In Beowulf the Christian element, which coexists alongside the pagan or heathen, sometimes in a seemingly contradictory fashion, is many faceted.
Certainly the Christian element seems to be too deeply interwoven in the text for us to suppose that it is due to additions made by scribes at a time when the poem had come to be written down. The Christian element had to be included by the original poet or by minstrels who recited it in later times. The extent to which the Christian element is present varies in different parts of the poem. In the last portion (2200–3183) the number of lines affected by it amounts to less than four per cent., while in the section dealing with Beowulf’s return (1904–2199) it is negligible. In the earlier portions, on the other hand, the percentage rises to about ten percent (Ward v1,ch3,s3,n16). The Christian element is about equally distributed between the speeches and the narrative.
While the poet’s reflections and characters’ statements are mostly Christian, the customs and ceremonies, on the other hand, are almost entirely heathen/pagan. This fact seems to point to a heathen work which has undergone revision by Christian minstrels. In the case of cremation mentioned in reference to Hildeburh’s family in The Finnsburh Episode and in relation to Beowulf at the end of the poem, which is the prevalent form of funeral rite found in the poem, this practice had probably passed out of use by the time the poem was starting to be Christianized, so such passages could not excite the repugnance among the Christian listeners in the audience.
The Christianity of Beowulf is of an indefinite and undoctrinal type. The minstrels …
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…dictory fashion; it is a many-faceted subject to study.
Alexander, Michael, translator. The Earliest English Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Bloom, Harold. “Introduction.” In Modern Critical Interpretations: Beowulf, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Frank, Roberta. “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
The Holy Bible, edited by dom Bernard Orchard. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.
Essay Comparing the Concept of God in Beowulf and Other Anglo-Saxon Poems
The Concept of God in Beowulf and Other Anglo-Saxon Poems
Is the concept of God mentioned only in Beowulf or is it a common element in all Anglo-Saxon poetry? Is the concept of God described the same way as in Beowulf?
Beowulf presents a mixture of Christian and pagan elements Hrothgar is demonstrably a monotheist, bu this people were offering sacrifice to pagan gods when Grendel caused them to despair. Let’s try to clarify the concept of God in this poem. In the early lines of this classic we see what is meant by GOD and by GOODNESS, as embodied or exemplified by the king, in this case by King Scyld Scefing:
he grew under heaven, prospered in honors
until every last one of the bordering nations
beyond the whale-road had to heed him,
pay him tribute. He was a good king!
A son was born him, a glorious heir,
young in the courtyards, whom God had sent
to comfort his people, -well had He seen
the sinful distress they suffered earlier,
leaderless for long. Therefore the Life-lord,
the Ruler of glory, granted earthly honor:
Beow was famed (8ff)
So goodness in a king is the possession of such strength that other nations fear you. And God is the all-powerful One who grants this earthly honor that Scyld, Beow, Healfdene and Hrothgar shared in. So God the Author of strength is their concept of God as the poem opens. This idea continues:
Then Hrothgar was given victory in battle (64).
Who was the giver? God, of course. From Heorot Hrothgar would:
he would share out
among young and old all God had given him,
except common land and the lives of men (71ff)
Heorot gave joy to the people with its scop narrating “how the Almighty had made the earth,” the “life He created, in each of the species,” “until a certain one began to do evil, an enemy from Hell,” a descendant of Cain. So God’s antithesis is in Grendel and his mother and their “home in the darkness.” Ater killing more than 60 Dane warriors, Grendel “grieved not at all for his wicked deeds – was too deep in sin;” many awful sins against mankind, the solitary fiend often committed;” “he knew not His love.