Saint Bede

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Bede, St (672/3–735). First English historian, author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (c.731). Deacon, priest, and monk, Bede is generally associated with Jarrow, but probably lived mostly in the monastery of Monkwearmouth, which he entered in 679/80. Bede owed his scholarship, and much of his outlook, to their founder, Benedict Biscop. He travelled a little to Lindisfarne and York.

History was not his prime concern. He wrote biblical commentaries, hagiography, hymns and homilies, textbooks of instruction in Latin, and scientific texts, and, to Egbert (bishop of York), a letter criticizing episcopal and monastic standards in Northumbria.

Bede was particularly interested in miracles and in the calculation of dates and time. Some of his scientific scholarship was advanced and his historical influence profound. His commentaries were soon in heavy demand on the continent. He was the first systematically to use the anno domini dating system and his idealized portrait of the 7th-cent. church inspired King Alfred and Bishop Æthelwold, who attempted its re-creation. Modern scholars, attempting reconstruction and deconstruction, depend heavily upon him.

In historical writing Bede was influenced by the 4th-cent. Eusebius of Caesarea, but the greatest non-biblical influence upon him was probably Pope Gregory I. His purposes were varied. The prime one was to facilitate the salvation of his people. The Ecclesiastical History's parade of exemplars, like Aidan, Cuthbert, and Oswald, to remedy contemporary defects entailed, inconveniently for modern scholars, much selection. The English are given a Roman historical context and destiny. To Bede's imposition of order on a more complex past, his so-called list of bretwaldas can be related. He may have felt that a ‘national’ history would encourage ‘national’ unity. He may have been offering a Christian alternative to traditional secular sagas.

Bede was in touch with highly placed people (including King Ceolwulf, Acca, bishop of Hexham, and Egbert), his contacts brought information, and he was interested in the wider world. Yet lack of experience outside his monastery may have made him so idealistic as to be considered isolated, not sharing other clerics' interests. But the quarrels generated by Wilfrid may have inspired his presentation of an alternative version of 7th-cent. ecclesiastical history to that offered in Wilfrid's biography. Whether considered as the ‘opposition’ view or a ‘compromise’ to reconcile two parties, it suggests sensitivity to, and perhaps involvement in, politics.

Well written and researched, Bede's works are subtle and complex. Some attempt was made to promote his cult, but Viking raids caused Monkwearmouth and Jarrow to be abandoned c.800. Remains claimed to be Bede's were discovered in the mid-11th cent., and moved to Durham cathedral, where they remain. Bede was recognized as a doctor of the church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

A. E. Redgate

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Saint Bede (bēd), or Baeda (bē´də) (St. Bede the Venerable), 673?–735, English historian and Benedictine monk, Doctor of the Church, also called the Venerable Bede. He spent his whole life at the monasteries of Wearmouth (at Sunderland) and Jarrow and became probably the most learned man in Western Europe in his day. His writings, virtually a summary of the learning of his time, consist of theological, historical, and scientific treatises. Like a modern scholar, he consulted many documents, discussed their relative reliability, and duly cited them as sources—practices then most unusual. His theological works are commentaries on the Scriptures in the light of the interpretations of the Church Fathers. He wrote biographical works such as the life of St. Cuthbert (in prose and verse) and the History of the Abbots (of Wearmouth and Jarrow). His Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, written in Latin prose, remains an indispensable primary source for English history from 597 to 731. It gives the most thorough and reliable contemporary account of the triumph of Christianity and of the growth of Anglo-Saxon culture in England. He also relates the political events that had bearing on these developments. The Ecclesiastical History has been many times translated; the best edition of the text is in Bedae opera historica (ed. by Charles Plummer, 1896). The best known of Bede's scientific treatises are those on chronology, held as standard for many years. Long venerated in the church, Bede was officially recognized as a saint in 1899 and was named Doctor of the Church, the only Englishman so honored. Feast: May 27.

See the collection of essays, Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings (ed. by A. H. Thompson, 1935, repr. 1966); D. Hurst, The Venerable Bede: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles (1985); G. H. Brown, Bede the Venerable (1987).

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Bede, Saint (673?–735) ( Venerable Bede) English monk and scholar. He spent his life in the Northumbrian monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow. His most important work is the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, an indispensable primary source of early English history (54 bc–ad 697). His works were profoundly influential in early medieval Europe.

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Bede, St (c.673–735), English monk, theologian, and historian, known as The Venerable Bede, who lived and worked at the monastery in Jarrow on Tyneside. Bede wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed in 731), a primary source for early English history. His feast day is 27 May.