Bede c. 673-735
(Also transliterated as Baeda) English historian, scholar, biographer, scientist, poet, and composer.
Acclaimed as the father of English history, Bede provided the single most important source of information about England prior to 731 with his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (731; Ecclesiastical History of the English People). The work is considered the first great history written in western Europe. There was no English nation as we know it when Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History, but through this work, he popularized the idea that the assorted peoples of the land—including those originated from the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—were a united people, the English. Well over twelve hundred years later, the work continues to be an important source book for early English history from the Roman invasion of England through 731. In his own lifetime, Bede was known mostly for his exegetical works on the Old and New Testaments. His stated purpose in life was to teach and spread Christianity, and at this he was overwhelmingly successful. Bede wrote for his fellow monks but also for the layfolk, with his goal to inspire his readers to follow the Christian life. Many of his writings on the Bible became handbooks used by missionaries in foreign lands to convert non-Christians. Bede was regarded as a great scholar by most of his contemporaries, and today he is considered a scholar without parallel of Europe during the Middle Ages. His works became standards of the Church and were used for centuries, even beyond the Middle Ages. Bede was also renowned as an expert on chronology; his use of reckoning times from the Incarnation that popularized the practice and brought forth the Western calendar as we use it today.
Bede was born in Northumbria about 673. Nothing is known of his parents other than that they were Christians of English descent. Possibly an orphan by the age of seven, Bede was placed in the monastery of Saint Peter at Wearmouth, where he became an oblate to Benedict Biscop. Bede soon transferred to the sister monastery of Saint Paul at Jarrow, a few miles away, where he would remain until his death. He never left Northumbria and traveled little; the only trips he is known to have taken were to monasteries in Lindisfarne and York. In 686, when Bede was about thirteen years old, the plague decimated Bede's monastery, killing all except Abbot Ceolfrid and his student, Bede. Ordained a deacon at age nineteen, six years earlier than is typical, Bede became a priest in 703. During this time Bede the monk worked tirelessly on his studies. The library at the monastery contained volumes numbering only in the low hundreds, but perhaps no library in Europe at the time was its superior. Bede said he worked "to compile extracts from the works of the venerable Fathers on holy scripture, and to make commentaries on their meaning and interpretation," and this is how he devoted most of his life. Bede did not speak out against the decadence of his age until his final year, when he criticized bogus monasteries and their pseudo-monks who joined to avoid military service and who did not understand Latin. Bede worked until the last days of his life, when he finished dictating a vernacular translation of the Fourth Gospel, a work that is now lost. On his deathbed he explained, "I do not want my boys to read a lie, or to labour in vain after I am gone." Bede died on May 25, 735.
Although Bede spoke English, all of his works were written in Latin, the dominant language for writing during the Middle Ages. Bede's scientific works came naturally from his study of God's created order. De natura rerum liber (circa 703; On the Nature of Things) examines phenomena on earth, in the heavens, and in the ocean, and is mostly compiled from others' writings. Calculating the date of Easter was considered of great importance, and it was both a controversial and extremely difficult task. Designed to help solve the problems of the ecclesiastical calendar, De temporibus liber includens chronica minora (703; on Times Including a Short Chronology) was a treatise on the chronology of minutes, hours, days, months, years, centuries, and epochs. Bede's fellow monks urged him to write a more detailed book, and De temporum ratione liber includens chronica maiora (725; On the Reckoning of Times, Including a Long Chronicle) was the result. Its effect is still felt today, as it established in England the custom of reckoning years from the era of the Incarnation, rather than from the creation of the world. Bede did not originate this system, but there is no proof of its use in English documents before On the Reckoning of Times. Bede appended to this volume an outline of world histories with important dates since the creation of the world. Latin grammar was vital to those men who devoted