Religion in Beowulf
David (Kwang Min) Kim Dr. Hadley History 101 – Spring 2013 10 April 2013 Religion in Beowulf Throughout the story of Beowulf, the concept of religion plays a significant role. The Christianity ideology views state that man can survive and do great things through the protection of God. A strong desire of pride is also represented in the form of a hero in Beowulf, which in a sense goes against Christian morals. This clash with Christian morals in Beowulf was in the context of pride vs. humility and selfishness vs. sacrifice. In the book, Hrothgar first explained to Beowulf that pride without humility will only kill him.
Beowulf struggles to find his roots as a follower of God, as well as maintaining his views and actions of Paganism. Throughout the story, the author demonstrates the importance of religion through the representation of Beowulf and his actions with God, as well as his roles in both the Christian ideology and Paganism. In all of his fights encountered, Beowulf holds and maintains a strong belief in God’s protection, which acts as his invisible shield. Throughout his fights with Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon he claims that if God wasn’t in his presence he would have been unsuccessful, perhaps even died.
In the fight with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf ends up finding a weapon on the wall and he gives the credit of finding this weapon to none other than God. This demonstrates that Beowulf holds a part of the Christian ideology that all success that happens in life and all the wealth accumulated is the result of the belief in God. So this is why Beowulf doesn’t credit himself being lucky to find a sword to slay Grendel’s mother. Instead he thanks God. The key thing that made Beowulf have so much success was also due to the relationship between him and God.
Although the different themes of Christianity are reoccurring in Beowulf, there are influences of the pagan ideology as well. Throughout the story, different elements of Christian teachings are presented: God is what protects man, all worldly gifts are from God, and man is to be humble and unselfish, which opposes paganism. Even though many pagan aspects are mentioned in the poem, Christian implications are more predominant, revealing many elements of Christian heroism within the story. An example is when Beowulf says “God must decide who will be given to death’s cold grip” (Heaney 38).
He knows that God has already created an ending to this battle with Grendel, and he is lavished with peace. Beowulf holds a Christ-like behavior through his good heart and contributions. Beowulf understands the Danes oppression by the evil monster Grendel; just as Christ knew of the oppression of the Jewish people. Both set out to free and save their people from the burdens of hardship. To free themselves from the monster, the Danes needed a savior, and Beowulf, through his desire to end their suffering, comes to save them. A strong sense of heroic pride within Beowulf is also seen in conflict with Christianity.
He knows that wealth, collected through the elegance of God, must be shared selflessly. Like many stories and poems written during this time, paganism and Christian values are disheveled. Beowulf moves flawlessly back and forth between the two worlds, which shows he was living comfortably among the two separate worlds. The Christian influences are easiest seen in the main characters dependence on God, even though he relies on his own strength to overcome his enemy, which is characterized as a pagan influence. The idea that Beowulf is this heroic man who had fame, fate, and revenge revolves around paganism itself.
But deep inside the fame and vengeance, there are moments of humility, selflessness, and love that exist within Beowulf. Paganism can be defined by the many gods that this lifestyle worships. Each individual god in the Pagan world is different and has different virtues. In the book Beowulf explains that, “It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning” (Heaney 80). This concept is somewhat based on Paganism. The whole idea of revenge and vengeance derives from a Pagan standpoint. The idea of fame and fate was also evident in Beowulf.
After 50 long years of nothing, Beowulf just sat at his throne with fame, but he knew this fame wasn’t the same as it was back in the past, when he killed Grendel and his mother. He wanted this fame back which becomes one of the reasons to go and slay the dragon, later on in the story. When the dragon destroyed much of Beowulf’s land, Beowulf became angry and hostile towards the dragon. He desired for revenge and vengeance, which again is another reason for his action to slay the dragon. In a way he used fame and vengeance to motivate his plan to slay the dragon.
All these things were influenced as pagan ideas. Throughout the story Beowulf struggled with his Christian ideology while Pagan ideas clouded his judgment. Since he was human it was difficult for him avoid the pagan ideas as they were so easy to practice, while following God’s righteous yet restricted path. Instances of fate are scattered throughout Beowulf. Something seems to be in control of Beowulf’s life, and it drives him to achieve things that no one else has ever been able to achieve. Though he is a mere mortal, he defeats monsters even when it seemed like he was doomed to failure.
Further, he rises to the level of King of the Geats even though he is not directly in line by birth to do so. Whether Beowulf is meant to be a Christian piece or a pagan one or not a religious piece at all, Beowulf becomes the true epic hero that he was always destined to be. The relationship between Beowulf and his community images the relationship that Beowulf has with God. Without him, his community was surely to have been murdered and eaten by Grendel. Beowulf, however, protects them and makes sure that they are out of harm’s way. This is a direct analogy of how God serves as protection for Beowulf.
Throughout the epic, God is referred to as “the protector” for this very reason. This idea is signified with the battle against Grendel’s Mother. Beowulf mentions that “The fight would have ended straightaway if God had not guarded me” (Heaney 45). Beowulf proves this further when he states “most often He has guided the man without friends,” (Heaney 55) in which he is referring that there is some form of power from God that is providing him protection. This indication of God’s protection is one of the main elements of Christian ideology.
God is represented as a sovereign; he makes the laws, he interprets, and enforces them, which is also the reason why, Heaven and Hell exist. Since God and man are separate, both must be in a committed relationship with each other. If God created all that must mean that man shouldn’t take credit for anything man must be modest, have humility, and be selfless. If man acquires wealth which is something God created, then he must share it with other civil men that wealth belongs to everyone under God’s eye, which is where selflessness is derived from.
Beowulf constantly asks for God’s powers to protect him, and God rewards him since Beowulf has carried out His wishes. When Beowulf thanks God for the sword after killing Grendel’s mother, the thanks he gave to God was an example of a man’s commitment in following God’s rules and virtues. Perhaps, religion may be the most important concept behind Beowulf. The author clearly demonstrates the differences in the views of Christianity and the ideals of Paganism as two separate worlds, to which both served in the life of Beowulf.
Beowulf’s relationship with God also represented the true Christian lifestyle every man needed in order for salvation, while Paganism believed in ideas such as revenge and vengeance. He was shown to be a man similar to Jesus Christ himself, where he led his people out of oppression, as his fate was to protect the people at one point. Beowulf was a man of God, a leader to his people, and perhaps one of the greatest epic heroes of his time. Works Cited Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: Farrar, 2000. Print.