Naming the Divine: Designations for the Christian God in Old English poetry

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis studies designations for the Christian God as part of Old English poetic diction. Cynewulf knew that for mankind, the name of the Redeemer is inexpressible and unfathomable.1 A name – for Cynewulf – expresses the quality of that which is named. In the case of God, that quality transcends our understanding and the true name therefore cannot be known. However, the Christian God can be comprehended through his manifestations in this world and thus potentially bears all names. Designations for God in Old English poetry inhabit a position at the meeting point of Christian theological thought and Old English poetic diction. This thesis analyses the usage of these designations.

The analysis is approached from different perspectives within three case studies. The first study is an analysis of the field of rulership/authority among the designations. It is primarily based upon the findings of my database of designations for God in Old English poetry. The following chapter examines the theme of the fall of the angels in the accounts of Genesis A, Genesis B, and Christ and Satan and explores how such a theme influences the choice of designations for God. Close readings, with special consideration of doctrinal
and poetic context, form an increasingly important part of the methodology of this and the final case study. The third study concentrates on the Advent Lyrics in order to investigate the designations within the immediate context of the poem itself. I conclude that the designations for God are by no means alliterative fillers, but both tools for a sophisticated poetic style and worthy subjects of poetic endeavour. This study therefore offers new perspectives on how these designations function as prominent structural elements and as versatile and innovative vehicles of theological and cultural traditions in Old English poetry.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of York
  • Tyler, Elizabeth, Supervisor
  • Garrison, Mary, Supervisor
Award date30 Mar 2007
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Old English
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Poetry
  • Names for God
  • Word study
  • Designations for God
  • Christianization
  • Oral formulaic poetry
  • Advent Lyrics
  • Genesis
  • Christ and Satan
  • Semantics
  • Anglo-Saxon Spirituality
  • Poetic diction

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