Writing the Order: Religious-Political Discourses in Late Anglo-Saxon England
Dissertation for the degree philosophiae doctor (PhD) at the University of Bergen (2011)
As the end of the first millennium approached, Ælfric of Eynsham, a homilist in the busiest stage of his writing career, encouraged his lay audience to live a righteous life with these words: ‘Now we must consider very carefully that our life is so ordered, that we will meet our end in God, from whom we received our beginning.’ The sentence is part of the beginning of a homily in the Lives of Saints, a tract that was meant to be read at any desired occasion, Sermo de memoria sanctorum (LS 16). Its message, which combines conceptions of a well-ordered life and religious authority, and which implicitly imposes a certain moral vision of correct Christian society, encapsulates the topic of this thesis. The main objective of this study is, namely, to examine the literary means with which conceptions of social order were authorized in the religious-political discourses of late Anglo- Saxon England.
My approach to the topic is to examine the hagiographic, epistolary, homiletic, and legal writings of abbot Ælfric of Eynsham (ca. 950– 1010) and Wulfstan, bishop of London and Worcester and archbishop of York (ca. 950–1023), from the viewpoint of religious rhetoric. By analyzing the religious models, norms and values inherent in the rhetoric of the texts, this study contributes to the discussion about the role of religion in the ways political and social order was conceptualized, interpreted and in some ways also promoted in late Anglo-Saxon England.