The Fear of God is the Duty of All – Br. James Koester

Bede, Priest, Monastic and Historian, 735
Ecclesiastes 12:9-14

It is hard for us to imagine Eighth Century Britain. We think of it as dark, cold, and remote. The reality is otherwise. We think of it as dark, only because so few documents exist to shed light on events that took place in what we call The Dark Ages. It probably was cold, but it was certainly not remote. Britain, including the monastic community of Wearmouth and Jarrow where Bede lived, was situated on trade routes that stretched from northern Britain to India, Afghanistan, and China. Archeological studies of glass, parchments, and pigments found, or known to have originated in Jarrow, demonstrate the complex web of Eighth Century trade. It is also well known that Bede’s monastery possessed one of the greatest libraries in all Europe, with manuscripts devoted to scripture, as well as classical and secular texts. It is estimated that the library contained over 250 separate works, which was an enormous number for the time.

Far from being a backwater, the monastery where Bede spent almost his entire life, was a centre of culture and learning, and Bede himself, was probably its greatest member. In fact, it is said that Bede was the greatest scholar of his day, in all Europe, writing scriptural commentaries based on patristic interpretations, poems, hymns, and essays on orthography. He treatise on chronology, while not original, popularized the counting of time before and after the birth of Christ. The BC – AD system county years is still used throughout most of the world today. His most significant works were his Life of St. Cuthbert, and his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. All of these works demonstrated the breadth of his learning, and his care as a scholar who consulted a wide range of documents, evaluated his sources, and most importantly cited them. If it can be said that there was one person who invented the study of history, that person has to be Bede.

Writing later in life, he wrote that he had been brought to the monastery by his parents at the age of seven and then spending all the remaining time of my life…I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.[1]

We remind ourselves in the Rule that our pursuit of knowledge is an expression of love for God’s world and the riches of revelation.[2] We live in an academic setting where the goal of study is to prove a point, and establish a reputation. Bede reminds us that a life of study, rooted in prayer, is a pursuit, not of a reputation, but of holiness. [The fear of] God, and [keeping] his commandments, [is the] whole duty of everyone.[3] It matters not what is after your name: BA, MDiv, PhD, or even SSJE, or what is before your name, Dr, Prof, Brother, even St, or as in Bede’s case, Venerable, but that your name is written in the Book of Life.

Bede, whom we remember today, is a reminder that the pursuit of knowledge is an expression of love, and wisdom a gift from God, and that our growth in love and wisdom is the goal and purpose of our life in Christ.


[1] Lesser Feasts and Fast, 2022, page 244

[2] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Maturing of our Minds in Christ, chapter 41, page 82

[3] Ecclesiastes 12: 13

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1 Comments

  1. Caleb S. on June 10, 2023 at 09:01

    Oh, St. Bede the Venerable, guide of heavenly light,

    On this feast, we honor your wisdom so bright.

    May the stories of the saints you scribed forever guide our way,

    As we seek truth and knowledge of God each and every day.

    Amen.

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