Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England

My book Preaching Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England is now under contract to be published by the University of Toronto Press, as part of the Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series. This page contains information about the project, as well as online supplements to some of the material in the book.

Page Contents
Book Description
Chapter Summaries
Supplements

sacramentary-of-robert-jumieges-flight-into-egypt-33r-detail

The Flight into Egypt, detail in the Sacramentary of Robert of Jumièges (Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale 274), folio 33r. Used by permission, via a Creative Commons license.

Book Description

This book is an examination of Christian apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon England, focused specifically on the use of these extra-biblical narratives in Old English sermons. Throughout this study, I challenge normative assumptions about the use of non-canonical gospels, acts, and apocalypses in preaching texts by suggesting that they are a substantial part of the apparatus of Christian tradition inherited by Anglo-Saxons. I explore uses of apocrypha as, on the one hand, hermeneutic in expanding and explaining biblical and doctrinal knowledge, and, on the other hand, ideological responses to local pedagogical needs. While these texts have been marginalized in scholarship, I argue that they are part of a corpus of orthodoxy that speaks to a plurality of beliefs and practices in Anglo-Saxon culture. Situated in relation to the general pervasiveness of apocrypha, Old English sermons should be understood as participating in the widespread transmission of Christian materials in the period. These Old English sermons are not isolated, but part of more general cultural trends. I account for the broader prevalence of apocrypha by studying Old English sermons as significant witnesses to Anglo-Saxon religious attitudes within a wider media network encompassing the afterlives of texts, manuscripts, and visual arts. In other words, I argue that extra-biblical media did not merely survive on the margins of culture, but thrived at the heart of mainstream Anglo-Saxon Christianity.

Table of Contents
Introduction: Seeking Out Gold in the Mud
Chapter 1: Homiliaries, Apocrypha, and Preaching Networks
Chapter 2: Apostles, Trinity, and Reform in Blickling 15
Chapter 3: Ælfric and Correct Doctrine
Chapter 4: Translating Jesus in Text and Image
Chapter 5: A Network Microcosm in Bodley 343
Conclusion: Mediating Tradition
Excursus on Terminology
Appendices

Chapter Summaries

Introduction: Seeking Out Gold in the Mud
Patristic views that influenced Anglo-Saxons about apocrypha reveal an attitude of ambivalence; while they sometimes point out doctrinal problems in some of these texts, they also acknowledge their potential value. As Jerome recognizes, it might be useful “to seek out gold in the mud”—precisely the reason that Anglo-Saxon authors turned to apocrypha for preaching. In my introduction, I clarify this position, since previous scholars have often vilified apocrypha as “heterodox” or “heretical,” despite their prevalence and uses by many medieval authors. I also introduce the notion that sermons constitute a type of “mass media” for the Middle Ages that reveal much about the state of mainstream Christianity for various audiences and contexts. Establishing the methodological framework further suggests ways to read apocrypha in preaching texts not in isolation but as part of a network media. The organization of this book reflects an increasingly expansive notion of the media network for the transmission of preaching apocrypha that I want to highlight throughout. The overall study comprises a series of examinations around this concept, with each chapter broadening the theoretical understanding of how individual or groups of apocrypha relate within the wider media network.

Chapter 1: Homiliaries, Apocrypha, and Preaching Networks
Chapter one encompasses the big picture of the network of Anglo-Saxon preaching texts that draw on apocrypha. I suggest that Latin and vernacular preaching collections from both the Continent and England provide a key example of a media network in the early medieval period—and prime evidence for how apocryphal narratives circulated. This approach allows for reconciling multiple layers of media, remediation, and intermediation: sermons, preaching collections, and manuscripts all constitute distinctive but related media within the larger media ecology. Concepts about media networks drawn from recent work in digital humanities thus allow for considering complex associations between texts in Latin and Old English as Anglo-Saxons engaged with them from the tenth to the twelfth centuries.

Chapter 2: Apostles, Trinity, and Reform in Blickling 15
In chapter two, I examine Blickling 15, a text most closely representing traditional scholarly understandings of media through a one-to-one relationship between source and translation. This sermon has previously been read as a close translation of the Latin Martyrdom of Peter and Paul, yet Blickling 15 differs from its source in significant details as the author deliberately emphasizes apostolic speeches to teach Trinitarian doctrine. This chapter, then, establishes resistance to normative notions of translation fidelity as well as distinctions between “word for word” and “sense for sense” renderings. In this chapter I also open up the concept of translation to the significance of examining differences beyond words, phrases, and even sentences, in order to situate the meanings of texts in relation to the ideologies of translators. In this way, Blickling 15 is best understood as a reflection of tenth-century reforms affecting vernacular preaching.

