Tuesday, May 27, 2008

St. Bede the Venerable

"The Venerable Bede Translates John" (1902) by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932)

Saint Bede has always been one of my favorite historical saints. Here was an accomplished scholar, a true "Renaissance Man" living almost a thousand years before the Renaissance, and he isn't even known as just "Bede" but as "the Venerable Bede." When I looked up the word "venerable" in my Oxford Dictionary of Current English, the definition of "venerable" read: 1) greatly respected because of age, wisdom, or character; 2) (in the Anglican Church) a title given to an archdeacon. I think Bede easily qualified for the title under both definitions. I missed his Feast Day (May 25) by a few days but still wanted to honor him and share his story with you. Enjoy!

From AmericanCatholic.org's Saint of the Day e-mail list:

St. Bede the Venerable (672?-735)

Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.

At an early age Bede was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the Monastery of St. Paul, Jarrow. The happy combination of genius and the instruction of scholarly, saintly monks produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He was deeply versed in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture. From the time of his ordination to the priesthood at 30 (he had been ordained deacon at 19) till his death, he was ever occupied with learning, writing and teaching. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.

Although eagerly sought by kings and other notables, even Pope Sergius, Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now, and forever.”

His Ecclesiastical History of the English People [from which I have read a few snippets here and there, and really should return to Father Acker soon] is commonly regarded as of decisive importance in the art and science of writing history. A golden age was coming to an end at the time of Bede’s death: It had fulfilled its purpose of preparing Western Christianity to assimilate the non-Roman barbarian North. Bede recognized the opening to a new day in the life of the Church even as it was happening.

Though his History is the greatest legacy Bede has left us, his work in all the sciences (especially in Scripture) should not be overlooked. During his last Lent, he worked on a translation of the Gospel of St. John into English, completing it the day he died. But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing remains today.

“We have not, it seems to me, amid all our discoveries, invented as yet anything better than the Christian life which Bede lived, and the Christian death which he died” (C. Plummer, editor of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History).

From the Collect for All Saints' Day, 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect into one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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