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Vacancies in heaven: the doctrine of replacement and Genesis A.

The poet of the Old English Genesis A spends a brief moment after the fall of the seditious angels to reflect on an idea, which, though hardly a central theme in early medieval theology, was nevertheless a well-rooted one. In Genesis A, the doctrine is expressed in the following way:

Him on laste setl, wuldorspedum welig, wide stodan gifum growende on godes rice, beorht and geblaedfaest, buendra leas, siooan wraeestowe werige gastas under hearmlocan heane geforan.(1)


(In their tracks far and wide stood thrones, rich in glorious wealth, thriving with gifts, bright and fruitful, in the kingdom of God, bereft of occupants after the miserable spirits abjectly traveled to the place of exile within hell.)

These lines illustrate the first half of the doctrine of replacement, namely that the fallen angels left behind them empty seats or thrones. The following lines present God's solution to these vacancies in heaven:

tha theahtode theoden ure modgethonce, hu he tha maeran gesceaft, eoelstaoolas eft gesette, swegltorhtan seld, selran werode, tha hie gielpsceathan ofgifen haefdon, heah on heofenum. Fortham halig god under roderas feng, ricum mihtum, wolde thet him eoroe and uproder and sid waeter geseted wurde woruldgesceafte on wraora gield, thara the forhealdene of hleo sende.


(Then our Lord considered in his mind how he might again settle with a better company the excellent creation, those established homes, the heavenly bright seats, which the boastful fiends had abandoned high in the heavens. Therefore holy God desired that earth and the firmament and the vast water would be established by his mighty powers under the span of heaven for them, the created world as a substitute for the hostile ones, those whom, having rebelled, he sent from his protection.)

God plans to create mankind as a substitute for the fallen hosts. In fact, the poet implies that the replacement will be an improvement, a 'selra werod' (better company).

The doctrine of replacement has a sparse, but prestigious ancestry. It first appears in Augustine in the Enchiridion ad Laurentium 62:2

Et utique nouerunt angeli sancti, docti de deo cuius ueritatis aeterna contemplatione beati sunt, quanti numeri supplementum de genere humano integritas illius ciuitatis exspectat. Propter hoc ait apostolus instaurari omnia in Christo, quae in caelis sunt et quae in terris in ipso [Eph. 1:10]. Instaurantur quippe quae in caelis sunt, cum id quod inde in angelis lapsum est ex hominibus redditur; instaurantur autem quae in terris sunt, cum ipsi homines qui praedestinati sunt in aeternam uitam a corruptionis uetustate renouantur.(3)

(And certainly, the holy angels, taught by God, who are blessed in the eternal contemplation of his truth, know how great a number the completeness of that city requires as supplement from the human race. Therefore the apostle says that 'all things are gathered together in one in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth' [Eph. 1:10]. For the things which are in heaven are restored when what was lost therefrom in angels is returned from among men; but the things which are on earth are restored, when those who are predestined to eternal life are renewed from their old corruption.)

In Augustine the doctrine is a matter of numerical subtraction and addition. The citizenship of heaven has been depleted through the angelic rebellion and must be made whole (integritas) again. It is similarly expressed in terms of numbers and citizenship in Augustine's De Civitate Dei (22.1):

[Q]ui de mortali progenie merito iusteque damnata tantum populum gratia sua colligit, ut inde suppleat et instauret partem, quae lapsa est angelorum, ac sic ilia dilecta et superna ciuitas non fraudetur suorum numero ciuium, quin etiam fortassis et uberiore laetetur.(4)

(He [God] gathers together by his grace from the deservedly and justly damned mortal race so numerous a people in order that he may complete and restore that part of the angels which fell; and thus the beloved and celestial city is not defrauded in the number of its citizens, but perhaps even rejoices more abundantly.)

These examples from Augustine are yet at some remove from the Genesis A poet's portrayal of a bequest of empty thrones or kingdoms to mankind. Though the general contours are certainly present, Augustine is more concerned that the City of God be inhabited by a perfect quantity of both angelic and human citizens and does not pause to describe the precise nature of the heavenly inheritance.

