A Monastic Hymn for St Bede the Venerable


Christ was his King. No other lord
Did Bede aspire to serve.
No other love could claim the heart
He gave without reserve.

From boyhood onward his delight
Was in the scriptures found,
Or singing praise to him who hung
Upon the Rood, thorn-crowned.

Like Easter night, Bede’s quiet cell
Saw Christ arising there;
And when Ascension dawned at last
The Son shone bright and fair.

To Christ the King of glory sing,
And God the Father praise,
Whose Spirit dwells in peaceful hearts
And guides them in his ways.

If you enter Bede’s name in the search box in the sidebar, a number of posts about him will be indicated.

The St Petersburg Bede (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), formerly known as the Leningrad Bede, is an early surviving illuminated manuscript of Bede’s eighth century history, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’). It was taken to the Russian National Library of St Petersburg at the time of the French Revolution. Although not heavily illuminated, it is famous for containing the earliest historiated initial (i.e one containing a picture) in European illumination. The opening three letters of Book 2 of Bede’s history are decorated, to a height of 8 lines of the text, and the opening ‘h’ contains a bust portrait of a haloed figure carrying a cross and a book. This is probably intended to be St.Gregory the Great, although a much later hand has identified the figure as St. Augustine of Canterbury. Dated c. 731 – 746.


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).


All Saints

The communion of saints is something I never tire of meditating on. The thought that you and I are saints by virtue of our membership of the Church is always uplifting. Weak, fallible, crotchety creatures that we are, there is something about us that is infinitely more important than the sum of our failures. Add to that our fellowship with the saints in heaven, and you can see why the Church regards the Solemnity of All Saints as one of the most important feasts of the year. With the celebration of All Souls tomorrow, this great feast of the Church will be complete: the Church in heaven, the Church on earth and the Church in purgatory, awaiting the resurrection.

I suspect that for most people this rather lofty and liturgical conception of All Saints is much less interesting that the ‘tents and temple’ situation at St Paul’s. I don’t pretend to understand what is going on, but it is deeply troubling that, as many have mentioned, a dispute about capitalism should have become a dispute about the Church. It is in the nature of tent dwellers that they should move on; the temple stands as a reminder of the eternal. St Bede’s most important book, De Templo, was a sustained meditation on Solomon’s temple as an image of the Church with lots of number theory thrown in. Perhaps it would make good reading today for the tent dwellers around St Paul’s because it asserts the unity of the Church, both those who dwell within and those stuck outside in the courts, and the salvation possible to us all in Christ.