Saint of the Day – 25 May – St Bede the Venerable OSB (673-735) – Confessor, Priest, Monk, Father and Doctor of the Church, Linguist, Translator, Historian – also known as Venerable Bede, Father of English History. Patronages – of Lectors, English writers and historians; Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, England. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church; he is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation; Anselm of Canterbury, also a Doctor of the Church, was born in Italy. St Bede was moreover a skilled linguist and translator and his work made the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers much more accessible to his fellow English, which contributed significantly to English Christianity.
St Bede was born in Wearmoth-Jarrow, England, and at age seven was sent to the nearby monastery of St Peter and St Paul to be educated by the monks. From his writings, it appears that his family was wealthy and noble. Given his name, Bede—a derivative of the English bedtime prayer, it is likely that his parents had planned a religious life for him from birth. Under the holy tutelage of the monks, the natural intellect and spiritual zeal of St Bede magnified into one of the finest minds of his time. He studied all the known sciences: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. St Bede spent his days in scholarly pursuits, prayer and contemplation.
St Bede was ordained a deacon at the young age of nineteen and ordained a priest at 30.
He spent his days subsequent to ordination teaching, writing and studying. A prolific writer, he composed 45 texts on varied subjects, including science, literature, philosophy, and spirituality. “Through all the observance of monastic discipline,” Bede wrote, “it has ever been my delight to learn and teach and write.” His best known text, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, is widely regarded as a decisive historical text which inspired the recording of written history. This text described the history of the English Church, and is a primary source of English history. Thirty of his manuscripts focused on Biblical commentary and theology. Aside from those he wrote, St Bede copied many texts by hand, translating a significant number of them into Latin to aid in teaching those of other languages.
Saint Bede remained in the monastery his entire life, leaving few times, including a brief visit to teach in a school in York and a visit to the monastery at Lindisfarne, where he began correspondence with St Cuthbert. Despite this, his counsel and teaching was sought by royalty and the Pope. His writings and homilies were read throughout the Church.
In his own words, from the Ecclesiastical History of the English People:
“Thus much concerning the ecclesiastical history of Britain and especially of the race of the English, I, Baeda, a servant of Christ and a priest of the monastery of the blessed apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which is at Wearmouth and at Jarrow (in Northumberland), have with the Lord’s help composed so far as I could gather it either from ancient documents or from the traditions of the elders, or from my own knowledge. I was born in the territory of the said monastery and at the age of seven I was, by the care of my relations, given to the most reverend Abbot Benedict and afterwards to Ceolfrid, to be educated. From that time I have spent the whole of my life within that monastery, devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures and amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily charge of singing in the Church, it has been ever my delight to learn or teach or write. In my nineteenth year I was admitted to the deaconate, in my thirtieth to the priesthood, both by the hands of the most reverend Bishop John and at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid. From the time of my admission to the priesthood to my present fifty-ninth year, I have endeavoured for my own use and that of my brethren, to make brief notes upon the holy Scripture, either out of the works of the venerable Fathers or in conformity with their meaning and interpretation.”
“The Father of English History,” Saint Bede died peacefully at the monastery in Jarrow in 735. He was buried at Jarrow, though his remains now rest in Durham Cathedral.
Saint Cuthbert recorded his final hours, indicating the words of Saint Bede: “If it be the will of my Maker, the time has come when I shall be freed from the body and return to Him Who created me out of nothing when I had no being. I have had a long life, and the merciful Judge has ordered it graciously. The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in His beauty.” He further wrote of Bede’s life and death, citing a poem that Saint Bede had written in preparation for meeting his Maker: “And he used to repeat that sentence from St Paul, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” and many other verses of Scripture, urging us thereby to awake from the slumber of the soul by thinking in good time of our last hour. And in our own language,—for he was familiar with English poetry,—speaking of the soul’s dread departure from the body:
More prudent than he has good call to be,
If he consider, before his going hence,
What for his spirit of good or of evil
After his day of death shall be determined.”
The conclusion of his Ecclesiastical History records his piety, humility, and wisdom: “And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face.”
The life of Saint Bede is highly regarded as instrumental in the recording of written history and the translation of Biblical texts from ancient languages into modern languages. His commentary and theological writings—the goal to explain the teachings of the Church Fathers to all—are highly regarded, like those of Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose. More than that, the simple monastic life of Saint Bede demonstrates the call of the Lord and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who listen and obey.
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