 (London: King's College London Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, 1991), 216, 240-42, shows that AElfric, drawing on Gregory the Great and Bede, preaches an intermediate period of reward or punishment (though not yet purgatory) between death and final judgment.

(10) The point is suggested by Seth Lehrer's title, Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon England (U. of Nebraska Press, 1991), which analyzes scenes of reading and writing in both Old English poetry and prose. Lehrer's observations on AElfric--i.e., that he stresses texts as he translates and that his sermons are "an education in the power of [the Church's] texts," p. 52, are applicable to the vernacular homilists in general, although the lesson they teach may not be a conscious one. They so frequently mention books where their sources do not that it seems an almost automatic response, which probably reflects their own attitude toward books as much as the attitude they want to instill in their audience.

(11) We cannot, of course, be entirely certain on which version of a Latin text the homilists based their translation, but the differences between Latin and Old English versions discussed here occur fairly often. They do not, therefore, indicate the existence of a closer exemplar, now lost; rather they must reflect the translators' habit of thought.

(12) Morris, 229.

(13) At times the reference to books was triggered by the Latin scriptum est, as in Blickling 4, where Caesarius' phrase, scriptum est enim: "Haec dicit dominus" ["for it is written: the Lord says these things"], is rendered "and swa hit is awriten on Cristes bocum paet drihten selfa swa cwaede" ["And so it is written in Christ's book that the Lord himself said thus"]. But even in this case the reference to books is strengthened--not simply "it is written," but "it is written in Christ's books." The Junius version of this homily makes similar changes: where Blickling tells listeners to pay attention to what the noble teacher said ("hwaet se aepela lareow saegde"), Junius asks them to listen to what it says in these books ("hwaet her saegp on [eth]issum bocum"). So also, rendering Caesarius' et iterum dicit, the Blickling version reads "cwaep se aepela lareow" and the Junius, "hit cwae[eth] on bocum." See Willard, "Blickling-Junius Tithing Homily," 72, 73.

(14) Arthur S. Napier, Wulfstan: Sammelung der ihm zugeschriebenen Homilien (Berlin: Weidmanniche Buchhandlung, 1883), Homily 58, pp. 302, 305.

(15) Dorothy Bethurum, The Homilies of Wulfstan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), Homily 12, p. 221. Wulfstan took his sermon from an AElfrician piece, based in turn on the De correctione rusticorum of Martin of Braga. The first mention of books was AElfric's interpolation into Martin; the second, Wulfstan's into AElfric. For AElfric's Defalsis diis and its source, see John C. Pope, Homilies of AElfric: A Supplementary Collection, 2 vols., EETS, nos. 259, 260 (London: Oxford U. Press, 1967-68), 2:680.

(16) Bethurum, 223; cf. Pope 2:684, 685. Pope, 2:673, attributes the passage, which accuses the pagan Danes of confusing father (Jupiter/Thor) and son (Mercury/ Odin), to AElfric's revision of Defalsis diis, which is why it appears only in two manuscripts of this sermon. Wulfstan apparently used AElfric's revised version, but omitted the final lines.

(17) Napier 58, p. 304.

(18) Napier 58, p. 306. Cf. Napier 46, pp. 236, 237: one of the distinctions drawn between the good soul and the wicked was their different appetites for hymns and the reading of the gospel. The wicked thought the time too long; to the blessed it seemed short.

(19) Napier 49, p. 255. The passage in Vercelli 10 has only minor differences; see D. G. Scragg, The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts (London: Oxford U. Press, 1992), 200.

The contrast between reading and harp appears in Alcuin's famous letter to Higbald (Epist. 4.124): " Let the words of God be read at the priests' dinner. It is proper for a reader to be heard there, not a harpist, the discourse of the fathers, not the songs of the heathen. What has Ingeld to do with Christ?" Quoted by Martin Irvine, The Making of Texual Culture: "Grammatica" and Literary Theory, 350-1100 (Cambridge U. Press, 1994), 332.

(20) Paulinus of Aquileia, Liber exhortationis 62, PL 99:272; Scragg, 200.

