Bede the Venerable

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St. Bede the Venerable

Bede the Venerable (b. 673/4; died 735) was an Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar who lived at the Northumbrian monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Among his writings were the most widely read exegetical and didactic treatises of the Middle Ages. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People, sometimes called "the finest historical work of the Middle Ages," [1] has become the single most important source for early Anglo-Saxon history. His other works included widely used chronological treatises and several important pieces of hagiography.

Bede was made Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

Life and Death

Nearly everything known about Bede is contained in the short autobiography he appended to his Ecclesiastical History:

I, Bede, servant of Christ and priest of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow, have, with the help of God and to the best of my ability, put together this account of the history of the church of Britain and of the English people in particular, gleaned either from ancient documents or from tradition or from my own knowledge. I was born in the territory of this monastery. When I was seven years of age I was, by the care of my kinsmen, put into the charge of the reverend Abbot Benedict and then of Ceolfrith, to be educated. From then on I have spent all my life in this monastery, applying myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures; and, amid the observance of the discipline of the Rule and the daily task of singing in the church, it has always been my delight to learn or to teach or to write. At the age of nineteen I was ordained deacon and at the age of thirty, priest, both times through the ministration of the reverend Bishop John on the direction of Abbot Ceolfrith. From the time I became a priest until the fifty-ninth year of my life I have made it my business, for my own benefit and that of my brothers, to make brief extracts from the works of the venerable fathers on the holy Scriptures, or to add notes of my own to clarify their sense and interpretation.[2]

As he writes, Bede was entrusted to the care of the Abbot St. Benedict Biscop (d. 689) when he was seven years old, the standard age for child oblates. By 685, Biscop sent Bede to the newer monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow,[3] a few miles to the north on the River Tyne, where Ceolfrith (d. 716) was abbot. Bede spent the rest of his life as a monk at Jarrow, excepting two short trips to York and Lindisfarne.

Bede wrote and taught throughout his life. Among his most important pupils was Egbert (d. 766), who went on to become Archbishop of York.

Even on the day of his death, Bede was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of John. Bede died peacefully in 735 and was buried at Jarrow before being moved inside Durham Cathedral.[4] He was already renowned among his peers, being described by Bishop Boniface as having "shone forth as a lantern in the world by his scriptural commentary." The title Venerable seems to have been associated with him approximately within two generations after his death.


Monasteries were nodes of scholarship in early medieval Europe. This would be where Bede would create in sheer breadth, depth and quality, the fifty plus works he produced. His greatest, Historia Ecclesiastica, consisting of five volumes, is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. It had fulfilled its purpose of preparing Western Christianity to assimilate the non-Roman barbarian North. He clearly states his purpose in his writings, "For if history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil of wicked men, the good, religious reader or listener is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse, and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God."

Bede's earliest Biblical commentary was probably that on the book of Revelation. He interpreted the bible mainly as an allegory, applied criticism and tried to solve discrepancies. This was extremely popular in this period of time and his reputation spread feverishly across the monasteries of Europe. Bede's two chronological works, On Times and On the Reckoning of Time (De temporibus and De temporum ratione), establishing the dates for Easter and equating the number of the years of Jesus Christ's life. Bede popularized the Anno Domini ('Year of Our Lord') dating system.[5]


  • "And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face."
  • "He alone loves the Creator perfectly who manifests a pure love for his neighbor."

External links


  1. The Venerable Bede Britannia Biographies
  2. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. and trans. J. McClure and R. Collins (Oxford, 1994), 293.
  5. Bede