In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Helen Foxhall Forbes. Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and Society in an Age of Faith. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. Pp. xvi + 394. £85.00 ($154.95). ISBN 978-1-4094-2371-3 (hbk). Readers of Helen Foxhall Forbes’s engrossing monograph will quickly discover that two features set it apart from most other studies of early medieval religion. One is the book’s structure. Instead of developing a single unifying argument, the author proposes several distinct approaches to the interpretation of textual and material evidence, which are illustrated with a selection of case studies in the opening chapters; subsequent chapters reinforce those approaches with additional case studies. Each chapter bears a title adapted from the Nicene Creed (e.g., ‘‘I Believe in One God’’), which artfully identifies the topic of the chapter while keeping the reader alert to a key point of the book, namely that institutionally sanctioned ‘‘Christian beliefs’’ are not coterminous with ‘‘the beliefs of Christians,’’ which include all beliefs that ordinary Christians held to be compatible with their Christianity (10). Each chapter thus portrays ‘‘how far theological debate and discussion might have affected the personal perspectives of Christian AngloSaxons ’’ in one area of belief (61). Second, this book admirably refuses to be constrained by a single disciplinary discourse. The author foregrounds the influence that theology and social change exerted over one another (10) and situates her project at the intersection of ecclesiastical , cultural, and social history, yet she succeeds in addressing a broader audience, encompassing medievalists of all disciplines, especially of literary and intellectual history. Heaven and Earth in Anglo-Saxon England deserves to be reviewed elsewhere from the viewpoint of a social or cultural historian, but in the present forum, I will focus on elements of this study that will be most stimulating and useful to specialists in medieval literature. Chapter 1, entitled ‘‘I Believe in One God,’’ treats the subject of belief itself and the factors that limit our access to the beliefs of medieval Christians. As an antidote to the well-worn and reductive opposition between institutional and popular belief, Foxhall Forbes foregrounds the ‘‘pastoral dialogue, which on one side comprises the ways that preachers and teachers dealt with the challenges of conveying what was necessary for salvation to their congregations, and on the other how those people responded to what they were taught’’ (3). She surveys the types of textual and material evidence pertinent to early medieval Christian belief, and under the section heading ‘‘Learning the Faith in Anglo-Saxon England,’’ she scrutinizes various means of support for dispensing Christian instruction to the laity, including ecclesiastical infrastructure, the training of priests, availability of books, and Christian rituals. Much of the primary source evidence that Foxhall Forbes adduces in the first chapter will be familiar to Anglo-Saxonists; what is valuable and original in this chapter is how the author deploys familiar texts to underpin the interpretive strategies that will reappear throughout the book. For instance, in 746 CE, Pope Zacharias wrote a scolding letter to the Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface, who 208 Christianity & Literature 64(2) by then had become archbishop of Mainz. Boniface had deemed it suitable to rebaptize people after their priest grossly mispronounced the Latin words of the trinitarian formula in the baptismal rite; Zacharias, however, insisted that poor Latinity alone could not invalidate the baptism, and consequently, rebaptism constituted an egregious violation of sacramental theology. This exchange between two high-ranking ecclesiastics ‘‘highlight[s] both the multiplicity of beliefs and the rather random nature of what was, or was not, determined to be acceptable in any given local context’’ (19). Moreover, Boniface’s side of the exchange with Zacharias has not survived, which should caution us about how firmly we can establish the nature of ‘‘official’’ Christian teaching in this period: If the letter from Pope Zacharias had not survived, and instead a manuscript preserved a letter from Boniface instructing that rebaptism was necessary in such cases of priestly incompetence in Latin, modern scholars might assume that Boniface’s letter represented the belief of ‘‘the Church,’’ since Boniface was the local figure of authority and by 746, he was also archbishop and papal...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 208-211
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.