Tuesday, May 25, 2010

St. Bede the Venerable

Today is the feast of St. Bede the Venerable, one of my favorite saints of the Church. Bede, a Doctor of the Church, was born in 672 in Northumberland and lived his whole life in this region in the vicinity of the monastery of Jarrow, where he was to spend all but seven years of his life. Bede was dedicated to God at the tender age of seven as an oblate at a time when the custom of dedicating children to the monastic life was widely practiced. Bede describes his own upbringing in the last chapter of his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People":

A the age of seven I was, by the care of my relations, given to the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterward to Ceolfrid, to be educated. From that time I have spent the whole of my life within that monastery, devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily charge of singing in the Church, it has been ever my delight to learn or teach or write.

Thus did St. Bede labor for the remainder of his life in the scholarly work of a monk, toiling away in the scriptorium at Jarrow, copying and explicating the Sacred Scriptures. Though remembered primarily by medievalists as a historian for his history on the English Church, Bede considered himself first a Scripture scholar and a scribe whose job it was to make known the wisdom of the Scriptures. He says:

From the time of my admission to the priesthood to my present fifty-ninth year, I have endeavored for my own use and that of my brethren, to make brief notes upon the holy Scripture, either out of the works of the venerable Fathers or in conformity with their meaning and interpretation.

St. Bede toiled endlessly in the tedious but monumental work of a monastic scribe, according to tradition, working even until the very hour of his death on the vigil of the Ascension in 735. The day he died the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth", Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath, according to the account of Cuthbert, his beloved disciple.

St. Bede is a wonderful example for the modern Church, for just as he labored to bring the light of Christ to the people in the midst of the Dark Ages, so is our world, which is plunged into an age darker than anything Bede could have known, in need of the light of Christ.

One of his most beautiful prayers:

And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face. Amen.

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