St. Bede the Venerable

St. Bede the Venerable is famous for being an author, a teacher, and a scholar in the area that is now England. He was particularly interested in calendar calculations and trying to calculate the date of Easter, and is one of the main reasons that the B.C./A.D. calendar system became popular. He's also the only native of Great Britain to be declared a Doctor of the Church


Lifetime: ~672 to 735
Region: England
Patronages: English writers; English historians
Iconograpy: Writing a book; Feather pen; Biretta
Feast Day: May 25 (Western); May 27 (Eastern)

Little is known about Bede's early life, and most of what is known is from an autobiographical chapter in one of his books. Nothing is known about his parents except that, when Bede was seven, they sent him to live and study at a monastery, a practice which was common among Irish nobility at the time, and possibly among his own people as well. When that monastery opened a sister monastery nearby, he transferred to the new one. Throughout his time at the monastery, Bede was educated in many subjects, including scripture, theology, sacred music, poetry, and Greek, as well as the labors of the community like farming and baking.

At seventeen, young Bede met an abbot visiting the monastery, who sparked his lifelong interest in the controversy around how Easter should be calculated, a debate which began as early as the 100s and is still not resolved today, since Western and Eastern churches still calculate the date differently. Bede was ordained as a deacon at nineteen, and became a priest at thirty.

Bede eventually completed over sixty books, with topics ranging from theology to science to literature to history. He was even offered the role of abbot of his monastery at one point, but declined in favor of continuing his writing and teaching. The school he taught at through the monastery became famous throughout Britain for its rigor.

Even during his own lifetime, Bede's works were considered authoritative, and were taught in schools and churches throughout the kingdom. He was invited to visit many other theologians and writers, as well as the Pope, but declined such pilgrimages and never traveled beyond the two monasteries he had spent his life at. So instead, people came to him. Because of his popularity in his own time, visitors and scholars copied his books and letters by hand to ensure they were preserved, and indeed even 1300 years later we still have most of the texts Bede is known to have written.

One of Bede's books, focused on calculating dates such as Easter and how long after the creation account Jesus' birth took place. This latter topic proved controversial, as Bede's calculation led to the Earth being about a thousand years younger than earlier scholars had calculated, including Isidore of Seville. Bede was accused of heresy for challenging the theological view of history, but he wrote to the bishop to explain his reasoning and the charge was dropped. Bede and that bishop later went on to exchange letters about a famous princess the bishop had known, whom Bede was studying for one of his books.

Despite Bede's interest in learning, he knew that it was not the purpose in life. He was dedicated to knowing and loving God first, and his scholarship came out of that drive. He once famously said:
“It is better to be a stupid and uneducated brother who, working at the good things he knows, merits life in heaven, than to be one who –  though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a teacher – lacks the bread of love."

 Bede died on the feast of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter. His last words were singing "Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit."

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