Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Venerable Bede

Of all the English scholars of the time Bæda, usually known as 'the venerable Bede,' was the most remarkable. He was a monk of Jarrow on the Tyne. From his youth up he was a writer on all subjects embraced by the knowledge of his day. One subject he made his own. He was the first English historian. The title of his greatest work was the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. He told how that nation had been converted, and of the fortunes of its Church; but for him the Church included the whole nation, and he told of the doings of kings and people, as well as of priests and monks. In this he was a true interpreter of the spirit of the English Church. Its clergy did not stand aloof from the rulers of the state, but worked with them as well as for them. The bishops stepped into the place of the heathen priests in the Witenagemots of the kings, and counselled them in matters of state as well as in matters of religion.

Bede recognised in the title of his book that there was such a thing as an English nation long before there was any political unity. Whilst kingdom was fighting against kingdom, Theodore in 673 assembled the first English Church council at Hertford. From that time such councils of the bishops and principal clergy of all England met whenever any ecclesiastical question required them to deliberate in common. The clergy at least did not meet as West Saxons or as Mercians. They met on behalf of the whole English Church, and their united consultations must have done much to spread the idea that, in spite of the strife between the kings, the English nation was really one.

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