Bede (also Saint Bede, the Venerable Bede, or (from Latin) Beda (beda)), (c. 672–25 May 735), was a Benedictine monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow (see Wearmouth-Jarrow), both in the Kingdom of Northumbria.
He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title "The father of English history". Bede is regarded as a Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, a position of theological significance; he is the only man from Great Britain to achieve this designation (Anselm of Canterbury, though also a Doctor of the Church, was originally from Italy).
His works show that he had at his command all the learning of his time. It was thought that the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow was between 300-500 books, making it one of the largest and most extensive in England. It is clear that Biscop made strenuous efforts to collect books during his extensive travels.
Bede's writings are classed as scientific, historical and theological, reflecting the range of his writings from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He was proficient in patristic literature, and quotes Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers, but with some disapproval. He knew some Greek, but no Hebrew. His Latin is generally clear and without affectation, and he was a skilful story-teller. However, his style can be considerably more obscure in his Biblical commentaries.
Bede's scriptural commentaries employed the allegorical method of interpretation and his history includes accounts of miracles, which to modern historians has seemed at odds with his critical approach to the materials in his history. Modern studies have shown the important role such concepts played in the world-view of Early Medieval scholars.
Bede's use of something similar to the anno Domini era, created by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525, throughout Historia Ecclesiastica was very influential in causing that era to be adopted thereafter in Western Europe. Specifically, he used anno ab incarnatione Domini (in the year from the incarnation of the Lord) or anno incarnationis dominicae (in the year of the incarnation of the Lord). He never abbreviated the term like the modern AD. Unlike the modern assumption that anno Domini was from the birth of Christ, Bede explicitly refers to his incarnation or conception, traditionally on 25 March. Within this work, he was also the first writer to use a term similar to the English before Christ. In book I chapter 2 he used ante incarnationis dominicae tempus (before the time of the incarnation of the Lord). However, the latter was not very influential—only this isolated use was repeated by other writers during the rest of the Middle Ages. The first extensive use of 'BC' (hundreds of times) occurred in Fasciculus Temporum by Werner Rolevinck in 1474, alongside years of the world (anno mundi).
Bede lists his works in an autobiographical note at the end of his Ecclesiastical History. He clearly considered his commentaries on many books of the Old and New Testaments as important; they come first on this list and dominate it in sheer number. These commentaries reflect the biblical focus of monastic life. "I spent all my life," he wrote, "in this monastery, applying myself entirely to the study of Scriptures. Bede’s poem “The Great Forerunner of the Morn,” written originally in Latin and translated into English by renowned hymn translator John Mason Neale in 1854, is still sung today as a hymn set to various tunes.
As Chapter 66 of his On the Reckoning of Time, in 725 Bede wrote the Greater Chronicle (chronica maiora), which sometimes circulated as a separate work. For recent events the Chronicle, like his Ecclesiastical History, relied upon Gildas, upon a version of the Liber pontificalis current at least to the papacy of Pope Sergius I (687-701), and other sources. For earlier events he drew on Eusebius's Chronikoi Kanones. The dating of events in the Chronicle is inconsistent with his other works, using the era of creation, the anno mundi.
His other historical works included lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, as well as lives in verse and prose of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. In his Letter on the Death of Bede, Cuthbert, monk and later Abbot of Jarrow, describes Bede as still writing on his deathbed, working on a translation into Old English of the Gospel of John and on Isidore of Seville's On the Nature of Things.
On the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione) included an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical earth influenced the changing length of daylight, of how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon influenced the changing appearance of the New Moon at evening twilight, and a quantitative relation between the changes of the Tides at a given place and the daily motion of the moon. Since the focus of his book was calculation, Bede gave instructions for computing the date of Easter and the related time of the Easter Full Moon, for calculating the motion of the Sun and Moon through the zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar. He gives some information about the months of the Anglo-Saxon calendar in chapter XV. Any codex of Bede's Easter cycle is normally found together with a codex of his "De Temporum Ratione".
For calendric purposes, Bede made a new calculation of the age of the world since the creation. Due to his innovations in computing the age of the world, he was accused of heresy at the table of Bishop Wilfred, his chronology being contrary to accepted calculations. Once informed of the accusations of these "lewd rustics," Bede refuted them in his Letter to Plegwin.
His works were so influential that late in the ninth century Notker the Stammerer, a monk of the Monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland, wrote that "God, the orderer of natures, who raised the Sun from the East on the fourth day of Creation, in the sixth day of the world has made Bede rise from the West as a new Sun to illuminate the whole Earth".
|Facing that enforced journey, no man can be |
More prudent than he has good call to be,
If he consider, before his going hence,
What for his spirit of good hap or of evil
After his day of death shall be determined.
|Fore ðæm nedfere nænig wiorðe |
ðonc snottora ðon him ðearf siæ
to ymbhycgenne ær his hinionge
hwæt his gastæ godes oððe yfles
æfter deað dæge doemed wiorðe.:
As Opland notes, however, it is not entirely clear that Cuthbert is attributing this text to Bede: most manuscripts of the letter do not use a finite verb to describe Bede's presentation of the song, and the theme was relatively common in Old English and Anglo-Latin literature. The fact that Cuthbert's description places the performance of the Old English poem in the context of a series of quoted passages from Sacred Scripture, indeed, might be taken as evidence simply that Bede also cited analogous vernacular texts. On the other hand, the inclusion of the Old English text of the poem in Cuthbert’s Latin letter, the observation that Bede "was learned in our song," and the fact that Bede composed a Latin poem on the same subject all point to the possibility of his having written it. By citing the poem directly, Cuthbert seems to imply that its particular wording was somehow important, either since it was a vernacular poem endorsed by a scholar who evidently frowned upon secular entertainment or because it is a direct quotation of Bede’s last original composition.
After this, there is a gap of some 50 years. Manuscripts written before AD 900 include:
Copies are sparse throughout the 10th century and for much of the 11th century. The greatest number of copies of Bede's work was made in the 12th century, but there was a significant revival of interest in the 14th and 15th centuries. Many of the copies are of English provenance, but also surprisingly many are Continental. Bede's collected works were published in Patrologia Latina vols. 90-95, but this edition was "bad on a monumental scale, and included more spuria than any previous edition".
His scholarship and importance to Catholicism were recognised in 1899 when he was declared the only English Doctor of the Church as St Bede The Venerable. He is also the only Englishman in Dante's Paradise (Paradiso' X.130), mentioned among theologians and doctors of the church in the same canto as Isidore of Seville and the Scot Richard of St. Victor.
His feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar in 1899, for celebration on 27 May rather than on his date of death, 25 May, which was then the feast day of Pope Saint Gregory VII; however, the 1969 calendar reforms allowed Bede's feast day to move to its proper day.