Liminality and the Ascension of Christ in Anglo-Saxon Literature
Between earth and heaven examines the teaching of the theology of Christ's Ascension in Anglo-Saxon literature, making it the only comprehensive study of how patristic Ascension theology was transmitted, adapted and taught in Anglo-Saxon England. This book offers a new understanding of the methods of religious instruction and the uses of religious texts in Anglo-Saxon England, capturing their lived significance to contemporary audiences; a frequently elusive aspect of early medieval literary culture. The book argues that Anglo-Saxon authors recognize the Ascension and its theology as fundamentally liminal in nature, as principally concerned with crossing boundaries and inhabiting dual states and places. In teaching the Ascension, authors convert abstract theology into concrete images reflecting this liminality, such as the gates of heaven and Christ's footprints. Informed in its approach by the anthropological concept of 'liminality' and interested in the interactions between conventional theology and religious practice, this study reveals the complex relationships between patristic theology, 'official' clerical teaching, spatial rituals, liturgical practices, lay popular beliefs and the doctrinal messages of the Ascension. By examining a range of liminal imagery in Anglo-Saxon literature, Between earth and heaven demonstrates the sophistication and unity of Ascension theology of such diverse sources as Latin and Old English homilies, religious poetry, liturgy and popular religious practices. This study refines our evaluation of Anglo-Saxon authors' knowledge of patristic literature and theology, their rigorous and innovative maintenance of traditional Christian-Latin teachings, and process of source adaptation. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval religious literature and culture and of the patristic tradition in Anglo-Saxon England.
Johanna Kramer is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Missouri