The Christian influences in Beowulf ultimately came from the Christian/Catholic Church of Rome which converted Romans, and thereby the Roman legions and thereby the occupied provinces. Also the Christian/Catholic Bishop of Rome sent missionary priests and monks to the British Isles to proselytze the population. There are additional considerations too.
First of all, let us be clear about the fact that the conversion of Britain to Christianity began quite early. The Catholic priest Venerable Bede, born in Bernicia, Northumbria, around 673, states in Bk 1, Ch 4 of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People that while Eleutherius was Bishop of Rome (175-189AD), a king of Britain named Lucius requested of the Pope that the king be baptized a Catholic by papal decree:
In the year of our Lord 156 Marcus Antoninus Verus was made emperor together with his brother Aurelius Commodus. He was the fourteenth after Augustus. In their time, while a holy man called Eleutherius was bishop of the church at Rome, Lucius, a king of Britain, sent him a letter praying him that he might be made a Christian by a rescript from him. His pious request was quickly granted and the Britons preserved the faith which they had received, inviolate and entire, in peace and quiet, until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.
Bede’s last sentence in the passage implies that Christianity had already been established in Britain for some time prior to Eleutherius occupying Peter’s chair from 175-189. This seems reasonable according to what is written by the historian Eusebius Pamphilus, bishop of Caesarea, in His Ecclesiastical History written in the 300’s. The Ecclesiastical His…
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…McClure, Judith, editors. Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, translated by C.F. Cruse. Peabody, MS: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
Magoun, Frances P. “Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry.” In TheBeowulf Poet, edited by Donald K. Fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
“Nero.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. www.bartleby.com/65/.
“St. Patrick.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. www.bartleby.com/65/.
Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf – Beowulf and Caedmon’s Hymn
Beowulf and Caedmon’s Hymn
In Beowulf the Christian element, which coexists alongside the pagan or heathen, may have originated in part from the works of Caedmon.
The Christian element in Beowulf had to be included by the original poet or by minstrels who recited it in later times because it is so deeply imbedded in the text. The extent to which the Christian element is present varies in different parts of the poem. 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.
The Christianity of Beowulf is of a vague type. The minstrels who introduce the Christian element probably had but a vague knowledge of the faith, and on top of that they were under pressure from the audience to give them the interesting old pagan stories. At the beginning of the poem, there is the account of the pagan funeral rites of Scyld Scefing, and at the close of the poem we see the heathen rites of burial for Beowulf himself, including cremation, deposition of treasures and armor, etc. with the corpse in the burial mound overlooking the sea. Including such heathen rites enables the poet to “communicate his Christian vision of pagan heroic life.”(Bloom 2).
The minstrels’ catechesis seems poor because their allusions to the church and to the Bible are quite indistinct, vague, indefinete. In the whole poem there is possibly one half-hearted paraphrase of a Scriptural passage, in lines 1743ff:
Too sound is that sleep,
bound up in cares; the killer very near
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…ersity of Notre Dame Press, 1963.
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.
Collins, Roger and McClure, Judith, editors. Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
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.