(21) See, e.g., Pope 1:230: "Men pa leofestan, us lyst nu eow secgan be pam halgan godspelle pe ge gehyrdon nu raedon, paet ge beon pe geleaffulran purh pa boclican lare." ["Dearly beloved, we are pleased now to tell you about the holy gospel that you just heard read, so that you will be more confirmed in faith through the teaching of books."]

AElfric continues, Pope 1: 232: "We habbao nu gesaed sceortlice pis godspel anfealdum andgite, and we eac willac[eth] eow secgan paet gastlice andgyt, aefter Agustinus trahtnunge, sceortlice swapeah, paet ge ne beon gehefegode." ["We have now briefly related the simple meaning of this gospel, and we also wish to tell you the spiritual meaning according to Augustine's exposition, but briefly, so that you will not be burdened."]

(22) AElfric, Alius sermo de die Paschae, Malcolm Godden, AElfric's Catholic Homilies: The Second Series, EETS, ss. 5 (London: Oxford U. Press, 1979), 162 (hereafter Catholic Homilies II). For the sources of this homily, see Godden, AElfric's Catholic Homilies: Introduction, Commentary, and Glossary, EETS (Oxford U. Press, 2000), 500-7 (hereafter Commentary).

(23) Gregory I, Homily 23, Raymond Etaix, Gregorius Magnus Homiliae in evangelia, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (CCSL), vol. 141 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 194. The source of the digression is Bede, according to Godden, Commentary, 503: "Hoc nobis in loco non ulla scripturam interpretandi, sed gemina nos ipsos humiliandi necessitas incumbit, qui neque in scripturis quantum opportet edocti, neque ad implenda quae discere forte potiumus quantum decet simus intenti." ["In this place, we are urged not to the single necessity of interpreting scripture, but the twin necessity of humbling ourselves, who may be neither as learned in the scriptures as we should be, nor as intent as we ought to be on implementing the things that perchance we have been able to learn."]

(24) Gregory, Homilia in Evangelia 23, Etaix, 194.

(25) Irvine, 14, quotes a poem by Hrabanus Maurus in support of his assertion that "writing (grammata) itself is sacred because 'the fingers of God carved letters' on the tables of the Law."

(26) Vercelli 10, Scragg, 196. The comment is apparently the Vercelli homilist's own, for it has no parallel in variants such as Napier 44. Cf. Vercelli 6, Scragg, 128, which describes how God's saints foretold the advent of Christ: "ealle Godes halige saed hie paet on bocum and on halegum leo[eth]um sungon" ["all God's saints they said it in books and sang in holy songs"].

(27) Quoted by N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 229 (art. 178, no. 2). This homily, contained in a manuscript almost completely destroyed in the disastrous Cotton fire of 1731, is known only from Wanley's transcription. For the Latin text, see Robert Priebsch, Letter from Heaven on the Observance of the Lord's Day (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936), 35-37.

(28) Napier 47, p. 292. A related version of this homily is published by Napier, "An Old English Homily on the Observance of Sunday," An English Miscellany Presented to Dr. Furnival in Honour of His Seventy-fifth Birthday, ed. W. P. Ker, et al. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), 355-62 at 357 ff. This one is less precise about the nature of divine participation--the homily is merely the Lord's word (Drihtenes word)-but it since it also mentions a writing angel, unlike versions in other languages, Napier assumes that it derives from the same Latin source as Napier 47.

(29) Napier 45, p. 226; so too Napier 43, p. 214, and Napier 44, p. 225. On this point see also Irvine's comments, 14-15. Priebsch, 15, draws attention to a later (late twelfth or early thirteenth century) Norse reference to the letter with the same detail.

(30) Revelation 5-6.

(31) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies, 211; Godden, Commentary, 34. Cf. AElfric's Christmas homily, Clemoes, 192, and Godden, 17: "He... heora naman in ecere eadignysse awrite" ["he wrote their name in eternal blessedness"] translates fairly precisely Bede's "nomina eorum... in aeternum scriberet" ["he wrote their name in eternity"]; the paragraph ends with the expressed hope "paet ure naman beon awitene on lifes bec mid his gecorenum" ["that our name be written in Christ's book with his elect"] which is not in Bede, though it may have been inspired by him.

