A repetition in the Old English Life of St. Margaret that stands out to me is the use of “dumb and deaf” to describe idols. This is a rejection of Pagan gods’ ability to witness, but not their existence. Previous discussions have focused on God’s status as a universal, perfect witness in Medieval thought. Humans may be fallible, but God’s omniscience enables Him to witness. Prior texts, however, have not put much emphasis on Pagan gods. By rejecting the witnessing capabilities of Pagan gods, the Abrahamic God gains importance.
Theotimus, the supposed author of this Life of St. Margaret, explicitly rejects the existence and power of the Pagan gods. He writes, “… Very many also were led astray through the devil’s teaching, so that they worshipped dumb and deaf idols, the handiwork of men, which could be of no benefit either to those [who worshipped them] or to themselves,” (1). Pagan gods here are a fabrication, and therefore cannot witness. Calling them dumb and deaf emphasizes their illegitimacy: they are false idols, not real entities. However, Margaret’s response undermines Pagan gods in a different way. She states, “God is helping me. Therefore I will not listen to you, nor will I ever pray to your god, who is dumb and deaf. But believe in my God, who is strong in [his] might and who quickly hears those who believe in him,” (9). Pagan gods are not explicitly denied by Margaret. However, their power is. Margaret’s argument centers on the power of God as compared to Pagan gods. God has speech and hearing, and therefore has power and knowledge. The senses are thus connected to God’s ability to witness.
Given the repetition of dumbness and deafness for Pagan gods (11, 12), Margaret’s references to disability are notable. She states, “And where the book of my martyrdom is [kept] may there not be born a child who is blind or lame or dumb or deaf or afflicted by an unclean spirit, but may peace be there and love and the spirit of truth,” (14). And after Margaret’s death, her body heals the similarly afflicted (16). Just as Pagan gods are dumb and deaf, belief in God (as well as faith in Margaret) gives one the ability to overcome disability. Thus, physical disability and faith are intertwined. Witnessing in Life of St. Margaret has both a spiritual and physical component. One requires ability and faith, but through faith, the ability to witness can be restored. Without it, true witnessing is impossible. Therefore, idols are left dumb and deaf.