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From The Biographical Writings and Letters of Venerable Bede, translated from the Latin, by J. A. Giles; James Bohn, London, 1845; pp. vii, 83-102.
LIFE OF BEDE.
OF HIS BIRTH.
THE year of our Lord 673, remarkable for one of the most important of our Early English councils, held at Hertford, for the purpose of enforcing certain general regulations of the Church, has an equal claim on our attention, as the year in which that great teacher of Religion, Literature, and Science, Venerable Bede, first saw the light.
The time of his birth has, however, been placed by some writers as late as A.D. 677, but this error arose from not perceiving that the last two or three pages of his Chronological Epitome, attached to the Ecclesiastical History, were added by another hand.1
Bede’s own words appear decisive in fixing the xviii date of his birth: — “This is the present state of Britain, about 285 years since the coming of the Saxons, and in the seven hundred and thirty-first year of our Lord’s incarnation.” To this he subjoins a short Chronology which comes down to 731, and was continued to 734, either by another hand or by Bede himself, at a later period just before his death: he then gives a short account of the principal events of his own life, and says that he has attained (attigisse) the fifty-ninth year of his life. Gehle, in his recent publication on the life of Bede, has not scrupled to fix the year 672, interpreting Bede’s expression that he had attained his fifty-ninth year as implying that he was entering on his sixtieth. On the other hand, another learned critic,2 whose opinion has been adopted by Stevenson in his Introduction [p, vii], has endeavoured to show that 674 is the true date. But in so unimportant a particular it is hardly worth while to weigh the conflicting opinions; and the intermediate date, so long ago settled by Mabillon, and apparently so naturally resulting from Bede’s own words, is perhaps the best that can be adopted.
It is always to be regretted, when little is known of the early life of eminent men, as in all cases where many facts have been handed down to elucidate the early history of such, something or other xix has invariably broken forth significant of their future life and fortunes. So very little, however, is known of this great ornament of England and Father of the Universal Church, that except his own writings, the letter of Cuthbert his disciple, and one or two other almost contemporary records, we have no means whatever of tracing his private history.
The place of his birth is said by Bede himself to have been in the territory afterwards belonging to the twin-monasteries of St. Peter and St. Paul, at Weremouth and Jarrow. The whole of this territory, lying along the coast near the mouths of the rivers Tyne and Were, was granted to Abbot Benedict by King Egfrid two years after the birth of Bede. William of Malmesbury points out more minutely the spot where our author first saw the light. His words are these: “Britain, which some writers have called another world, because, from its lying at a distance, it has been overlooked by most Geographers, contains in its remotest parts a place on the borders of Scotland, where Bede was born and educated. The whole country was formerly studded with monasteries, and beautiful cities founded therein by the Romans, but now, owing to the devastations of the Danes and Normans, has nothing to allure the senses. Through it runs the Were, a river of no mean width, and of tolerable rapidity. It flows into the sea, and receives ships,
which are driven thither by the wind, into its tranquil bosom. A certain Benedict built churches on its banks, and founded there two monasteries, named after St. Peter and St. Paul, and united together by the same rule and bond of brotherly love.”3 — The birth of Bede happened in the third year of Egfrid, son of Oswy, the first of the kings of Northumberland, after the union of the provinces Deira and Bernicia into one monarchy. The dominions of this King now extended from the Humber to the Frith of Forth, and comprehended all the six northern counties of England, and the whole of the southern part of Scotland. The piety of Egfrid induced him to grant the large tract of land above-mentioned to one Biscop, surnamed Benedict, who had formerly been one of his thanes, but now became a monk, and built thereon a monastery which he dedicated to St. Peter, on the north bank of the River Were, and which from this circumstance derived the name of Weremouth. The same pious Abbot, eight years after [A.D. 682], built another monastic establishment, which he dedicated to St. Paul, at Jarrow, on the banks of the Tyne, at the distance of about five miles from the former. In memory of this, the following inscription, which has been preserved, was carved on a tablet in the church at Jarrow: —
S. Pauli VIII Kal. Maii
Anno XV Egfridi Regis
Ceolfridi Abb. ejusdemque
Ecclesiæ Deo auctore
Conditoris anno IV.
The Dedication of the Church
of Saint Paul, on the 24th of April
in the fifteenth year of King Egfrid
and in the fourth year of Abbot Ceolfrid,
who, under God, founded the same church.
These two establishments were for many years ruled by Benedict himself, and his associates Ceolfrid, Easterwin, and Sigfrid, and from the unity and concord which prevailed between the two, deserved rather, as Bede expresses it, to be called “one single Monastery built in two different places.”4
We cannot be certain as to the exact spot, but it is sufficiently near the mark to ascertain that Bede was born in the neighbourhood of these two monasteries, and probably in the village of Jarrow.
Of his parents nothing has been recorded. He tells us, in his own short narrative of himself, that he was placed, at the age of seven years, under the care of Abbot Benedict, in the Abbey of Weremouth, that of Jarrow being not yet built. When, however, this second establishment was founded, Bede appears to have gone thither under Ceolfrid its first Abbot, and to have resided there all the remainder of his life.xxii
OF HIS YOUTH.
FOR a youth of such studious habits and indefatigable industry, no situation could have been more appropriate than that in which he was now placed. Benedict Biscop, the founder of the monasteries, was a man of extraordinary learning and singular piety. Though a nobleman by birth, he was unwearied in the pursuit of knowledge, and in ameliorating the condition of his country. In order to accomplish his benevolent intentions, he travelled into other countries, and introduced not only foreign literature, but arts hitherto unknown, into our island. He was the first who brought masons and glaziers home with him, having need of their services in the noble buildings which he erected. He travelled four or five times to Rome, and became intimate with Pope Agatho. Here he was much captivated with the Liturgy of the Roman Church, and their manner of chaunting, for until then the Gallican or Mozarabic Liturgy was used both in Britain and Ireland, as is alluded to in Augustine’s Questions to Pope Gregory. Each time, on his return to England, Benedict carried back with him the most valuable books, and costly relics and xxiii works of art which could be procured for money. This collection, which was, by his orders, preserved with peculiar care, received considerable augmentations from the zeal and munificence of his successors. Bede’s thirst for study was here, no doubt, satisfied: so large and valuable a library could scarcely have been within his reach elsewhere, even among the other Benedictines of the day, however, well qualified that order may be to encourage a taste for learning, and to provide means for gratifying that taste among its fosterlings. In so large a community, too, as that of Weremouth, there were doubtlessly many scholars of mature age who would all assist in promoting the studies of so talented a youth as he who was now introduced within their walls.
