May 27, 2022: ST. BEDE THE VENERABLE
May 27, 2022: ST. BEDE THE VENERABLE, CONFESSOR AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
“The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom: and his tongue shall speak judgment. The law of his God is in his heart, and his steps shall not be supplanted.”
(Ps, xxxvi. 30-31)
O God, You glorify Your Church by the learning of Blessed Bede, Your Confessor and Doctor; mercifully grant to Your servants always to be enlightened by his wisdom, and helped by his merits. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
An Account of St. Bede, Confessor, Father of the Church.
The celebrated Dom Mabillon, mentioning Bede as a most illustrious instance of learning in the monastic institute, says: “Who ever applied himself to the study of every branch of literature, and also to the teaching of others more than Bede? yet who was more closely united to heaven by the exercises of piety and religion? To see him pray, says an ancient writer, one would have thought he left himself no time to study; and when we look at his books we admire he could have found time to do any thing else but write.” Camden calls him “the singular and shining light,” and Leland, “the chiefest and brightest ornament of the English nation, most worthy, if any one ever was, of immortal fame.” William of Malmesbury tells us, that it is easier to admire him in thought than to do him justice in expression. Venerable Bede, called by the ancients Bedan, (who is not to be confounded with a monk of Lindisfarne of the same name but older) was born in 673, as Mabillon demonstrates from his own writings, in a village which soon after his birth became part of the estate of the new neighbouring monastery of Jarrow, but was gained upon by the sea before the time of Simeon of Durham. St. Bennet Biscop founded the abbey, of St. Peter's at Weremouth, near the mouth of the Were, in 674, and that of St. Paul's at Girvum, now Jarrow, in 680, on the banks of the river Tyne, below the Capræ-caput, still called Goat's-head or Gateshead, opposite to Newcastle. Such an harmony subsisted between the two houses that they were often governed by the same abbot, and called the same monastery of Ss. Peter and Paul. St. Bennet was a man of extraordinary learning and piety, and enriched these monasteries with a large and curious library which he had collected at Rome, and in other foreign parts. To his care Bede was committed at seven years of age, but was afterward removed to Jarrow, where he prosecuted his studies under the direction of the abbot Ceolfrid, who had been St. Bennet's fellow traveller. Among other able masters, under whom he made great progress, he names Trumbert, a monk of Jarrow, who had formerly been a disciple of St. Chad bishop, first of York, afterward of Litchfield, who had established a great school in his monastery of Lestingan in Yorkshire. The church music or chant Bede learned of John, formerly precentor of St. Peter's on the Vatican, and abbot of St. Martin's at Rome, whom pope Agatho had sent over to England with St. Bennet Biscop. The Greek language our saint must have learned of Theodorus archbishop of Canterbury, and the abbot Adrian, by whose instruction that language became as familiar to several of their English scholars as their native tongue. For an instance of which Bede mentions Tobias bishop of Rochester. How great a master Bede was of that language appears from his Ars Metrica and other works. His poem on St. Cuthbert and other performances shew him to have been a good poet for the age wherein he lived. But his comments on the holy scriptures, and his sermons prove that the meditation on the word of God, and the writings of the holy fathers chiefly engrossed his time and attention.
