Friday, May 27, 2022

Saint Bede the Venerable, Confessor and Doctor of the Church


The blessing given by our Lord as he ascended into heaven has revealed its power in the most distant pagan lands, and during these days the liturgical cycle bears witness to a concentration of graces upon the west of Europe.

The band of missionaries begged of Pope Eleutherius by the British king Lucius has been followed by the apostolate of Augustine. the envoy of Gregory the Great, and today, as though impatient to justify the lavish generosity of heaven, England brings forward her illustrious son, the Venerable Bede. This humble monk, whose whole life was spent in the praise of God. sought his divine Master in nature and in history, but above all in holy Scripture, which he studied with a loving attention and fidelity to tradition. He who was ever a disciple of the ancients. takes his place to-day among his masters as a Father and Doctor of the Church.

He thus sums up his own life: “I am a priest of the monastery of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. I was born on their land, and ever since my seventh year I have always lived in their house, observing the Rule, singing day by day in their church, and making it my delight to learn, to teach or to write. Since I was made a priest, I have written commentaries on the holy Scripture for myself and my brethren, using the words of our venerated Fathers and following their method of interpretation. And now, good Jesus, I beseech thee, thou who hast given me in thy mercy to drink of the sweetness of thy word. grant me now to attain to the source, the fount of wisdom, and to gaze upon thee for ever and ever.”

The holy death of the servant of God was one of the most precious lessons he left to his disciples. His last sickness lasted fifty days, and he spent them, like the rest of his life, in singing the psalms and in teaching. As the Feast of the Ascension drew near, he repeated over and over again with tears of joy the Antiphon: “O king of glory, who hast ascended triumphantly above the heavens, leave us not orphans, but send us the promise of the Father, the Spirit of truth.” He said to his disciples in the words of St Ambrose: “I have not lived in such a sort as to be ashamed to live with you, but I am not afraid to die, for we have a good Master.” Then, returning to his translation of the Gospel of St. John and a work, which he had begun, on St Isidore, he would say: “I do not wish my disciples to be hindered after my death by error nor to lose the fruit of their studies.”

On the Tuesday before the Ascension he grew worse, and it was evident that the end was near. He was full of joy and spent the day in dictating and the night in prayers of thanksgiving. The dawn of Wednesday morning found him urging his disciples to hurry on their work. At the hour of Terce they left him to take part in the procession made on that day with the relics of the saints. One of them, a child who stayed with him said: “Dear master. there is but one chapter left; hast thou strength for it?” “It is easy,” he answered with a smile; “take thy pen, cut it and write—but make haste.” At the hour of None, he sent for the priests of the monastery and gave them little presents, begging them to remember him at the altar. All wept. But he was full of joy, saying: “It is time for me, if it so please my Creator, to return to him who made me out of nothing, when as yet I was not. My sweet Judge has well ordered my life, and now the time of dissolution is at hand. I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. Yea, my soul longs to see Christ my king in his beauty.”

So did he pass this last day. Then came the touching dialogue with Wibert, the child mentioned above. “Dear master, there is yet one sentence more.” “Write quickly.” After a moment: “It is finished,” said the child. “Thou sayest well,” replied the blessed man. “It is finished. Take my head in thy hands and support me over against the Oratory, for it is a great joy to me to see myself over against that holy place where I have so often prayed.” They had laid him on the floor of his cell. He said: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” and when he had named the Holy Ghost, he yielded up his soul.

The following account of this holy monk is given in the Breviary:

Beda presbyter Girvi in Britanniæ et Scotiæ finibus ortus, septennis sancto Benedicto Biscopo abbati Wiremuthensi educandus traditur. Monachus deinde factus vitam sic instituit, ut dum se artium et doctrinarum studiis totum impenderet. nihil umquam de regulari disciplina remitteret. Nullum fuit doctrinre genus, in quo non esset diligentissime versatus; sed prrecipua illi cura divinarum scripturarum meditatio, quarum sententiam ut plenius assequeretur, græci hebraicique sermonis notitiam est adeptus. Tricesimo ætatis anno, abbatis sui jussu sacerdos initiatus, statim suasore Acca Hagulstadensi episcopo, sacros explanare libros aggressus est: in quo sanctorum Patrum doctrinis adeo inhresit, ut nihil proferret nisi illorum judicio comprobatum, eorumdem etiam fere verbis usus. Otium perosus semper. ex lectione ad orationem transibat ac vicissim ex oratione ad lectionem: in qua adeo animo infiammabatur, ut s:epe inter legendum et docendum lacrymis perfunderetur. Ne autem rerum fl.uxarum curis distraheretur, delatum abbatis munus constantissime detrectavit.

Bede, a priest, was born at Jarrow, on the borders of England and Scotland. At the age of seven he was placed under the care of St. Bennet Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth, to be educated. He became a monk, and so ordered his life that, while devoting himself wholly to the pursuit of learning, he did in no way relax the discipline of his Order. There was no branch of learning in which he was not thoroughly versed, but his chief care was the study of the Holy Scriptures, and in order to understand them better, he learned Greek and Hebrew. At the age of thirty he was ordained priest at the command of his Abbot, and, on the advice of Acca, bishop of Hexham, immediately undertook the work of expounding the Sacred Books. In his interpretations he adhered to the teachings of the holy Fathers so strictly that he advanced nothing which they had not taught. and even made use of their very words. He ever hated sloth, and by habitually passing from reading to prayer and from prayer to reading. he so maintained the fervour of his soul that he was often moved to tears while reading or teaching. He persistently refused the office of Abbot. lest his mind should be distracted by the cares of transitory things.

