To defend the reality of Christ's human courage, Maximus the Confessor produced new and highly innovative analyses of human will (thelesis) and of Christ's human will in particular. All of this seems highly relevant to Old English poetry, so much concerned with courage, and in particular to the Dream of the Rood and the related poem at Ruthwell. But how could a backwoods monastery in a place like Ruthwell, at the ends of the earth, have come in touch with the highly technical thought, written in Greek, of Maximus the Confessor? George H. Brown (in his fine lecture on AS literacy) wrote that in opposing heresy Bede was flogging theological horses long dead, like Arianism. Another fine scholar, Thomas F.X. Noble, has written that Maximus had no influence, even at Rome. Rudolf Riedinger has demonstrated that Maximus was the author of the Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649. Maximus seems to have cooked the Acts, writing up the minutes before even the Synod was convened. The Acts are thus an extensive and highly authoritative statement by Maximus of his own theological position.
But we know from Bede that the Acts of the Lateran Synod were brought to Wearmouth in 679 by John the Archcantor; that the canons of the Synod were solemnly accepted by the council of Hatfield in September 679 presided over by Theodore of Tarsus (who had probably known Maximus personally). Benedict Biscop and Wilfrid were both in attendance at Hatfield. In the Acts, preserved at Wearmouth, the newest theological thought had been given the authority of a Synod and the urgency of the controversy which had led to the martyrdom of a pope (and bad fair, if not resolved, to lead to the martyrdom of more western ecclesiastics). John the Archcantor was a liturgical expert: he knew how to advise Anglo-Saxon monks how the question of Christ's courage should be popularized in ceremony and in song.
The monothelete controversy, in short, is one clear example in which innovative theology was given a public reception and a public affirmation in England. It provides one convincing context for original composition of the first English poems on the Crucifixion, and ultimately for the highly innovative poetic and iconographic synthesis found later in the Ruthwell Cross and poem (ca 730-60).
The presence of these three copies of Rabanus’s composition in England, as well as Dunstan’s use of, at this time raises some interesting questions about how tenth and eleventh century readers and owners of manuscripts may have perceived the position and role of the cross in their own culture. The production of a book of this kind posed a number of difficult problems in layout, and would thus not have been undertaken lightly, or merely to have a copy of it in a monastic library. My paper proposes to examine the Trinity College copy of In honorem sanctae crucis and its position in the later manuscript tradition of the poem. From a closer comparison of the manuscript with its alleged ancestor (the Amiens manuscript — the connection is questioned by Perrin) I hope to draw some conclusions about what significance someone in the tenth century ascribed to Rabanus’s poem, and what this can tell us about the cultural significance attached to the cross as represented in this particular manuscript and its immediate parallels.