Lives of Saints - The Venerable Bede Christianity - Books
“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.                “You shall have no other gods before me.                “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.                “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.                “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.                “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.                “You shall not murder.                “You shall not commit adultery.                “You shall not steal.                “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.                “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
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The Venerable Bede

St. Bede the Venrable did for British Christianity what Eusebius did for Constantinople and what St. Nestor did for Kievan Rus, namely, he recorded the history of Chistianity in his own region up to his own time. Indeed, his History of the English Church and People has run into numerous editions and is a best-selling religious paperback throughout the English-speaking world.

St. Bede was born probably in 673, in the ancient kindgom of Northumbria. The exact site of his birth is unknown, but it was in the region of the modern city of Yarrow in northern England. At the age of seven he was sent to school at the newly-founded monastery of Wearmouth, the ruins of which may still be visited, only the church surviving intact. He was, however, soon moved to the monastery’s twin house at Jarrow where he remained until his death. It was perhaps this early training that caused him to be ordained to the diaconate when only 19. Eleven years later he was made a priest. That he retained a love for the services may be seen from a letter which he wrote: "I know that the angels are present at the canonical Hours, and what if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, "Where is Bede? Why does he not attend the appointed devotions with his brethren?"

Our saint was a pupil of St. Benedict Biscop (commemorated Jan. 12), who had founded both monasteries and who had previously been a monk at Lerins, the most ancient monastery in Europe. From Lerins, monasticism spread throughout the European continent. It was the large library of books which St. Benedict Biscop brought with him from Lerins, as well as from other libraries in Europe, which enabled St. Bede to write many of his scholarly works.

On the eve of his death, St. Bede said that "from the time of my receiving the priesthood until my fifty-ninth year, I have worked, both for my own profit and that of my brethren, to compile extracts from the words of the venerable fathers on Holy Scripture, and to make commentaries on their meaning and interpretation." St. Bede is known for his biblical commentaries, but he is even better known for his work as a Church historian. He certainly must have known personally several of the Anglo-Saxon saints. His histories were written for edification, however, rather than as scholarly exercises, and topics outside this scope tend to be omitted by him.

No historian is completely objective, and St. Bede is no exception. It should be borne in mind when reading his books that he was a patriotic Northumbrian and his work was intended for royal use. Secondly, he is better informed about events in his own part of Britain than elsewhere. Thus, Wales features hardly at all in his work, for it was not then linked with England, and its population was ethnically different.

Christians seeking the history of Britain’s many Orthodox saints, including St. Cuthbert and the Proto-martyr St. Alban, are often totally dependent upon St. Bede’s accounts. The Saint has been criticized for his account of the Synod of Whitby (664), at which virtually all the English — except for the ancient monastery of Iona — accepted the Roman dating method for Pascha. Modern scholarship suggests that this rather emotional topic was not the reason this local council was summoned, although the question of the Paschal calendar was put on its agenda. There were men of undoubted sanctity on both sides of the dispute. The king’s own bishop, St. Colman of Lindesfarne (commemorated Feb. 18) resigned his see rather than accept the Synod’s decision. But he was allowed to nominate St. Eata (Oct. 26), a man who accepted the decision, as his successor.

Through his writings, St. Bede brings to life for us today the monastic and secular life of seventh and eighth-century Britain. Most importantly, he has preserved for us the lives of many early saints of England — and that is a very precious legacy.

St. Bede and all you holy Saints of Northumbria, pray to God for us!


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