In the period following Augustine, it is Gregory the Great who first situates the doctrine of replacement within new contexts and associations. In a homily on the first ten verses of Luke 10, Gregory uses the concept of the community of saints and angels to illuminate two parables.(5) In the parable concerning the woman who lost one of her ten coins, the coins are initially equated with all of mankind and the lost coin to the sinful. The angels appear only as the 'friends and neighbours' who rejoice with the woman (i.e. God) once the tenth coin has been restored. However, Gregory then offers an alternative exegesis in which he understands the nine coins to represent the nine orders of angels and the tenth, elect human beings.(6) The angels are supplemented by saved mankind, yet we are not told how the number came to be incomplete; fallen angels are never mentioned, nor does he allude to an original tenth angelic order.(7) Later in the same homily, Gregory explains that the number of the elect will equal that of the faithful angelic orders:

Quia enim superna ilia civitas ex angelis et hominibus constat, ad quam tantum credimus humanum genus ascendere, quantos illic contigit electos angelos remansisse.(8)

(Indeed, the celestial city consists of angels and men, to which we believe as many of the human race will ascend, as chosen angels happen to remain there.)

There are some conspicuous differences between Gregory and Augustine. Gregory's use of the doctrine in his commentary on the coin parable is, as far as we know, original. The nine angelic orders and the coin parable became after Gregory the most common vehicles for the enunciation of the doctrine of replacement.(9)

Gregory also differs from Augustine on a point of logic. The former states that as many humans will reach heaven as there are angels remaining there after the fall, whereas Augustine uses the number of fallen angels as the point of comparison. From these differences it is clear that Gregory had come to know the doctrine of replacement in an adaptation which diverged from the Augustinian representation or had altered it himself.

Gregory's homily was eventually included in the homiliary of Paul the Deacon which enjoyed widespread use.(10) Haymo of Halberstadt (d. 853), for instance, follows Gregory closely in his commentary on Luke, but adds a sentence to clarify what event occasioned the incompleteness in the heavenly ranks. Following the list of the nine angelic orders, he explains: 'Decimus enim per superbiam cecidit' (the tenth, in fact, fell because of pride).(11) And turning to Anglo-Saxon England, we discover that the idea was introduced early by Bede in his commentary on Luke. Bede copies Gregory's interpretation of the coin parable virtually word for word, the first record of the doctrine of replacement in England.(12)

In the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, the idea is found in the vernacular writings of both AElfric and Wulfstan. The latter's account, though the latest in date, may be said to bear a closer resemblance to the Augustinian exegesis in that it is used, not in conjunction with the ten angelic orders and the coin parable as in Gregory, but in a homily on the story of creation:

And to oam hy gesceop God aelmihtig, thaet hy and heora ofspring scoldan gefyllan and gemaenigfyldan thaet on heofonum gewanad waes; thaet waes ungerim thaet oaenon thurh deofles ofermodignesse into helle behreas.(13)

(And therefore God almighty created them, so that they and their offspring should fill up and multiply what was diminished in the heavens; that was a countless number which fell from thence into hell through the pride of the devil.)

However, the source for this homily is most likely/Elfric,(14) who provides several references to the doctrine of replacement and reveals certain novel modifications in his treatment.(15) Though the doctrine naturally deals with an aspect of creation, AElfric's version is the first surviving account, apart from the Old English poem, to place it in the context of a creation narrative.(16) In one lucid summation, found in the first of his Catholic Homilies, the 'Sermo de Initio Creaturae',(17) he states that God created ten orders of angels; the original tenth host being led by Lucifer himself, who in his fall drew his followers with him and thereby depleted the heavenly ranks. Then the replacement is contemplated:

Da wolde God gefyllan and geinnian thone lyre the forloren waes of tham heofenlicum werode, and cwaeo thaet he wolde wyrcan mannan of eoroan, thaet se eorolica man sceolde getheon and geearnian mid eadmodnysse tha wununga on heofenan rice, the se deofol forwyrhte mid modignysse.(18)

(Then God wished to fill up and restore that loss which was lost from that heavenly company. And he said that he desired to make man from the earth, so that earthly man should increase and merit with his humility those dwellings in the kingdom of heaven, which the devil had forfeited with arrogance.)

