Saturday, September 19, 2009

Aelred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works

Translated by Jane Patricia Freeland, 306 pages, Cistercian Publications, USD .

After an interesting Introduction to the violent, unpredictable politics of Aelred's England by scholar Marsha Dutton, the book offers three of the churchman's writings, beginning with “The Genealogy of the Kings of the English.”

“The Genealogy” is a great primary source of history. Far from dry political reading, Aelred writes on various topics relating to the kingdom's rulers: King Edwin, for example, “gave himself to the adulterous embraces of a Herodias, a woman highly irreverent against God, against the laws, and against the laws of nature itself, and he followed very wicked counsels.”

This relationship did not go unnoticed in the court or country: “But the spirit of John [the Baptist] was not absent, and in the holy man Dunstan he condemned the adulterous king and berated the woman with well-deserved invective. Roused by a spirit of Jezebel, she plotted the destruction of our Elijah, and she would have accomplished her wish had not the saint, warned by the spirit, preferred exile from his country.”

These words reflect the way history was told in the Middle Ages: As a continuation of the biblical history of the Israelites. Christians were the new Israelites, the new Chosen People. This gave medieval Europe, then known as Christendom, its entire identity and reason of existence (something that continent, according to the current pope, now longer possesses).

Aelred's other writings in this book are “The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor,” and “The Battle of the Standard,” which recounts the 1138 battle between Queen Matilda and King Stephen, who both claimed the English throne.

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