DEVOTED English monk of Jarrow, indefatigable researcher and writer, Bede is justly more famous for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People and, indeed, a mass of commentaries and other Biblical works than for his sermons. The first of the selections, newly translated from Bed.Gi. V, 81-85 by Miss Dorothy Ann Freeman, is fairly representative of the scholarly integrity and lucid allegorization characterizing his homilies. The second, of frequently challenged authenticity, is true, not only to the spirit of his age, but also to the tenor of his spiritual yearnings. It is so inextricably joined with Bede’s career through its incorporation in the breviary, as to be virtually of his lineage, whatever its immediate parentage. See MPL 94:450-52. The translation of Ne.Mpp. 2-4, 8-9 is from Cologne ed. (1688), VII, 149.
“IN THAT TIME, WHEN THE CROWDS PRESSED TO JESUS TO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD, HE STOOD BY THE LAKE Of GENESARETH” — Luke 5:1 (Homily X)
That same lake is called Genesareth, which otherwise is known as the sea of Galilee, or the sea of Tiberias; taking the name of Galilee from the adjacent province, and that of Tiberias from a near-by city which was once called Chennereth, but was refunded by Herod, the tetrarch, and called Tiberias in honor of Tiberius Caesar. Furthermore, it is called “Genesas” from the nature of the lake itself, from the Greek word,1 as if, of itself, it generated the breezes which make its waters tremble. For the lake does not usually lie stagnant, but its waters are stirred by frequent winds and are sweet and drinkable. In the Hebrew tongue, however, it is customary to call any body of water, whether sweet or salt, a sea. This lake, through which the Jordan flows, extends one hundred forty stades2 in length, and forty in width. Therefore, because the lake or sea typifies the present age, the Lord stands beside the sea [this world] after he has left the mortality of transient life in that flesh in which he suffered and has reached the stability of perpetual peace. The gathering of the crowds about him is typical of people who assemble together in faith, of whom Isaiah said: And all nations shall flow unto it, and many peoples shall come, and say: Come, let us ascend the mountain of God (2:3).
And he saw two ships drawn up by the side of the lake (Luke 5:2).
The two ships by the side of the lake represent the circumcised and the uncircumcised, which Jesus is fittingly said to have seen, for in both peoples the Lord knows who are his own, and the hearts of these he pilots out of the vicissitudes of this world to the tranquillity of the future life as if to solid shore. And this he does by seeing them, that is, by compassionately visiting them.
The fishermen, however, had disembarked, and were washing their nets (5:2).
The fishermen are the teachers of the Church, who gather us together in the net of faith and lift us up out of the depths into the light, like fish upon the shore, and thus bring us to the land of the 105 living. Like the nets of the fishers are the discourses of the preachers, which enmesh those whom they receive in faith; and they are called meshes because they enmesh.3 And these nets are sometimes let down, sometimes washed and folded for the catch; just as not every time is suitable for teaching, but sometimes the teacher ought to engage in preaching, and sometimes he ought to attend to his own concerns.
Going up into one of the ships, that was Simon’s, he asked him to push out a little from the shore. And sitting down, he taught the people from the boat (5:3).
The ship of Simon is the Early Church, about which Paul said: He who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8). Rightly he said one ship, for the multitude of believers had one heart and one spirit. From this ship he taught the people, just as the Church, on the basis of its authority, teaches the nations up to the present day.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon: Put out to sea, and let down your nets for the catch (Luke 5:4).
The fact that first he asked Simon to put out the ship a little way from the land signifies that the Gospel ought to be preached with moderation to the people. The preacher should neither teach them of earthly matters [alone], nor yet should he depart too far from earthly things into the profundities of the sacraments, let they fail to understand these things. Or [it may signify] that the Gospel should first be preached to the peoples of near-by regions, so that the words to Peter: Put out to sea, and let down your nets for the catch, would refer to the far-away nations to whom it was afterwards preached.
And Simon in answer said to him: Master, through the whole night we have labored, and have taken nothing, but at thy word I will let down the net (5:5).
Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it (Ps. 127:1; D. 126:1); unless God illuminates the hearts of the hearers, the teacher toils in darkness; unless the weapons of disputation are loosed in the spirit of the Gospel of divine grace, the preacher sends the dart of his voice in vain. For the faith of the people does not come from the wisdom of the ordered Word, but by the gift of the divine vocation.106
And when they had done this, they took a great multitude of fish. But their net was broken (Luke 5:6).
Their net was broken because of the multitude of fishes, just as now so many reprobate enter into the confession of faith with the elect, and these rend the Church with their heresies. The net is broken, but the fish are not lost, because God preserves his own even among the temptations of their enemies.
And they called to their friends, who were in another ship, to come and help them (5:7).
The other ship, as we said above, is the Church of the Gentiles which, since one small boat is not enough, is also filled with the chosen. For God knows who are his own, and with him the number of his elect is fixed. Since, then, in Judaea he did not find as many believers as he knew were predestined to faith and eternal life, as if seeking another ship to receive his fish, he filled the hearts of the Gentiles also with the grace of faith. And rightly, when the net broke, a companion ship was summoned, for before this Judas, the traitor, and Simon Magus, the most worthless of fish, had been caught; and Ananias and Sapphira had tried deceitfully to enter the net of faith; and, as John testifies, many of his disciples had departed from him and no longer walked with him; and finally Barnabus and Paul were chosen to be apostles to the Gentiles.
And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking (5:7).
The loading of these ships will increase until the end of the world; but the fact that having been filled they sink, that is, they are threatened with destruction (for they are not actually sunk, but rather in danger of shipwreck), this fact the Apostle has set forth, saying: In the last days perilous times shall come, and men shall be lovers of themselves . . . (II Tim. 3:1, 2). The sinking ships are men of this world, out of which they are lifted through faith, but back into which they fall through the ways of depravity. That Peter himself was such a man, still clogged by weakness, he shows in this place. For Luke continues:
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell on his knees before Jesus, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinner, Lord (5:8).
