This past Monday, May 25th was both Memorial Day this year as well as was the Feast Day of Saint Bede the Venerable. Bede was an outstanding scholar and a man of deep faith. During the Dark Ages of Britain and Europe, he quietly shone as a bright light, as did the many monasteries that spread Christianity and learning. Bede, although a monk, was a man of great learning, a theologian, and a computus, who calculated calendar dates, in particular, that of Easter, whose date was affected by the changing date of the new moon. He also helped establish the practice of dating events from the birth of Christ, using the term, A.D. Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. This system was observed for centuries in Europe and beyond.
Born in Northern Britain about 673, Bede was only seven when taken to the monastery, a practice of some noble families in that period. His name in Anglo-Saxon, formed on the root of bēodan “to bid, to command,” is significant because it relates to the word, obedience. As a Benedictine monk, at the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Bede certainly learned obedience assisting in menial tasks, so he was naturally able to bid and command others effectively.
A large part of his life included a regular schedule of prayer and singing of psalms, observance of the monastic discipline, and study of the Scriptures. Ordained as a deacon at the early age of nineteen, and as a priest at thirty, he faithfully embraced his calling. Occasionally, he traveled to other abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles. One of these was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. Established in the 6th century, it was an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan and Cuthbert and was a place of inspiration to him.
A skilled linguist who translated the early Church Fathers’ Latin and Greek writings, making them accessible to others, Saint Bede was also an excellent teacher. One of his students was Alcuin, who also became well-known. One of the most learned man of his time in England and Europe, Bede wrote over sixty books. The best known is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a fascinating historical account of those who committed themselves wholeheartedly to live a monastic life, as did Venerable Bede, or to spread Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons.