The Eschatological Homilies

Wulfstan's five eschatological homilies seem to have been among the earliest sermons he wrote, and although none of his later works address this theme in their entirety, the subject is one that occupied him throughout his career. He was convinced, as were many of his contemporaries, that the end of the world was near, interpreting both the depredations of the Vikings and a perceived deterioration in morality among the English to mean that the reign of the Antichrist was at hand. His sermons dwell at length on the necessity for preachers to warn their congregations about the impending judgment and to admonish them to repent in the short time before the end. Despite the fact that he was writing at the end of the first millennium, however, Wulfstan does not appear to have attached undue importance to the year 1000; rather, in Lectio Sancti Evangelii Secundum Matheum he cites Matthew 24:36, de die autem illa et hora nemo scit neque angeli caelorum nisi Pater solus, which he translates as "nis se man on eorðan ne se encgel on heofonan þe wite þæne andagan butan god sylfum.". Only once does he refer to millennial expectations, when in Secundum Marcum he quotes Revelations 20:7, Post mille annos soluetur Satanas, and continues, "Þusend geara 7 eac ma is nu agan syððan Crist wæs mid mannum on menniscan hiwe, 7 nu syndon Satanases bendas swyðe toslopene, 7 Antecristes tima is wel gehende." Bethurum points out that this "may mean that Wulfstan had been expecting the end before 1000 and after that revised his preaching" (280). The lack of any other specific references to the end of the millennium in Wulfstan's homilies, however, coupled with the prohibitions against setting a specific date for the Last Judgment that he would have found in patristic authorities and Anglo-Saxon writers such as Bede and Ælfric, tends to suggest that Wulfstan himself had not succumbed to millennial superstitions; perhaps he was simply alluding to the fears of the less learned and more literal-minded members of his audience.

Wulfstan returned to the theme of the Last Days in three later homilies on differing subjects. Incipiunt Sermones Lupi Episcopi (Bethurum VI) ends with a passage on the coming of the Antichrist that owes much to the earlier homilies:

Crist...sæde þæt æfter þisum fæce gewurðan sceall swa egeslic tima swa æfre ær næs syððan þeos woruld gewearð. Antecristes tima bið æfter ðysum, 7 nu swyðe raðe his man mæg wenan, 7 ðurh hine gewyrð swa mycel gryre swa næfre ær on worulde ne gewearð. Eall middangeard bið þurh hine gedreht 7 gedrefed, 7 eal hit forwurde gyf God his hwile ne scyrte. Ac Godd hine fordeþ þe raþor, forðam þe he wile gebeorhgan þam ðe him sylfum syn gecorene 7 gecweme. And raðe syððan æfter þam, þæs ðe us bec secgaþ, gewyrð se micla dom, 7 ðeos woruld geendað.
In addition, De Fide Catholica (Bethurum VII) ends with a long and colorful description of the Last Judgment, which is echoed in the Sermo ad Populum (Bethurum XIII). And Wulfstan's most famous homily, Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (Bethurum XX) continues a theme found in Secundum Lucam, that of national disasters as signs of the coming end.

The precise order in which the homilies were written will probably never be ascertained with certainty; this edition is ordered in terms of the complexity of source materials. Secundum Matheum (Bethurum II) provides the simplest use of sources; it is a close translation of Matthew 24:1-42, followed by a brief exhortation to be ready for the the judgment when it comes. Secundum Lucam (Bethurum III) elaborates on the theme of the final days in the highly rhetorical style of the sermones ad populum, but makes no mention of the Antichrist and no use of Adso's treatise, which becomes a major source for the later homilies. De Anticristo (Bethurum Ib) is addressed to a clerical rather than a popular audience and centers on the need for priests to prepare their congregations for the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. It is in large part an English translation of Wulfstan's Latin outline, De Anticristo, printed by Bethurum as homily Ia, but it does not follow that outline exactly. It is Wulfstan's first use of Adso's treatise, but shows no influence of Ælfric's writing on the Antichrist in his Preface to the Catholic Homilies, a major source (with Adso) of Wulfstan's next homily, De Temporibus Anticristi (Bethurum IV). The final homily, Secundum Marcum (Bethurum V), provides the most comprehensive elaboration of Wulfstan's ideas on the final days, and makes full use of Adso, Æfric, and Biblical sources.

It will be noted that this edition restores to De Temporibus Anticristi a long narrative passage omitted by Bethurum as inauthentically Wulfstanian in her edition but extant in the two most authoritative manuscripts, CCCC 201 and Hatton 113, and printed by Napier in 1883. The passage stems from apocryphal accounts of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul at the hands of Simon Magus, long considered a type of the Antichrist. Although Bethurum is most likely correct in her opinion that the passage is a scribal interpolation, it was defended as authentic by both Karl Jost in Wulfstanstudien and John C. Pope in his review of Bethurum's edition. Because it was an integral part of the homily as read by medieval audiences, the passage merits wider dissemination and further study by scholars unable to consult the manuscripts themselves.

Editorial Policy

The base text for all five Old English homilies is Hatton 113. Significant additions or corrections to this text are indicated in the notes; variations among the manuscripts can be seen by comparing the transcriptions. I have silently expanded all abbreviations except the nota 7 and &. Accent marks have not been recorded. I have retained manuscript capitalization, but have used modern punctuation and normalized word division for ease of reading. Manuscript punctuation and word division may be found in the transcriptions. My editing is generally conservative, with manuscript spellings, inflections, and syntax being retained wherever possible. Glosses, whether in Latin or Old English, have not been reported.


To my knowledge, only the Old English De Anticristo has been fully translated elsewhere, by Milton McC. Gatch in his Preaching and Theology in Anglo-Saxon England. The translations provided here are meant to convey the literal sense and syntax of the Old English homilies, and are therefore not always graceful or even entirely grammatical in terms of Modern English.