His great piety and endowments supplying the defect of age, by the order of his abbot Ceolfrid, he was ordained deacon in 691, at nineteen years of age, by St. John of Beverley, who was at that time bishop of Hexham, in which diocess Jarrow was situated, there being then no episcopal see at Durham. From this time he continued his studies, till, at thirty years of age, in 702, he was ordained priest by the same St. John, who was made bishop of Hexham in 685, and bishop of York in 704. In king Alfred's version Bede is styled Mass-Priest, because it was his employment to sing every day the conventual mass, He tells us, that the holy abbot and founder St. Bennet Biscop, like the rest of the brethren, used to winnow the corn and thresh it, to give milk to the lambs and calves, and to work in the bakehouse, garden, and kitchen. Bede must have sometimes had a share in such employments, and he was always cheerful, obedient, and indefatigable. But his studies and writings, with assiduous meditation and prayer, must have chiefly employed him. He often copied books. From the time that he was promoted to priestly orders he began to compose books; and he had a great school, in which he brought up many eminent and holy scholars, and instructed his fellow monks, who amounted to the number of six hundred. Bede tells us of himself that he applied himself wholly to the meditation of the holy scriptures, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, it was his delight to be always employed either in learning, teaching, or writing. He says, that from the time of his being made priest to the fifty-ninth year of his age when he wrote this, he had compiled several books for his own use, and that of others, gathering them out of the works of the venerable fathers, or adding new comments according to their sense and interpretation. He gives a list of forty-five different works which he had then composed, of which thirty, and many of those are divided into several books, consist of comments on the Old and New Testament. He wrote several other works after this. All the sciences and every branch of literature were handled by him; natural philosophy; the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, the calendar, grammar, ecclesiastical history, and the lives of the saints; though works of piety make up the bulk of his writings. The ornaments of rhetoric were not his study; but perspicuity, (the first qualification in writing) an unaffected honesty and simplicity, and an affecting spirit of sincere piety and goodness of heart and charity run through all his compositions, and cannot fail to please. An honest candour and love of truth are so visibly the characteristics of his historical works, that if some austere critics have suspected him sometimes of credulity, no man ever called in question his sincerity. If on the scriptures he often abridged or reduced to a methodical order the comments of St. Austin, St. Ambrose, St. Jerom, St. Basil, and other fathers, this he did, not out of sloth or for, want of genius (as some later writers have done) but that he might stick closer to tradition in interpreting the sacred oracles; and in what he found not done by other eminent fathers, he still followed their rules lest he should in the least tittle deviate from tradition. In the original comments which he wrote, he seems in the opinion of good judges, not inferior in solidity and judgment to his ablest masters among the fathers. John Bale, the apostate Carmelite friar, and the sworn enemy of the monks and fathers, who was bishop of Ossory under Edward VI. and died canon of Canterbury under queen Elizabeth, could not refuse Bede the highest encomiums, and affirms, that he certainly surpassed Gregory the Great in eloquence and, copiousness of style, and that there is scarce any thing in all antiquity worthy to be read which is not found in Bede. Dr. John Pitts advances, that Europe scarce ever produced a greater scholar; and that even whilst he was living, his writings were of so great authority, that a council ordered them to be publicly read in the churches. Folchard, a very learned monk of Christchurch in Canterbury, and abbot of Thorney, in the days of St. Edward the Confessor, and the Conqueror, originally from Sithiu, in his life of St. John of Beverley quoted by Leland, says of Bede, “It is amazing how this great man became so perfect in all the branches of those sciences to which he applied himself, whereby he conquered all difficulties, and brought those of his own nation to form right notions; so that from the rude and boorish manners of their ancestors they began to be exceedingly civilized and polite through their desire of learning, of which he not only taught them the grounds whilst living , but in his works left them a kind of Encyclopædia (or universal library) for the instruction of youth after his decease.” Fuller writes of him: “He expounded almost all the Bible, translated the Psalms and New Testament into English, and lived a comment on those words of the apostle,–shining as a light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” What we most admire in Bede is the piety with which he pursued and sanctified his studies and the use which he made of them. What he says of St. Chad was a transcript of his own life, that he studied the holy scriptures so as to meditate assiduously on the mysteries of faith and the maxims and rules of piety, treasuring up in his heart the most perfect sentiments of divine love, humility, and all virtues, and diligently copying them in his whole conduct. Hence his life was a model of devotion, obedience, humility, simplicity, charity, and penance. He declined the abbatial dignity which was pressed upon him. Malmesbury gives us a letter of pope Sergius, by which with many honourable expressions he was invited to Rome, that pope desiring to see and consult him in certain matters of the greatest importance. This must have happened about the time that he was ordained priest. Bede out of modesty suppressed this circumstance. What hindered his journey thither we know not; but we have his word for it that he lived from his childhood in his monastery without travelling abroad, that is, without taking any considerable journey. His reputation drew to him many visits from all the greatest men in Britain, particularly from the pious king Ceolwulph. Ecgbright or Egberct, brother to Eadbyrht, king of Northumberland, who was consecrated archbishop of York in 734, had been a scholar of Bede. At his pressing invitation our saint went to York, and taught there some months, but excused himself from leaving his monastery the following year. This school set up at York became very flourishing, and Alcuin, one of its greatest ornaments, is said to have been himself a scholar of Bede. Our saint died soon after Ecgbright's accession to the see of York; but lived long enough to write him a letter of advice upon his advancement. Herein he puts him in mind that it was a most essential part of his duty to place every where able and learned priests, to labour strenuously himself in feeding his flock, in correcting all vice, and endeavouring to convert all sinners, and to take care that every one knew the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, and was thoroughly instructed in the articles of our holy religion. He gives it as an important piece of advice, that all among the laity whose lives are pure, (or free from vice,) communicate every Sunday, and on the festivals of the apostles and martyrs, as he says Ecgbright had seen practised at Rome; but Bede requires that married persons prepare themselves by continence to receive the holy communion, which was formerly a precept repeated in several councils; but is now by disuse looked upon as no more than a counsel, but a counsel which St. Charles Borromeo recommends to be inculcated. Bede died within the compass of a year after he wrote this letter. Cuthbert, called also Antony, one of his scholars, to whom the saint dedicated his book, De Arte Metrica, wrote to one Cuthwin a monk, who had formerly been his schoolfellow under Bede, an account of the death of their dear master. This Cuthbert was afterward abbot of Jarrow, in which dignity he succeeded Huethbert, called also Eusebius, another scholar of Bede.
