Christianity in Beowulf
Beowulf is set between the years of 480 and 520 c.e., however it’s not actually written down until around 1000 c.e. This is a conflict because the poet is a Christian, but the characters are part of a non-Christian belief system. By having a Christian poet, non-Christian characters, and including Christian themes, a gap is being built between the current spread of Christianity and religions of the past.
Perhaps one of the most prominent ways that the poet is able to establish a relationship between the current times (around 1000 c.e.) and the earlier times (480-520 c.e.) is by having a God-like narrator. One thing that the speaker does throughout the poem is describe how Beowulf will meet his fate. For example, “In its bosom lay/ many treasure, which were to travel, / far with him into the keeping of the flood” (Beowulf 40-42). This makes the narrator God-like in a sense that he’s able to tell the reader what will happen in the future. The omniscient point of view that the narrator sheds light on Christianity in a subtle way without preaching.
Another way the poet establishes a Christian presence in the text is relating Grendel to Cain, a character in the bible. In Grendel’s introduction, he’s shown as a “grim spirit” who’s a descendant of Cain, and outlawed by the “Creator” (Beowulf 106-107). By acknowledging the bible, the author is relating the characters, such as Grendel, and presumably Grendel’s mother, back to the Christian faith. Also, by comparing Grendel to Cain, the poet indirectly suggests that Beowulf is figure of Christian hope.
Lastly, after Beowulf returns victorious from whichever journey he’s completed, such as defeating Grendel’s mother, the glory is given to God. After he defeats Grendel’s mother, the speaker says, “holy God/ brought about war-victory—the wise Lord, / Ruler of the heavens, decided it rightly, / easily, once he stood up again” (Beowulf 1553-1556). This is significant because it suggests that Beowulf’s power come through the Christian God. By praising God for Beowulf victories, the author is putting his Christian ideals into the otherwise non-Christian text.
By being a god fearing character, defeating Grendel, and thanking God for his victories, Beowulf himself shows characteristics of a man who is deeply rooted in the Christian faith, however Christianity was not prevalent during the time that this was set in. In conclusion, in Beowulf, the author ties together his Christian faith with characters and stories that are of non-Christian belief in order to diversify and shed light on Christianity.