Posted by: kljolly | June 6, 2013


I am discovering some insights on Aldred in general and his gloss of faith, hope, and love (previous post) while reading Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe’s Stealing Obedience:  Narratives of Agency and Identity in Later Anglo-Saxon England (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2012).  I am also hoping that Leslie Lockett’s Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2011), recently reviewed on TMR, will prove useful as well, once I get my hands on it.  Unfortunately, I had to order both of these excellent books from InterLibrary Loan because our university library does not purchase University of Toronto books in my field (hint to any UH librarians reading this, not that you have any budget for it).   At least one is available on Kindle (a hint to UT Press for Lockett’s book).

SteakingObedienceIn any case, Stealing Obedience suggests some ways of thinking about how Aldred may have perceived his relationships to community members, both his superior(s) and his subordinates.  Although the book focuses on reformed monastic communities, some of the concepts about obedience in a religious community could apply to Chester-le-Street, even if they were not strictly speaking living (or living strictly) under the Rule of St. Benedict.  Certainly the texts in Durham A.IV.19 suggest an interest in performing the Daily Office in the expanding format of the reform movement.

The choice to submit one’s will in obedience to the abbot is a form of submission to God, itself a mirror of Christ’s submission to the Father.  This obedience is instantaneous, even to the point of absurdity (from a modern view) as in the Verba seniorum story of the scribe Marcus leaving a letter “o” unfinished in response to a command (pp. 34-35).  That is definitely a lesson I can incorporate into Aldred’s glossing activity.  It might explain some of the interruptions in his work.

This concept of obedience also helps explain Aldred’s gloss of faith (fides) as love (lufu).  Both involve obedience.  In John 14, Jesus instructs his disciples, “if you love me, you will obey my commands.”  Faith is not an abstract exercise or intellectual construct, but an action, that of living out one’s belief, in this case, an absolute trust in one’s Lord, faithfully obeying His commands, out of love and in response to His love.

Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe uses some marvelous stories to highlight how this obedience in a monastic context is a form of agency, not a loss of will so much as a choice to submit to a superior will.  So far, I have Aldred as a fairly forceful personality, which I think is fairly evident in his two colophons in the Lindisfarne Gospels and Durham A.IV.19.  He seems to have a strong sense of self-identity.  And yet, I would like to posit that over the course of glossing the Gospels and practicing the Daily Office materials he was glossing and copying, he was learning submission.  Once he became provost, he also had those in obedience to him under his command.  What kind of leader would he have been?


LockettASPsychUnwilling to wait for Lockett’s book to arrive, I started reading the considerable bits Amazon preview would let me see (sorry Leslie, I will get the book!).  I am struck by one particular argument (p. 34):  that the Anglo-Saxons did not consider emotion and reason as contrasting or opposing faculties, as we do, or locate them in two different parts of the body.  The breast locker is the location of both, not the brain.  Overall, she is arguing from narrative sources that the popular conception of body-soul is not Augustinian or Platonic in division.  I now need to take the vocabulary Lockett is exploring and search Aldred’s gloss thesaurus to see what terms he uses and how.  And get my hands on the whole book.


  1. Hi Karen, I’ve been following your work for some time due to my research interests in Anglo-Saxon demons, magic, and all the exciting bits of early medieval religion. I’m extremely pleased to discover that you also have a blog! Let this also be a big personal thank you for helping to fire up my own academic interest in the supernatural milieu of the Anglo-Saxons.

    • Thanks, Michael. Glad to know someone is reading!
      What about the unexciting bits of early medieval religion? That is what I am working on right now with Aldred’s glosses.

      • The exciting bits are only so because they cling onto the coattails of the unexciting! If you’ll forgive a touch of self-aggrandisement and if it’s of any help to your research, I have a slightly longer review of Leslie’s excellent book in Hortulus journal. Thanks for flagging up Stealing Obedience as well. I need to get my hands on that. Looking forward to more of your work!

  2. Thanks for the encouraging words as I slog through Aldred’s glosses to the collectar. Occasionally I find a treasure–of course, that is measured in relation to the boring stuff, so I get quite excited over just a bit of punctuation, a spelling anomaly, or an empty “vel.”

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