Monday, May 25, 2009

THE VENERABLE BEDE, (673-735), Monk, Doctor of the Church, "Father of English History"

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

Every now and then, the Divine Office sets before us the account of how the Saint for the day died. Today is one of those days. This morning we were treated to the moving account of St Bede's death, written by St Cuthbert.

St Bede was born near Sunderland, and lived his entire life in the north of England, yet he became perhaps the most learned scholar in all of Europe. At the age of 7, he was sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Wearmouth for his education; at 11, he continued his education at the new monastery at Jarrow, on the Tyne, eventually becoming a monk and remaining there until his death. He lived a routine and outwardly uneventful life of prayer, devotion, study, writing, and teaching, and left his monastery only on occasion in order to preach.

Bede's writings depended on the fine libraries which St. Benet Biscop had assembled, and cover a very wide range of interests, including natural mathematics, poetry, timekeeping, history, orthography, chronology, and biblical translation and exposition. He was the first to translate the Bible into Old English. In his view, his 25 volumes of Scripture commentary were his most important writings. His best-known book is Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, and still published today (by Penguin!). This work earned him the popular title "Father of English History", and not just because it was the first attempt to write a history of England. His historical research was thorough and far-reaching. For example, he asked friends travelling to Rome to bring him copies of documents relevant to English history, and he made use of oral traditions when written materials were not available. The book provides much historical information that can be found in no other source.

According to his pupil Cuthbert (later Abbot of Jarrow), Bede fell ill shortly before Easter 735, when he was translating the Gospel of John into the Anglo-Saxon language. Everyone realised that the end was near, but Bede was determined to complete the translation before he died. Between Easter and Ascension Day, he persisted in the task while continuing to teach his students at his bedside.

After a restless night, he resumed dictating the translation on the morning before Ascension Day. That afternoon he called the priests of the monastery to him to distribute his remaining earthly possessions. Seeing they were overcome with grief, he comforted them with these words:

"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."

The young man who had been writing down the translation said there was still one sentence remaining, and Bede dictated the final words.

After a short while the lad said, "Now it is finished."

Bede replied:

"You have spoken truly; it is well finished. Now raise my head in your hands, for it would give me great joy to sit facing the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may sit and call on my Father."

And thus, on the floor of his cell, he chanted "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit" to its ending, and breathed his last.

When he received word of the great scholar's death, St Boniface, who had used Bede's Bible commentaries, said, "The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, has been extinguished". Within a generation or two, St Bede was being called "Venerable". His bones were translated from Jarrow to Durham Cathedral in the mid-11th century; in 1370 they were placed in the cathedral's Galilee Chapel.

St Bede is the only Englishman named in Dante's Paradise. He is also the only English Doctor of the Church.

Go HERE to read the moving address on St Bede given by Pope Benedict in February this year.

St Bede wrote that a priest or bishop

"who without an urgent reason omits to say Mass robs the Trinity of glory, the angels of joy, sinners of pardon, the just of divine assistance, the souls in purgatory of refreshment, the Church of a benefit, and himself of a healing remedy."

O God, who hast enlightened thy Church with the wondrous learning of blessed Bede thy Confessor and Doctor: mercifully grant to us thy servants; that we, being in all things enlightened by his wisdom, may at all times feel the effectual succour of his righteousness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.


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