Bede was not, however, left to chance, or the untutored dictates of his own youthful fancy, to find his way as he could through the years spent in the rudiments of learning. In the study of Theology and the Holy Scriptures, he received, as he himself tell us,5 the instructions of Trumbert, a monk, who had been educated under the holy Ceadda, Bishop of Lichfield. The art of chaunting, as it was practised at Rome, was taught him by John, the Arch-chaunter of St. Peter’s at Rome, who had been, by xxiv the consent of Pope Agatho, brought into Britain by Biscop Benedict. This celebrated singer attracted multitudes of people from the countries adjoining to the monastery of Weremouth to witness his performances. It has also been said by Stubbs,6 that Bede received instructions from John of Beverley, the disciple of Archbishop Theodore; and possibly this may have been the case, as he might also from others learned in the Greek and Latin tongue who were in the company of that famous Archbishop; but Mabillon thinks that the author above referred to has made a confusion between the two Johns, for there is no other mention whatever made of his being a pupil of John of Beverley. It is certain, however, that Bede possessed considerable knowledge, not only in the Latin and Greek languages, but also in the Hebrew, although nothing remains which had been ascribed to him in that language, save a vocabulary entitled “Interpretatio nominum Hebraicorum,” which, however, is the production of another. In the Greek tongue he must have made considerable proficiency, as appears from his “Ars Metrica,” and from his having translated the life of Anastasius and the Gospel of St. John out of that language into Latin. The last two of these productions are no longer extant.
Whatever advantages, however, Bede may have xxv enjoyed, the principal was his own ardour in the pursuit of learning; and let us remember, that the rules of the monastic institution did not leave the student the uncontrolled disposal of his own time. Many offices, not wholly menial, were performed by the brethren; he himself instances Biscop the founder, and says, he, like the rest of the brothers, delighted to exercise himself in winnowing the corn, and thrashing it, in giving milk to the lambs and calves, in the bakehouse, in the garden, in the kitchen, and in the other employments of the monastery; a considerable portion of the day was spent in discharging the duties required by the monastic rules, and in the daily service and psalmody of the church. All his leisure time was not even then occupied in reading; part was devoted to writing and to the instruction of others. His own words are here in point. “Cunctum vitæ tempus in ejusdem Monasterii habitatione peragens, omnem meditandis Scripturis operam dedi; atque inter observantiam disciplinæ regularis et quotidianam cantandi in ecclesia curam, semper aut discere, aut docere, aut scribere dulce habui.” — “All my life I spent in that same Monastery, giving my whole attention to the study of the Holy Scriptures, and in the intervals between the hours of regular discipline and the duties of singing in the church, I took pleasure in learning, or teaching, or writing something.”xxvi
OF HIS ADMISSION TO HOLY ORDERS.
THE twenty-fifth year of one’s age, was then, as the twenty-fourth at present, the limit of admission to Deacon’s Orders. Of his own entry into this holy ordination, let us hear what he says himself. “Nono decimo vitæ meæ anno, Diaconatum, tricesimo gradum Presbyteratus, utrumque per ministerium reverendissimi Episcopi Joannis, jubente Ceolfrido Abbate, suscepi.” — “In the nineteenth year of my life I was made Deacon, and in the thirtieth was ordained Priest; both ordinances were conferred on me by Bishop John, at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid.”
This John was Bishop of Hagulstad, now Hexham, in the county of Northumberland, and the monasteries of Weremouth and Jarrow were in his diocese, for the see of Durham did not exist until a later period, when the Brotherhood of Lindisfarne settled there, carrying with them the bones of St. Cuthbert. This John is also better known by the name of John of Beverley, and is mentioned in high terms by Bede in his History. So remarkable a deviation from the general rule as the ordination of a candidate for Holy Orders in the nineteenth year of his age, is in itself a sufficient proof of the estimation xxvii in which the young Student was held. His piety, moreover, must have been well known to the Abbot who sent him for ordination, and to the Bishop, who hesitated not to admit him so prematurely to that holy rite. It is moreover said of him that, in his ardour for study, he declined to be raised to the dignity of an Abbot, lest the distraction to which the care of such an establishment, or family, as the Historian expresses it, would subject him, might allow him less time and leisure for his favourite pursuits. “Officium quippe curam requirit, cura mentem distrahit, distractio studium literarum impedit.”7
This, however, no doubt happened after he took priest’s orders in his thirtieth year, though the eleven years which intervened must have been sedulously spent in laying up that store of erudition which afterwards enabled him to bring forth from his treasury things both new and old. For it does not appear that he published any thing in writing until after he had undergone the second of the Church’s ordinances. This we have from his own words, “Ex quo tempore accepti Presbyteratus usque ad annum ætatis meæ quinquagesimum nonum, hæc in Scripturam Sanctam meæ meorumque necessitati ex opusculis Venerabilium Patrum breviter adnotare, sive etiam ad formam sensus et interpretationis xxviii eorum superadjicere curavi.” — “From the time of my taking Priest’s orders, to the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have occupied myself in making these short extracts from the works of the Venerable Fathers for the use of me and mine, or in adding thereto somewhat of my own, after the model of their meaning and interpretation.”
If, however, he was admitted unusually early to the orders of Deacon, he was in no mind, on the other hand, to rush hastily, or without long and patient study, into the fully duty of the priest’s office; and thus he devoted eleven patient years to qualify himself for the various services which he was preparing to render to the Literature of his country, and the Interests of the Church.
OF HIS CLERICAL AND LITERARY LABOURS.
THE office of priest, or maess preost, mass-priest, as he is called in King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon translation, brought with it a considerable portion of duties which would not allow him to devote the whole of his time to his favourite occupations. His employment was to say mass in the church, by which we are to understand that he officiated at the different masses which were performed at different hours in the day, besides perhaps assisting in the xxix morning and evening prayers of the monastery. The following extracts from Anglo-Saxon writers, quoted by Sharon Turner, will well describe the responsible functions which were supposed to belong to the priest’s office.
“Priests! you ought to be well provided with books and apparel as suits your condition. The mass-priest should at least have his missal, his singing-book, his reading-book, his psalter, his hand-book, his penitential, and his numeral one. He ought to have his officiating garments, and to sing from sun-rise, with the nine intervals and nine readings. His sacramental cup should be of gold or silver, glass or tin, and not of earth, at least not of wood. The altar should be always clean, well clothed, and not defiled with dirt. There should be no mass without wine.
