Cædmon’s Hymn

Now we must laud the heaven-kingdom’s Keeper, the Ordainer’s might and his mind’s intent, the work of the Father of glory: in that he, the Lord everlasting, appointed of each wondrous thing the beginning; he, holy Creator, at the first created heaven for a roof to the children of men; he, mankind’s Keeper, Lord everlasting, almighty Ruler, afterwards fashioned for mortals the middle-earth, the world.
(Anglo-Saxon Poetry tr. by S A J Bradley)

Cædmon’s hymn features in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History where, according to S A J Bradley ‘it is represented as the first lines of Christian poetry ever to be composed in the English language’.

When reading the poem, I was particularly struck by the words that Cædmon uses to describe God. Keeper (twice), Ordainer, Father of glory, Lord everlasting (twice), holy Creator, and almighty Ruler.

Keeper, Ordainer, and almighty Ruler – these titles put the accent of the poem very strongly on God as Divine Authority. I include Keeper because this role involves guarding and a guard always has the right – the authority – to admit or refuse access to his charge.

Some of the other titles tend towards a view of God as a power or one who in some sense is powerful – ‘Father of glory’ and ‘Lord everlasting’ especially.

In fact, only ‘holy Creator’ avoids such a view, although I don’t think it is immune from it – to be a creator implies to be powerful enough to create in the first place.

That Cædmon should conceive God as being the Divine Authority, as it were, can be no surprise when we consider the society in which he lived. Anglo-Saxon England was run along feudal lines. Thanes swore to protect their kings, peasants did whatever their masters told them. From top to bottom this was a firmly hierarchical society.

Of the various titles used for God, that of ‘Ordainer’ is of particular interest as it makes me wonder did the Anglo-Saxons believe in any form of predestination?

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