Scientiæ ac pietatis laude Beda nomen sic breve c1aruit, ut sanctus Sergius Papa de eo Romam arcessendo cogitaverit; quo difficillimis scilicet, quæ de rebus sacris exortæ erant, quæstionibus definiendis conferret operam. Emendandis fidelium moribus, fidei vindicandandæ atque adserenda= libros plures conscripsit: quibus tantum sui apud omnes opinionem fecit, ut illum sanctus Bonifacius episcopus et martyr Ecclesiæ lumen prædicaverit, Lanfrancus Anglorum doctorem, Concilium Aquisgranense doctorem admirabilem dixerit. Quin ejus scripta eo adhuc vivente, publice in ecclesiis Jegebantur. Quod cum fieret, quoniam ipsum sanctum minime appellare liceret, venerabilis titulo efferebant: qui deinde veluti proprius sequutis etiam temporibus semper habitus est. Ejus autem doctrinæ eo vis efficacior erat, quod artæ sanctimonia religiosisque virtutibus confirmabatur. Quamobrem discipulos, quos multos et egregios imbuendos habuit, studio et exemplo non litteris modo atque scientiis, sed etiam sanctitate fecit insignes.

The name of Bede soon became so famous for learning and piety that Pope St Sergius thought of calling him to Rome so that he might help to solve the difficult questions which had then arisen concerning sacred things. He wrote many books to reform the lives of the faithful, and to defend and propagate the faith. By these he gained such a reputation in all parts that the holy Bishop Boniface. who was later martyred. called him a “light of the Church.” Lanfranc styled him the “teacher of the English,” and the Council of Aix-Ia-Chapelle “the admirable Doctor.” But as his writings were publicly read in the churches during his lifetime, and as it was not yet allowable to call him “saint”: they named him the “Venerable,” a title which has ever remained peculiarly his. The power of his teaching was the greater because it was confirmed by holiness of life and the observance of religious discipline. Hence his own earnestness and example made his disciples. who were many and distinguished, eminent not only in learning, but also in sanctity.

Ætate demum et laboribus fractus, gravi morbo correptus est. Quo cum amplius quinquaginta dies detentus esset, consuetum orandi morem Scripturasque interpretandi non intercepit: eo namque tempore Evangelium Joannis in popularium suorum usum anglice vertit. Cum autem in Ascensionis prreludio ins tare sibi mortem persentiret, supremis Ecclesire Sacramentis munirivoluit: tum sodales amplexatus, atque humi super cilicio stratus, ctim illa verba ingeminaret, Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, obdormivit in Domino. Ejus corpus, suavissimum, uti fertur, spirans odorem, sepultum est in monasterio Girvensi, ac postea Dunelmum cum sancti Cuthberti reliquiis translatum. Eum tamquam doctorem a Benedictinis aliisque religiosis familiis ac direcesibus cultum, Leo decimus tertius Pontifex Maximus, ex Sacrorum Rituum Congregationis consul to, universalis Ecclesiæ doctorem declaravit, et festo ipsius die Missam et Officium de Doctoribus ab omnibus recitari decrevit.

Worn out at length by age and labour, he was seized by a serious illness. Though his sufferings lasted more than seven weeks, he ceased not from his prayers and interpretation of the Scripture, for he was engaged in translating the Gospel of St John into English for the use of his people. But when, on the eve of the Ascension, he perceived that death was near, he asked for the last sacraments of the Church; then after he had embraced his companions and was laid on a piece of sackcloth on the ground, he repeated the words: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” and fell asleep in the Lord. His body, which, as they say, gave forth a very sweet odour, was buried in the monastery of Jarrow, and afterwards translated to Durham with the relics of St Cuthbert. Bede, who was already venerated as a Doctor by the Benedictines and other religious Orders, was declared by Pope Leo XIII, after consultation with the Sacred Congregation of Rites, to be a Doctor of the universal Church, and the Mass and Office of Doctors was ordered to be said by all on his feast.

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost” is the hymn of eternity. Before the creation of the angels and of man, God, in the concert of the three divine Persons, sufficed for his own praise, and this praise was adequate, infinite and perfect, like the divinity. This was the only praise worthy of God. However magnificently the world may hymn its Creator in the thousand voices of nature, its praise is always below the divine Object. But, in the designs of God. creation was one day to send up to heaven an echo of that melody which is threefold and yet one, for the Word was to take flesh, through the operation of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of Mary, and was to be Son of Man as truly as he is Son of God. Then the canticle of creation fully and perfectly re-echoed the adorable harmonies once known only to the blessed Trinity. Since that day a man who has understanding finds his perfection in such conformity to the Son of Mary, that he may be one with the Son of God in the divine concert wherein God is glorified.

This, O Bede, was thy life. for understanding was given thee. It was fitting that thy last breath should be spent in that song of love which had filled thy mortal life, and that thus thou shouldst enter at once into a glorious and blessed eternity. May we profit by that supreme lesson, which sums up all the teaching of thy grand and simple life!

Glory be to the almighty and merciful Trinity! These words form the close of the cycle of the mysteries which terminate at this time in the glorification of the Father, our sovereign Lord, by the triumph of the Son our Redeemer, and the inauguration of the reign of the Holy Ghost, our sanctifier. How splendid were the triumph of the Son and the reign of the Holy Ghost in the Isle of Saints in the days when Albion, twice given by Rome to Christ, shone like a priceless jewel in the diadem of the Spouse! O thou who wast the teacher of the English in the days of their fidelity, do not disappoint the hopes of the supreme Pontiff who has in our days extended thy cult to the Universal Church; but rekindle in the hearts of thy countrymen their former love for the Mother of all mankind.


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