“Take care that you be better and wiser in your spiritual craft than worldly men are in theirs, that you may be fit teachers of true wisdom. The priest should preach rightly the true belief; read fit discourses; visit the sick; and baptize infants, and give the unction when desired. No one should be a covetous trader, nor a plunderer, nor drunk often in wine-houses, nor be proud or boastful, or wear ostentatious girdles, nor be adorned with gold, but to do honour to himself by his good morals.
“They should not be litigious nor quarrelsome, xxx nor seditious, but should pacify the contending; nor carry arms, nor go to any fight, though some say that priests should carry weapons when necessity requires; yet the servant of God ought not to go to any war or military exercises. Neither a wife nor a battle becomes them, if they will rightly obey God and keep his laws as becomes their state.”8
Their duties are also described in the Canons of Edgar in the following terms: —
“They were forbidden to carry any controversy among themselves to a lay-tribunal. Their own companions were to settle it, or the bishop was to determine it.
“No priest was to forsake the church to which he was consecrated, nor to intermeddle with the rights of others, nor to take the scholar of another. He was to learn sedulously his own handicraft, and not put another to shame for his ignorance, but to teach him better. The high-born were not to despise the less-borne, nor any to be unrighteous or covetous dealers. He was to baptize whenever required, and to abolish all heathenism and witchcraft. They were to take care of their churches, and apply exclusively to their sacred duties; and not to indulge in idle speech, or idle deeds, or excessive drinking; nor to let dogs come within xxxi their church-inclosure, nor more swine than a man might govern.
“They were to celebrate mass only in churches, and on the altar, unless in cases of extreme sickness. They were to have at mass their corporalis garment, and the subucula under their alba; and all their officiating garments were to be woven. Each was to have a good and right book. No one was to celebrate mass, unless fasting, and unless he had one to make responses; nor more than three times a day; nor unless he had, for the Eucharist, pure bread, wine and water. The cup was to be of something molten, not of wood. No woman was to come near the altar during mass. The bell was to be rung at the proper time.
“They were to preach every Sunday to the people; and always to give good examples. They were ordered to teach youth with care, and to draw them to some craft. They were to distribute alms, and urge the people to give them, and to sing the psalms during the distribution, and to exhort the poor to intercede for the donors. They were forbidden to swear, and were to avoid ordeals. They were to recommend confession, penitence and compensation; to administer the sacrament to the sick, and to anoint him if he desired it; and the priest was always to keep oil ready for this purpose and for baptism. He was neither to hunt, or hawk, or xxxii dice; but to play with his book as became his condition.”9
But the duties pointed out in these extracts do not seem to have satisfied the Venerable Bede; he applied himself to every branch of literature and science then known, and besides study, and writing comments on the Scriptures, he treated on several subjects, on history, astrology, orthography, rhetoric, and poetry; in the latter of which he was no inferior to other poets of that age, as appears by what he has left us on the Life of St. Cuthbert, and some places in his Ecclesiastical History; he wrote likewise two books of the Art of Poetry, which are not now extant; a book of Hymns, and another of Epigrams. Thus this studious and venerable man employed all that little time he could save from the call of his duty, in improving the souls and understandings of men; which he did not only to mankind in general, but more particularly to those pupils immediately under his care, which were no less than six hundred, the number of the brothers of that convent. Of these, several by the influence of his teaching came to make considerable figures in the world, as Eusebius or Huetbert, to whom he inscribed his book, De Ratione Temporum, and his Interpretation on the Apocalypse, and who was xxxiii afterwards Abbot of Weremouth: Cuthbert, called likewise Antonius, to whom he inscribed his book, De [Arte] Metrica, and who succeeded Huetbert, and was afterwards Abbot of Jarrow; he wrote of his master’s death, but of this hereafter: also Constantine, to whom he inscribed his book, De Divisione Numerorum; and Nothelmus, then priest at London, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he wrote, Lib. Questionum XXX in Libros Regum; to which we may add several in other monasteries; whilst others have improperly classed amongst them Alcuinius, afterwards preceptor to Charles the Great.
Thus was the time of that excellent man employed in doing good to mankind, seldom or never moving beyond the limits of his own monastery, and yet in the dark cloister of it surveying the whole world, and dispensing to it the gifts entrusted to him: it seems not a little surprising, that one who had scarcely moved away from the place of his nativity, should so accurately describe those at a distance; and this quality in his writings, when considered with reference to the age in which he lived, is the more remarkable, as there is but one other recorded in history who possessed it in equal perfection, — the immortal Homer.xxxiv
OF HIS SUPPOSED JOURNEY TO ROME.
THE peaceful tenor of Bede’s monastic life was apparently uninterrupted by absence or travel, and his own words might be thought to afford sufficient authority for the supposition. A controversy, however, on this subject has arisen from a letter first published by William of Malmesbury, which to this hour has not been satisfactorily decided. This historian says that Bede’s learning and attainments were so highly esteemed, that Pope Sergius wished to see him at Rome and consult him on questions of importance and difficulty relating to the Church. He accordingly quotes a letter, addressed by Sergius to Abbot Ceolfrid, in which he is requested to send Bede without delay to Rome. Now it is argued, and apparently with truth, that Bede would not have dared to decline an invitation coming from so high a quarter; and yet it is all but certain that Bede was never out of England. He tells us distinctly that his whole life was spent in the neighbourhood of Jarrow; and that the letters, which he has inserted in his Ecclesiastical History, had been procured for him at Rome by Nothelm, which would certainly lead us to infer that Bede xxxv was not there himself. Moreover, he tells us in his treatise, De Natura Rerum , that he was not with the monks of Yarrow, who went to Rome in the year 701.
The last editor of the Ecclesiastical History thinks that he has succeeded in clearing up this difficulty, by the discovery of an earlier copy of the letter in question, [Tob. A. xv. fol. 6, b, in the British Museum,] than that given by William of Malmesbury.
The following is a copy of the letter from the manuscript in question, with the variations of Malmesbury, Stevenson and Gehle inserted in brackets in their proper places: —
“Sergius episcopus, servus servorum Dei, Ceolfrido religioso abbati presbyteroque, [prebyteroque om. M.] salutem.”