much of their lives to reading, interpreting, and copying by hand the Bible and other Christian texts, and Bede wrote textbooks on grammar and poetry for his fellow monks. Until recently it was thought that these were Bede's earliest works, but scholars have found evidence supporting later dates for their creation, or at least their revision. De orthographia (circa 710-731; On Orthography) is an alphabetical arrangement of forms which would likely cause difficultly for students as to spelling or meaning. De arte metrica et de schematibus tropis (circa 710-731; On the Art of Metrics and On Figures and Tropes) introduces various types of Latin poetry, and its appendix is a study of stylistic figures of speech and allegory. Bede concentrated his efforts on the exegesis of biblical texts. Although much of his writing was not original and some was copied verbatim from other sources, Bede exercised impeccable judgment in his selections and arrangements. Since he wanted to be clearly understood, Bede wrote grammatically, shunning stylistic flourishes. Most of his commentaries were verse-by-verse analyses of a particular passage which detailed the literal meaning and then offered a spiritual meaning. Bede's hagiographies were designed to demonstrate through example the example of a good Christian life. Bede's matter-of-fact and frequent recording of miracles has caused great concern for many modern readers who wonder if he can thus be trusted as an historian, but Bede was following a tradition from which inspiration would result from indications of God's graciousness. Bede wrote two lives of the Northumbrian saint Cuthbert, one in prose circa 706-707, and one in poetry circa 721. Five other lives are the subjects of the Historia abbatum (circa 725-731; History of the Abbots), which gives a full picture of the life of monks at the beginning of the eighth century. Bede's greatest achievement, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, relates the developments of the Church but focuses on the history of the English nation. Bede's last surviving work, Epistola ad Ecgbertum Episcopum (November 5, 734; Letter to Egbert), angrily denounces the many false monasteries founded by the nobility to avoid their military duties and bemoans the fact that Bede had found himself having to provide English translations of liturgical texts even for the clergy.
During his lifetime Bede was highly popular and respected; from at least the ninth century on he has usually been referred to as the Venerable Bede. Such was his acclaim that many works were credited to him that were written by others in order to capitalize on Bede's reputation. At the end of the ninth century, Alfred the Great, almost forty years old, learned Latin himself so that he could translate and supervise the translation of books from Latin into English and educate his people. The Ecclesiastical History, one of the books "most necessary for all men to know," was included in King Alfred's project, and thus England was the first nation in Western Europe to have a great history written in the vernacular. Much of the Ecclesiastical History also appeared in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and his commentaries were used widely by the church until the twelfth century. No author of his time was more respected; this can be seen in the large number of his early manuscripts, including more than one hundred and fifty complete copies of the Ecclesiastical History, which survive in spite of massive destruction wrought by Vikings and others. Bede is also highly praised for his accuracy; very few errors in his writings have been found by modern scholars.
De temporibus liber includens chronica minora [On Times Including a Short Chronology] (essay) 703
De natura rerum liber [On the Nature of Things] (essay) circa 703
Explanatio Apocalypsis [On the Apocalypse] (essay) circa 703-709
Liber hymnorum, rhythmi, variae preces [Hymns](songs) circa 703-731
Vita sancti Cuthberti metrica [Life of Saint Cuthbert, In Verse] (biography) circa 706-707
Expositio Actuum Apostolorum [On the Acts of the Apostles] (essay) circa 709
De orthographia [On Orthography] (essay) circa 710-731
De arte metrica et de schematibus tropis [On the Art of Metrics and On Figures and Tropes] (essay) circa 710-731
Homeliarum evangelii libri II [Homilies on the Gospels] (essay) circa 720-731
Vita sancti Cuthberti prosaica [Life of Saint Cuthbert, In Prose] (biography) circa 721
De temporum ratione liber includens chronica maiora [On the Reckoning of Times, Including a Long Chronicle] (essay) 725
Retractatio in Actus Apostolorum [Retraction on Acts] (essay) circa 725-731
Historia abbatum [History of the Abbots] (history) circa 725-731
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SOURCE: G. F. Browne, "The Homilies of Bede," in The Venerable Bede, E. & J. B. Young & Co., 1887, pp. 127-47.
