Christian Influence on Beowulf and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki
In Beowulf the Christian influence is revealed through approximately 70 passages in which the form of expression or the thought suggests Christian usage or doctrine (Blackburn 3); The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki is in its own way infused with Christian values even though it preserves remnants of the cult of Odin.
The Christian element seems to be too deeply interwoven in the text of Beowulf 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, from about ten percent in the first part to much less than that throughout the rest of the poem. The Christian element is about equally distributed between the speeches and the narrative.
Christian missionaries to Britain in the early centuries took many words belonging to heathen beliefs and practices and adopted them into the church (Blackburn 3). For example, Hel was at one time the goddess of the world of the dead; Catholic missionaries used Hell to indicate the place of the dead, later of the damned. Likewise with words such as Yule, Easter, God, haelend, nergend, drihten, metod, frea; the latter ones have fallen from usage. We see these words used in Beowulf as well as other Anglo-Saxon poetry.
The theology which appears in the Christian allusions in Beowulf is very vague and indefinete: there is no mention of Christ, the saints, miracles, Mary His Mother, specific doctrines of the church, martyrs of the church, the New Testament (there may be one possible brief exception), rites or ceremonies of the church, the cross or the Crucifixion, the Holy Ghost, angels, or Saviour. E. Talbot Donaldson says: “Yet there is no reference to the New Testament – to Christ and His Sacrifice which are the real bases of Christianity in any intelligible sense of the term.” (Bloom 1). The minstrels who introduced the Christian element probably had but a vague knowledge of Christianity, much of it probably coming from other poets who were Christian, like Caedmon, who is mentioned in Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (215-18). Caedmon’s Hymn has but few lines extant:
. . . the power of the Creator, the profound mind
of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning
of every wonder, the eternal Lord.
For the children of men he made first
heaven as a roof, the holy Creator. . . .(Alexander 6)
The Christian references in Beowulf include four allusions to Genesis, including the Creation, Cain and Abel and the Flood. There are dozens of references to God in the Christian sense, plus other epithets for God: lord, father, creator, ruler, almighty, ruler of men, ruler of glory, shepherd of glory, king of...