Beowulf: Christianity and Beowulf Essay

Submitted By superman7113
Words: 1482
Pages: 6

It is common opinion that Beowulf was written by a Christian poet. This was probably true because at the time when it was written, most of the few people who knew how to read and write were in the clergy. There are various references within the poem to elements of the Christian religion. However, the story is about Pagan people and certain aspects of their culture are even glorified. The ambiguity of Beowulf’s religious content has caused confusion as to what significance religion had in inspiring the author and in what manner the author meant to inspire or influence his audience. I do not think that Beowulf is a Christian allegory because Beowulf had very little in common with the Biblical figure of Jesus Christ. I think that religion was not the primary thematic concern of the writer. Although there are discrepancies between the two styles of thinking, Beowulf seems to praise values which were considered moral and good among all humanity, both Christian and Pagan. The text of Beowulf clearly shows that at some point in time Biblical allusions were added to it, and suggests that someone learned in Christianity helped shape the story. The initial depiction of Grendel regarded the beast as “a fiend out of hell,” and claimed, “…he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.” References to hell, Cain, and “the Creator”, make it evident that Christian elements were present in the story. More importantly, the reference to “the Creator” shows that monotheistic theory was incorporated into the text. Grendel’s relationship to this “Creator” is further elaborated on, in which case the author refers to the latter as “Eternal Lord”, “Almighty”, and “God.” All four of which are common ways to refer to the individual Christian God, and were capitalized as would have been in the Bible. These allusions to Christian faith could lead a critic to assume that Beowulf is a Christian allegory. Critics who read the poem in this way often call Beowulf a Christ figure because he is a savior to his people. However, if the poem was really meant to be read in this way, I think that Beowulf would have been ultimately triumphant and would have survived his fight with the dragon. I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar but I can not remember any stories from the Bible where Christ did any killing or boasting. The themes of wealth and fame in Beowulf are interesting ones. I think that they are the main difference between the Pagan and Christian values in the story. Christianity teaches that people should do good deeds only for the sake of helping their fellow people. Christianity also teaches the importance of modesty. Beowulf does want to help his fellow man, and he is very selfless in doing so. However, Beowulf is also quite open about his desire for fame and treasure. I think that the reason Beowulf is more concerned with these things than a good Christian would be lies in his Pagan beliefs. Pagans did not believe in God, Satan, heaven or hell. Since the society of Beowulf did not believe in an afterlife, the only way they saw to transcend their physical lives was to accumulate great wealth and fame so that they would be remembered long after their deaths. I do not think that Pagan culture is completely celebrated in Beowulf though. The ideas of boasting, fame, and wealth are questioned in the poem. The text even stated that, “The high-born chiefs who had buried the treasure declared it until doomsday so accursed that whoever robbed it would be guilty of wrong and grimly punished for their transgression, hasped in hell-bonds in heathen shrines.” Unferth is another tool the author uses to question Beowulf’s integrity as a hero. Unferth points out Beowulf’s “sheer vanity” and accuses him of making idle boasts. I think it is important to note that Unferth does not question the idea of boasting in itself but only idle boasting. It is also important