Midweek Medieval Blog: The Venerable Bede, Model Church Historian

Well I haven’t posted to this blog in awhile because I was working on my submitting my dissertation proposal. Thankfully that is in, and now I can post again! Apologies to my readers for the lack of posts lately. Today I wanted to continue my Midweek Medieval Blog Series by briefly discussing the Venerable Bede. Bede tends to be a figure who gets glossed over in many church history survey courses, but his role is monumentally important in the history of Christianity, particularly Western Christianity.

Bede (672-755) is best known for his work the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, but he also composed numerous commentaries, homilies, lives of saints, and other works. He lived in the Northern Part of England, in Jarrow, at a monastery there for the majority of his life. He is primarily remembered as a church historian and theologian. F. Donald Logan describes Bede’s view of history: “For him, history is not the retelling of old stories, the passing along of traditional accounts. For Bede history is the attempt to recount the past as accurately as possible, acknowledging that to do so is the essential task of the historian” (Logan, A History of the Church in the Middle Ages, 61).

Bede viewed his own role as a historian as one who “was to receive, verify, and transmit, and in doing so he ensured that the Christianity of the Anglo-Saxons was a continuation of the teaching of his predecessors” (Benedicta Ward, “Bede the Theologian,” in The Medieval Theologians, ed. G. R. Evans, 57).

I often wonder if church history teachers overlook Bede because he was not involved in major doctrinal controversies or heresy trials. The fact remains that without individuals like the Venerable Bede, the Western Church may have lost much of its legacy and history. Bede was incredibly intelligent, learning Latin and Greek and dabbling a little with Hebrew in order to read the Scriptures (Ward, “Bede,” 58). His reliance on Jerome’s Vulgate is well-documented, and Bede gives us an example of one who acknowledges his debt to earlier church figures.

Bede relied on the Church Fathers to deepen his own devotion to Christianity as well as to form his homilies. He placed a high value on education and knowledge. He was also “the first to include in a historical work the BC-AD system of dating worked out by Dionysius Exiguus” (Everett Ferguson, Church History Volume One, 361). Modern history owes Bede a great deal for many of its methodologies and practices.

As a student of church history, and one who plans to be a church historian in the near future, I find the Venerable Bede particularly compelling. His attention to detail in doing historical research, his reliance on his forebears in the faith, and his emphasis on learning and knowledge all provide a strong blueprint for church historians even today. I hope and pray that church historians in the modern era will preserve the method and model of the Venerable Bede in their work.

I close with a brief question: Who are your faith role-models, or more pointedly, who do you model yourself after vocationally?

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