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SAINT BEDE THE VENERABLE

Confessor and Doctor of the Church, 673-73S

THE strong, clear voice of Saint Bede, an eighth-century English monk, still speaks to us from the pages of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Most of our knowledge of the saint himself is from this work, a monumental piece of historical literature. There we learn that Bede was orphaned at seven (he was born in 673), placed in the care of the Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Wearmouth in Northumbria, and a little later was sent to Jarrow, a nearby sister abbey. At Jarrow, when he was thirty, he was ordained a priest, and there he remained until his death in 735. The wholesome Benedictine life with its peaceful rhythm of prayer and work was exactly suited to Bede, who distinguished himself in both its aspects. We know that he was especially conscientious in chanting the Divine Office-the central act of monastic life-and that he was loved by all the monks of Jarrow for his tender, profound piety.

Bede's work in the monastery was that of a scholar, for as he says: ". . . amid the observance of the regular discipline and the daily charge of singing the Divine Office in church, my delight has always been in study, teaching, and writing." His accomplishments in these fields were brilliant ones, fully earning him the description "father of English learning." He thought of himself primarily as a student of the Bible and wrote commentaries on several of its books, as well as collaborating with his fellow monks on one of the best manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate ever produced. His Ecclesiastical History, however, is his masterpiece, and its account of the history of England from the earliest times to the author's own day still makes fascinating reading. Bede drew his facts, he tells us, from "ancient documents, from the traditions of our forebears, and from my own personal knowledge," and his book is a rich mine of detailed, accurate information about every aspect of early English life, especially the missionary efforts of Augustine and the others who Christianized the country. He also wrote a history of the abbots of Wearmouth and jarrow.

In 735, four years after the completion of the History, Bede fell seriously ill. Realizing that he had not long to live, he distributed his few belongings to the other monks and then calmly continued, as well as he could, with his teaching and writing. On the eve of the Ascension be was dictating to a young monk his final corrections of some passages of Saint Isidore of Seville, and when the last sentence was finished he asked to be placed on the floor of his cell. There, after singing the Gloria Patri, Bede died. Remembered with respect for centuries as "the Venerable Bede," the good monk received a greater title in 1899, when Pope Leo XIII approved the popular veneration of Saint Bede and declared him a Doctor of the Church.

 

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