AElfric's rendering is closely related to that found in Genesis A. In addition to placing the doctrine in the framework of creation, AElfric is not expressing it exclusively in terms of numbers of citizens, the completion of the angelic hosts, but his exegesis refers to wununga (dwellings) waiting to be filled. Later on in the same homily AElfric calls these stede (seats) as he does also in the Exameron Anglice when the same subject is mentioned.(19) In yet another homily, he again uses the term faegeran wununge (fair dwellings) for the vacated places.(20) For/Elfric, God's purpose in creating mankind was not just to complete numbers, but to settle residences. In Anglo-Saxon terms, this is perhaps to be thought of as equivalent to the granting of estates. The elect, we are told, earn these through humility, just as the devil lost them through pride.

One last, hitherto unnoticed vernacular analogue to Genesis A remains to be examined. It is of particular interest because it is somewhat earlier than AElfric or Wulfstan, though, as with the poem, a fixed date cannot be assigned.(21) One of the anonymous homilies found in the Blickling collection (XI) explains the doctrine of replacement as follows:

And him [englum] tha waes eac heora gefea and heora blis geeced tha hie wiston thaet heora ethel thaer on heofenum sceolde eft gebuen and geseted weorthan mid halgum sawlum, and tha halgan setl eft gefylde mid thaere menniscan gecynde, the deofol aer for his oforhygdum of aworpen waes.(22)

(Then their [the angels'] joy and bliss was increased when they knew that their homeland there in the heavens should again be inhabited and settled with holy souls, and those holy thrones, from which the devil because of his pride had been cast down, filled again with mankind.)

This account is certainly the closest lexically to Genesis A: setl and eoel, the two words here used to describe the destination of the elect, have striking counterparts in Genesis A setl (86) and eoelstaoolas (94).(23)

Though the notion of a throne, kingdom or homeland which awaits the believer is conventional,(24) none of the patristic sources combined this future hope with the doctrine of replacement. Augustine's civitas and Gregory's angelic orders focus on the celestial community rather than on the nature of the inheritance itself.

AElfric, Blickling XI, and Genesis A are at one in depicting the doctrine of replacement as a resettlement of the abandoned realms of heaven. In Genesis B the thematic appropriateness of such a portrayal becomes all the more apparent when we consider Satan's perspective as he rages against God:(25)

thaet me is sorga maest, thaet Adam sceal, the waes of eoroan geworht, minne stronglican stol behealdan, wesan him on wynne, and we this wite tholien, hearm on thisse belle.


(That is the greatest of sorrows for me, that Adam, who was made from the earth, must possess my mighty throne, exist in happiness, and that we should suffer this torment, affliction in this hell.)

Satan's outrage at the scheme of replacement also figures in AElfric and Wulfstan as the impetus for his plot against mankind,(26) and it is fitting that the anticipated gain of the elect should mirror Satan's loss in this way.(27)

Certainly, the poet's rendering of the doctrine reveals not patristic, but distinctly Anglo-Saxon origins. The kinship of the Genesis A account to those in the vernacular homilies, particularly AElfric's and Blickling XI, is most clearly discernible in its creation narrative setting and in its portrayal of the vacancies as fair dwellings or thrones in the celestial homeland which await their new inhabitants.

DOROTHY HAINES University of Toronto

1 Old English Poetry is cited from G.P. Krapp and E. V. K. Dobbie (eds), The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, vols I and III (London, 1931-6).

2 Attempts to find antecedents to Augustine's doctrine of replacement have been unsuccessful; cf. B. Lohse, 'Zu Augustins Engellehre', Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, lxx (1959), 278-91.

3 CCSL 46, 82.

4 CCSL 48,807. Cf. also Enchir. 29, CCSL 46, 65.

5 Homiliarum in Evangelia (34), PL 76, 1246A-1259A. The first of these, the parable of the good shepherd and the lost sheep, would at first seem to contain the doctrine of replacement, but on closer inspection it does not. Though the perfection which must be restored, i.e. the one hundred sheep, is composed of angels and mankind, the lost sheep is not the troop of fallen angels, but sinful man. The completeness of those created to see God was destroyed by fallen man, not angels; 'Sed una ovis tunc periit quando peccando homo pascua vitae dereliquit' (PL 76, 1247C). And it is the same who are reinstated, not angels who are replaced: 'ut perfecta summa ovium integraretur in coeio, homo perditus quaerebatur in terra'. Cf. Hilary of Poitiers, Commentarius in Matthaeum (PL 9, 1020C-1021A).

