c. 673 near Wearmouth, Northumbria † May 26 735 at the twin-monastery
of the information we have about Bede comes from his own writings,
such as his own biographical account in the final chapter, followed
by a list of those of his works he found most worthy, and a letter
by one of his disciples, Cuthbert, who witnessed Bede's death, to
another of his students, Cuthwin.
was brought to the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth and entrusted
to the care of Abbot St. Benedict Biscop when he was seven. Biscop,
the founder of the monastery at Wearmouth and it's twin St. Paul
at Jarrow, spent a great deal of time travelling to Rome and on
the Continent, acquiring a magnificent collection of books for the
library of the monasteries.
moved to the newer monastery at Jarrow with Abbot Ceolfrith in 685.
He was ordained deacon when he was 19 years old and priest at 30.
He probably left the monasteries only twice, for visits to Lindisfarne
and York. Bede continued working and teaching to the end. His last
work, according to Cuthbert's De obitu Baedae only completed
on his deathbed, was an Old English translation of part of the Gospel
according to St. John. 'None of this translation now survives, but
it was, so far as we know, the first attempt to present any part
of the Bible itself in English.'
is now mainly known for his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum,
completed in 731. The History is the first work that mentions
the English people, at a time when England as we now know it was
still divided into several kingdoms. The historic worth of this
work is enhanced by Bede's careful use of his sources and his continual
stating of them. Bede is also responsible for the first introduction
of the anno domini (a method of dating) in a major work (his
History) and its subsequent spreading.
neither Bede nor his contemporaries saw the History as his
major work. Bede's main intention was to aid people in the study
and understanding of the scripture. His commentaries on the Old
and New Testament comprise about 45 books and began to circulate
in England while Bede was still alive. They began to spread across
Germany and France shortly after his death. Evidence of the immense
popularity of these commentaries are more than 950 surviving manuscripts.
Many of these were still being copied in the twelfth and thirteenth
One of the earliest of these commentaries is the Explanatio
Apocalypsis on the Revelation to John, written about 710-716.
writing concerned itself, for example, with education (i.e. De
Orthographia), with science (i.e. De Temporibus, De Natura
Rerum), or hagiography (i.e. two Lives of Cuthbert, or the Historia
Abbatum). He did some translations into Old English, such as
the Credo and the Pater Noster. De
Die Iudicii, the source poem of Judgement
Day II, is also ascribed to him.
to biblical exegesis is the practice of polysemous reading. Next
to the literal reading, three others were most widely accepted,
amounting to a total of four. This number itself can be derived
by typological reasoning. 'Irenaeus, for example, argued for the
canonical primacy of the four gospels from the fact that God's world
was supplied in fours: as there were 'four zones', and 'four winds'
so there were four gospels; four levels of interpretation followed
easily. According to St. John Cassian in the fourth century these
were a literal, or historical sense, an allegorical, a tropological
(or moral), and an anagogical. Tropological related to the Word,
or doctrine conveyed by it, and therefore carried a moral sense;
the anagogical concerns eternal things. Cassian takes as his example
the figure of Jerusalem. Historically it may be seen as the earthly
city; allegorically it stands for the Church; tropologically it
represents the souls of all faithful Christians; anagogically it
is the heavenly city of God.
As a later Latin rhyme has it:
gesta docet, quid credes allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia.
letter teaches what happened, the allegorical what to believe, The
moral what to do, the anagogical toward what to aspire.)'