“Quibut verbis et modis clementiam Dei nostri atque inenarrabilem providentiam possumus effari, et dignis gratiarum actionibus [-nas G. -nes St. qui lectionem MSti in nota addit] pro immensis circa nos ejus beneficiis persolvere, qui in tenebris et umbra mortis positos ad lumen suæ scientiæ producit. [Quibus . . . producit om G.] . . . Benedictionis interea gratiam, quam nobis per præsentem portitorem tua misit devota religio, libenti et hilari animo, sicuti ab ea directa est, nos suscepisse cognosce, et pro ejus nimirum conscientiæ puritate xxxvi Dominum ejusque Apostolos deprecamur, ut per cujus prædicationem ad lumen veritatis accessimus, tribuat pro parvis magna, et cœlestis regni perpetua beneficia condonari concedat.” [et pro ejus . . . concedat om. M. et G.]
“Opportunis ergo ac dignis amplectendæ tuæ sollicitudinis petitionibus arctissima devotione faventes, hortamur Deo dilectam bonitatis tuæ religiositatem, ut quia, exortis quibusdam ecclesiasticarum causarum capitulis non sine examinatione longius innotescendis, opus nobis sunt ad conferendum arte literaturæ [ium — ra St. qui-e-æ in nota subjicit. -is -ra G.] imbuti, sicut decet Deo [Deo om. G.] devotum auxiliatorem sanctæ matris universalis ecclesiæ obedientem devotionem [devotioni M.] huic nostræ hortationi [exhort. G.] non desistas accommodare, sed absque aliqua remoratione [immorat. G.] religiosum Dei nostri famulum [relig. fam. Dei Bedam G., rel. fam. Bedam M.] venerabilis tui monasterii [monasterii presbyterum M. monasterii (presbyterum) G. qui notat hanc vocem in Cod. MS. Cotton. abesse] ad veneranda limina Apostolorum principum dominorum meorum Petri et Pauli, amatorum tuorum ac protectorum, ad nostræ mediocritatis conspectum non moraris [Ita St. moreris G.] dirigere. Quem favente Domino, tuisque sanctis precibus, non diffidas prospere ad te redire, peracta præmissorum capitulorum cum auxilio xxxvii Dei desiderata solennitate. Erit [Erit enim G.] ut confidimus, etiam [et G.] cunctis tibi creditis profuturum, quidquid ecclesiæ generali devoto sancto collegio [d. s. c. om M.] claruerit præstantissime [per ejus præstantaim M.] impertitum.”
In English, thus:
“Sergius bishop, Servant of the Servants of God, to the holy Abbot and Priest Ceolfrid. Health!
“In what words or ways can we describe the mercy and unspeakable Providence of our God, and give due thanks to Him for his numberless benefits towards us, who brings us, when we are lying in darkness and the shadow of death, to the light of his knowledge!
“The favour of your blessing, which your devoted piety sent to us by the present bearer, has been received by us with pleasure and delight, according to your directions: and we pray the Lord and his apostles for your conscientious purity, that he, by whose preaching we came to the light of truth, may give us great things for small, and grant us the everlasting blessings of his heavenly kingdom.
“Wherefore favouring with our utmost devotion the seasonable and worthy petition of your honoured solicitude, we exhort your holy and religious goodness, that, inasmuch as certain Ecclesiastical particulars have arisen, which cannot be more perfectly xxxviii understood without examination, we wish to have some men well skilled in literature to confer with; and that, as becomes a devout champion of Holy Mother Church, you do not fail to your obedient devotion to this our exhortation, but without delay send God’s religious servant [Bede, priest] of your venerable monastery, to the hallowed threshold of the chief of the Apostles, our Lords Peter and Paul, our friends and protectors, that he may come and visit my nothingness. Whom if God and the Holy Saints so please, you need not fear of receiving safe home again, when he shall, with the help of God and in all due solennity, have finished the aforesaid matters. For it will, I trust, also be profitable to all who are under your care, if any thing shall through his excellency become known to the church in general.”
Such is the letter of Pope Sergius, which has been preserved by William of Malmesbury; and some modern critics have not hesitated, from the difficulties before mentioned which it involves, to pronounce it altogether spurious.10 It is argued that Bede did not take priest’s orders till the year 672, whereas this letter was written in 670, and Pope Sergius died in 671.xxxix
Gehle, who does not examine the subject at much length, explains the favour which Sergius names as having granted to Abbot, Ceolfrid, to be the privilege or charter of which Bede makes mention in his Lives of the Abbots of Weremouth and Jarrow, — “Missis Romam monachis tempore beatæ recordationis Sergii Papæ, privilegium ab eo pro tuitione sui monasterii instar illius, quod Agatho Papa Benedicto dederat, accepit Ceolfridus. Quod Britanniæ perlatum, et coram Synodo patefactum, præsentium Episcoporum simul et magnifici Regis Alfridi subscriptione confirmatum est, quomodo etiam prius illud sui temporis Regem et Episcopos in Synodo publice confirmasse non latet.”
“Some monks were sent to Rome in the time of Sergius, of blessed memory, and through them Ceolfrid received from him a privilege for the protection of his monastery, as Benedict had before received from Pope Agatho. Which, being brought back to Britain, and laid before a Synod, was confirmed by the subscription of the bishops who were present, and his highness King Alfrid, in the same way as we know the former was subscribed in a Synod by the king and bishops of that time.”
This fact seems to throw some light on the letter of Sergius. If, as is probable, he therein alludes to this charter, he does so in terms not so clear as would have been made to appear by Malmesbury, if the letter were a forgery, and yet sufficiently clear xl when the allusion is explained. This is indirect testimony to the genuineness of the document. As to the word “presbyterum,” priest, being interpolated by Malmesbury, he might have done so very innocently, knowing that Bede was afterwards a priest, and at the moment not reflecting that he was not one at the time.
It is a most obvious error for an historian to describe a man in his youth by the titles which he received at a later period of his life.
But let us now examine the solution of this difficulty, which has been proposed from the Cottonian MS. The text of that document, which, having suffered from fire, is now under process of restoration and cannot be inspected, is said to be as follows: —
Ut — absque ulla remoratione religiosum Dei nostri famulum venerabilis tui monasterii ad veneranda limina Apostolorum, &c. non moreris dirigere.
According to the proposed solution it will be necessary to translate this passage: —
That you do not delay to send some religious servant of God of your venerable monastery to the hallowed threshold of the Apostles, &c.
To this interpretation there is one insuperable objection; in a passage where no individual has been previously mentioned, “devotum Dei nostri famulum” cannot mean some or a devout servant of God: the insertion of quendam is absolutely necessary. It must mean “the or that devout servant of God,” and to make this intelligible some proper xlii name is required. The inference would rather be, that in the MS. in question the word Bedam had been inadvertently omitted.