(32) Napier 49, p. 252 (variant readings in apparatus; also in Vercelli 10, Scragg, 198). Scragg, 191, notes that this section of the homily (11.9-54) consists of a string of homiletic commonplaces and suggests that it might have been composed to introduce the translated material that followed.

(33) Revelation 13:8, 17:8.

(34) Napier 58, p. 302.

(35) Napier 46, p. 233. (The devil is an addition too.)

(36) Joyce Bazire and James E. Cross, eds., Eleven Old English Rogationtide Homilies, Toronto Old English Series 7 (U. of Toronto Press, 1982), 121.

(37) Bazire and Cross, 122.

(38) Bazire and Cross, 117.

(39) Morris, 39. The Latin source can be found in Germain Morin, ed. Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis Sermones, CCSL (Turnholt: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii, 1953) 1: 143. It runs: "Propitio Christo, fratres carissimi, iam propre sunt dies. in quibus messes collegere debeamus: et ideo gratias agentes deo qui dedit, de offerendis, immo de reddendis decimis cogitemus." ["By the grace of Christ, dearly beloved, now the days are near in which we should gather our harvests; and therefore thanking God who gave it, let us take thought about giving, or rather giving back, our tithes."]

(40) Morris, 41.

(41) Gatch, "Unknowable Audience," 103.

(42) Gatch, "Unknowable Audience," 105.

(43) Morris, 47.

(44) Vulgate: "Ubi enim sunt duo vel tres congregati in nomine meo, ibi sum in medio eorum." See Scragg, Vercelli, 204 and 214. Vercelli 10 is in part Blickling 5, but not this part.

(45) Blickling 4, Morris, 45.

(46) There are perhaps other possible sources--the Visio Pauli, Casearius, Mosaic law, or another Pauline Epistle--but I can find nothing close.

(47) Morris, 43.

(48) Morris, 59.

(49) For example, Isaiah 40:6 (also quoted in 1 Peter 1:24-25): "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it." James 1:10-11 is similar: "like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls and its beauty perishes." In Matthew 6:30, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to "the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven."

(50) Pseudo-Basil, Admonitio ad filium spiritualem, PL 103:687; see Laura McCord, "A Probable Source for the Ubi Sunt passage in Blickling Homily V" Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 82 (1981): 360-61. Basil's words may also be a reminiscence of Psalms 90:5-6 or 103:15.

(51) Morris, 75.

(52) The possibility exists (given the imprecision of medieval punctuation) that the "the apostle said" the preceding sentence, "then we will bring to our Lord the sweet smell of our acts and teaching" ["ponne bringe we Drihtne swetne stenc on urum daedum and larum"]. This could be an allusion to 2 Corinthians 2:15 ("We are the aroma of Christ to God"), but again the correspondence is not exact. In support of this possibility, Gregory's Homilia in Evangelia 33 (Etaix, 292) incorporates 2 Corinthians' Bonus odor sumus in the exegesis of the similar story in Luke 7 (Mary anoints Christ's feet and the Pharisees object). This homily, however, is based on an exegesis of Mark 14 (Mary anoints Christ's feet and Judas objects) and does not resemble Gregory's exposition in other respects.

(53) Morris, 73.

(54) Morris, 161. For halgum gewrite, "holy writing," Morris translates "scriptures," perhaps also thinking in terms of a pericope.

(55) Scragg, 212-3.

(56) For AEthelwold's reform and ecclesiastical terminology, see Helmut Gness, "The Origin of Standard Old English and AEthelwold's School at Winchester," AngloSaxon England 1 (1972): 63-83.

(57) See, e.g., Clemoes 232, 241; the distinction also appears in AElfric's well-known assertion, Godden, Catholic Homilies II, 345, that he would "naefre heononfor[eth] ne awende godspel oppe godspeltrahtas of ledene on englisc" ["never henceforth translate gospels or gospel expositions from Latin into English"]. Trahtnungdoes not always mean exegesis, however. In the sermon on the beheading of John the Baptist, Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 452, AElfric seems about to discuss the spiritual meaning of the pericope: "nu wylle we ymbe pyses godspelles trahtnunge sume swutelunge eow gereccan" ["now we will give you an explanation of the exposition of this gospel"]. What follows is a brief outline of the history of the Herods.

