Feast Day: May 25.
A scholarly man and one of the most learned of his time, Bede compiled meticulous historical records recounting the development of Christianity in his native England from Roman times to his own lifetime. Few details of Bede’s life are known, and he is one of the few saints honored as such during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches. Though he wrote extensively on many famous church figures, he had little to say about himself. At the end of his great work, the five-volume “Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” he added only a paragraph about himself.
At an early age, Bede was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paul in Jarrow, England. The Benedictine monks led a life of ora et labora—Latin for “prayer and work”—where their entire day was divided between praying in the chapel and doing work in the monastery. The Benedictine monasteries had extensive libraries where theological, liturgical, and biblical scholarship was second to none.
The happy combination of genius and the instruction of scholarly, saintly monks produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding of his day. He was deeply versed in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints, and especially, Holy Scripture. He wrote verse and compiled chant music, and is credited with initiating the custom of marking dates from the Incarnation with the term Anno Domini, or A.D.
From the time of his ordination to the priesthood at thirty, (he had been ordained a Deacon at nineteen) until his death, he was ever occupied with learning, writing, and teaching. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed forty-five of his own, including thirty commentaries on books of the Bible. His “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” is commonly regarded as of decisive importance in the art and science of writing history. A unique era was ending at the time of Bede’s death: It had fulfilled its purpose of preparing Western Christianity to assimilate the non-Roman barbarian north. Bede recognized the opening to a new day in the life of the church even as it was happening.
Although eagerly sought out by kings and other notable, even Pope Sergius, Bede managed to remain in his own monastery until his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now, and forever.” Within two generations of his death, the honorific Venerabilis (the Venerable) was used in conjunction with his name. The Council of Aachen officially bestowed the title in 835. In 1899, Bede was declared a Doctor of the Church, the only English person to hold that title.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.