Today is the feast day of the Blessed St, Bede (672?-735), the patron Saint of historians, so I am particularly devoted to this great soul.
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. He entered the monastery at the age of seven and never left monastic life. He was one of only two survivors from a severe attack of the plague which decimated Wearside in 686, and with the exception of visits to other monasteries, he spent his entire life in Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. Of himself, Bede wrote modestly that he “devoted [his] energies to the study of the scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in church”, he was, he wrote, a man for whom “study, teaching, and writing had always been [a] delight”.
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 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.
It has been said of him:
“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).
St Bede’s most famous work is his “Ecclesiastical History of the English people”. Still widely read, the work is one of the most important primary sources for the history of Anglo-Saxon England. His other works included scriptural commentaries, two lives of St Cuthbert, books on chronology and nature and the first martyrology. He was the first writer to adopt the AD dating system. His last work was a translation of St John’s Gospel into Old English and a touching account of his death in 735 AD exists in a letter by Cuthbert, who became Abbot of Jarrow.
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.
Bede died as he had lived, in Christ. His last work was a translation of St John’s Gospel, which he dictated to a young assistant. He struggled manfully to the last, and the ending is recorded thus:
‘Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not written down.’
Bede responded, ‘Write quickly.’
After a little while the boy said, ‘There, now it is written.’
‘You have said well,’ replied Bede. ‘It is at an end. All is finished.’
VENERABILIS BEDA ORA PRO NOBIS
St Bede is buried in Durham Cathedral. The present tomb, built in 1831 is inscribed with Bede’s own words:
“Christ is the morning star, who when the night
Of this world is past brings to his saints
The promise of the light of life & opens everlasting day”
Blessed St. Bede, through whom God showed us the wonders of the Faith in the world, pray for us.