(58) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 173-74: "transtulimus hunc codicem ex libris latinorum scilicit sanctae scripturae in nostram consuetam sermonem." Evangelia, at least in the Preface, seems to mean specifically the pericopes, since AElfric says twice that he will not cover all the ones appointed for the course of the year ("nec tamen omnia evangelia tangimus per circulum anni.... non per ordinem ecclesiastici titus omnia evangelia tractando percurtimus").

(59) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 174.

(60) Not all are now considered Alfred's work; see Allen Frantzen, King Alfred (Boston: Twayne Publishing, 1986), 8. For Anglo-Saxon views on Alfred's authorship, see Dorothy Whitelock, "The Prose of Alfred's Reign," From Bede to Alfred: Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Literature and History (London: Variorum Reprints, 1980), 69. Pierre Riche, "Divina pagina, ratio et auctoritas dans la theologie carolingienne," Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo 27 (1981): 757, describes the Carolingian identification of Boethius' philosophy and biblical wisdom.

(61) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 174. Perhaps apology is too meek a word. What AElfric says is, "Ergo si alicui displicit sive in interpretatione, quod non semper verbum ex verbo, aut quod breviorem explicationem quam tractatus auctorum habent, sive quod non per ordinem ecclesiastici ritus omnia evangelia tractando percurrimus, condat sibi altiore interpretatione librum, quomodo intellectui eius placet.." ["Now if (the book) displeases anyone whether in interpretation, because it is not word for word or because it has a shorter explication than the authors' treatises do, or because in interpreting I do not go through all the pericopes in the order of the liturgy, let him put together a book of more advanced interpretation for himself, in whatever way satisfies his understanding."]

(62) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 183; Godden, Commentary, 11. AElfric does the same in his translation of the Heptateuch; see S.J. Crawford, The Old English Version of the Heptateuch: AElfric's Treatise on the Old and New Testament and His Preface to Genesis, reprint ed., EETS o.s. 160 (London: Oxford U. Press, 1969), 88.

(63) Godden, Commentary, 9-10.

(64) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 217-18.

(65) The Latin, quoted by Godden, Commentary, 15, reads: "Ascendit autem Ioseph ... in Iudaeam civitatem David quae vocatur Bethleem, eo quod esset de domo e familia David, ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi uxore praegnate." ["So Joseph also went ... into the Judean city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family of David, that he might register with Mary, his pregnant affianced wife."]

There is nothing about Mary's lineage in this passage or in the genealogies included in the Gospels (at Luke 3 and Matthew 1), which trace Joseph's family tree. For an Anglo-Saxon Christian, this would have been problematic. Why stress Joseph's ancestry when he had no blood connection to Christ the King and Savior? AElfric's translation implies that Mary too had a claim on the House of David: "[thorn]a ferde Ioseph Christes fosterfaeder ... to Iudeiscre byrig seo waes Davides and waes geciged Be[eth]leem, for [thorn]an [thorn]e he waes of Davides maeg[eth]e, and wolde andettan mid Marian hire gebyrde, [thorn]e waes [thorn]a gyt bearneaca" ["then Joseph, Christ's foster father, traveled to the Judean city that was David's and was called Bethlehem, for he was of David's kin and would profess with Mary, who was then pregnant, her lineage (emphasis supplied)."]

(66) Godden, Commentary, 16. Luke 2:3 reads "Et ibant omnes ut profiterentur singuli in suam civitatem" ["And all went to register, each into his own city"]; AElfric translates: "[thorn]aet aelc man oferheafod sceolde cennan his gebyrde and his are on [eth]aere byrig [thorn]e he to gehyrde" ["that each man individually should declare his lineage and his property in the town to which he belonged"].

(67) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 174, for AElfric's oft-quoted criticism of "mycel gedwyld on manegum engliscum bocum" ["much error in many English books"]. I would argue, however, that AElfric warns of error, because his authorities inveigh against it. For AElfric, as indeed for any other medieval thinker before the twelfth century, authority is paramount.

(68) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A Hstory of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 3, The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) (U. of Chicago Press, 1978), 9-11. Augustine's theology wielded the greatest influence; hence Pelikan terms this assumption of patristic consensus the Augustinian synthesis.

