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The Venerable Bede
By Lowell Wilson
Literature and the Internet
February 8th, 1999
Bede was a monk and historian who lived from 673 until 735 A.D. He resided at the monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Northumberland, England, from the age of seven until the end of his life. Bede spent his life studying and making commentary on the Holy Scriptures. The History of the English Church and People is his best known work, written in Latin. This book, completed in 731, is a chronology of English history from the time of the Romans until Bede's day. In it, Bede tells the story of Caedmon and the creation of Caedmon's Hymn, the oldest known English poem. Bede thus stands today as not only the earliest reliable chronicler of English history, but as the first biographer of an English poet.
In his day, Bede was a scholar in many fields. Besides his History, he also translated the Gospel of John into Old English and supplied commentaries on the Pentateuch and many other sacred writings. He wrote treatises on science and chronology, and also wrote other general histories of the world from before the time of Christ and the Romans.
The History of the English Church and People is recognized by modern scholars as the cornerstone of early English history. His writing is known for its breadth and integrity: "In point of scholarship, he was undoubtedly the most learned man of his time. A very remarkable trait is his sense of literary property, an extraordinary thing in that age. He himself scrupulously noted in his writings the passages he had borrowed from others and he even begs the copyists of his work to preserve the references, a recommendation to which they, alas, have paid but little attention."
Caedmon's biography in The History of the English Church and People is "the only biographical information, outside of what is said in the poems themselves, about any Old English poet." The story of Caedmon is that of a secular man who joins a monastery after he was touched by the grace of God with an ability to compose perfect verse about the Scriptures.
In the last chapter of The History of the English Church and People, Bede gives a bit of his own biography. His humbleness and piety are evident when he declares that he has "endeavored for my own use and that of my brethren, to make brief notes upon the Holy Scriptures." Indeed, his "brief notes" have become known as the starting place for all English history.
Thurston, Herbert. "The Venerable Bede." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Translated by Paul Knutsen. Encyclopedia Press, Inc. 1913, Electronic version copyright 1996 by New Advent, Inc., Available http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/o2384a.htm Accessed February 5, 1999.
"Bede (ca. 673-735) and Caedmonís Hymn." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sixth Edition. Vol. 1. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton 1993 16-19
Kiefer, James E., "Bede the Venerable, Priest, Monk, Scholar" Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past. Updated 18, January 1998. Online. Internet. Available http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/169.html Accessed January 30th, 1999