[In the following excerpt, Browne examines the homilies of Bede, finding them devoid of rhetorical devices, helpful on problematic Latin translations of biblical passages, but characterized by "far-fetched figurative interpretation."]
The Homilies of Bede which have been preserved are in one sense disappointing; they throw little or no light upon the state of society in his time. There is no approach to anything at all resembling the personal interest of which the sermons of Chrysostom are so full. There is no rebuking of notorious sinners, no sarcastic scourging of fashionable follies and vices. The reason of this is obvious, even if we overlook the difference between the two men. Chrysostom preached in a great metropolis, full of luxury and dissipation. Bede read theological lectures in a quiet monastery, where he seems to have had no vices to rebuke, or where, if vices there were, he rebuked them tenderly in private. His Homilies reflect the quietness and confidence of the faithful Christian student, addressing a body of his brethren in good works and in a God-fearing life.
Like others of the early preachers, he supports his statements with texts of Scripture more often than is usual in the present time. The Bible was less familiar to...
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SOURCE: Bertram Colgrave, "Bede's Miracle Stories," in Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings, edited by A. Hamilton Thompson, 1935. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1966, pp. 201-29.
[In the following excerpt, Colgrave summarizes many of Bede's miracle stories, contending that Bede did not write of miracles as a strict historian, but to satisfy the demand of popular taste, to venerate saints, to inspire, and to tell a vivid story.]
It probably comes as a shock to the reader unacquainted with medieval literature who approaches Bede's Ecclesiastical History for the first time, to find that a miracle occurs on almost every page. What reliance can be placed on the historian who tells us in his very first chapter that 'scrapings of leaves of books that had been brought out of Ireland being put into water have cured persons bitten by serpents',1 who goes on to deal with the life of Alban and to describe how the river dries up to allow the holy man the more rapidly to receive his martyr's crown, while the executioner's eyes drop out at the same moment as the martyr's head drops off.2 We read of saints who heal the blind and raise the dead, who quell storms and quench fires, who visit the lower regions and return to tell their story, who see visions of angels prophesying their death and whose bodies after their death remain uncorrupt while heavenly lights tell the...
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SOURCE: R. W. Chambers, "Bede," in Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XXII, 1936, pp. 129-56.
[In the following lecture, Chambers presents Bede in historical context and asserts that, in the Ecclesiastical History, Bede captures two traditions: loyalty to Christ and loyalty to the chief.]
Ours is an age in which those who delight in such things delight to take a 'master mind' and to throw him down from his pedestal. My friend and predecessor in this series, Tenney Frank, speaking of Cicero as a master mind, had to vindicate against cavillers his hero's claim to that title. Indeed, said Professor Frank, 'the first poet of Greece is perhaps the only human being who has attained an undisputed place of honour'. Yet even here he was too optimistic. I was brought up on Mahaffy's History of Greek Literature, and Mahaffy and Sayce between them taught me that Homer was not a human being, but a collection of inter-polations, 'fitted together', which is what the name Homêros means, so that 'with a closer insight into the structure of the epic poems' we must depose him from his pedestal and give the first place to Aeschylus.1 All my lifetime Homer has been slowly climbing back on to his pedestal again. But he has not yet been selected for the 'master mind' lecture. He lacks one important qualification for public recognition as a master mind: a fixed date of death, which...
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SOURCE: F. M. Stenton, "Learning and Literature in Early England," in Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1943, pp. 177-200.
[In the following excerpt, Stenton asserts that Bede's greatest talent was his ability to coordinate fragments of information from assorted sources.]