I had already noticed this difficulty, when I accidentally referred to Mr. Hardy’s edition of William of Malmesbury, where he gives a different reading of the same MS., which clears up the whole question. “From what is here stated, the tradition that Bede visited Rome met probably with supporters in Malmesbury’s time, though he does not seem to attach great weight to it. The letter of Pope Sergius, however, affords the strongest presumption that Bede was invited over: and the argument of the learned Wilkins assigns a probably reason why the journey was not undertaken: he thinks that the letter was written in the last year of the pontificate of Sergius (A.D. 701), and conjectures that the subsequent arrival of messengers in England with tidings of the pontiff’s decease occasioned Beda to relinquish his purposed journey. An opinion, however, has been lately expressed, that ‘the story of Beda’s summons to Rome is founded upon an error committed by Malmesbury, who, having met with a letter in which Pope Sergius requested Ceolfrid, Abbot of Jarrow, to send one of his monks to Rome, concluded that Beda was that individual, and most unjustifiably inserted his name therein.’ In support of this xlii charge it has been alleged, that there is still extant (of an earlier date than Malmesbury’s work) a copy of this letter, (Tiberius, A. xv.) in which the passage relating to Beda does not occur. In answer to this it may be urged, that Usher, who had seen and copied the letter from the MS. above alluded to, arrives at no such conclusion. He had, moreover, in his possession an ancient MS. containing the letter entire, from which Malmesbury gives but extracts; and therein Beda’s name does occur, though he is not described as presbyter. The only inference drawn by Usher is, that the omission of Beda’s description is not without reason, inasmuch as he had not at that time been ordained priest. Before it can be admitted as a just inference that Malmesbury interpolated the passage in question, it must be shewn that Tiberius A. xv. was the identical copy of the letter he used; a conclusion which cannot fairly be drawn, as it is incredible but that other copies of the letter must have been extant when he wrote: and it ought rather to be contended that the one he saw must have contained the passage in dispute; for Malmesbury (whose great integrity is admitted by all writers) several times expressly declares that he declined inserting anything in his history for which he had not the best authority. Moreover, had he been guilty of the interpolation attributed to him, it is improbable that he xliii would have used language so candid as that he has employed.”11 “In the Cotton MS. (Tiberius, A. xv. fol. 6) the passage occurs thus: ‘Dei famulum N. venerabilis tui monasterii.’ These words have been read incorrectly, as is seems ‘Dei nostri famulum.’ From the fact of the letter N. being found in the Cotton MS. for the name of the person summoned to Rome, it might be inferred that, in the transcript from which the writer copied, the name had been accidentally omitted, and that the passage was not clear: — some word appears wanting to complete the construction of the sentence, as it stands in Tib. A. xv.”12
It is quite as likely that Bede should have been specified as any other person, for he was then about twenty-eight years old, and was already beginning to be well known for his extraordinary erudition, particularly in the Scriptures. It appears, therefore, on the whole, the wisest plan to adopt the explanation of Wilkins and Gehle, who suggest that the death of Sergius, which took place shortly after the writing of the above letter, was the reason why Bede did not take the required journey. The Cottonian MS. above referred to, has not, as we have just seen, been appealed to for the first time. Usher quotes it (apud Wilkins) and says that the word “presbyterum,” xliv priest, is wanting. He does not allude to the absence of the word Bedam, as thinking, probably, that it was an omission of the copyist.
OF HIS PRETENDED RESIDENCE AT CAMBRIDGE.
IT has been also maintained that Bede resided at the University of Cambridge, and taught there in the office of Professor. This has been maintained by certain members of that University, who have been eager to claim such an illustrious man as their own; whilst other writers of the University of Oxford have been induced, by a corresponding jealousy, to deny the fact.
The principal authority for this ill-supported statement is found in a volume called Liber Niger, preserved in the University of Cambridge. Out of that book, Hearne, in the year 1719, published “Nicolai Cantalupi Historiola de Antiquitate et Origine Universitatis Cantabrigiensis, simul cum Chronicis Sprotti Ox.”13xlv
In this history Bede is said, “at the request of Doctor Wilfrid, and at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid, to have left the territory belonging to the Monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, and being even then a monk in mind and regular discipline, though not in dress, to have gone, in the year 682, to Cambridge, where by sowing the seeds of knowledge for himself and others, by writing books and teaching the ignorant, he was of use before God and man in eradicating prevailing errors:” — ‘rogatu Wilridi doctoris, jubente CEOLFRIDO Abbate, de territorio monasterii PETRI et PAULI Wiremuder, mente licet non habitu monasticus, jam disciplinis inhærens, anno 682 (ætatis igitur decimo!) pervenisse Cantabrigiam, ubi sibi et aliis fructus scientiæ seminando, libros scribendo, inscios informando, profecerit coram Deo et hominibus in erroribus enervandis.”
It is hardly necessary to observe, that this is said to have happened at a time when Bede was little more than nine years old! Seven years after he is stated to have had public honours conferred on him by the University, and at a later period to be still pursuing the duties of a teacher.
In support of these statements a letter is produced, purporting to be addressed to the Students of the University of Cambridge, by Albinus or Alcuin, the preceptor of Charlemagne. The following is a copy: —xlvi
Discretis CHRISTI hæredibus, immaculatæ Matris Cantabrigiæ scholaribus, ALCUINUS, vita peccator, salutem et doctrinæ virtutibus gloriam. Quoniam ignorantia mater est erroris, rogo intime, ut inter vos assuescant pueri adstare laudibus superni Regis, non vulpium fodere cavernas, non fugaces leporum cursus sequi, discant nunc Scripturas Sacras, habita cognitione veritatis scientiæ ut ita ætate perfecta alios docere possint. Recogitate, obsecro, carissimi, nobilissimum nostri temporis magistrum BEDAM Presbyterum, vestræ Universitatis doctorem, sub quo, divina permittente gratia, gradum suscepi doctoralem A. ab Incarnatione Domini 692, qualem habuit in juventute studendi animum, qualem nunc habet inter homines laudem, et multo magis apud Deum remunerationis gloriam. Valete semper in CHRISTO JESU, cujus gratia coadjuvati estis in doctrina. Amen.”
It is added, that at an advanced period fo life, when he was about to retire from the Univeristy, he thus addressed his disciples, “Discite, filioli, dum vobiscum sum. Nescio enim, quamdiu subsistam, et si post modicum tollat me Factor meus, et revertatur animus meus ad eum qui misit illum et in hanc vitam venire concessit, diu vixi. Bene consuluit mihi Dominus meus Jesus in hoc vita spatio, cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.”
