St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Doctor of the Church

May 22, 2020

The Pastor's Page

St. Bede the Venerable was born in 673 in Northumbria, a remote and rugged area of northeast England near the twin Benedictine abbeys of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow. He was sent there at the age of seven to be raised by the monks and he was educated, first by Abbot Benedict Bishop of Wearmouth and then by Abbot Ceolfrid of Jarrow.

St. Bede

Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky.

St. Bede eventually joined the community as a monk, was ordained a deacon at age nineteen, and a priest at the age of thirty. He was content to spend his life within the abbey, rarely traveled outside, faithfully observed the Benedictine rule, and dedicated himself to a life of prayer and study. He was fond of meditation and chanting the Psalms. He knew the power of prayer for himself and often spoke about the value of prayer to others.

St. Bede was a true scholar, and toward the end of his life reflected, “My special joy was always study, teaching, and writing.” He was fortunate to have access to a wide array of books in the huge abbey library which had been collected by Abbot Benedict Bishop.

The primary focus of his study was Scripture and history. He meditated on Scripture himself and read the commentaries of the early Church fathers, and then wrote his own commentaries on the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible, as well as many homilies. He did not study for the sake of knowledge alone, but to make headway in virtuous living, and his long hours in contemplation with Sacred Scripture intensified his interior faith and personal holiness. He was distraught over how so many people had wandered away from prayer and the sacraments and was a strong proponent of devotion to the Eucharist and the regular reception of Holy Communion.

St. Bede was meticulous in his research and wrote over sixty books on a wide variety of topics covering things such as natural history, astronomy, poetry, aspects of theology, the lives of the saints, and biographies, particularly of Abbot Benedict Bishop and Abbot Ceolfrid. His greatest scholarly achievement was his five-volume Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People which was completed in 731. It is a comprehensive account of the Christianization of England from the Roman Period until the early Eighth Century, and because it stood as the single best history of the English people, he became known as the “Father of English history.” All his books were written in Latin except one, his translation of the Gospel of John into Old English, his native language. He also is remembered for being the first historian to use “A.D.,” Anno Domini, “the year of the Lord,” when he listed a date, a practice that became commonplace for historians from that point onward.

St. Bede was held in high esteem for his piety, charity, generosity, fairness, discipline, intellect, and scholarly achievements, and because of his exemplary holiness people began to speak of him as “Venerable,” a title formally bestowed on him by the Council of Aachen in 853.

St. Bede died in 735 in Jarrow, England. He was canonized a saint and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899. His symbols are items associated with study and writing: a quill pen, a book or scroll, a burning candle or table lamp, and rays of light which represent intelligence or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the patron saint of scholars, English writers and historians, and Jarrow, England.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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