The Unity of the Unknown and the Eternal Security: The Anglo-Saxon Belief in Christianity and Fate Imagine a life in which one is simply a pawn at the hands of a mysterious higher force stumbling and meandering through life’s tribulations. Until Pope Gregory the Great was sent to spread Christianity throughout England, the Anglo- Saxons believed solely in this passive, victimizing philosophy. These pagans still clung to much of their heathen culture after the wave of Christianity swept through England leaving no one behind. Literature derived from this period (including Beowulf, “The Seafarer,” and “The Wanderer”) directly reflects the maintaining of Christian ideals, as well as the belief in fate’s unknown and often grim path. For example, the epic poem, Beowulf , declares, “…Fate will unwind as it must!” (line 284). Meanwhile, the same work implies God has the authority in this great world by stating, “And all his glorious band of Geats/Thanked God their leader had come back unharmed,” (598-599) as if God was the deciding factor in the great protector’s health.
The joining convincedness in God and fate influences the culture, outlook on life, and the various independent life paths of Anglo- Saxons. These early Germanic people believe “fate”- an anonymous power – controls the present, future and past; yet, they also believe the power of God is a resolute supremacy not to be denounced. Our earliest warriors put aside their heroic independence and let wyrd’s foreign agency control their views and their lives’ paths time and time again. These pagans even allow destiny to influence their view of life which was fatalistic and desolate. “The Wanderer” proves the Anglo-Saxons had little to live for and much to fear as it tells the tale of an anonymous man stripped from his gold-lord. This literary work illustrates stoic solitude and grim hopelessness by using phrases like, “…what a bitter companion/Shoulder to shoulder sorrow can be,”(lines 26-27) and “Wretchedness fills the realm of earth,” (98). Along with their outlook on life as a whole, fate controls the pagans decisions and lack there of. “The Seafarer” shows an example of the Anglo-Saxons submissive role by voicing the story of a sailor suffering through hardships because he was meant to be a sailor and is drawn to the familiar sea.
The sailor explains his painful lifestyle by stating, “…my soul/Called me eagerly out…” (lines 36-37) implying this harrowing lifestyle is not a conscious choice, but more of an obligation to something other than his mind and heart. Even the bravest warrior fell victim to this unsafe and unpredictable fortress. Beowulf, who is “…-greater/And stronger than anyone anywhere in this world, ” (110-111), explained on his deathbed that “Fate has swept our race away,/Taken warriors in their strength and led them/to the death that was waiting. And now I follow them.” (834-836). The destiny pagans face is often sorrowful, beguiling and unfair. While Anglo-Saxons’ lives are consistently at the mercy of destiny, they are still very influenced by their value of Christian ideals. Although these pagans believe fate is a force beyond their control deciding life’s every turn, they also believe loving, honoring and obeying God will result in salvation and eternal happiness.
These seemingly ‘new’ joys of God intrude their views on death, peace, humility, warfare and life in general. Christianity eases the vicious warriors’ conduct and morale. Religious civility plays a key role in the softening and decrease of battles. “The Seafarer” reflects the Anglo-Saxon belief that depending on one’s religious actions, heaven is one’s reward and death one’s punishment: “Death leaps at the fools who forget their God./He who lives humbly has angels from Heaven/To carry him courage and strength and belief.” (106-109). “The Wanderer” proves death was once thought of as a grim and dark ending: “All this earth ages and droops unto death.” (57), while “The Seafarer” conveys that death also became a hope of angelic grace: “…strewing his coffin/With treasures intended for Heaven…” ( 97-98). Both fate and Christianity influence the Anglo-Saxon culture, and their forces form a hybrid of uncertainty and assurance: “Thus the joys of God/ Are fervent with life, where life itself/ Fades quickly into the earth.”(64-66).
The Anglo-Saxon belief in God and fate influence their culture, outlook on life, and their own independent life paths. It is possible these sometimes contradictory ideals Pagans hold so sacred are symbols of human beings timeless desire to separate one’s own behavior and the events of one’s life. Fate is a disinclined method of rationalizing why things happen as they do, and a means of blaming occurrences on an unrenowned supremacy. Possibly, the Anglo-Saxons hold Christianity with such high repute because it is the orthodox set of morals that these barbaric war-lords and lost souls need in their lifestyle and culture. Christianity offers an incentive to those who believe and honor the Lord- a seemingly simple exchange of faith and praise for eternal joy and Heaven. The unity of fate and Christianity results in an explanation for usually baffling and sometimes unfair events, as well as an eternal promise and protection from God. Perhaps one should not invest in a fate that simply happens regardless of how one act, but invest in one’s actions regardless of how a fate simply happens.
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