Among the men who brought Northumbrian learning out of isolation, Benedict Biscop, the founder of Wearmouth and Jarrow, deserves to be regarded as the leader. In the history of his time he is overshadowed by his younger contemporary Wilfrid. But Wilfrid's contribution to the enlightenment of the north was made in the spheres of ecclesiastical observance and regulation; he was too impatient to create a great monastic school, and his churches of Hexham and Ripon were not remarkable for their learning. Benedict devoted the knowledge and experience of half a lifetime to the establishment of two monasteries. By 674, when Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, gave him land for the foundation of his house at Wearmouth, he had made three separate journeys from England to Rome, lived for two years in retirement on the island of Lerins, guided the newly consecrated Archbishop Theodore from Rome to England, and spent two more years as abbot of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside Canterbury. His importance in the history of English learning is due to the libraries which his knowledge of southern cities enabled him to bring...
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SOURCE: Charles W. Jones, "Bede as Early Medieval Historian," in Bede, the Schools and the Computus, edited by Wesley M. Stevens, Variorum, 1994, pp. 2636.
[In the following excerpt originally published in 1946, Jones provides background and argues that Bede's historiography, which links chronography with hagiography, was typical of historians of his time.]
Although many believe, considering his archetypal position in English thought and letters, that Bede's contributions to medieval and modern thought have been unduly neglected, his historiography has been scrutinized by two outstanding scholars, Charles Plummer1 and Wilhelm Levison.2 I shall not attempt to reproduce the picture they have painted. Rather, I want to generalize their detail by marking structural lines, showing how Bede, exceptional though he was, typifies the historiography of his age. In doing so, I shall pay particular attention to three literary forms of the period, calendar, saint's life, and chronicle—indicating their unity in trinity. Time forbids my citing proof and cogent detail, which must be left for another occasion.3 We have only begun to study the medieval calendar, which is the motive force of chronicle and martyrology and through them of medieval history. If I speak of the calendar, then, it is of the essence.
A characteristic of the early Middle Ages is...
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SOURCE: Eleanor Shipley Duckett, "Bede of Jarrow," in Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars, The Macmillan Company, 1947, pp. 217-338.
[In the following excerpt, Duckett examines several textbooks written by Bede on grammar, writing, and chronology, and asserts they were composed before he was a mature writer.]
The bishop who ordained Bede deacon was that John of Beverley who was just then causing Wilfrid anguish of spirit in holding the see of Hexham; the same John advanced him to the priesthood in his thirtieth year.1
Shortly after he entered the diaconate we may imagine him as not only teaching in Jarrow but also as writing manuals that would aid his instruction. His first efforts would naturally be concerned with text-books, and of these we have three from this earlier time. One of them describes itself as On Orthography;2 but its matter scarcely deserves the name. It is simply a list of words arranged alphabetically, with notes on grammar applied to each: details such as derivations from the Greek, correct spellings, conjugations and usages with verbs, whether of case or of preposition, declensions and genders of nouns. In fact, it resembles notes which a modern teacher might use in quizzing his Latin class. The whole is very informally put together and seems to be a number of jottings used by Bede in drilling his students at Jarrow, written down more or...
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SOURCE: R. W. Southern, "Bede, the Monk of Jarrow," in The Listener, Vol. 71, No. 1820, February 13, 1964, pp. 267-69.
[In the following excerpt, Southern examines the significance and impact of Jarrow, the site of Bede's monastery, on Bede 's works.]
One of the first things to recognize about the Middle Ages is that, far from being a period of substantial uniformity in which men thought and fought, prayed and expressed their beliefs in much the same way from beginning to end, the diversity of experience is immense.
All cats are grey in the dark and it was the darkness of the Middle Ages, now largely dispelled, which encouraged the belief that all men were more or less alike. The diversity of experience in the 1,000 years known rather absurdly as the Middle Ages is immense, and some of the revolutions in thought and feeling which took place at different moments in this long period of change are as important as any that have happened in our history. The men I am going to discuss in these talks illustrate some of the most decisive moments of change in the development of our civilization, and none more so than the Northumbrian monk, Bede, who was born about 672 and died in 735. As a personality he is perhaps the least stimulating of our three subjects, but the importance of his work is in inverse ratio to the noise he made in doing it.
Few men can have spent more years or...
