Friday, 27 May 2011

Bede's World...

Today, readers in Christ, is the feast of St Bede the Venerable (A.D 672-735), the most worthy saint of this country and the only English (his name is not of Saxon derivation) ''Doctor of the Church.'' His personal piety, wisdom, exegesis of the Scriptures and contribution to the history of this country were so great that there has seldom been anyone who could match him; I have found his commentaries on the Scriptures to be exceeding eloquent in good Latinity and more coherent even than St Augustine's. He is one of the Patron saints of this blog, and I daresay a personal intercessor (having saved me from several close encounters of an unspeakable kind). Unfortunately this is the third consecuative year that I haven't been to Durham Cathedral to venerate his tomb (wouldn't life be dull without such godly pieties as the veneration of the saints?), circumstances and want of money mostly, but St Bede himself was hardly well-travelled, having spent his whole life in Jarrow. St Bede himself says (my own translation):

I was born on the lands about this monastery, and when I was just seven years old I was placed by my family into the care of the most reverend Abbot Benedict [Biscop], and later that of Abbot Ceolfrith, for my education. Since then I have passed all my life in this monastery, meditating upon the Scriptures, and among the disciplines of following the Rule, and the care of daily singing in church, it has always been my delight to teach, or to learn or to write. (Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter XXIV).

St Bede died in splendour, piety, and in the fear of the Lord, surrounded by the monks whom he loved. St Cuthbert recorded afterwards:

Tempus est, si sic Factori meo videtur, ut ad eum modo resolatus e carne veniam, qui me quando non eram ex nihilo formavit. Multum tempus vixi, beneque mihi pius Iudex vitam meam praevidit. Tempus vero absolutionis meae prope est, etenim anima mea desiderat Regem meum Christum in decore suo videre. (It is time, if it seems so to my Maker, that released from the flesh I should come to Him, who when I was not formed me out of nothing. I have lived much, and the pious Judge has provided well for me all my life. In truth the time of my absolution is near, and indeed my soul longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty. St Cuthbert's Epistle on the Death of St Bede).

Isn't it lovely? Reminds me of the first antiphon at First Vespers of the Nativity (which St Bede will undoubtedly have known by heart; holymen of this age had a remarkable ability to remember whole psalms etc); Rex pacificus magnificatus est, cuius vultum desiderat universa terra. It is the sort of literature, reminiscent almost of Tolkien, which moves me deeply - a very apposite word here. Ecclesiastical literature of this sort, the sacred texts of the Liturgy sung to the traditional plainsong melodies, even the latter writings of godly men like Tolkien, have a power over the hearts of those sensitive to Truth and who hunger for righteousness. It is the Grace of God which dictates and pervades over them, which is why they move us. Taste and temperament do not enter into it. It is as though the hand of God reaches into one's soul, that one's entire mind and purpose is uplifted to the heights. Personally, if I am moved even to tears by Liturgy or such literature, I am not sure if they are tears of gladness at all, or something deeper. The soul is fathomless and immortal after all, and perhaps we can become dimly aware, even in this life, of depths of the soul which surpass human emotion. Perhaps human emotion is lost in the pure Grace of God when it so moves us......well this has become garbled so I shall stop. Beauty for beauty's sake is a good thing. Ugliness, iconoclasm and Bible-in-basic-English are the Protestant vices of your average modern RC.

As an interesting note, St Cuthbert's Epistle is interesting from a liturgical perspective. He says: '' nine o'clock we went in procession with the relics, as the custom of that day required.'' Surely this indicates that the community at Jarrow were following the Gallican custom of Rogation processions on the feriae preceeding Ascension Day? If so it is an interesting window into the liturgical life of the pre-Conquest Anglican Church, since the Rogations were not then observed in Rome.

St Bede, pray for us. The painting, which I have put up before, depicts the Death of St Bede. Notice that the monks are wearing the traditional surplice over their cowls.


  1. Thanks, Patrick, for this post. I can remember
    reading St. Bede in college when I am sure I should have been prepping for 20th century
    English novelists. I think I was quite right.

  2. Did monks ever wear surplice over the cowl? In modern practice, it is either/or, which is consistent with their traditional use to cover sheepskins or other insulation in an unheated church in cold weather.
    Sincerely glad to see you posting better.

  3. Patricius,
    are we to understand from this posting, that you have formally sworn off ''obedience to the Roman Pontiff''? In other words, do you no longer consider yourself a Catholic of the Roman Rite, under Roman jurisdiction? Have you become Anglican? I am onlhy asking out of curiosity, not to condemn.