The whole of this history, however, recorded by xlvii Cantalupe, is evidently spurious. This is shown both by the anachronisms in which it abounds, and by the letter of Alcuin, and Bede’s final exhortation, which are copied in some parts verbatim from the letter of Cuthbert, describing Bede’s last illness.14
OF HIS OCCASIONAL VISITS TO HIS FRIENDS.
FROM the foregoing narrative we may infer that Bede did not travel far from the monastery. This is both plainly asserted in his own account of his secluded life, and appears also from the want of any evidence to the contrary. Yet it is certain that he made visits and excursions to other places, nor can we suppose that he secluded himself entirely within the monastery, and never indulged the pleasure of seeing and conversing with his friends. In his own letter to Egbert, Archbishop of York, and nephew to King Ceolwulph, he alludes to a visit which he paid to that nobleman and prelate, and acknowledges an invitation to go there for the sake of conferring with xlviii him on their common pursuits in the year following. He was unable to comply with this request, in consequence of illness, and therefore communicated with his friend by letter. In another letter, still extant, addressed to Wichred on the celebration of Easter, he speaks of the kindness and affability with which he had been received by him on a former occasion. It is not improbable that he might sometimes likewise pay visits to the court; for Ceolwulph, King of the Northumbrians, in one of whose provinces, i.e. Bernicia, Bede lived, was himself a man of singular learning, and a very great encourager of it in others; and had, doubtless, an extraordinary respect for Bede, as appears by his request to him to write the Ecclesiastical History and by Bede’s submitting the papers to him for his perusal. That prince was not only a lover of learned men in general, but especially of that part of them who led a monastic life, insomuch that, about three years after Bede’s death, he resigned his crown, and became a monk at Lindisfarne.
OF BEDE’S DISCIPLES.
THE author, mentioned in the last chapter, records also that many famous men were disciples of xlix the Venerable Bede, and among others the following still more distinguished than the rest: Cheulph, Maurice, Oswald, and Cadoc, who for their learning and virtues were held in high estimation by the people. Carter, a schoolmaster of Cambridge, seems to speak on no better authority, in his History of the University of Cambridge,15 where he attempts to prove its superior antiquity over that of Paris.
“As for Paris,” says he, “which claims the precedency, it is at most no older than the reign of Charlemagne, and founded by four disciples of the venerable Bede.”
Though the character of Cantalupe’s History is too low to allow us to attach any importance to this and other statements which it contains, yet “Bede’s knowledge of the Scriptures, the result of so many years of patient study, and his great reputation for learning, would no doubt draw round him a multitude of disciples. The names of some of his more favoured pupils are preserved by himself, in the dedications to such of his works as were undertaken at their suggestion, or for their especial benefit. Amongst these we may notice Huetbert, afterwards Abbot of Weremouth, to whom he dedicated his treatise De Ratione Temporum, and his Exposition l upon the Revelations; Cuthbert, the successor of Huetbert, for whom he wrote his Liber de Arte Metrica; Constantine, for whose use he edited a dissertation concerning the division of Numbers; and, lastly, Nothelm, presbyter of London, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, at whose request he propounded thirty questions upon the Books of Kings. Although there were probably other disciples, whose names he does not specify, yet we can by no means agree with Vincent of Beauvais16 in including amongst the number Rhabanus Maurus, who was not born until fifty years after Bede’s death; nor the more celebrated Alcuin, as some writers erroneously have done.”17
OF HIS DEATH.
THE tranquillity of Bede’s life, passed, as we have seen, entirely in the Monastery of Jarrow, has left it a difficult task for his biographers to extend their accounts of him to that length which might seem suitable to his reputation and the value of his works. It has been truly remarked li that scholars and persons of sedentary habits, though liable to frequent petty illnesses from want of bodily exercise and too great mental exertion are nevertheless on the whole rather a long-lived race. This rule was not exemplified in the case of Bede. He seems to have contracted at a somewhat early period a complaint in his stomach, accompanied with shortness of breath: “Ita ut,” says Malmesbury, “stomacho laboraret ægroque et angusto suspirio anhelitum duceret.”18 An attack of this disorder had lately prevented him from visiting his friend Archbishop Egbert, and led to his writing him the valuable letter on the duties of a bishop, which we have still extant. We are not informed whether the disorder left him at that time, and came on afresh, when it at last killed him; but it is most probable that he enjoyed general ill health during the last few years of his existence. He was ill some weeks before he died, and was attended by Cuthbert, who had been one of his pupils, and after Huetbert became abbot of the monastery. The Christian piety with which he suffered the dispensation which awaited him, has been the universal theme of panegyric. The whole scene of his increasing malady, his devout resignation, and fervent prayers for all his friends, lii together with his paternal admonitions for the regulation of their lives, and his uncontrollable anxiety to dictate to the boy who was his amanuensis, even to his last moments, are so beautifully recorded in the letter of his pupil Cuthbert, that we shall not attempt to describe it in other terms.19
CUTHBERT’S LETTER ON THE DEATH OF VENERABLE BEDE.
“TO his fellow-reader Cuthwin, beloved in Christ, Cuthbert, his school-fellow; Health for ever in the Lord. I have received with much pleasure the small present which you sent me, and with much satisfaction read the letters of your devout erudition; wherein I found that masses and holy prayers are diligently celebrated by you for our father and master, Bede, whom God loved: this was what I principally desired, and therefore it is more pleasing, for the love of him (according to my capacity), in a few words to relate in what manner he departed this world, understanding that you also desire and ask the same. He was much troubled with shortness liii of breath, yet without pain, before the day of our Lord’s resurrection, that is about a fortnight; and thus he afterwards passed his life, cheerful and rejoicing, giving thanks to Almighty God every day and night, nay, every hour, till the day of our Lord’s Ascension, that is, the seventh of the Calends of June [twenty-sixth of May] and daily read lessons to us his disciples, and whatever remained of the day, he spent in singing psalms; he also passed all the night awake, in joy and thanksgiving, unless a short sleep prevented it; in which case he no sooner awoke than he presently repeated his wonted exercises, and ceased not to give thanks to God with uplifted hands. I declare with truth, that I have never seen with my eyes, nor heard with my ears, any man so earnest in giving thanks to the Living God.
