Bede the Venerable

St BedeSaint Bede spent most of his time in Northumbria.  You’d think I’d be able to complete at least one essay without having to get Northumbria mixed up in it; but, there you go.  Bede was born in 672 and lived for over sixty years, after which, he slowed down considerably.  He is best known as a historian, although, with enough wine in him, he could also juggle fish.

Historians do not know the identity of Bede’s parents.  They deduce that his parents were well-off, financially; and, that they could reproduce sexually.  Because the name, “Bede”, means “prayer”, it is assumed that either he was slated for the clergy from birth or that someone was being ironic.  Regardless, by the age of seven, Bede was cooling his heels at the monastery of Wearmouth.  After four years at Wearmouth, he was transferred to the monastery at Jarrow, just in time for the plague.

At the age of twenty, Bede was made a deacon by the Bishop of Hexham, a Quinn/Martin Production.  Normally, one must be twenty-five to be a deacon, but they promoted Bede early to keep him from playing for the other team.  Some say that his early promotion indicated that he was of great ability; others theorize that he once had a vision of St. Barnabus vandalizing a parking meter and he was promoted to keep his mouth shut.  Regardless, Bede quit not being a deacon at age twenty; and, at age thirty, quit not being a priest.

It was around the age of thirty that he completed his first works:  De Arte Metrica and De Schematibus et TropisDe Arte Metrica was a book on poetry, including syllabic quantity and how that related to meter.  It wasn’t so much dull as it was excruciatingly dull.  The other title was a book on scriptural style with a short biography of Lyndon Johnson as the last chapter.  Both works were never meant to leave the monastery; and, were meant to stay at the monastery, particularly if it meant remaining there.

Bede was accused of heresy in 708 for his work De Temporibus (“Concerning Time”).  Some monks were upset because the work conflicted with an earlier work by St. Augustine, which had predicted the end of the world in 500 A.D.  Bede sent a long letter explaining his position to the Bishop of Hexham who probably had to interrupt his ignoring of the charge of heresy to ignore Bede’s letter.  In the end, nothing came of the charges except that the bishop probably had his mail screened by his secretary from then on…

The library at Jarrow grew to be one of the largest in England, thanks to Bede.  With nearly five hundred books one could easily find the major classical works, especially those that were in the library.  In addition to the works of Virgil, Ovid and Horace, Bede’s library also contained the works of Pliny the Elder and Lucretius.  If a scholar needed anything more than that, he was being unreasonable.  Bede spoke Latin, of course, and knew enough Hebrew to get his face slapped.  He also knew enough Greek to get stabbed in the abdomen. 

Bede’s greatest work was Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or An Ecclesiastical History of the British People.  It is a five-volume set that starts with Caesar’s invasion of Britain and ends with the advent of Lady Gaga.  The work covers the growth of Christianity in Britain and is definitely good for a few laughs.  It is dedicated to Ceolwulf, the kind of Northumbria.  Bede was around fifty-eight when the book was completed.

Much of Bede’s work was in commentary form.  He wrote commentaries on Genesis, Ezra, Proverbs, Revelations, Acts, Mark and Luke; in fact, by the time he was done commenting, no one really gave a damn what he thought.  He sometimes wrote in verse form, just in case the material wasn’t obscure enough as it was.  His Life of St. Cuthbert was written completely in verse and was later broken up into 450 separate Hallmark cards.  His book of hymns, Librum Hymnorum diverso metro sive rhythmo, did not survive to the present day, having “met with an accident” just after betting heavily on a horse race.

Bede was also involved with the creation of the Codex Amiatinus, a nearly complete version of the Latin Vulgate.  The book has survived to this day, probably due to its aversion to gambling.  The Codex was nineteen inches by thirteen inches and weighed seventy-five pounds.  The paperback edition was much lighter, due to its lack of gold foil.  The Codex is complete, with the exception of the Book of Baruch.  Baruch might have been omitted due to the fact that it was deuterocanonical or because it had too many fart jokes…

A few weeks before Easter, in 735, Bede began to show signs of deteriorating health and became bedridden, which is not necessarily the worst way to be ridden.  He continued to teach students at his bedside.  Bede probably wouldn’t have continued teaching from bed if he’d been a diving instructor or an equestrian coach.  Fortunately, theology is bed friendly.  He died just after dictating the last sentence of the Gospel of John to a student, then tagging that student, making him perpetually “it”…

Bede was buried on the grounds of the monastery where he had spent most of his life.  He was dug up in the eleventh century and held for questioning.  Afterwards, he was reinterred at Durham Cathedral, located in lovely downtown Durham.  Somebody dug him up again in the sixteenth century, but the clergy just put him back where he was.  He wasn’t getting away THAT easily.  They dug him up one more time in 1831 and reburied him in a nicer tomb.  At that point, Bede became better-travelled dead than alive.

Bede was named a “Doctor of the Church” in 1899, the only Englishman to ever hold that title and the last to use a toothbrush…

Did you enjoy learning about the Middle Ages?  Check out Gregory the Great.