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SOURCE: J. Campbell, "Bede," in Latin Historians, edited by T. A. Dorey, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1966, pp. 159-90.
[In the following excerpt, Campbell emphasizes that Bede's main intention was to promote Christianity through his writings. He also considers Bede's sources and his occasional discrepancies on dates.]
Bede was not only, or even primarily, a historian. He finished the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum only three or four years before his death in 735. He may have known that it would be the last of his major works, for he ended it with an almost elegiac sketch of his own life and a list of his writings. These were numerous. Bede devoted a fairly long life—he was born in 672 or 673—and formidable powers to become probably the most learned and certainly the productive of the European scholars of his day. His works include treatises on grammar, metric and chronology, lives of saints, homilies and, above all, commentaries on the Bible. Much that he wrote was unoriginal, in so far as it consisted of the views—often the words—of his predecessors pieced together with some rearrangement, clarification and amendment. He set out to master and pass on a large part of the learning of the Christian Church; and succeeded in this. Many of his works became standard and remained so through the Middle Ages and sometimes beyond. His historical works comprise, if...
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SOURCE: Leo Sherley-Price, in an introduction to Bede: A History of the English Church and People, translated by Leo Sherley-Price, revised edition, Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 15-32.
[In the following excerpt, Sherley-Price explores the background of Bede's historical writings and describes his chief merits as a historian.]
The centuries on which Bede concentrates are a crucial and formative period in our island history, during which the future shape and pattern of the English Church and nation were beginning to emerge. Once the shield of Roman protection was withdrawn, the Celtic peoples of Britain were steadily forced to yield ground before the ever increasing pressure of the incoming Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, and were driven westward into the remote and inaccessible regions along the storm-swept Atlantic coast. Even here they enjoyed little security, and were harried by raiding parties of Irish pirates, as Saint Patrick, himself a victim, describes in his Confessions. Here in Devon and Cornwall, Wales, Cumberland, and south-west Scotland the Romano-Britons clung desperately to the shreds of their native independence and customs. Many were sustained by the Christian faith, brought to this island centuries before Augustine (A.D. 597) in the more peaceful days when Britain enjoyed the protection and administration of Rome as an integral Provincia of the Empire. Rallied by such contrasting...
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SOURCE: James Campbell, in an introduction to Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People and Other Selections, edited by James Campbell, Washington Square Press, Inc., 1968, pp. vii-xxxiv.
[In the following excerpt, Campbell provides an overview of Bede's work and concludes that, at least in part, Bede transmuted the past into his own creation which reflected mainly his own values.]
Bede was born about 673 and died in 735. He entered the monastery of Monkwearmouth (Wearmouth), in Northumbria, at the age of seven, and the remainder of his life was spent there and in the sister monastery of Jarrow.1 Today he is famous chiefly as the historian of the conversion of England. But he also wrote on almost every other branch of Christian learning; in his own day, and for long afterwards, his commentaries on the Bible and his treatises on chronology and other subjects were as much valued as his history.
It is remarkable that the most notable scholar the Western Church produced at that time should have lived in Northumbria, nearly at the extremity of the known world, and that he should have sprung from a people who had very recently been pagan and illiterate. In Bede's day, although most of the churches of Europe were very old, the English church was very new. In Gaul, Italy, and Spain Christianity survived the fall of the Roman Empire and won over the barbarian conquerors....
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SOURCE: Peter Hunter Blair, "The Historical Writings of Bede," in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, edited by M. Lapidge and P. Hunter Blair, Variorum Reprints, 1984, pp. 197-221.
[In the following lecture originally presented in 1969, Blair defends Bede's historical writings against some modern-day critics who impugn the accuracy of his chronologies, accuse him of prejudice against the Celtic and Welsh churches, and suggest that he was fooled by forgeries and suppressed evidence.]
