The Venerable Bede, known as the father of English church history, was born in 672 or 673. He was given by his parents to the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth at the age of seven. In 681 or 682, the monastery was established as a joint-foundation at Jarrow. Bede was transferred there and went on to become a monk, theologian, historian, and scientist.
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Bede was educated at Jarrow and spent the rest of his life at in the monastery. At the age of 19, Bede was ordained a deacon. Ordinarily, this is a position that, by canon law, was only appointed to a person of 25 years of age or older, but his scholarship and devotion convinced Abbot Ceofried to make him a deacon six years early. After being ordained as a priest in 702-3, Bede dedicated his life to studying the scriptures, teaching, and writing. He rarely left the monastery.
Bede's greatest work was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which was written in 731. This book focuses on the early Christian missions to the English people and the missionary work of St. Augustine of Canterbury. It is our principle source for information about this period in English history and about the growth of the Church in England. This work is notable for introducing "Anno Domini," or "A. D." as a way of dating events in the Christian era.
Bede took great care in writing this book and it became a model for history writing in the Middle Ages. He wrote in an excellent Latin, was careful in reporting miraculous elements, and discussed events of historical importance. But perhaps the most impressive point of Bede's writing was his use of sources. Bede examined all of the records available to him, secured verbal and obtained written accounts from reliable living authorities. He occasionally left the monastery to copy documents or to talk to his sources. Bede was the first to compile such a complete and accurate historical record. His other important historical work is the History of the Abbots, which were biographical sketches about some of the monks that he met at the Wearmouth and Jarrow monasteries.
In addition to historical work, Bede also wrote on many other subjects. He wrote commentaries on many of the books of the Old and the New Testaments. He wrote a book on natural phenomenon, two on chronology, and a book on grammar. At the time of his death he was working on a translation of the Gospel of John in Old English. Unfortunately, he never got to finish his translation and none of the manuscript has survived.
Bede died on the evening of May 25, 735. He is commemorated on the Churchs calendar on May 27th in remembrance of his life and work for the Anglo-Saxon church.
Eliade, Mircea, The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York; MacMillan Publishing Company, 1987), pp.89-90.
Meagher,OP,S.T.M., Paul Kevin, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion (Washington D.C.; Corpus Publications), p.399.
Palmer, Edwin H, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (The National Foundation for Christian Religion, 1964), pp.617-618.
Venerabilis, Beda, A History of the English Church and People (London; Cox & Wyman Ltd., 1968), pp.15-25.
Edited by: Kat Magnusson
Researched by: Becky Howell
Written by: Jeff Carlson
December 15, 1998
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