Recovering Neglected Theologians # 1: The Venerable Bede
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.
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