A Register of Written Sources Used by Anglo-Saxon Authors
08 September 2023: That's another text added to the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database: some 109 new database entries on Ælfric’s 'Sermon for the Dedication of a Church' (Sermo in dedicatione aecclesiae).
Church dedications were the business of bishops in Anglo-Saxon England, and these events presented convenient opportunities for preaching, as did the later anniversaries of such dedication ceremonies. In this text, probably written between about 998 and 1002, Ælfric repeats earlier patterns from his previous work, moving from explanation to eschatology, but oddly does not mention the church or the Church at all. Editor Aaron Kleist describes the text as 'an address that encourages giving alms to assist and honor the Church's work and clergy [which] would fittingly mark the anniversary of the dedication of the building wherein they met to receive pastoral care' (p. 532). The Old English text and Modern English translation of the sermon itself can be found on pp. 538-47 of A. J Kleist and R. K. Upchurch, ed., Ælfrician Homilies and Varia, Anglo-Saxon Texts 13, 2 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2022), II. And see also the editors' detective work on potential candidates for bishops associated with this sermon (pp. 533-6). In terms of its sources, the text derives primarily from passages in the Gospel of Luke and Bede's Commentary on Luke, with other influences from Ælfric's earlier work.
22 June 2023: Just in time for people packing their holiday reading for the beach, we've managed to publish some further new Fontes entries: Some 76 new database entries on Ælfric’s sermon ‘Concerning the Creator and Creation’, De creatore et creatura.
Like its companion piece 'Of the Six Ages of the World' (see below), the text was composed around the year 1006 and deals with Christian world history, especially creation and the Fall. Ælfric discusses the mystery of what happened at the beginning of all times, with the paradox of a creative force that had no beginnings but always existed. He explains about the arrogant angel who reached above his station, wanting to be like God, Gode gelic, and had to be punished with a fall of his own, into hell. Consumed with great social envy and resentment, mycclum andan, the devil consequently decided to make things difficult for the rest of God's creation, leading to the temptation of Adam and Eve, with the known consequences. Ælfric describes in some detail how, after the Fall, dealing with the rest of creation then turned into a bit of a struggle for human beings: 'From then on they were able to suffer illness, and lice and gnats of the air bit them, and likewise fleas and many other creeping insects. And dragons and serpents were harmful to them, and the fierce animals, all of which honored [the man] exceedingly before, were able to harm his kindred.'
Ælfric is also quite critical of our consumerism, and lack of impulse control in this earthly life: 'When [a stupid person, dysega] is hungry, he eats greedily. Again when he is thirsty, he drinks (...); when he gets cold, he seeks shelter for himself. When he needs the privy, he goes there by compulsion. When he is tired, he wants to rest'. From Ælfric's point of view, these problems (geswinc) are all self-inflicted by humanity, and serve us right. He thinks we should get a grip in dealing with life's hardship, and focus on the next (heavenly) life, which will be less of a trial.
Professor Aaron Kleist of Biola University, who produced the new database entries, shows that the ideas underlying ‘Concerning the Creator and Creation’ are mainly based on two earlier texts by Ælfric himself which he recycles, plus some Biblical passages and a small number of other sources. Read the whole of Ælfric’s text in the original Old English and in modern English translation in A. J Kleist and R. K. Upchurch, ed., Ælfrician Homilies and Varia, Anglo-Saxon Texts 13, 2 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2022), II, 714-35, and see its sources listed passage by passage here.
13 May 2023: Concerned about toxic leadership? The destruction of nature? Rising sea levels? Read what Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham (Oxfordshire), wrote about these worries around the year 1006. Some 210 new database entries have just been added to Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, on Ælfric’s sermon ‘Of the Six Ages of this World’, De sex etatibus huius seculi.
The text deals with Judeo-Christian theories about the phases of world history, from the beginnings of time, via Noah’s initiative during the world-wide crisis, to the end of anthropocene. As optimistic as Ælfric is about humanity’s ultimate fate (the future eighth age of everlasting life), he is first very critical about our obsessive interest in sex and continuous rule-breaking. In God’s words: ‘I wish to drown and kill all this human race with water’, Ic wylle adrencan and adydan eall þis mennisc mid wætere.
The Flood doesn't really solve all problems though: not only do Noah’s offspring then father 72 sons, but they also build the Tower of Babel, trying to reach heaven that way. God’s next step explains humanity’s linguistic diversity, and it’s interesting that he explains it in a negative light, because linguistic diversity leads to communication problems:
‘God came to that place and looked at the tower and gave to each worker his own language so that none of them knew anything of another’s language, and so they immediately ceased from that work and scattered to distant lands’, God come þærto and sceawode þone stypell and forgeaf þam wyrhtum ælcum his gereord þæt heora ælcum nyste naht oðres spræce, and hi swa geswicon sona þæs weorces and toferdon to fyrlenum landum.
Professor Aaron Kleist of Biola University, who produced the new database entries, shows that the ideas underlying ‘Of the Six Ages of this World’ are based on a number of Ælfric’s earlier sermons which he thought were worth recycling, plus some Biblical passages and traditional patristic sources. Read the whole of Ælfric’s text in the original Old English and in modern English translation in A. J Kleist and R. K. Upchurch, ed., Ælfrician Homilies and Varia, Anglo-Saxon Texts 13, 2 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2022), I, 756-9, and see its sources listed passage by passage here.
London, British Library, Cotton Claudius B.IV, fol 19r (depicting the Babel builders when they were still talking to each other)
18 November 2022: Today, some 160 new entries were added to the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici database. The newly added entries relate to a homily by Ælfric called 'In natali Domini', a text composed sometime between the years 998 and 1002. It survives in a single manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343 (2406), fols 155r-158r. In composing this homily, Ælfric drew mainly on other, earlier, works by himself, as well as biblical passages, patristic sermons and Alcuin's De animae ratione.
The entries were contributed by Professor Aaron Kleist of Biola University, and are based on a recent new edition of this text, A. J Kleist and R. K. Upchurch, ed., Ælfrician Homilies and Varia: Editions, Translation, and Commentary, Anglo-Saxon Texts 13, 2 vols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2022), pp. 110-31. 'In natali Domini' had not featured on the Fontes database before, so we're particularly pleased about this new addition. For further information on Aaron Kleist and Robert Upchurch and their research on Old English literature, see their academic webpages at Biola and the University of North Texas.
'Philosophers who are wise teachers say that the nature of the soul is threefold: one part of it is desirous, another capable of anger, a third rational. Two of these parts wild and tame animals possess along with us, that is, desire and anger. A human alone has reason and judgment and understanding.' 'In natali Domini', lines 237-42.
'He who further thinks to test God is like a person who raises a ladder and then climbs up the ladder's steps until he approaches the end of the ladder and then desires to ascend higher without steps. Then unstable, he falls on account of his foolishness, so much the worse as he climbed farther.' 'In natali Domini', lines 89-95.
Interested in what sources these passages are based on? This link will take you straight to the newly added Fontes entries.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 343, fol. 140v (depicting another homily by Ælfric)