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Bede the Venerable – Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 13:47-52

We remember today a monk, a scholar, an historian named Bede, the Venerable Bede, born around the year 670. He is best remembered for his monumental tome, the “Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” His own method of dating events from the time of the birth of Christ – the designation A.D., anno domini – came into general use because of the vast influence of his Historia ecclesiastica. He is also remembered for his scriptural commentaries, copies of which found their way to many of the monastic libraries of western Europe. Little is known of his parentage, other than at age seven – seven years old! – his family gave him to the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul near present-day Durham . He was either a very bad boy, or they were very bad parents… or something else. Probably something else. I suspect for our modern-day sensibilities, this could seem like a practice of rather exploitative child labor… and I’d be willing to bet he washed more than a few dishes and scrubbed more than a few floors. However being given over to a monastery at a young age, in a time when poverty was endemic and opportunities for the education of commoners virtually non-existent, a young child’s being entrusted to a monastery was more likely a great advancement and opportunity, particularly if the child were precocious… which Bede clearly was. In an age when monks were distinguished simply because they were literate and had the ability to copy manuscripts, for someone such as Bede to actually pursue serious scholarship, not just to copy but to research and write an historic account was a superlative event, for which he was greatly venerated even in his own lifetime. He died in year 735, around age 65, remembered at his death sitting on the floor of his monastic cell singing the Gloria.

In this gospel lesson appointed for today, we hear Jesus speaking about the formation of a scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says this scribe is “like the master of the household who brings out his treasure what is new and what is old.” We as Christian believers, we as Christian leaders, belong somewhere in the crossroads between what is new and what is old. If we’ve given ourselves only to what is new, if we pride ourselves on being “open” or “progressive” without being rooted, we can fall prey to every change of doctrine, followers of theological fads or emotional whims, and our witness will not be credible nor have lasting influence. We have to be in conversation with our past – our individual and corporate past – which is where we will find our depth. But a quality of depth which is not alive is the difference between a tomb buried in the ground, and the root of a living plant. Depth, if it is alive, gives witness to that new thing that is alive and growing and engaged with its environment and soars to the light.

We brothers say in our own Rule of Life: “Faithfulness to tradition does not mean mere perpetuation or copying of ways from the past but a creative recovery of the past as a source of inspiration and guidance in our faithfulness to God’s future, the coming reign of God.” We need both. We need our past, all that has formed us and deformed us and reformed us. We need to appropriate our past – which is the experience of redemption and the makings for wisdom – and we need a vision of our place in God’s future – which is the seedbed for hope. We live, we need to live, where those two realities cross in our present time, a witness for which we continue to venerate a monk named Bede who died 1,100 years ago. His remains were eventually moved to Durham and are now entombed in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. Late in his life he offered this prayer:

I pray you, merciful Jesu,

That as you have graciously granted me

Joyfully to imbibe the words of your knowledge,

So you will also, of your goodness,

Grant that I may come at length to you,

The fount of all wisdom,

And stand before your face for ever.

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7 Comments

  1. Ruth West on November 24, 2014 at 13:48

    Thanks for this informative message, Br. Curtis.
    I, like Selina from Maine, have had the good fortune of visiting the Cathedral in Durham and seeing Bede’s resting place in the basement area of that wonderful place. Our grandson Clay and wife, Frances, took us there while we were visiting them in the York area. Frances’ uncle Kit and Aunt Gillian were at Durham, serving at the Cathedral. It was such a privilege to go there. Since that time, Father Kit Widdows has departed this life. Kit’s father, John A. Widdows, wrote a book entitled The World is a Bridge. Fr. Kit gave us a copy.
    I especially liked your next to last paragraph and the sentence “But the quality of depth which is not alive is the difference between a tomb buried in the ground, and the root of a living plant.” This is a sermon which speaks to my heart. THANKS!

  2. Eleanor Forfang-Brockman on November 24, 2014 at 09:05

    This post gives us a image of the present as the point where the tradition of the past and the potential for the future meet. And it is timely for the Church, as we try to find our way forward. We face the temptation to abandon what we haven’t taken the time (or prayer) to understand, or what doesn’t particularly appeal to the culture of our day. On the other hand, we face the temptation to preserve things at all cost–some of which have no significance, or have become destructive. Your post calls us to be attentive and discerning.

  3. Polly Chatfield on November 24, 2014 at 09:04

    Thank you, dear Curtis, for your loving appreciation of Bede the Venerable. I reverence him because he gave us the first written-down poem in the Old English language – Caedmon’s praise of God. it is contained in his story about the great abbess St. Hilda encouraging Caedmon, an illiterate shepherd to share the beautiful poems he composed in his head while tending the Abbey’s sheep. Bede’s tomb has this inscription in rhymed Latin: Haec sunt in fossa/ Bedae Venerabilis ossa.

  4. Selina from Maine on June 18, 2013 at 08:50

    I had the good fortune to have two encounters with Bede on two separate visits to the British Isles .On the first I had attended the noon Eucharist in his chapel in Durham Cathedral .I spent some time perusing his tomb after the service when I noticed a note written on notebook paper placed on top.It read:”Dear Bede , Please help my Gram.She is very sick with cancer.” Unforgettable .

    • Selina from Maine on June 18, 2013 at 09:18

      My second encounter with Bede was on a solo trip traveling by bus pass to Wales,Ireland,Scotland and England, exploring my Celtic roots.Towards the end of my trip I stayed in Newcastle on Tynne . On Sunday I ventured out by light rail to Heprun (?),walked through an industrial park (scary) to a place called “Here’s World

      • Selina from Maine on June 18, 2013 at 09:40

        Cont . Bedes World which is next to the ruins of his monastery and to a small country church.In the church entrance there is a marvelous modern carved wooden statue of Bede . Bedes World itself is a museum devoted to the Saxon times in which Bede lived,juxtaposed right next to a pumping station for North Sea oil.

        • Christina on November 24, 2014 at 09:35

          Selina: Those are wonderful remembrances.

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