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Ælfric And The Limits Of Benedictine Reform

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Chapter Summary

Ælfric's writings repeatedly mention that he trained at Winchester under St Æthelwold, a leader of the rising spiritual elite, and refer longingly to earlier successes of the movement now known as 'Anglo-Saxon Benedictine reform'. This chapter proceeds from a simple idea that the contested and determinative category was not the anachronistic 'reform' but simply 'monasticism' itself. It considers how Ælfric approached monasticism as a history that connected him not only to the generation of Æthelwold, but to the very origins of Christianity. The gaps in that history prove as revealing as its connections and introduce the second major topic, Ælfric's theorizing of the ordo monasticus in surprisingly elastic terms, now stretching to encompass the ordo clericalis, now recoiling from it. The chapter then returns to Ælfric's standing among his monastic contemporaries in England and abroad, and a brief conclusion speculates about some possible causes for Ælfric's distinctiveness.

Keywords: Ælfric; Anglo-Saxon Benedictine reform; Christianity; monasticism



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