… St. Bede died in the year 735, of his age sixty-two, on Wednesday evening the 26th of May, after the first vespers of our Lord's Ascension; hence many authors say he died on the feast of the Ascension; for our Saxon ancestors reckoned festivals from the first vespers. Thus from repeating the divine praises here in the most pure and profound sentiments of compunction, humility, zeal, and love, he passed, as it were without intermission, to sing eternally the same praises with affections at once infinitely dilated with inexpressible holy joy, ardour, and love, in the glorious choirs of the blessed, and in the beatific contemplation of God, whom he praised and loved. His feast was kept in England in some places on the 26th of May, with a commemoration only in the office of St. Austin; in others it was deferred to the 27th, on which it occurs in the Roman Martyrology. In the constitution of John Alcock, bishop of Ely, for the festivals of his diocess, printed in 1498 by Pynson, Bede's feast is ordered to be kept with an office on the 13th of March, the day of his death being taken up by the office of St. Austin. Certain Congregations of the Benedictin Order have long kept his office on the 29th of October, perhaps on account of some translation. On the same day it is celebrated at present in England, and by a special privilege, the office is said by all English priests who live in foreign countries, by an indult or grant of pope Benedict XIV. given in 1754; which grant, at least with regard to those clergy-men or regulars who are in England, was interpreted at Rome to imply a precept.
Alcuin having extolled the learning and virtues of this holy doctor, says that his sanctity was attested by the voice of heaven after his death; for a sick man was freed from a fever upon the spot by touching his relics… Boniface calls St. Bede the lamp of the English church; St. Lullus, Alcuin, and other writers from the time of his death exceedingly extol his learning and sanctity. By Lanfranc and many others he is styled the doctor and father of the English. Trithemius imagined that the title of “Venerable” was conferred on him in his life time. But Mabillon shews from the silence of all former writers, that it was begun to be given him, out of a peculiar respect, only in the ninth age, when it was used by Amalarius, Jonas, Usuard, &c. He was styled Saint, and placed in foreign Martyrologies long before that time, by Hincmar, Notker, in the litany of St. Gall's, &c. Rabanus Maurus mentions an altar at Fulde, of which Bede was titular saint. The second council of Aix la Chapelle in 836, calls him , “The venerable, and in the modern times admirable doctor,” &c.
It was the happiness of venerable Bede, that receiving his education under the direction of saints, by their example, spirit, and instructions he learned from his infancy the maxims and practice of perfect sanctity. St. Chrysostom wished that parents would breed up their children in monasteries till they are to be produced in the world. Several Roman senators and other noblemen committed the education of their sons to St. Bennet. The most austere and regular monasteries have been chosen by virtuous parents of the first rank, whose principal desire was that their children should be brought up among saints, where their passions would be in no danger of being flattered, and where their minds would be filled with Christian verities and Christ's spirit, and their hearts formed to piety, grounded in the love, and exercised in habits of all virtues. This is the first and essential advantage which parents are bound to procure their children, upon which their temporal and eternal happiness depends, and all other advantages and qualifications are to be founded. Let them not be neglected, but let this be secured in the first place, and at all rates.
Taken from: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, Imprimatur 1957.
St. Bede the Venerable, pray for us.