Thursday, 27 May 2010

Epistola de obitu Bedae...

O Rex gloriose, Domine virtutum, qui triumphator hodie super omnes caelos ascendisti, ne derelinquas nos orphanos, sed mitte promissum Patris in nos Spiritum veritatis. Alleluia! (O King of glory, Lord of might, O victor who did ascend this day above all the heavens, leave us orphans not but send the promise of the Father to us, the Spirit of truth. Alleluia!)

In his last days, St Bede was wont to sing many antiphons and the Psalter, and one of them was this very apposite antiphon, which is the antiphon of the Magnificat for Ascension Day, later added to the Book of Common Prayer as the Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day. Because of the greatness of the present Octave, one of only three left in the ''liturgical'' books of 1962 (and subsequently abolished under Paul VI - is Christmas more important than Pentecost? The Octave of Pentecost was much older...), St Bede is not celebrated this year but merely commemorated in the Liturgy of the Octave. Since, however, he remains one of my favourite saints, I cannot say nothing of him.

I first read The Ecclesiastical History of the English People when I was 15, and thought that it was awfully tedious in parts (in fact I thought ''well I don't ever have to think about that again'' - having read it, like so much else, for the sake of having read it), but it wasn't until I read this work in the Latin language that I fully appreciated St Bede's demonstrable piety and reverence for religious history. I could pick any story in this great work - there are so many of such great worth - but I have decided on the above antiphon, and my translation of Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede. It is quite long but worth the read. Enjoy:

Cuthbert the Deacon to the most beloved and fellow reader in Christ Cuthwin greeting in the everlasting God,

The little present which you have sent I received very gratefully and I read your letter of devout learning very eagerly in which, what I greatly desired to find, undoubtedly that Masses and holy prayers are being diligently celebrated by you before God for our beloved father and master Bede. Whence it pleases me rather for love of him than by recourse to my own understanding to say in a few words in what manner he left the world, since I have understood that this is what you desire and request.

He was burdened with a certain sickness, and frequently with great difficulty breathing, but at last almost without another sorrow, but before the Day of the Lord's Resurrection, that is for about two weeks; and in this way afterwards he led life, glad and rejoicing and giving thanks to almighty God all the day and night, no indeed at all hours even unto the Day of the Lord's Ascension, that is the seventh of the Kalends of June [26th May A.D 735], and daily he gave lessons to us his disciples, and whatever remained of the day he spent in the chanting of the Psalms as best he could. In truth he was eager to lead the whole night gladly in prayers and rendering thanks unto God, unless impeded by so little a sleep; and in the same way, however, immediately rising from sleep to the familiar melodies of the Scriptures, he thought deeply, and he was not unmindful to give thanks, extending his hands unto God. Truly I confess that never have mine eyes seen, nor have mine ears heard, a man so diligent to render thanks unto the living God. O truly how blessed is the man! But he used to sing the sentence of Saint Paul the Apostle, saying: ''It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'' [Heb. 10:31], and many other things of the holy Scriptures, in which he admonished us to arise from sleep of the soul by forethought of the last hour. In our tongue also, as he was learned in our songs, speaking of the terrible departure of the souls from the body:

Facing that enforced journey, no man can be
more prudent than he has good call to be,
if he consider, before his going hence,
what for his spirit of good hap or of evil
after his day of death shall be determined.

He used to sing antiphons too, to our consolation and of his, of which one is: O King of glory, Lord of might, O victor who did ascend this day above all the heavens, leave us orphans not, but send the promise of the Father to us, the Spirit of truth. Alleluia! But when he came to those words ''ne derelinquas nos orphanos'', he burst into tears and wept much. And after an hour he began to repeat what he had begun, and in this way he did everyday. And we, hearing these things, mourned and wept with him; we read in turns, in turns we wept, no indeed we wept as we read.

[I am conscious that this is getting too long, so the next installment tomorrow]...


  1. Dear Patricius, thank you for this excellent Post. I have just returned from a short holiday in Durham and had the great pleasure of visiting Durham Cathedral. Possibly the greatest example of Romanesque building in the World, it does, of course, contain the final resting places of St. Bede and St. Cuthbert. You must visit, one day. [Durham Cathedral photo sent to you by E-Mail).

  2. Many thanks, Zephyrinus, for your kind comment and your email. Nay the finest Romanesque church is in Poitiers - L'Église Notre-Dame-la-Grande, although any art historian who reads this blog may say otherwise! It is on the traditional route of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, so when I make this pilgrimage in the distant future I hope to stop there.

    Just over a year ago I had the opportunity to visit ''St Bede's World'' up north with my Latin class but I had to work and so didn't go in the end - more's the pity, but such is life.

  3. Dear Patricius. L'Eglise Notre-Dame-la-Grande, Poitiers, is, indeed, a magnificent example of Romanesque. When you make your pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, why not go via Durham and kill two birds with one stone ? I am sure your readers would welcome your erudite Posts on these two wonderful churches.