(69) Riche, 734, points to the Antekeimon of Julian of Toledo (late seventh century), a collection of contradictory passages from the Bible, as an example of early medieval critical thinking, but even Julian agreed that, read rightly, seemingly contradictory passages agree. John Scotus Eriugena (discussed by Riche, 752-3) commented on the inconsistencies between Greek and Latin fathers; however, his observations were remarkable for the times.

(70) Quoted Pelikan, 11.

(71) Riche, 724.

(72) Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 173.

(73) See for example, Phyllis Wright, Literary Translation in Anglo-Saxon England, diss. U. of Toronto, 1984 (National Library of Canada, Canadian Theses on Microfiche), pp. 39-62; Louis Kelly, The True Interpreter." A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979), 44-45; Robert Stanton, "The (M) other Tongue Translation Theory and Old English," in Translation Theory and Practice in the Middle Ages, ed. Jeanette Beer, Studies in Medieval Culture 38 (Kalamazoo: Board of the Medieval Institute, 1997), 33-46; Douglas Kelly, "The Fidus Interpres: Aid or Impediment to Medieval Translation and Translatio," in Beer, 47-58, points to broad meanings of interpretatio, although his later medieval examples seem to be seeking originality, not the case for Old English homilists.

(74) In this, both the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons followed a pattern still found as pre-literate societies adopt literacy. See Charles A. Ferguson, "The Language Factor in National Development," in Frank A. Rice, ed., Study of the Role of Second Languages in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics of the Modern Language Association of America, 1962), 8-14 at 9-10.

(75) Kelly, True Interpreter, 44.

(76) Kelly, True Interpreter, 80; Cicero, De optimo genere oratorum 5.14.

(77) Quoted by Kelly, True Interpreter, 44.

(78) Jerome, Epistula 57 ad Pammachium, ed. G.J.M. Bartelink, Liber de optimo genere interpretandi (Epistola 57), Hieronymus: Ein Kommentar, Mnemosyne bibliotheca classica Batava, Supplementum, no. 61 (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 13.

(79) Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica 4.24, Bertram Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1969), 416; Alfred, preface to the Pastoral Care, ed. Henry Sweet, King Alfred's West-Saxon Version of Gregory's "Pastoral Care," EETS, original series, no. 45, pt. 1 (Oxford U. Press, 1871; reprint, 1958), 6, 7; AElfric, "Latin Preface," Clemoes, Catholic Homilies I, 173, 174.

(80) But cf. Rita Copeland, "The Fortunes of 'Non Verbum pro Verbo': Or, Why Jerome is not a Ciceronian," in The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, ed. Roger Ellis (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1989), 29. She argues for a break in continuity between Cicero and Jerome. For Cicero, the formula 'non verbum pro verbo' justified departures from the original, while Jerome, who knew that linguistic correspondence between two languages can never be exact, used it to account for the minor alterations necessary in close translation. In Copeland's view, "through Jerome, the Middle Ages inherits the formula 'non verbum pro verbo' as a model of textual fidelity rather than difference, as a theory of direct conservation of textual meaning without the impediment of linguistic multiplicity."

There may be merit in her distinction between Cicero's aims as a translator and Jerome's; but we have already seen how, in Old English, at least, textual fidelity was not the primary goal of the translator.

(81) Jerome, Epistola 57, ad Pammachium 5, Bartelink, p. 13.

(82) De doctrina christiana 4.7.21, PL 34:98.

(83) Wolfgang Speyer, Die Literarische Falschung im Heidnischen und Christlichen Altertum: Ein Versuch ihrer Deutung (Munich: Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1971), 172; Kelly, True Interpreter, 69.

(84) Quoted by Speyer, 173.

(85) Jerome, Epistula 57, ad Pammachium, Bartelink, p. 13. Cf. Augustine, De doctrina christiana 4.20.40, PL 34:108, whose rhetor's ear was troubled by the neglect of rhythm in the Latin translation; he decided the translator had kept the original word order deliberately in order to preserve the dignity of the Scriptures. Moslems later faced the same kind of problem; however, they decided that the Koran should not be translated.

(86) See Augustine, Civitas Dei 18.42, 43; Aurelii Augustini Opera, pars XIV,2, CCSL, vol. 48 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1957), 638-39, on his preference for the Septuagint over the other four Greek texts then widely circulating.

