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Bede and medieval civilization

  • Gerald Bonner (a1)

The mortal remains of the Venerable Bede rest today in the cathedral church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin, Durham. They were brought there in the early eleventh century by one Ælfred Westou, priest and sacrist of Durham and an enthusiastic amateur of that characteristically medieval form of devotion expressed in the acquisition, by fair means or foul, of the relics of the saints to the greater glory of God. The removal of Bede's remains to Durham, involving as it did considerable preliminary planning and solitary nocturnal vigil before the final successful snatch, was one of his more brilliant coups, upon which he seems especially to have preened himself. The bones were first kept in the coffin of St Cuthbert, being subsequently removed to a reliquary near the saint's tomb. In 1370 they were placed in the Galilee Chapel, where they now lie under a plain table-tomb of blue marble, made in 1542 after the medieval shrine had been defaced. Bede himself would certainly have preferred that his body should have been left in its grave among his brethren at Jarrow, there to await the coming of Christ which he so ardently desired to see; but if a removal had to be made, we need not doubt that he would have been content to lie at Durham, near but not too near the shrine of St Cuthbert, the great saint and patron of the north, under a modest tombstone, so much more in keeping with his nature than the earlier and richer shrine, despoiled by the commissioners of Henry VIII.

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page 72 note 1 William, of Malmesbury, , De Gestis Regum Anglorum, ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series (18871889) 1, 1.

page 72 note 2 Ker, W. P., The Dark Ages (Edinburgh and London, 1923): ‘The reputation of Bede seems always to have been exempt from the common rationalist criticism, and this although his books are full of the things a Voltairian student objects to’ (pp. 141–2).

page 72 note 3 See the memoir by A[llen], P. S., ‘Charles Plummer 1851–1927’, Proc. of the Brit. Acad. 15 (1929), 463–76 (pub. sep. 1931): ‘The keynote of bis life was to take as little as possible for himself in order to have the more to give to others’ (p. 466).

page 72 note 4 Bede's Ecclesiastical History, ed. B. Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford, 1969), p. lxxiii.

page 72 note 5 HE v. 24.

page 73 note 1 See Sutcliffe, E. F., ‘Quotations in the Venerable Bede's Commentary on St Mark’, Biblica 7 (1926), 428–39 and Laistner, M. L. W., ‘Source-Marks in Bede Manuscripts’, JTS 34 (1933), 350–4.

page 73 note 2 Hieronymus, , Hebraicae Questiones in Libra Geneseos xvi. 12, ed. P. Antin, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 72, 21, lines 1–4.

page 73 note 3 Bede, Libri Quatuor in Principium Genesis iv(xvi. 12), ed. C. W. Jones, CCSL 118A, 201, lines 250–6.

page 73 note 4 On this, see Southern, R. W., Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), pp. 1618; but note the qualification by C. W. Jones, CCSL 118A, ix, n. 19.

page 73 note 5 HE 1. 8.

page 73 note 6 Bede, , Explanatio Apocalypsis vi. 7, ed. Migne, Patrologia Latina 93, col. 147 C and D.

page 73 note 7 Bede, , In Cantica Canticorum Allegorica Expositio vi (PL 91, col. 1205 A and B).

page 73 note 8 In Cant, v (PL 91, col. 1183 B); cf. In Primam Epistolam S. lobannis (PL 93, col. 90 A and B).

page 74 note 1 Bede, In Ep. I Iob. (PL 93, cols. 88B, 98B and c and 100A).

page 74 note 2 Bede, , In Cant. 1 (PL 91, cols. 1065 C-77B).

page 74 note 3 I assume the virtual extinction of Manichaeism in western Europe between the end of Roman rule and its reintroduction from the east in the eleventh century; see Runciman, Steven, Tbe Medieval Manichee (Cambridge, 1955), p. 118.

page 74 note 4 Bede, Homeliarum Evangelii Libri II 11. 23, ed. D. Hurst, CCSL 122, 351, lines 92–5.

page 74 note 5 Hieronymus, , Commentariorum in Evangelium Matthei Libri Quatuor 11 (xiv. 7) (PL 26, col. 97 B and c).

page 74 note 6 Origen, , In Leviticum Homilia VIII. 3, ed. W. A. Baehrens, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller, Origenes Werke VI, 396, line 20397, line 4.

page 74 note 7 Bede, In Primam Partem Samubelis Libri IIII 1 (I Reg. IV. 18; CCSL 119, 45, lines 1420–3), citing Origen, In Lev. Hom. 11. 2–4 (GCS, Origenes Werke VI, 292, line 4–296, line 22).

page 75 note 1 I am grateful to Mr Christopher Ball of Lincoln College, Oxford, for pointing this out to me.