Chapter 3: Ælfric and Correct Doctrine
The third chapter broadens my conception of media to discuss a small network of interrelated apostolic apocrypha in Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies. For all of the differences established by scholarship regarding anonymous and Ælfrician sermons as distinct, recent work has questioned the fissure, partly regarding apocrypha. Addressing Ælfric’s use of apocryphal acts in the first part of this chapter, I suggest that scholars have too often read the author’s few explicit statements about apocrypha as normative, and have subsequently constructed an exaggerated view of his condemnations. Instead, like anonymous authors, Ælfric also found use for apostolic acts in his preaching. In the second part of this chapter, I examine another, broader network of media related to the transmission of the Catholic Homilies: relationships to other Old English sermons with apocryphal content. By looking at the afterlives of these sermons in eleventh- and twelfth-century manuscripts, we are able to see that Anglo-Saxon compilers also acknowledged associations between Ælfric’s works and other apocryphal preaching texts—in manuscript contexts as well as thematic intertextual connections with Old English sermons.

Chapter 4: Translating Jesus in Text and Image
An expanding notion of the media network encompassing apocrypha is further pronounced in chapter four, in which I discuss apocryphal narratives related to the life of Christ in both textual and visual examples. Vercelli 6 and Blickling 7 offer representative witnesses, since they respectively draw on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and traditions surrounding the Harrowing of Hell. My interdisciplinary methodology opens up the concept of intermedial translation to consider how narratives travel across various media. Besides adaptive and combinatory methods in sermons, this chapter also addresses how visual images serve as translations of apocrypha, and therefore key contexts for the culture surrounding Old English sermons based on the same sources. In particular, I focus on material artifacts like the Sacramentary of Robert of Jumièges, the Book of Cerne, as well as ivory and metal engravings used by ecclesiasts. This multimedia consideration allows for conceiving of the transmission of stories beyond verbal representations, to encompass the many cultural currents that surrounded and affected Anglo-Saxons in their engagements with apocrypha.

Chapter 5: A Network Microcosm in Bodley 343
In the final chapter, I focus on the late twelfth-century preaching collection Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 343, suggesting that this codex represents in microcosm the media network of apocrypha for preaching as it existed in Anglo-Saxon England. Since this single collection contains both Latin and Old English sermons—anonymous as well as Ælfrician and Wulfstanian productions—it survives as a key representative of preaching traditions accumulated from the tenth through twelfth centuries. Starting with an examination of the Latin Homiliary of Angers contained in Bodley 343, I take a sermon based on the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul as my launching point to trace connections outward to other apocryphal content included in the collection. Following associations between preaching texts reveals a sophisticated network of apocryphal media at the center of Anglo-Saxon Christian teaching as represented between the covers of this single book.

Conclusion: Mediating Tradition
In the conclusion, as a way to synthesize my arguments, I address how examinations of preaching with apocrypha in this book help to reconceptualize sermons as media. This approach allows for confronting binaries such as “orthodox” and “heretical” as well as “high” and “popular” cultures. At a more fundamental level, relationships between apocrypha, sermons, and media explored in this study also prompt a more fundamental question: What do apocrypha tell us about sermons? As part of the ideological apparatus of tradition inherited and engaged by medieval authors, apocrypha reveal the very fundamentals of interpretation at play in preaching. Considering a McLuhanesque approach to the medium of preaching as the message for understanding religious doctrine reveals significant payoff for recognizing the role of sermons in Anglo-Saxon England.

Supplements

In chapter one, I discuss a large network of interrelated apocryphal preaching texts included in dozens of manuscripts: Latin homiliaries with Anglo-Saxon associations from the Continent and England, as well as collections of Old English sermons. Throughout the chapter, I present data about surviving manuscripts containing apocrypha and a number of visualizations for the network and relationships I discuss. This work rests on two data sets:

1. Data about “Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon Scripts in CLA” here (obtained using Mark Stansbury’s Earlier Latin Manuscripts, at NUI Galway).

2. Data about “Apocrypha in Anglo-Saxon Preaching Collections” used for network visualizations here (visualizations created using Palladio).

All of these data sets are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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