(87) Jerome, Contra Rufinum 2.30, ed. P. Lardet, S. Hieronymi presbyteri opera polemica, part 3, Apologia contra Rufinum, CCSL vol. 79 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1982), 68: "Certe confidenter dicam, et multis huius operis testes citabo, me nihil dumtaxat scientem, de hebraica veritate mutasse." ["Indeed I will say confidently, and I will call many witnesses of this work, that I have changed nothing from the Hebrew truth so far as I know."]

Jerome challenged the Septuagint because it did not always accord with the New Testament. As he explained, Contra Rufinum 2.25, Lardet, 63: "Non damno, non reprehendo Septuaginta, sed confidenter cunctis illis apostolos praefero. Per istorum os mihi Christus sonat, quos ante prophetas inter spiritualia charismata positos lego, in quibus ultimum paene gradum interpretes tenent." ["I do not condemn, I do not criticize the Seventy, but I confidently prefer the apostles to all these. Through their mouth, Christ speaks to me--I read that they are placed before the prophets in spiritual gifts, in which they hold as translators almost the greatest position."]

Justin Martyr held a similar opinion of the Septuagint; see Speyer, 173.

(88) Louis Kelly, True Interpreter, 222.

(89) The Vulgate was not the only Latin Bible to circulate in the early Middle Ages. See Raphael Loewe, "The Medieval History of the Latin Vulgate," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 2, The West from the Fathers to the Reformation (Cambridge U. Press, 1969), 102-154. As Loewe notes, p. 106, Gregory used both the Old Latin and the Vulgate, and in the Vulgate itself, there were variations between the different manuscript families.

(90) De doctrina christiana 4.7.15, PL 34:96. Cf. De doctrina christiana. 4.20.41,PL 34:109, where Augustine notes that Jerome's preference for verbal accuracy did not allow him to reproduce the Hebrew metrics.

(91) E.g., Blickling 13, on the Assumption of Mary, which may not have been absurd in Latin, but which should have seemed absurd if the translator set down what he thought he read. Perhaps the oddest passage is that in which Christ says that Mary's corpse will travel into the city to find her tomb; the parallel passage in the Latin is a command is given to St. Peter to keep the corpse safe then seek out the tomb. Cf. Morris, 147, and the Transitus Sanctae Mariae, ed. Andre Wilmart, "L'ancien recit latin de l'Assomption," Analecta Reginensia: Extraits des manuscrits latins de la reine Christine conserves au Vatican, Studi e Testi 59 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1933), 345.

(92) See Riche, 721-2, on the Carolingian response to multiple versions of scripture.

(93) Jeanette Beer, "Introduction," in Beer, ed. Medieval Translators and Their Craft, Studies in Medieval Culture 25 (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1989), 1-7 at 2.

(94) De doctrina christiana, 3.25.37, PL 34:79.

(95) De doctrina christiana 3.26-27, PL 34:79-80.

(96) De doctrina christiana 1.12.17, PL 34:43; cf. 3.10.15 and 23, PL 34:71-72 and 74: charity is the criterion for the validity of a scriptural interpretation, for the Bible teaches only charity.

(97) Gregory, Dialogues 4.4, PL 77:324.

(98) Gregory, Dialogues 4.4, PL 77:324.

(99) Quoted Riche, 723.

(100) Bethurum 7a, pp. 166-67.

(101) Bethurum 7a, pp. 167.

(102) Morris, 31.

(103) Cf. Rita Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature (Cambridge U. Press, 1991), 221-26. While she excludes devotional texts from her study (see p. 5), she describes a process which she terms "taking exegetical possession of the Latin texts," wherein sense-for-sense translation remained the ideal, but interpretation was incorporated to the point that it displaced the original text.

(104) Willard, "Blickling-Junius and Caesarius," 67. Willard, 73 (cf. Blickling 4, Morris 41).

(105) As odd as this assertion sounds, anyone who teaches the Bible as a historical text has probably run into similar attitudes in his or her students when dealing with contradictions in scripture. Invariably there will be those who cannot accept the idea of inconsistency in an inspired text and so go to great lengths to reconcile the difficulty.
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Author:Thompson, Nancy M.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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