BEDE (c. 673–735), usually called "the Venerable"; Northumbrian monk and scholar. Bede's whole life was associated with the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, founded by Benedict Biscop in 673–681. It is difficult to improve on the summary of his life supplied by Bede himself in introducing the list of his works provided in the final chapter of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People:
I was born on the lands belonging to this monastery and at the age of seven was given by my family to the most reverend Benedict [Biscop] and to Ceolfrid [his successor] to be educated. From that time onward I have lived my whole life in this same monastery, devoting all my time to the study of the scriptures. While observing the regular monastic discipline and singing the daily office in church, I have always taken delight in learning, teaching, and writing. In my nineteenth year I became a deacon, and in my thirtieth a priest.… And from the day of my priestly ordination to this, my fifty-ninth year , I have composed the following works on Holy Scripture, either for my own use or that of my brethren, drawing for this purpose on the works of the holy Fathers, and at times adding comments of my own to clarify their meaning and interpretation.
Bede then adds a list that, in addition to scriptural works, also contains lives of saints, histories, grammatical works, poetry, and treatises on computation.
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People —basically a religious history written for Christian believers—is a remarkable work, able to win the admiration even of modern-day historians who may not share Bede's religious beliefs. It demonstrates Bede's scholarly gifts, his fine Latinity, his concern to find trustworthy sources, his dexterity in the use of these sources, and his sobriety of judgment even when handling miraculous elements. The Ecclesiastical History is also noteworthy for its introduction of anno Domini as a means of dating events in the common era, a practice that became customary throughout the Western world.
Although Bede is most famous in modern times for the Ecclesiastical History, it was his scriptural comentaries that were best known and most used in his own day and among medieval writers of later generations, not all of whom employed their typically allegorical method of interpretation with Bede's characteristic restraint. His works were so well respected and so often copied that most of them have survived. His numerous borrowings from the Fathers testify to the magnificent collection of books Benedict Biscop had accumulated in Rome and transported all the way to Northumbria.
Bede's writings display the working of a lively and inquiring mind, fascinated not only by problems of scripture but also by those of the natural world. Taken in their chronological order his works allow us to discern a constantly growing scholarly maturity, as well as an attractive and winning personality. Bede's work on the calendar deserves special mention. The controversy over the date of Easter was particularly acute in his time since it pitted Roman against Celtic usage. Bede tried to put order into the controversy through a work, De temporum ratione, whose modern editor remarks that it still remains "the best introduction to the ecclesiastical calendar."
We possess a moving eyewitness account of Bede's last days in a letter written by one of his disciples, Cuthbert, to another, Cuthwin. He continued working and teaching to the end. One of his last tasks—left incomplete—was a translation of John's gospel into Old English. He died on May 26, 735.
The edition of Bede's works by J. A. Giles (1834–1844) was reprinted in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, vols. 90–95 (Paris, 1850–1851). New editions of most of Bede's works have since appeared in Corpus Christianorum, series latina, vols. 118–122 (Turnhout, 1955–1969). For the Latin text of the Ecclesiastical History, Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors's edition (Oxford, 1969) supersedes that of Charles Plummer (Oxford, 1896), although Plummer's historical notes retain much value.
The bibliography on Bede is large, especially in the form of articles in scholarly journals. Special mention should be made of Peter Hunter Blair's The World of Bede (London, 1970); Bede, His Life, Times and Writings: Essays in Commemoration of the Twelfth Centenary of His Death, edited by Alexander Hamilton Thompson (Oxford, 1935); and Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, edited by Gerald Bonner (London, 1976). The best general introduction to Bede's Ecclesiastical History remains Jackson J. Campbell's "Bede," in Latin Historians, edited by T. A. Dorey (New York, 1966). Numerous aspects of Bede and his background have been examined in the "Jarrow Lectures" (1958–), a series too little known but published yearly by the rector of Jarrow (Saint Paul's Rectory, Jarrow, England).
Paul Meyvaert (1987)
English historian, educator, and cleric whose Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Angolorum (Ecclesiastical history of the English people), completed in 731, is the principle source for information about Anglo-Saxon life and religion. While a master of Greek, Latin, mathematics, astronomy, music, and biblical commentary, Bede was a humble monk and a dedicated teacher. His abilities and guidance turned the monastery at Jarrow in Northumbria into a major center of learning in the early medieval world, sending its teachers out across Britain and Europe to establish more schools. Bede's work and influence were so important that Alcuin of York gave Bede the title "venerable" and King Alfred ordered the translation of the Historia from Latin into Anglo-Saxon.