Just so all carnal people in the Church somehow repel from themselves the guidance of spiritual men, in whom especially the person 107 of Christ is manifested. For not only, by their voices, do they speak to the good ministers of God and reject them, but, by their customs and their deeds, they urge them to depart, that they may escape their guidance. And all the more vehemently do they reject them, when they show them honor, and yet by their deeds they urge them to depart in order to demonstrate their honorableness. Peter fell at the feet of the Lord, but it was his way of life which said: Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. The fact that the Lord did not do this (for he did not depart from them, but directed them as they brought the ships to the shore) signifies that good and spiritual men, when they are troubled by the sins of the multitude, should not desire to leave their work in the Church in order themselves to live more securely and peacefully.
And Jesus said to Simon: Fear not (5:10).
The Lord encourages mortal fear, and lifts up the spirits of the weak by consolation, lest anyone, trembling from the consciousness of his guilt, or marveling at the sinlessness of others, should fear to follow the way of holiness. Thence it follows:
From this time forth you shall catch men (5:10).
This refers especially to Peter himself. For the Lord explained to him what this catch of fish meant, namely, that just as now he caught fish with nets, thereafter he should catch men with words; and the whole order of the event demonstrates what should be done daily in the Church, of which Peter himself is the image. There is added truly:
And when they had brought the ships to land forsaking everything, they followed him (5:11).
This may signify the end of time, when all those who cling to Christ will depart entirely from this world. One should know at this point, however, a fact which is not to be read here but which Matthew and Mark state: that two fishermen from each of the boats, first Peter and Andrew, and then the sons of Zebedee, were called by the Lord. But Luke, however, suggests that these were not called by the Lord at this time, but that the command that he should catch men was laid upon Peter alone. This is not to say that he was never again to catch fish, for after the resurrection of the Lord we read that they were fishers. Therefore, we understand that they returned after their custom to the catching of fish, so that it afterwards happened, as Matthew and Mark relate, that the other two were called. [For] then they 108 did not bring their ships to land, as if to take up their work again, but they followed Christ as he called and bade them follow.
To-day, beloved, we celebrate in the joy of one solemnity, the Festival of All Saints: in whose companionship the heaven exults; in whose guardianship the earth rejoices; by whose triumph Holy Church is crowned; whose confession, as braver in its passions, is also brighter in its honour — because, while the battle increased, the glory of them that fought in it was also augmented. And the triumph of martyrdom is adorned with the manifold kind of its torments, because the more severe the pangs, the more illustrious also were the rewards; while our Mother, the Catholic Church, was taught by her Head, Jesus Christ, not to fear contumely, affliction, death; and more and more strengthened, — not by resistance, but by endurance, — inspired all of that illustrious number who suffered imprisonment or torture, with one and equal ardour to fight the battle, for triumphal glory.
O truly blessed Mother Church! so illuminated by the honour of Divine condescension, so adorned by the glorious blood of triumphant martyrs, so decked with the inviolate confession of snow-white virginity! Among its flowers, neither roses nor lilies are wanting. Endeavour now, beloved, each for yourselves, in each kind of honour, to obtain your own dignity — crowns, snow-white for chastity, or purple for passion. In those heavenly camps both peace and war have their own flowers, wherewith the soldiers of Christ are crowned.
For the ineffable and unbounded goodness of God has provided this also, that the time for labour and for agony should not be extended, — not long, not enduring, but short, and so to speak, momentary: that in this short and little life should be the pain and the labours — that in the life which is eternal should be the crown and the reward of merits: that the labours should quickly come to an end, but the reward of endurance should remain without end: that after 109 the darkness of this world they should behold that most beautiful light, and should receive a blessedness greater than the bitterness of all passions: as the Apostle beareth witness when he saith, The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).
With how joyous a breast the heavenly city receives those that return from fight! How happily she meets them that bear the trophies of the conquered enemy! With triumphant men, women also come, who rose superior both to this world and to their sex, doubling the glory of their warfare; virgins with youths, who surpassed their tender years by their virtues. Yet not they alone, but the rest of the multitude of the faithful shall also enter the palace of that eternal court, who in peaceful union have observed the heavenly commandments, and have maintained the purity of the faith.
Now, therefore, brethren, let us enter the way of life; let us return to the celestial city, in which we are citizens, enrolled and inscribed. For we are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God — heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Eph. 2:19; Rom. 8:17).
* * *
Let us consider that Paradise is our country, as well as theirs: and so we shall begin to reckon the Patriarchs as our fathers. Why do we not, then, hasten and run, that we may behold our Country, and salute our parents? A great multitude of dear ones is there expecting us: a vast and mighty crowd of parents, brothers, and children, secure now of their own safety, anxious yet for our salvation, longs that we may come to their sight and embrace — to that joy which will be common to us and to them — to that pleasure expected by our celestial fellow-servants, as well as ourselves — to that full and perpetual felicity. . . . If it be a pleasure to go to them, let us eagerly and covetously hasten on our way, that we may soon be with them, and soon be with Christ; that we may have Him as our Guide in this journey, Who is the Author of Salvation, the Prince of Life, the Giver of Gladness, and Who liveth and reigneth with God the Father Almighty, and with the Holy Ghost.
1 A play on the Greek γένεσις.
2 A stade is approximately 606 feet.
3 A play on retia and retinentia.
See, on this site, The Life of Bede, and some of his Minor Historical works, included in The Biographical Writings and Letters of Venerable Bede, translated by John Allen Giles.