St Bede the Venerable

Bede is the only English Doctor of the Church and a fine example of monastic learning and holiness. We tend to think of him as the historian of the English Church but that is probably not how he saw himself. His scripture commentaries may well have seemed to him more important (he wrote the only patristic commentary on Mark, for example) but his great book, the one into which he poured a lifetime of thought and reflection, is probably De Templo, about which I have written in earlier posts. My point is the disjunction between what a person is to himself and what he is to others. Bede the monk is largely forgotten today, or only alluded to by way of historical colour, but in his own time, and in his own place, Bede the monk was all there was to consider. It was as a monk that he lived and died.

As a nun, I have no difficulty identifying with much of Bede’s life, the daily round of prayer and observance that lurks behind the sentences and slips in and out of the text like the interlace on a manuscript. It is for the way in which he lived that life that he is considered a saint: not because he was a great historian or wrote magnificent prose. Bede inspired affection, was a little worldly (remember that pepper!), delighted in learning and teaching, loved the life to which he was dedicated from boyhood. That is not a bad record for any monk. It is certainly one to which I would aspire myself (worldliness apart).

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