page 75 note 2 Hieron., In Matt. II (XIV. 7) (PL 26, col. 97 c).

page 75 note 3 Origen, Matthäuserklärung x. 22, ed. E. Klostermann, GCS, Origenes Werke x, 30, lines 20–3).

page 75 note 4 Bede, , Hom. II. 23 (CCSL 122, 352, lines 108–15).

page 75 note 5 The West from the Fathers to the Reformation, The Cambridge History of the Bible II, ed. G. W. H. Lampe (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 194–6.

page 75 note 6 Bede, , Expositio Actuum Apostolorum, ed. Laistner, M. L. W. (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), p. 3, line 9; In Regum Librum XXX Quaestiones, Prolog. (CCSL 119, 293, line 23); and In Cant, vu (PL 91, col. 1223 A).

page 76 note 1 Bede, In Gen. IV (rv. 3–4; CCSL 118A, 74, lines 42–6 and 49–52).

page 76 note 2 Ambrose, , De Cain et Abel, IV, IV. 34 (PL 14, col. 337B).

page 76 note 3 Acca, Epistola ad Bedam, apud Bede, In Lucae Evangelium Expositio (CCSL 120, 5, lines 5–18).

page 76 note 4 Waddell, Helen, The Wandering Scholars, 7th ed. (London, 1934): ‘He is a greater critic than craftsman; there are cadences in his prose lovelier than anything in his poetry’ (pp. 38–9); and Raby, F. J. E., A History of Christian-Latin Poetry, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1953): ‘His was not a poetic nature’ (p. 146).

page 76 note 5 A fact of which Bede was aware. See his remark on Cædmon's hymn: ‘Neque enim possunt carmina, quamvis optime composita, ex alia in aliam linguam ad verbum sine detrimento sui decoris ac dignitatis transferri’ (HE IV. 24).

page 76 note 6 Laistner, M. L. W., ‘Bede as a Classical and a Patristic Scholar’, TRHS 4th ser. 16 (1933), 6994, repr. The Intellectual Heritage of the Early Middle Ages: Selected Essays by M. L. W. Laistner, ed. Chester G. Starr (Ithaca, N. Y., 1957), pp. 93116 (to which all references are made); see esp. pp. 95–9.

page 77 note 1 Leclercq, J., The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: a Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Misrahi, C. (New York, 1962).

page 77 note 2 ibid. pp. 19ff.

page 77 note 3 Blair, Peter Hunter, The World of Bede (London, 1970), pp. 197 and 199.

page 77 note 4 McCann, Justin, Saint Benedict (London, 1938), p. 233. Dom McCann notes that not only were abbatial elections governed by the Rule (Bede, , Historia Abbatum, §§11 and 16, ed. Plummer, C., Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica (Oxford, 1896) 1, 375 and 381; and Vita Ceolfridi auctore Anonymo, §16, ed. Plummer, Bede 1, 393) but also Bede, Hist. Abbat. contains unacknowledged borrowings from the Rule: ‘vero regi militans’ (§1 (Plummer, Bede, p. 365) from Benedicti Regula, Prolog., 3, ed. R. Hanslik, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 75, 2) and ‘in pistrino, in orto, in coquina’ (§8 (Plummer, , Bede, p. 371) from Reg. XLVI. I (CSEL 75, 112–13)).

page 77 note 5 Bede, , In Ezram et Neemiam Libri III 111 (CCSL 119A, 350, line 466–351, line 473); Reg. vn. 6 and 7 (CSEL 75, 40–1).

page 77 note 6 See above, n. 4.

page 77 note 7 Bede, In Ep. I Ioh.: ‘Quae enim natura dura sunt et aspera, spes coelestium praemiorum et amor Christi facit esse levia’ (PL 93, col. 113 c); Reg. LVIII. 8: ‘Praedicentur ei omnia dura et aspera, per quae itur ad deum’ (CSEL 75, 134).

page 77 note 8 Bede, Hom. 1. 9: ‘Contemplativa autem vita est cum longo quis bonae actionis exercitio edoctus diutinae orationis dulcedine instructus crebra lacrimarum conpunctione adsuefactus a cunctis mundi negotiis vacare et in sola dilectione oculum intendere didicerit’ (CCSL 122, 64, lines 163–7), and De Tabernaculo m: ‘Duobus namque modis lacrimarum et compunctionis status distinguitur’ (CCSL 119 A, 137, lines 1700–2); Reg. xx. 3: ‘Et non in multiloquio, sed in puritate cordis et conpunctione lacrimarum nos exaudiri sciamus’ (CSEL 75, 75). It is, however, to be noted that this expression is to be found in Cassian, , Collationes, ix. 28 (CSEL 13, 274, line 18), which was available in Bede's library, and cannot therefore constitute a decisive argument.

