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Ælfric on the creation and fall of the angels

Michael Fox

Anglo-Saxon England / Volume31 / December 2002

Ælfric, in the Preface to Genesis, comments about what we do not find in the first book of the Old Testament: ‘Seo boc ys gehaten Genesis, Þæt ys “Gecyndboc”, for Þam Þe heo ys firmest boca and spricÞ be ælcum gecinde (ac heo ne spricð na be Þæra engla gesceapenisse).’ Although he proceeds to explain what is contained in the opening verse, noting that creation ‘on annginne’ refers at once to the literal act of creation and, ‘æfter gastlicum andgite’, to Christ through whom all creation was formed, he makes no further comment here upon the angels. In other works, however, where the topic could be more appropriately introduced, Ælfric enthusiastically engages with the problem of angelic history. The sermon De initio creaturae, the Interrogationes Sigewulfi, the Exameron, the Letter to Sigeweard and theLetter to Wulfgeat all contain accounts of the angelic creation and fall. Because Ælfric is a writer actively concerned with orthodoxy and sound doctrine, we would do well to ask why he has such an interest in the angels–about whom such an authority as Bede would say almost nothing–and to investigate precisely how, and from what sources, he presents their extra-scriptural history.

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