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G.T. Dempsey
Aldhelm of Malmesbury and the Ending of Late Antiquity

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XIV+358 p., 1 b/w line art, 156 x 234 mm, 2015
ISBN: 978-2-503-55490-7
Languages: English, Latin
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This book is a study of Aldhelm (c.639-709) and his complementary roles as a spiritual theorist in a nascent Christian society and as an ecclesiastical administrator. In both, he is shown as innovative and purposeful. His own theology responded to an experiential knowledge of the realities of power in his society. Born into West Saxon royal kin, he spoke directly to the concerns and needs of his aristocratic society, transforming the patristic norms of Christian behavior into the heroic concepts intuitively meaningful to his Germanic society. For Aldhelm, the dedicated virgin was as heroic as a warrior serving his lord.

Despite the extensive work on the long-neglected Aldhelm by this last generation of Anglo-Saxonists, which has succeeded in restoring him as a major subject of Anglo-Saxon studies, there has not been a book-length treatment of Aldhelm’s career as a whole in over a century. Thus, the present book seeks to move beyond the somewhat parochial concerns of Anglo-Saxon history to bring Aldhelm into the mainstream of Late Antique studies, a figure as fully at home with the cultural trappings of Rome as he is with Christian patristic literature. Aldhelm was unique, among his fellow Anglo-Saxon notables of his period, in being a high ecclesiastic also engaged in innovative scholarship, though, in this, he stood very much in the mainstream of the great figures of Christian Late Antiquity, East and West, uniformly bishops and scholarly theologians. In many ways, Aldhelm was the last significant figure of Late Antiquity in the West.

George Dempsey is a Research Associate at the University of California at Davis. He has studied Aldhelm for some four decades, publishing many specialized articles. This book represents his summation of that effort to understand Aldhelm and his innovative adaptation of the theological certitudes of Christianity to the concerns and values of his society and, thus, Aldhelm’s place in Western intellectual history.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: The Irish and Archbishop Theodore
Chapter 2: A Social Theology of Heroic Virginity
Chapter 3: Inventive Use of Sources
Chapter 4: The Ecclesiastic
    i. At a Crossroads
   ii. A West Saxon Churchman


St Aldhelm

Appendix 1: Extended Notes
Appendix 2: Tables
Appendix 3: The Legal Scholar
Appendix 4: The Exegete



"Aldhelm of Malmesbury deserves to be read by all who are interested in the life and work of Aldhelm and the formation of Anglo-Saxon religious and literary culture." (M.W. Herren, in: Peritia, 27 [2016], forthcoming)

« Il manquait encore une belle monographie sur cet auteur majeur : il faut donc saluer la parution d’un livre qui propose une vue d’ensemble, historique et littéraire à la fois, de l’œuvre mais aussi de la vie d’Aldhelm » (Alban Gautier, dans la Revue d’histoire Ecclésiastique, 3-4, 2016, p. 757) 

“It is to Dempsey’s great credit that he has meticulously shown how ‘Aldhelm spoke directly to the needs and concerns of his aristocratic and nascent-Christian society still imbued with the long-traditional beliefs and patterns of behavior [sic] of their hitherto pagan and barbarian culture’” (Augustine Casiday, in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 68, 2018, p. 398)

Interest Classification:
Religion (including History of Religion) & Theology
Christian Theology & Theologians
Early Medieval (c. 650-1200)

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