Bede was born c. 671, about 260 years after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain, and about 225 years after what came to be regarded as the year in which the English first came to Britain. He died on 25 May 735, aged about 64. At the end of the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum he records that he had spent the whole of his life from the age of seven within the walls of the monastery at Wearmouth and Jarrow. Although the two places were physically separated from one another by a few miles, he regarded them as comprising only one single monastery dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. He writes that "amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily charge of singing in the church, my delight has always been in learning, teaching or writing"1. We do not know the exact date of his earliest piece of writing, but it was about or soon after the year 700, and between that date and his death he wrote in...
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SOURCE: Bertram Colgrave, "Historical Introduction," in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, edited by Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, 1969. Reprint by Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1992, pp. xvii-xxxviii.
[In the following excerpt written in 1969, Colgrave discusses the historical sources for Bede's Ecclesiastical History.]
As Professor Levison has pointed out,1 when Bede was writing his History, saints' Lives were being written everywhere, but other forms of historical writing were in decay. Bede was familiar with two histories, both of which may have served him as models, namely Rufinus' translation and adaptation of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius and Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks. But though Bede may have gained hints from both of these and possibly other works, he had one great aim. It was to tell the story of the development of God's plan for the conversion of the English people and the building up of one united Church in the land. He began by painting a background, geographical and historical, picturing the British inhabitants as feeble in time of war and, though Christian in name, vicious in time of peace, easily falling into heresies; but, worst of all, refusing to co-operate in the conversion of the 'heathen Saxons'. Then he plunges straight into the story of the mission of St. Augustine and its arrival in England....
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SOURCE: Gerald Bonner, "Bede and Medieval Civilization," in Anglo-Saxon England, Vol. 2, 1973, pp. 71-90. [In the following essay, Bonner discusses the limitations of Bede's library and the subsequent ramifications for his writings.]
The mortal remains of the Venerable Bede rest today in the cathedral church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin, Durham. They were brought there in the early eleventh century by one Ælfred Westou, priest and sacrist of Durham and an enthusiastic amateur of that characteristically medieval form of devotion expressed in the acquisition, by fair means or foul, of the relics of the saints to the greater glory of God. The removal of Bede's remains to Durham, involving as it did considerable preliminary planning and solitary nocturnal vigil before the final successful snatch, was one of his more brilliant coups, upon which he seems especially to have preened himself. The bones were first kept in the coffin of St Cuthbert, being subsequently removed to a reliquary near the saint's tomb. In 1370 they were placed in the Galilee Chapel, where they now lie under a plain table-tomb of blue marble, made in 1542 after the medieval shrine had been defaced. Bede himself would certainly have preferred that his body should have been left in its grave among his brethren at Jarrow, there to await the coming of Christ which he so ardently desired to see; but if a removal had to be made, we need not doubt that...
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SOURCE: Joel T. Rosenthal, "Bede's Use of Miracles in Ecclesiastical History," in Traditio, Vol. XXXI, 1975, pp. 328-35.
[In the following essay, Rosenthal examines Bede's descriptions of miracles … in the Ecclesiastical History, contending that Bede used them carefully and for specific purposes, often to honor particular individuals.]
Bede believed in miracles. They were basic to him, both as a practicing Christian and as a working historian. Without accepting this we can understand him neither as a man of the seventh and eighth centuries nor as the author who carefully constructed the Ecclesiastical History.
One of Bede's warmest admirers, the late Bertram Colgrave, was rather embarrassed by what seemed to be the naïveté of his hero. To rescue Bede from the charge of being either overly credulous or simply simple-minded, Colgrave did a useful study of the use of miracle stories in Bede's works, particularly in the Ecclesiastical History.1 And yet, despite himself, he always remained a little uneasy. His comments to the British Academy reflect a continuing ambivalence, and his last words on the subject were still apologetic in tone.2
Colgrave need not have worried about this rationalist dilemma. It no longer seems a serious problem. Largely through the recent labors of such scholars as Colgrave himself,...
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SOURCE: Benedicta Ward, "Miracles and History: A Reconsideration of the Miracle Stories Used by Bede," in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, edited by Gerald Bonner, SPCK, 1976, pp. 70-6.
