The from the point of view of Jesus’

The theme of religion is the most
centralized theme in early English literature, if not the most pervasive.  Throughout this entire semester, all of the
earlier works we studied had religious connotations and overtures.  As Christianity spread throughout the
European continent, it brought with it the contribution of the written
language.  Until the omnipresence of
Christianity, all tales were communicated verbally.  Christianity’s contribution to early English
and medieval literature was a common thread in which many of these works
centered upon, along with the ability for learned people to now “put pen to
paper” to preserve these once verbal tales. 

An early example of Christianity’s
influence on early English literature is the Dream of the Rood.  This
chronicle was unique in its being expressed as a narrative from the point of
view of Jesus’ Cross and within a dream. 
The narrator of the story is having a dream in which he is speaking to
the Cross.  The Cross itself, having been
raised, is covered in jewels and gold but has a bloodstain on its side.  The Rood then begins to speak to the
narrator, recounting its tale as the vehicle on which Christ was
crucified.  The Cross proceeds to tell
him how it was once a tree, was then cut down and came to the realization it
was to be the object on which Christ would be crucified.  After the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the
once wooden cross is risen like Jesus, to be adorned in jewels and gold.  The Crucifixion is portrayed as an action
that is a prelude to the Resurrection, in which the Jesus and the Cross
overcome death and become as one after the Passion.  They are both depicted as spiritual warriors
who overcome death, are victorious and are triumphant in the Resurrection.  The Cross, after telling its tale, charges
the dreamer to enlighten others what he has been told.  At the end, the dreamer faith of a Heaven is
renewed, and he declares that he will one day see the Rood again.  This poem is unique in its manner and the way
it approaches Christianity; it is very reminiscent of liturgical hymns.  The imagery created by the Dream of the Rood forges an emotional
connection between the Cross, Christ and the reader. 

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            Another
example of Christianity’s influence on early literature is noted within Beowulf. 
This tale is from a time when Christianity was first starting to appear
in England.  Prior to Christianity’s
arrival, the peoples of England were a paganistic society.  There is a thorough combination of the two
ideals commingled throughout Beowulf.  Beowulf himself is somewhat of an
anachronism.  Although he is a
“Christian,” he still holds fast to many of the pagan ideals.  An example of this is Beowulf’s
interpretation of fate.  Fate, as
described in Beowulf, was the
manifestation of God’s Will.  Beowulf
believes he can change Fate, or at the very least influence it, through acts of
bravery or bravado.  A relatively simple
understanding of religious ideals makes this premise completely
unattainable.  A further example of
Christianity’s sway can be noted with the direct correlation between Grendel
and the lineage of Cain.  Beowulf denotes
the death of Grendel with the assertion that God had “branded him with a
murderer’s mark” (Beowulf 1264).  Grendel is hereby not only the antagonist
(one of them) of this tale, but he is equivocated as the enemy of mankind and
Christianity itself.  Moreover, King
Hrothgar was illustrated as a man who had no knowledge of God, yet (on multiple
occasions) gave thanks to God for his good fortunes.  The dichotomy of heathenism versus
monotheism, Pagan beliefs versus Christian ideology are at the core of Beowulf and these belief systems are
subject to analysis as to what might have been added after the original tale
was translated into the written form. A final example of Christian ideals influencing early
English literature would be found in Paradise
Lost.  This perspective on the
Biblical tale of Creationism by Milton is the definitive tale of religion pervading
literature.  This tale imparts the story
of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, proceeded by their disobedience of God.  The story starts with Satan and his cohorts
being chained to a lake of fire in Hell. 
After they free themselves and come to Earth, the create Pandemonium
from elements found on land.  Satan and
his minions are trying to decide whether they want to begin another war with
God.  Beelzebub, one of the seven demons
(or princes) of Hell, decides that rather than go to war with God they should
attempt to corrupt God’s greatest creation, man.  Satan himself volunteers to go to Earth to
undertake this task.  Satan’s children,
Death and Sin, build him a bridge that spans the distance between Hell and
Earth.  Unsurprisingly, God knows Satan’s
plan and calls together a council to thwart Satan’s plan.  Jesus offers to sacrifice himself for all of
humankind.  Satan had now gotten to Earth
via Heaven (with the unwitting help of the Archangel Uriel) and vowed to make
evil on God’s lands and creations.  Satan
attempts to deceive Eve, but fails and is warned away by a sign from God.  Shortly thereafter, there is a war between
God’s angels and Satan’s followers which results in Satan being banished for a
brief time.  The angel Raphael is then
sent to Earth to warn Adam and Eve about Satan and his “tricks.”  After his banishment, Satan returns to Earth,
takes the form of a serpent, tricks Eve into eating from the Tree of
Knowledge.  Adam follows suit, as he
would rather be fallen to sin rather than be alone.  God immediately knows of their disobedience
and banishes them from Paradise, after telling them they must suffer pain and
death, the pain of childbirth, hunt and grow their own food, etc.  The angels transform the Earth so that there
are now seasons versus consistent weather. 
The Archangel Michael then shows Adam a vision of the future of mankind,
the pain, suffering, sin, death tempered with redemption.  Shortly after this vision, Adam and Eve leave
Paradise to face their new world.

            This story
incorporates three major aspects that relate to the human condition after the
fall.  The first is that we must struggle
for the basic human needs (food and shelter) and that we are short-lived (to
suffer pain and death).  The second is
that all humankind cannot be saved through our own efforts, as we all are
contributors to Original Sin.  Finally,
the third aspect is that we are not conclusively condemned to eternal
damnation.  Through the sacrifice of and
faith in Jesus Christ, mankind can achieve eternal salvation.  One could argue that God’s Law and morality
are depicted as a conflict with each other in Paradise Lost.

            This tale
exemplifies the influx of religious ideal into literature.  Of all themes, the texts that dealt with religion
and its ideals were the ones that held the strongest sway with early
readers.  Mankind is a very superstitious
creature and the tales of Heavenly redemption and “purpose” have held many in
their grasp over the centuries.  Although
there have been many writers throughout the literary sphere, authors that have
incorporated elements of religious theology, God, and preyed upon man’s hopes,
fears and dreams have stood the test of time.