“O truly happy man! He chanted the sentence of St. Paul the Apostle, It is dreadful to fall into the hands of the Living God, and much more out of Holy Writ; wherein also he admonished us to think of our last hour, and to shake off the sleep of the soul; and being learned in our poetry, he said some things also in our tongue, for he said, putting the same into English,
“For tham neod-fere
Thonne him thearf sy
Ær his heonen-gange
Hwet his gaste
Godes oththe yveles
Æfter deathe heonen
which means this: — liv
“ ‘No man is wiser than is requisite, before the necessary departure; that is, to consider, before the soul departs hence, what good or evil it hath done, and how it is to be judged after its departure.’
“He also sang Antiphons according to our custom and his own, one of which is, ‘O glorious King, Lord of all Power, who, triumphing this day, didst ascend above all the Heavens; do not forsake us orphans; but send down upon us the Spirit of Truth which was promised to us by the Father. Hallelujah!’ And when he came to that word, ‘do not forsake us,’ he burst into tears, and wept much, and an hour after he began to repeat what he had commenced, and we, hearing it, mourned with him. By turns we read, and by turns we wept, nay, we wept always whilst we read. In such joy we passed the days of Lent, till the aforesaid day; and he rejoiced much, and gave God thanks, because he had been thought worthy to be so weakened. He often repeated, ‘That God scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;’ and much more out of Holy Scripture; as also this sentence from St. Ambrose, ‘I have not lived so as to be ashamed to live among you; nor did I fear to die, because we have a gracious God.’ During these days he laboured to compose two works well worthy to be remembered, besides the lessons we had from him, and singing of Psalms; viz. he translated the Gospel of St. John as far lv as the words: ‘But what are these among so many, etc. [St. John, ch. vi. v. 9.] into our own tongue, for the benefit of the Church; and some collections out of the Book of Notes of Bishop Isodorus, saying: ‘I will not have my pupils read a falsehood, nor labour therein without profit after my death.’ When the Tuesday before the Ascension of our Lord came, he began to suffer still more in his breath, and a small swelling appeared in his feet; but he passed all that day and dictated cheerfully, and now and then among other things, said, ‘Go on quickly, I know not how long I shall hold out, and whether my Maker will not soon take me away.’ But to us he seemed very well to know the time of his departure; and so he spent the night, awake, in thanksgiving; and when the morning appeared, that is, Wednesday, he ordered us to write with all speed what he had begun; and this done, we walked till the third hour with the relics of saints, according to the custom of that day. There was one of us with him, who said to him, ‘Most dear master, there is still one chapter wanting: do you think it troublesome to be asked any more questions?’ He answered, ‘It is no trouble. Take your pen, and make ready, and write fast.’ Which he did, but at the ninth hour he said to me, ‘I have some little articles of value in my chest, such as pepper, napkins and incense: lv run quickly, and bring the priests of our monastery to me, that I may distribute among them the gifts which God has bestowed on me. The rich in this world are bent on giving gold and silver and other precious things. But I, in charity, will joyfully give my brothers what God has given unto me.’ He spoke to every one of them, admonishing and entreating them that they would carefully say masses and prayers for him, which they readily promised; but they all mourned and wept, especially because he said, ‘They should no more see his face in this world.’ They rejoiced for that he said, ‘It is time that I return to Him who formed me out of nothing: I have lived long; my merciful Judge well foresaw my life for me; the time of my dissolution draws nigh; for I desire to die and to be with Christ.’ Having said much more, he passed the day joyfully till the evening; and the boy, above-mentioned, said,: ‘Dear master, there is yet one sentence not written.’ He answered, ‘Write quickly.’ Soon after, the boy said, ‘The sentence is now written.’ He replied, ‘It is well, you have said the truth. It is ended. Receive my head into your hands, for it is a great satisfaction to me to sit facing my holy place, where I was wont to pray, that I may also sitting call upon my Father.’ And thus on the pavement of his little cell, singing: ‘Glory be to the father, and to the Son, and to the lvii Holy Ghost,’ when he had named the Holy Ghost, he breathed his last, and so departed to the Kingdom of Heaven. All those who beheld the blessed father’s death, said they had never seen any other person expire with so much devotion, and in so tranquil a frame of mind. For, as you have heard, so long as the soul animated his body, did he never cease to give thanks to the true and living God, with expanded hands exclaiming: ‘Glory be to the Father,’ and other spiritual ejaculations. But know this, my dear brother, that I could say much concerning him, though my want of erudition abridges this discourse. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I purpose shortly to write more concerning him, particularly those things which I saw with mine own eyes, and heard with mine own ears.”
In conclusion, we may remark that this letter of his pupil Cuthbert, by fixing the day of his death on Ascension day, on the seventh of the Calends of June, has enabled us so assign the true year to this event. The 26th of May, (the vii. Calend. Junii,) by reference to Astronomical Tables, will be found to have been Ascension day, in the year of our Lord 735. Immediately after his spirit had departed, the whole room is said to have been filled with a most fragrant odour, — a circumstance recorded on the death of so many of the early fathers of our l faith, that we are inclined to attribute it rather to the pious imagination of his companions, than, as some have done, to the agency of open fraud on the part of those who were present.
HIS BURIAL IN THE CHURCH OF JARROW, AND THE REMOVAL OF HIS REMAINS TO THE CATHEDRAL OF DURHAM.
“THE monastery, which from its infancy, had been adorned by his virtues, the scene of his labours in the cause of Christianity whilst living, became after his death, the depository of his remains. He was buried under the South porch of the Church, which was in consequence dedicated to his memory. Over the tomb, says William of Malmesbury, was placed the following inscription:
PRESBYTER · HIC · BEDA · REQVIESCIT · CARNE · SEPVLTVS ·
DONA · CHRISTE · ANIMVM · IN · COELIS · GAVDERE · PER · ÆVVM ·
DAQVE · ILLI · SOPHIÆ · DEBRIARI · FONTE · CVI · JAM ·
SVSPIRAVIT · ORANS · INTENTO · SEMPER · AMORE.