[In the following essay, Ward addresses Bede's miracle stories and argues that, for Bede, the emphasis was on the significance of the miracle, not the miracle itself]
There is still a question mark against that part of the material in Bede's writings that concerns miracles. This has caused them to be either ignored by historians or treated to a cautious defusing so that they become safe to handle; at best they are considered as primitive survivals of white magic1 or as a different kind of truth.2 In Mr Colgrave's introduction to his edition of the Ecclesiastical History3 he expresses the doubts felt about miracles in the query, 'How is it that one who is supposed to be our greatest medieval historian can spend so much time telling wonder-tales?'4
It seems to me that the answer to this question is not to be found only in seeing miracle stories in the light of anthropology and folklore, or even in terms of theological definition, but by looking also at the miracles recorded by Bede in relation to miracle material used by other medieval writers, particularly historians. Miracle...
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SOURCE: J. N. Stephens, "Bede's Ecclesiastical History," in History: The Journal of the Historical Association, n. s. Vol. 62, No. 204, February, 1977, pp. 1-14.
[In the following essay, Stephens explains that Bede differed from other historians in that the proper focus of the Ecclesiastical History is the English people, for it was Bede's intent to provide them with a new and fuller history.]
Bede called his History 'The Ecclesiastical History of the English people' (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.) It is usually said to be a history of the church. According to Levison, Bede takes 'the history of the English Church as a united whole'1; according to Stenton, it is 'devoted to the growth of the English Church'2; according to Campbell, 'his aim seems to have been to do for the history of the Church in England what Eusebius had done for the whole and he follows him in choice of subject-matter and in technique'3. Other writers say the same: for Mayr-Harting, 'first of all Bede wanted to write about the way in which the order and unity of the English Church had been achieved', while another aim was to give moral examples4. According to Colgrave, Bede's History deals 'with the history of the Christian Church'5. The emphasis of Hunter Blair and Wallace-Hadrill is slightly different. For the former, it 'is at bottom a history of...
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SOURCE: George Hardin Brown, "Homilies, Hagiography, Poems, Letters," in Bede the Venerable, Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 62-80.
[In the following excerpt, Brown examines stylistic differences among the four different genres in which Bede composed: homilies, hagiography, poems, and letters.]
These popular medieval genres, once dismissed as dull or derivative, have peculiar qualities that have elicited a good deal of interest and study in recent years. But, despite Bede's important contributions and fame in each of these categories, his own creations have received little theological, historical, or literary attention. Bede's writing was often praised in his age and is esteemed in ours for its clarity, cleanness, straightforwardness, and force.1 Yet there has not yet been any comprehensive investigation into the sources of his style or any extensive study of the style itself.2 Similarly, the other literary qualities the work possess have with few exceptions only been alluded to. At present relatively few students learn and become competent in Latin and particularly in postclassical Latin, so the laborers in this fruitful vineyard are scarce. Still, now that we have better editions of Bede, we may hope the literary neglect of his work, so immensely popular and influential in the early Middle Ages, will be remedied by dedicated and intelligent scholars.
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Price, Mary R. "Bede." In Bede and Dunstan, pp. 7-32. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Short, heavily illustrated biography of Bede.
Blair, Peter Hunter. An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970, 381 p.
Provides general introduction to seven centuries of English history, from the latter part of the Roman occupation to the Norman Age.
——.The World of Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, 342 p.
Historical examination of Britain's transformation from illiterate paganism to the kind of primitive Christian world which enabled Bede "to … delight in learning, teaching, and writing."
Cowdrey, H. E. J. "Bede and the Ènglish People.'" The Journal of Religious History 11, No. 4 (December 1981): 501-23.
Investigation of the contribution the Ecclesiastical History made to the formation of the English as a self-consciously unified people.
Davidse, Jan. "The Sense of History in the Works of the Venerable Beda."Stvdi Medievali XXIII (1982): 647-95.
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