Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Venerable Bede

Start typing the word "venerable" into a search engine on the Internet and one of the options offered will be "venerable Bede." He was a monk, and the author of Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastical History of the English People"). This work was considered so important that it has survived in countless copies and translations.

Bede (Beda, Bæda) was born about 672-3 o lands belonging to the monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow in Northumbria (now Wearside and Tyneside). Because the name Beda appears on a list of kings of Lindsey in Northumbria, and because of Bede's obvious connections to notable men, we think he came from a well-to-do family, possibly royal.

He was sent to the monastery at Monkwearmouth at the age of seven as a puer oblatus ("a boy oblate" or "boy dedicated to God's service"). At the time, the abbot was Benedict Biscop. Some years later he went to Jarrow, which was dedicated on 23 April 635. A plague in 686 left only two survivors at Jarrow who knew the holy services, Abbot Ceolfrith and a young boy. Bede would have been about 14 and was likely that boy.

Bede was ordained a deacon earlier than the typical age of 25, indicating exceptional ability and respect earned. He became a priest at the age of 30. In started writing about 701, with De Arte Metrica ("On Metrical Art" [meaning poetry]) and De Schematibus et Tropis ("On Figures and Tropes"). Once started, he did not stop writing, producing works and translations to explain history, the church, church services and religious trappings, the Bible, histories of saints, histories of abbots of Jarrow, and far more.

One of his works created a stir: in De Temporibus ("On the Times," meaning the ages of the world), he calculated that Christ was born 3,952 years after Creation. The generally accepted feeling was Isidore of Seville's opinion that the length of time was more than 5,000 years. Some monks complained to Bishop Wilfrid of Hexham (mentioned here). Wilfrid did not share their concern about Bede, but a monk who was present relayed the event to Bede, who wrote back explaining his calculations and asked the monk to share his thinking with Wilfrid. Regarding dates: the use of Anno Domini ("Year of the Lord") to count years since the birth of Christ was introduced by Bede. Bede also writes extensively on the controversy over the proper dating of Easter Sunday.

We know from a letter written by a disciple of his, Cuthbert (not St. Cuthbert) that he began to feel ill, his breathing became labored, his feet began to swell. He asked for a box of his things to be brought to him, and gave away his possessions, described as "some pepper, and napkins, and some incense." He died 26 May 735, his body being found on the floor of his cell that morning.

In 1899, Pope Leo XIII named him a "Doctor of the Church," the only native Englishman to be given that title.

Although Bede's literary output and life have countless points from which I could find a link to tomorrow's blog post, I wanted to talk about the pracrive=ce of handing a seven-year-old over to be raised by strangers in a monastery. Next time.

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