Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Recovering Neglected Theologians # 1: The Venerable Bede

A Guest Post by  Tim J. Furry, Ph.D. Student at the University of Dayton (Ohio, USA). Tim blogs at The Moving Image.

The Venerable Bede (672-735) was a Benedictine monk who was raised in a monastery in Wearmouth, England (present day Jarrow). He was one of the first generations of Christians in England after Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries there. He described his primary task as meditating on Scripture, but he is most famous for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Little is known about Bede’s life and his background, because the best source we have is the brief description he gave of his own life at the conclusion of his Ecclesiastical History. The greatest theological influences on his work were Augustine (of Hippo), Gregory the Great, and St. Benedict. Unbeknownst to many, Pope Leo XIII canonized him and made him a doctor of the church in1899. His tomb is currently located at Durham Cathedral.

            As previously mentioned, Bede’s major works were biblical commentaries. He commented widely on the Christian canon some of which include: Genesis, Samuel, Song of Songs, Habakkuk, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Mark, Luke, Acts, the catholic epistles, and Revelation. As far as we know, he was also the first to figurally exegete the Temple and the Tabernacle. He also wrote “scientific” works as well On the Reckoning of Time (which calculates the date of Easter), and he addressed the importance of grammar and rhetoric in other works. Some of these writings have been translated (some of these in the Liverpool University Press series, Translated Texts for Historians) in a mini resurgence of Bedan scholarship in the past fifteen years, and many more are in the process of being translated making learning about Bede much easier.

            Despite the growing attention, Bede’s importance today has yet to be fully realized. His writings on time, history, and the “world ages,” which are deeply indebted to Augustine, have much to say to the contemporary historical consciousness that dominates modern (and postmodern) thought. More specifically, the influence of his biblical exegesis on his writing of history is an important topic that merits further attention. (Shameless self plug: my doctoral research focuses on these issues of history, time, eternity, and figural exegesis in Bede). Those with an interest in ecumenical issues could also find Bede interesting and helpful. His scientific treatment on the date of Easter was an argument to persuade Celtic Christians who were not celebrating Easter with the Catholic Church. There is also more work to be done on the nature of monasticism in England during Bede’s time, which appears to have been less determined than what Benedict’s Rule’s stipulates. The Carolingian Reforms reintroduced a more stringent application of St. Benedict’s Rule and many post reform accounts of monasticism read these reforms back into Bede’s time.


N.B. : Remember, if you would like to contribute to this series, send me an entry at my email.


August 7, 2008 - Posted by | church history, theology


  1. […] first post was on the Venerable Bede by Tim J. Furry, Ph.D. Student at the University of […]

    Pingback by Neglected Theologians over at Levellers « flying.farther | August 14, 2008

  2. Well, Tim, since no one else has made any comments or asked any questions, I will. You talk about Augustine’s influence on Bede’s view of time & eternity. Do we learn anything new from Bede we wouldn’t get from reading Augustine directly?
    Do Bede’s Augustinian arguments for a timeless eternity strike you as remaining persuasive in light of today’s arguments for eternity as “everlasting” and including a sense of time–arguments from quantum mechanics, process theology, and/or free will theism? If so, why?

    Hopefully, this will get the ball rolling.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 14, 2008

  3. From my interaction with Bede, I don’t see any major new adjustments to Augustine. One could read Augustine directly for the philosophical account, but Bede puts this account of time to more exegetical use. The next part of my research is to compare Augustine and Bede’s commentaries on Genesis. I will be able to say more regarding this exegetical use once I compare them.

    As far as time goes, I do find it persuasive. I think we need to be careful how we understand “timeless” in Augustine and the Western tradition. It’s one thing to say God is “immune” from time and quite another to say that God’s eternity transcends time while also being immanent within it. In other words, “time” did not exist prior to creation according to Augustine, which is why it is timeless–not because eternity is the negation or opposite of time. There are no true opposites or negations in relationship to God in Augustine’s view because to admit this would require a form of dualism or at least giving evil a positive ontological purchase as opposed to being a privation of good.

    Back to the issue of time, now. I think this is persuasive insofar as simultaneity goes. All time is present to God simultaneously, which is analogous to time slowing down as something approaches the speed of light. I suppose an ultra crude illustration would be to picture God traveling at the speed of light and this is akin to how created time might “be” for him. We also have to keep in mind that what we are studying in science is created time and simply God’s eternity. Of course, I’m committed to the belief that eternity and time commingle, if you will. A place where we see this is in the way humans experience time. We do not experience a real break between the present and the past, despite our ability to distinguish between them. My most recent blog entry talks more about some of this.

    Thanks for the questions, Michael. Let me know what you think of this.


    Tim F.

    Comment by Tim F. | August 14, 2008

  4. Oops! In my last paragraph, there should be a negative in the sentence that begins, “We also..” It should read: “We also have to keep in mind that what we are studying in science is created time and NOT simply God’s eternity.”

    Tim F.

    Comment by Tim F. | August 14, 2008

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