6 Gregory's homily seems to have been the source for the description of the doctrine of replacement in this context; cf. Paul Salmon, 'Der zehnte Engelchor in deutschen Dichtungen und Predigten des Mittelalters', Euphorion, Ivii (1963), 321-30. The original ten orders of angels are subsequently often associated with the doctrine of replacement and are also to be found in Genesis B (246-8).

7 This is made clear by Gregory elsewhere, however; in the Moralia (PL 76, 628A) he states: 'In ipso [Chrislo] res-taurantur ea quae in coelis sunt, dum illuc humiliati homines redeunt unde apostatae angeh superbiendo ceciderunt.'

8 PL 76, 1252B.

9 Cf. Theodore Studitae (759-826) in in Sanctos Angelos (PG 99,746D) and Isidore in Sententia, PL 83,556A.

10 A. N. Doane (ed.), The Saxon Genesis (Madison, 1991), 257-8.

11 Homiliae de Tempore, PL 118, 613D.

12 In Lucae Euangelium Expositio, CCSL 120, 285ff. See also Homily II, 3 (CCSL 122, 205) for another mention of the doctrine in Bede.

13 Dorothy Bethurum, The Homilies of Wulfstan (Oxford, 1957), 144-5.

14 Bethurum, 293.

15 Benjamin Thorpe, Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, 2 vols (London, 1844-6), vol. I, homilies I (12-16), II (32), XIV (214), and XXIV (342-344); vol. II, homily V (82). S.J. Crawford (ed.), Exameron Anglice (Darmstadt, 1968), lines 297ff. S.J. Crawford (ed.), The Old English Version of the Heptateuch EETS, o.s. 160 (London, 1922; rprt. 1969), 18-20.

16 Three of the AElfrician references are to be found in creation contexts: the one cited below and those in the Exameron and the introduction to the Heptateuch.

17 According to Max Forster. this homily is based on Gregory's homily cited above; 'Ober die Queilen von AElfrics Exegetischen Homiliae Catholicae', Anglia, xvi (1894), 57. 18 Thorpe, Homilies, I, 12.

19 Crawford, Exameron Anglice, line 326.

20 Crawford, Heptateuch, 20.

21 The homily does contain a reference that suggests composition in the year 971, though this could be an interpolation in an earlier homily. Robert Dawson comments that 'no source is known for the OE text, and from the general tone it is possible that it is not a translation but an original OE homily'; An Edition of the Blickling Homilies, vol. Ill, unpubl. thesis (Oxford, 1969), 47.

22 R. Morris (ed.), The Blickling Homilies of the Tenth Century, EETS o.s. 58 (London, 1874-80), 121.

23 See also Genesis A 63 and 83 for the use of evel as the home of the angels. Genesis B has setla (411), heahgetimbro (739), and rodorstolas (749); cf. Christ and Satan 107 and 278 for use of the word eoel to describe Satan's loss.

24 Cf. Jn. 14:2, Lk. 22:30, Apoc. 20:4. See also Guthlac A 'Him waes lean gescald, setl on swegle' (784-5) and The Phoenix 'thaer we motun . . . secan ond gesittan sedibus altis' (670-1).

25 As Doane has noted, Satan understands God's plan as a 'gratuitous injury against himself, and therefore casts the creation of mankind in terms of a vengeful act rather than one of benevolence (Saxon Genesis, 132). Cf. Paradise Lost II.833-5: ' . . . and therein plac't / a race of upstart Creatures, to supply / perhaps our vacant room' (also VII. 150-6, 18991); B. A. Wright (ed.), John Milton: The Complete Poems (London, 1980).

26 Thorpe, Homilies, I, 16; Bethurum, 145.

27 Rosemary WooIf has noted that the Anglo-Saxons cast Satan in the role of the 'faithless retainer and eternal exile', who has been banished from the company and country of his lord; 'The Devil in Old English Poetry', Review of English Studies, n.s. iv (1953), 6.
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Author:Haines, Dorothy
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Jun 1, 1997
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