page 78 note 1 Leclercq, , Love of Learning, p. 31.

page 78 note 2 ibid.pp. 33–43.

page 78 note 3 ibid.pp. 57–75.

page 78 note 4 ibid. pp. 90–3.

page 78 note 5 ibid. pp. 103–5.

page 78 note 6 ibid. pp. 156–60.

page 79 note 1 ibid. p. 57.

page 79 note 2 Steinen, , Notker der Dicbter und seine geistige Welt (Berne, 1948) 1, 7680, esp. 79–80.

page 79 note 3 Davis, Ruby, ‘Bede's Early Reading’, Speculum 8 (1953), 179–95 and Laistner, ‘Bede as a Classical and a Patristic Scholar’, pp. 93–8.

page 79 note 4 ‘The Library of the Venerable Bede’, Bede: his Life, Times and Writings, ed. A. H. Hamilton Thompson (Oxford, 1935), pp. 237–66; repr. Intellectual Heritage of the Early Middle Ages, pp. 117–49.

page 79 note 5 Bede, , Hom. 11. 22 (CCSL 122, 347, lines 205–9) citing Cyprian, De Unitate, 4 (on which see Bévenot, Maurice, The Tradition of Manuscripts (Oxford, 1961), pp. 53 and 89, n. 7); and In Apoc. 11. 9: ‘sicut Beatus Cyprianus sub Deciana contigisse conquestus: “volentibus,” inquit, “mori non permittebatur ocddi”’; (PL 93, col. 158 B) Cyprianus, citing, Epistulae, LVI. 2; ‘maxime cum cupientibus mori non permitteretur occidi’ (CSEL 3(2), 649, line 20). I am indebted to Fr Bévenot for this reference.

page 80 note 1 Leclercq, , Love of Learning, p. 104. His remark that Augustine's ‘polemics against the Manichaeans or the Neoplatonists had lost all timeliness for the medieval monks and therefore did not claim their attention’ is only partly true of Wearmouth and Jarrow, since there were a number of Augustine's anti-Manichaean treatises in Bede's library. It is however significant that they were all concerned with scriptural exegesis and not with a direct attack on Manichaean doctrines.

page 80 note 2 ibid. pp. 28–31.

page 80 note 3 See Pierre Riché, Éducation et Culture dans I'Occident Barbare, 6e-8e Siècle, Patristica Sorbonensia 4 (Paris, 1962), 434 ff.

page 81 note 1 Bede, , In Ez. et Neem. II (CCSL 119A, 295, lines 283–5).

page 81 note 2 Fedotov, , The Russian Religious Mind (New York, 1960), p. 39. For a more reserved comment on Irish classical studies see Rich´, , Education et Culture, pp. 371–83.

page 81 note 3 I can see no safe grounds for regarding the Death Song as Bede's own composition. Only a small and late group of the manuscripts of the Epistola de Obitu Bedae assigns the poem to Bede himself, and so the evidence for his authorship is at best weak. See Colgrave and Mynors, p. 5 80, n. 4.

page 82 note 1 The Cologne ed. of Noviomagus, 1537. See Jones, C. W., Bedae Pseudepigrapha: Scientific Writings Falsely Attributed to Bede (Ithaca, N.Y., 1939), pp. 1 and 7.

page 82 note 2 Crombie, A. C., Augustine to Galileo, 2nd ed. (London, 1969) 1, 41.

page 82 note 3 Riché, , Éducation et Culture, pp. 434–6.

page 82 note 4 Bede, , In I Samuhelem 11 (I Reg. xm. 20 (CCSL 119, 112, lines 1853–9) and XIV. 27 (ibid. p. 120, lines 2169–96)).

page 82 note 5 Gregory, In Librum Primum Regum, ed. P. Verbraken, CCSL 144, 470–2.

page 82 note 6 Bede, , In I Samuhelem 11 (I Reg. XIV. 27): ‘Ionathan igitur qui prius scopulorum dentes et ictus devicerat ensium qui hostis audacia compressa suis victoriae salutisque praebuerat improvisa subito blandientis gastrimargiae culpa consternitur. Et nobiles saepe magistri ecclesiae magnorumque victores certaminum ardentiore quam decet oblectatione libros gentilium lectitantes culpam quam non praevidere contrahebant adeo ut quidam eorum se pro hoc ipso scribat in visione castigatum obiectumque sibi a domino inter verbera ferientia quod non christianus sed Ciceronianus potius esset habendus’ (CCSL 119, 120, lines 2170–9); Hieronymus, , Epistulae, XXII. 30, ed. I. Hilberg, CSEL 54, 189–91.