[The priest Bede rests here, this is where his body is buried. Grant, O Christ, that his soul rejoice in heaven for eternity! and grant him also to drink from the fount of Wisdom for which he has pined, ever praying with the eagerness of love. — tr. by Bill Thayer.a ]
His fame as a teacher soon spread over all Christendom. His works became the hand-books of instruction lix in every monastery. He was canonized,20 and altars erected everywhere to his memory. Boniface, the Apostle to the Germans, his contemporary, called him “THE LIGHT OF THE CHURCH,” and solicited that copies of his writings be sent to him for the use of himself and his disciples. Thus, in a measure, it may be said that the genius and piety of the monk of Jarrow, dispelled the dark clouds of Paganism which hung over the dense forests of Thuringia, where a few years ago stood, in the quiet village of Gierstaedt, the little wooden church, in which the English Saint first preached the Gospel to the benighted heathen. In the dark glades of that primeval forest a splendid Candelabra, erected by the late Duke of Saxe Gotha, marks now the spot where Christianity first shed its light upon the wild tribes of Saxony. Alcuin, also his countryman, the preceptor of Charlemagne, omits no opportunity of sounding the praises of Bede, whose Homilies in his day were read in all churches, and at whose tomb numerous miracles had been performed.
His relics were removed by stealth from their quiet resting-place at Jarrow, by Ælfred, a priest of Durham. For several years he had offered up lx prayers at the Saint’s tomb, on the anniversary of his death. “On one of these occasions,” says Simeon of Durham, “he went to Jarrow as usual, and having spent some days in the church in solitude, praying and watching, he returned in the early morning alone to Durham, without the knowledge of his companions, a thing he had never done before, as though he wished to have no witness to his secret. Now, although he lived many years afterwards, having apparently achieved the object of his desires, he never again returned to that monastery. Thus too, when asked by his more familiar friends, “where were the bones of Venerable Bede?” knowing full well, he would answer: “no one is informed of that so well as I! Be fully assured, my beloved, beyond all doubt, that the same chest which holds the hallowed body of our father Cuthbert, also contains the bones of Bede, our revered teacher and brother. Beyond the receptacle of that nook, it were useless to search for any portion of his reliques.” After saying this, he would urge his associates to silence on this subject, lest strangers, who visited the church, might plot harm; their chief study being, if they could, to carry off the reliques of the saints, and particularly those of Bede.
In the years 1104 the bones of St. Cuthbert were removed; and those of Bede, which were contained lxi in a linen sack in the same chest, were placed by themselves. Fifty years afterwards Hugh Pudsey, Bishop of Durham, erected a shrine of gold and silver, richly adorned with jewels, in which he inclosed the relics of Venerable Bede and other saints, and caused this inscription to be placed over it:
Continet hæc theca Bedae Venerabilis ossa:
Sensum factori Christus dedit, aesque datori.
Petrus opus fecit, praesul dedit hoc Hugo donum:
Sic in utroque suum veneratus utrumque patronum.
[This chest contains the bones of the Venerable Bede: Christ gave to its maker the ability, and to the donor the funds. Peter made the work, Bishop Hugo gave this gift: Thus is Christ by each patron venerated in his own way. — Tr. Bill Thayer.]
In the reign of Henry the Eighth this beautiful shrine was demolished, and the relics of the saints treated with every indignity by an insane mob, urged on by its Puritanical leaders to destroy the monuments of the piety of their ancestors. The only memorial now remaining in the cathedral of Durham, of its once having been the resting-place of the remains of Bede, is a long inscription to his memory concluding with the well-known monkish rhymes:
Hac sunt in Fossa Bedæ Venerabilis Ossa.
1 Mabill, in v. Bed. § 2. Sim. Dun. de Ecc. D. 8, and Ep. de Archie. Ebor. Stubb’s Act. Pont. Eborac. Sparke’s Hist. Ang. Scrip. 1723. Surtee’s H. of Durham, II. P. 69.
2 Pagi Critic. in Baron. Ann. A.D. 693, § 8.
3 Acts and Deeds of the Kings of England, Book I. chap. iii.
4 Leland, Antiq. de reb. Brit. Coll. ed. Hearne, III. 42.
5 Ecclesiastical Hist. IV. 4.
6 Act. Pontif. Eborac.
7 Trithem. de Viris illust. Ord. Bened. II. 21, 34.
8 Elfric, in Wilkins’s Leges Anglo-Saxon, 169-171.
9 Wilkins’s Leges Anglo-Saxonicæ, 85-87.
10 Pagi Breviar. Hist. Chr. Crit. &c. &c. 1717, Henschenius ad Mai. 27. Mabill. Ac. Ben. Sec. III. elog. Bedæ, No. 4, Baron.
11 Vol. I. p. 85.
12 Vol. I. p. 87.
13 This work has been twice published in English, under the following titles, “History and Antiquities of the University of Cambridge, in two parts, by Richard Parker, B.D., and Fellow of Caius College, in 1622. London, 1721; and again printed for J. Marcus, in the Poultry, London.”
14 See Bal. de ill. Maj. Brit. Scrip. Vesaliæ, 1548. J. Caii Histor. Cantab. Acad. 1574. Fuller’s Worthies in Durham. Leland Comm. In Cyc. Can. in Itin. Hearn. Ox. 1768, vol. ix. Brian Twin. Antiq. Acad. Ox. Ap. I. 114. Voss. de Hist. Lat. Dyer’s Hist. of Univ. of Camb. p. 40.
15 Lond. 1753, page 3.
16 Spec. Histor. xxiii. 173.
17 Stevenson’s Introduction.
18 Gesta Regum Anglorum, I. 2, 23.
19 See Simeon. Dunelm. de Ecc. Dun. ap. Twysdeni Scrip. X. I. 15, p. 8. Leland, Collect. Hearne, IV. iii. 777. Mabilloni Act. Bened. Sec. III.
20 In the Calendar of our Book of Common Prayer, the 27th of May is still dedicated to his memory.
a It has been communicated to me by an anonymous friend, (minimally paraphrased): “That no English translation of the Latin of this inscription is perfect, nor could ever be. The Latin is gorgeous in its monolithic statement of what amounts to a single thought, and it is, in my opinion, first-class poetry, with all kinds of resonances, due in part to word order, in part to the choice of words. The inscription, for example, opens with Priest Here, and ends with Always in Love, and the basic structure is chiastic: the 1st and 4th lines are human, the 2d and 3d divine. The expression Sophiae debriari fonte brings immediately to mind, or certainly would have done so in Bede’s time, the classic iconography often repeated of the waters of life nourishing man and beast alike, seen in many early Christian mosaics.
“In terms of both poetry and the conceits of the time, it’s probably not going too far out on a limb to notice that the fact that verses 1 and 4, the human, enclose 2 and 3, the divine — is singularly appropriate to a person enclosing a soul, as well as to a box or sarcophagus enclosing what was once a human; and that the chiastic structure of the poem recalls the X of Christ.”