Gildas and his prophecy for Britain

Stephen Joyce

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In his De excidio Britanniae, Gildas systematically set out to admonish the morally corrupt secular and church leaders of partitioned fifth-or sixth-century Britain, calling for repentance, unity, and obedience to God's law in order to restore his beloved patria. Examining Gildas' use of rhetorical and biblical legitimations, this paper will argue that his warning of divine judgement for sin was inspired by a scriptural revelation that directly equated partitioned Britain with a divided biblical Israel just prior to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians. In doing so, Gildas, drawing on both Jeremiah, prophet to the nations, and Paul, apostle to the nations, strikingly claimed prophecy. It will be argued that Gildas' unique prophecy for Britain, built on respect for romanitas, fear of de praesenti iudicio, and a singular providential claim to the inheritance of Israel, defined the political power of his natio not by gens but by obedience to God's law. In doing so, Gildas appears to draw on cultural, literary, and religious themes more appropriate to the late-fifth century than the mid-sixth century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-68
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Australian Early Medieval Association
Issue number2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

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