page 83 note 1 ibid.: ‘Sed et auditorum fidelium non pauci magna virtutum gratia pollentes minoribus vitiis temptari non desinunt quod divina geri dispensations non latet ut qui minora certamina per se superare nequeunt in magnis quae habent non sibi aliquid tribuere sed solo patri luminum gratias agere discant’ (CCSL 119, 120, lines 2179–84).

page 83 note 2 ibid. (lines 2186–94).

page 83 note 3 ibid. (XIV. 28–9; CCSL 119, 121, lines 2209–16).

page 84 note 1 Bede, , HE IV. 16 [14] and 26 [24].

page 84 note 2 Bede, , In Cant. II: ‘Sicut enim tenebras noctis, sic etiam recte per austeritatem hiemis et imbrium, tempestas exprimitur infidelitatis, quae totum orbem usque ad tempus regebat Dominicae incamationis. At ubi Sol iustitiae mundo illuxit, abscedente mox ac depulsa prisca brumalis infidelitatis perfidia, flores apparuerunt in terra, quia initia iam nascentis Ecdesiae in sanctorum fideli ac pia devotione claruerunt’ (PL 91, col. 1110 c and D).

page 84 note 3 ibid. IV (col. 1202A).

page 84 note 4 Boniface, , Ep. 91, ed. M. Tangl, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae Selectae 1, 207, line 17; cf. Ep. 75 ibid. p. 158, lines 8–11) and 76: ‘quem nuper in domo Dei apud vos vice candellae ecclesiasticae scientia scripturarum fulsisse audivimus’ (ibid. p. 159, lines 13 and 14).

page 85 note 1 Bolton, W. F., A History of Anglo-Latin Literature (Princeton, New Jersey, 1967) 1, 171 and 172.

page 85 note 2 Eusebius, , Ecclesiastica Historia, 1.i.5 (GCS, Eusebius Werke II (i), 8, lines 17–21). On this see Momigliano, Arnaldo, ‘Pagan and Christian Historiography in the Forth Century A.D.’, The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, ed. Momigliano, A. (Oxford, 1963), p. 90.

page 85 note 3 ibid. p. 99.

page 85 note 4 Stenton, , Anglo-Saxon England, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1947), p. 187.

page 86 note 1 Momigliano, ‘Pagan and Christian Historiography’, p. 90.

page 86 note 2 Laistener, , A Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts (Ithaca, N.Y., 1943), pp. 131–2.

page 86 note 3 Bede, , De Arte Metrica, 25, ed. Keil, H., Grammatici Latini vii (Leipzig, 1880), 259–60.

page 86 note 4 Bede, De Schematis et Tropis (PL 90, col. 175 B).

page 86 note 5 Hieron, ., Ep. XXII. 30: ‘si … prophetam legere coepissem, sermo horrebat incultus’ (CSEL 54, 189, lines 17–18); and Augustine, , Confessiones, 111. 9 (CSEL 33, 50, lines 4–14). Both these works were apparently available to Bede.

page 87 note 1 Augustine, , De Doctrina Christiana, II. XXXIX58 (CSEL 80,74, line 12). On all this, see Marrou, H.-I.Saint Augustin et la Fin de la Culture Antique, 4th ed. (Paris, 1958) and esp. pt 3, ch. 3: ‘La Formation de l'lntellectuel Chrétien’.

page 87 note 2 For which see Laistner, Hand-List.

page 87 note 3 See Taylor, H. O., The Medieval Mind, 4th ed. (London, 1925) 1, 300.

page 87 note 4 Jones, C. W., Bedae Opera de Temporibus (Cambridge, Mass., 1943), p. 4.

page 88 note 1 Laistner, , Hand-List, p. 94.

page 88 note 2 De Gest. Reg. Angl., ed. Stubbs 1, 1 and 59.

page 88 note 3 Laistner, , Hand-List, p. 7.

page 88 note 4 For which, see Dorothy Whitelock, After Bede, Jarrow Lecture 1960.

page 88 note 5 Bede, HE IV. 17 [15].

page 88 note 6 See Gilson, E., The Mystical Theology of St Bernard, trans. Downes, A. H. C. (London, 1940), pp. 25 ff.

page 88 note 7 See the excellent study by Thunberg, Lars, Microcosm and Mediator: the Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (Lund, 1965).

page 89 note 1 Laistner, ‘The Library of the Venerable Bede’, p. 264.

page 90 note 1 Leclercq, , Love of Learning, p. 45.

page 90 note 2 Plummer, , Bede I, lxxviii–lxxxix.

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