f the centuries that comprise the Old English period—and thus (temporally speaking) the first third of English Literature—one would be hard pressed to find one more significant than the Tenth. This was the age of the Benedictine Revival, in which educational reformers engineered a resurgence of literacy in a land decimated by Viking invasion. To date, scholarly and pedagogical attention has all too often been devoted to the heroic poems copied or written during this period, such as Beowulf. The intimate connection of literacy with the monastery, however, means that most of Old English, in fact, is religious in nature. This is certainly true of the work of one of the Revival’s most influential figures: Ælfric of Eynsham. Arguably the most educated and prolific writer of tenth century England, Ælfric was also a man with a pedagogical mission. Distressed at his contemporaries’ ignorance of basic theology, and recognizing that few had knowledge of Latin, Ælfric sought to make the writings of Church Fathers such as Augustine accessible not only to clergy but to laity as well through a complex process of synthesis and translation. (Simply consider the storm surrounding Luther’s translation of the Bible to understand the potentially controversial nature of this endeavor.) Ælfric’s work is all the more valuable in that, in sharp contrast to the majority of Old English texts, where we do well to know the author’s name, Ælfric is a self conscious writer who provides insight into his concerns and struggles as an author. The heart of his work, however, is theology, where Ælfric grapples directly with issues that had occupied the greatest minds of the Church—free will, predestination, the dual nature of Christ, and so on—and tries to make them intelligible to a largely-illiterate audience. The ramifications of Ælfric’s teaching are considerable: not only were his writings in demand in his lifetime, so that he attracted powerful lay patrons and was commissioned by bishops to instruct clergymen in their names, but his works were copied copiously in the centuries following his death. 550 years later, moreover, Elizabeth’s Archbishop of Canterbury would breathe new life into Ælfric’s works by using them (albeit inappropriately) to justify various doctrinal positions of the Anglican Church. Ælfric’s theology, therefore, serves as a crucial bridge not only between the early Church and the Old English period, but between the tenth century Revival and the sixteenth century Renaissance.

While promising work has been done on Ælfric’s complex corpus, with the majority of his homilies now published in volumes by the Early English Text Society, at least twenty-one remain unpublished or scattered throughout incomplete nineteenth or early twentieth century editions. Employing both traditional and cutting-edge techniques, this project will result in (1) A Word for All Seasons, an edition of four unpublished, ten partially published, and six out of print texts by Ælfric from some thirty four manuscripts, and (2) The Electronic Ælfric, an edition on CD-ROM of a core section of perhaps Ælfric’s most influential work: his First Series of Old English homilies—a text addressing such issues as the distinction between spirit, mind, and will, sexuality and martyrdom for laypersons and monks, and the relationship between human merit and divine election. The Electronic Ælfric will examine a crucial set of eight homilies for the period from Easter to Pentecost, tracing their development through six phases of authorial revision and then through nearly 200 years of transmission following Ælfric’s death: twenty-four sets of readings or strands of textual tradition found in twenty-eight manuscripts produced in at least five scriptoria between 990 and 1200. These eight homilies are of particular importance, for they alone appear to have been reproduced through all six phases of production. The print edition will be accompanied by introductions, commentary, and translation, making the texts accessible to non specialists while providing detailed analysis for scholars of early English literature.

National Endowment for the Humanities, 1100 Pennsylvania, NW, Washington, DC 20506 — (800)NEH-1121 — info@neh.gov — Comments to dporter@uky.edu