Our father among the saints, Bede the Venerable, is the saint we commemorate today. As a father of the Orthodox Church, he is an exemplar for the monastic rule followed by Orthodox monks. A diligent and kindly oblate to the monastery at Jarrow, Bede devoted himself to Scriptural studies for the benefit of his brothers and enjoyed teaching them. He was obedient in his disciplines of prayer and keeping the offices of the choir. To all accounts he was a highly sensible Englishman, fair-minded and devoted to the service of others, whose virtues include his heartfelt piety and liberal manners. Such, indeed, was the depth of his knowledge and love that he began to be regarded as a saint even within his own lifetime. Of himself (being the chief source on his own life), Bede speaks thusly:
With God’s help, I, Bede, the servant of Christ and priest of the monastery of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow, have assembled these facts about the history of the Church in Britain, and of the Church of the English in particular, so far as I have been able to ascertain them from ancient documents, from the traditions of our forebears, and from my own personal knowledge.However, in both the religious and the secular world he is also highly regarded as the father of English history, whose History of the English Church and People even today is one of the main primary sources used in the study of pre-Conquest England. His reputation as a scholar and historian, ‘hold[ing]’, in the words of Dr Walter Goffart, ‘a privileged and unrivalled place among first historians of Christian Europe’, is truly well-deserved; his careful and scholarly methodology, taking descriptions of events, as he himself notes above, from multiple written, traditional and first-hand oral sources, set the standard for practically all subsequent work done in the study of history.
I was born on the lands of this monastery, and on reaching seven years of age, my family entrusted me to the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and later to Abbot Ceolfrid for my education. I have spent all the remainder of my life in the monastery, and devoted myself entirely to the study of the scriptures. And while I have observed the regular discipline and sung the choir offices daily in church, my chief delight has always been in study, teaching and writing.
I was ordained deacon at the age of nineteen, and priest at the age of thirty, receiving both these orders at the hands of the most reverend Bishop John at the direction of Abbot Ceolfrid. From the time of my receiving the priesthood until my fifty-ninth year, I have worked, both for my own benefit and that of my brethren, to compile short extracts from the works of the venerable Fathers on holy scripture, and to comment on their meaning and interpretation.
Bede himself had a formidable intellect. He had a full command of Greek (in keeping with the heavy Byzantine influence on the English Church of the time, which was felt alongside the Teutonic and the Celtic) and knew a smattering of Hebrew. For the time, he had a remarkable store of scientific knowledge, demonstrating in one of his texts that the Earth was round ‘like a playground ball’ rather than ‘like a shield’. He was incredibly well-versed in the Fathers and had a particular passion for collecting Patristic texts and commentaries, and his texts are sprinkled through with lengthy quotations from the likes not only of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Jerome, but also classical pre-Christian authors such as Ovid, Horace, Virgil and Pliny the Younger. And yet, he did not set such a great store by his intellect that he fell victim to its worship. As he himself noted:
Better a stupid and unlettered brother who, working the good things he knows, merits life in Heaven than one who though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a doctor, lacks the bread of love.At the end of his life, Bede the Venerable was dictating to his pupils a book – and at the end he was left with one monk named Wilbert, when the book was as yet unfinished. Though Wilbert was unwilling to disturb with this work the elderly holy monk, whose breathing had become laboured, Bede diligently assured him that it was no trouble, and that he should take up his pen and write quickly. When he was done, Bede had Wilbert take the personal effects from his chest – including incense, pepper and linen – and distribute them amongst his brothers at Jarrow with requests that they pray for his soul. He then told them, ‘The time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in His beauty.’
That night, the night of the twenty-fifth of May, Wilbert said there was but one sentence left to write, which Bede bade him finish. When Wilbert had finished, Bede spoke to him: ‘You have spoken truly, it is well finished.’ Being unable to raise his head, he asked Wilbert to do it for him so that he could see the church where he used to pray. He chanted as he reposed in the Lord, the chant that he had been so diligent in singing in his life: ‘Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’.
The relics of this most holy father of the Church were translated around the year 1020 from his resting place at the Abbey at Jarrow, into a raised tomb at Durham Cathedral alongside the relics of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne and the head of Saint King Oswald of Northumbria, where they remain to this day.
Throughout the dark years of thy times, O Bede,
thou didst water the English lands and all the West with outpourings of grace;
and like a skilled sower thou didst cast the seed of divine knowledge
far and wide over the fields of thy Master,
where, springing forth, it hath borne fruit for Him an hundredfold.
Wherefore, having thus acquired boldness before Him, O venerable one,
pray thou unceasingly that our souls be saved.