Beowulf, the Old English epic, probably dates from the early eighth century, a golden age of English Christianity when the land was awash with saints. The Beowulf poet, who was almost certainly a monk, was a contemporary of St. Bede the Venerable, a Doctor of the Church, and St. Boniface, the English apostle to the Germans. He was also writing at a time when Anglo-Saxon literature was flourishing. Caedmon, the poet who probably wrote the mystical masterpiece “The Dream of the Rood,” had died in 680, a generation or so earlier. It is odd, therefore, that contemporary critics, betraying the arrogance of their ignorance, claim that Beowulf is not a Christian poem.
Harold Bloom, exposing his inability to read the allegorical dimension of the poem, claims that “Beowulf eschews any mention of Jesus Christ, and all its biblical references are to the Old Testament,” adding that the virtues of the poem’s eponymous hero “have nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with warlike courage.” He concludes his woefully awry reading of the poem with the preposterous claim that the monk who wrote the poem was a closet pagan: “But does Beowulf conclude with the triumph of the Christian vision? God’s glory as a creator is extolled in the poem, but nowhere are we told of God’s grace. Instead, there are tributes, despairing but firm, to fate, hardly a Christian power.”
A reading of the poem from the perspective of the profoundly Catholic culture in which it was written will illustrate, contrary to Professor Bloom’s assertions, that there are distinct allegorical references to Christ, especially with respect to His Passion, and that the whole poem has everything to do with salvation in a specifically orthodox theological sense.