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St Bede

Reflecting on the Timeless Legacy of St. Bede: Scholar, Historian and Educator

Some years ago because of my long association with St. Bede’s College at Mentone, I had the privilege of making a memorable pilgrimage to places in north-eastern England associated with St. Bede. While St. De La Salle is regarded as the pioneer of modern education, St. Bede, a Benedictine monk, has the distinction of being the first person to write scholarly works in English. Interestingly, although born over eight hundred years apart, both were honoured by the Church at the end of the nineteenth century when St. Bede was declared a Doctor of the Church and St. De La Salle a Saint by Pope Leo XIII. To-day, St. Bede is honoured in the Church as the Patron Saint of scholars and historians while St. De La Salle is the Patron Saint of teachers.

Bede is still revered in the twenty-first century as the father of English history and probably the most learned scholar of his day. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People was the first recognisable attempt at a written history of Britain and presents a unique chronicle of the British Isles from the Roman conquest to the decades that preceded the first onslaught of the Vikings. In this work, he was the first person to name the mixed races of southern Britain as “the English” and, when he writes of his own people, the reader can sense the deep pride he has for them.

Although best known to-day as an historian, four-fifths of his writing was in the field of Scripture and the most common painting of him by Penrose, the British artist, depicts his finishing his translation of St. John’s Gospel into English just before his death in 735. He certainly would have agreed with De La Salle’s “let your chief study be the Sacred Scriptures that they may be the guiding rule of your life”. Present day students at St. Bede’s are fortunate to have an attractive textured glass feature of this painting in their College Chapel.

Thanks to Bede’s universal interest in learning, his works also cover secular areas such as grammar, metrics and chronology, especially the reckoning of Easter. When we mention a date in history, we pay unconscious tribute to him because he popularised the system of using B.C. and A.D. Using Christ as the centrepiece of history was really significant for him as evidenced by the inscription near his tomb in Durham Cathedral which is taken from his writings. It reads:

“Christ is the morning star who, when the night of this world is past, brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.”

Bede’s writings had their origin in his teaching at Jarrow where he compiled manuals for his students. Noted for his obvious joy in his work and for imparting knowledge to others, he inspired his students with his own delight in learning for its own sake. His wisdom, his skill as a teacher and his belief in detailed research drew scholars from far and wide including the European continent. Hundreds of these students carried the torch of learning to distant places including the court of Charlemagne. To the end of his life, he was proud to call himself a schoolteacher.

So, peering through the prism of thirteen centuries, we respect St. Bede, not only as a saint and scholar but as a man and teacher in the mould of St. De La Salle. This quiet, learned monk whose writings in English were unknown to our Founder was essentially a human being blessed, like our Founder, with a gracious, wise personality intent on imitating Christ and was loved by his fellow religious and students. I am confident that St. Bede would wholeheartedly agree with our Founder’s maxims that “teachers who are not actively involved in the learning process themselves force their students to drink from stagnant water” and “that, as teachers you must be honoured with the friendship of Jesus.”


Source: Br Quentin O'Holloran
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