Bede: Biography

Oil painting of Bede as an old man

“The Venerable Bede Translates John” by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932) Inset from “The last chapter (Bede)”, exhibited at the Royal Academy (1902)

Bede (672/673 – 26 May 735), also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede, was an English monk in Northeast England, in the Kingdom of Northumbria. He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title “The Father of English History”.

In 1899, Bede was made a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII; he is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation. Bede was moreover a skilled linguist and translator, and his work made the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers much more accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons, contributing significantly to English Christianity.

 

Works

Bede wrote scientific, historical and theological works, reflecting the range of his writings from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He knew patristic literature, as well as Pliny the Elder,Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers. He knew some Greek. His Latin is generally clear, but his Biblical commentaries are more technical.

Bede’s scriptural commentaries employed the allegorical method of interpretation and his history includes accounts of miracles, which to modern historians has seemed at odds with his critical approach to the materials in his history. Modern studies have shown the important role such concepts played in the world-view of Early Medieval scholars.

Although Bede is mainly studied as a historian now, in his time his works on grammar, chronology, and biblical studies were as important as his historical and hagiographical works. The non-historical works contributed greatly to the Carolingian renaissance. He has been credited with writing a penitential, though his authorship of this work is still very much disputed.

 

Additional information on Bede’s life, work, and influences can be found here.