Tag Archives: Saint Bede

27 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VII: the reluctant pilgrim.

We owe to Venerable Bede, whose feast was the day before yesterday, the stories that bring Augustine of Canterbury alive. So far as we know, Bede (d.735) was a stay-at-home scholar and monk, who lived in monasteries around Sunderland but corresponded with popes and fellow scholars across  Europe. He perhaps understood some of Augustine’s great reluctance to leave Rome for England.

Despite his dilly-dallying, Augustine made it to Canterbury in 597, at the repeated and insistent order of Pope Gregory, following the invitation of King Ethelbert and his Christian wife, Bertha the Queen. She had taken over the old Roman church of Saint Martin on the edge of the city where her chaplain celebrated the Eucharist for her and her French entourage.

Now Augustine met Ethelbert a few miles away, near where Minster Abbey is today, the home of Sister Johanna, our writer.

Bede tells us:

they came endued with Divine, not with magic power, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord and Saviour painted on a board; and chanting litanies, they offered up their prayers to the Lord for the eternal salvation both of themselves and of those to whom and for whom they had come.

When they had sat down, in obedience to the king’s commands, and preached to him and his attendants  the Word of life, the king answered: “Your words and promises are fair, but because they are new to us, and of uncertain import, I cannot consent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long observed with the whole English nation. But because you are come from far as strangers into my kingdom, and, as I conceive, are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true, and most beneficial, we desire not to harm you, but will give you favourable entertainment, and take care to supply you with all things necessary to your sustenance; nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion.”

Accordingly he gave them an abode in the city of Canterbury, which was the metropolis of all his dominions, and, as he had promised, besides supplying them with sustenance, did not refuse them liberty to preach. It is told that, as they drew near to the city, after their manner, with the holy cross, and the image of our sovereign Lord and King, Jesus Christ, they sang in concert this litany: “We beseech thee, O Lord, for Thy great mercy, that Thy wrath and anger be turned away from this city, and from Thy holy house, for we have sinned. Hallelujah.”

Antonela’s picture shows Augustine baptising the King from a window in St Martin’s church. Bede’s text from Project Gutenberg.

 

 

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25 May: Saint Bede of Northumbria and Europe.

Bede translates John's Gospel.jpg

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about today’s saint at his General Audience of 18 February 2009. He touches on many of Pope Francis’s themes, so continuity continues! An appropriate message for Pentecost-tide.

You can find Pope Benedict’s full text here.

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In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Bede says Christ the Bridegroom wants a hard-working Church, “weathered by the efforts of evangelisation”. There is a clear reference to the word in the Song of Songs (1: 5), where the bride says “Nigra sum sed formosa” (“I am very dark, but comely”) intent on tilling other fields or vineyards and in establishing among the new peoples “not a temporary hut but a permanent dwelling place”, in other words, intent on integrating the Gospel into their social fabric and cultural institutions. In this perspective the holy Doctor urges the faithful to be diligent in religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable crowds of the Gospel who did not even allow the Apostles time to take a mouthful”.

He teaches them how to pray ceaselessly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy”, offering all their actions as a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ. He explains to parents that in their small domestic circle too they can exercise “the priestly office as pastors and guides”, giving their children a Christian upbringing. He also affirms that he knows many of the faithful (men and women, married and single) “capable of irreproachable conduct who, if appropriately guided, will be able every day to receive Eucharistic communion” (Epist. ad Ecgberctum, ed. Plummer, p. 419).

After his death, Bede’s writings were widely disseminated in his homeland and on the European continent. Bishop St Boniface, the great missionary of Germany, (d. 754), asked the Archbishop of York and the Abbot of Wearmouth several times to have some of his works transcribed and sent to him so that he and his companions might also enjoy the spiritual light that shone from them.

It is a fact that with his works Bede made an effective contribution to building a Christian Europe in which the various peoples and cultures amalgamated with one another, thereby giving them a single physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith. Let us pray that today too there may be figures of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole continent united; let us pray that we may all be willing to rediscover our common roots, in order to be builders of a profoundly human and authentically Christian Europe.

Bede translates St John’s Gospel

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Chad of Lichfield

sheeporchard

Chad was a missionary monk from Lindisfarne, who after assorted misadventures became Bishop of Lichfield in 669. His feast has been moved here from 2nd March, his death day, or heavenly birthday. He was a shepherd with the smell of his sheep who was tremendously respected by the people of the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia which formed his diocese. He avoided the luxury his position could have commanded, travelling on foot, not horseback. He would pray for hours at the well that bears his name. The area around his church in Lichfield has many springs which feed the Minster Pool near the Cathedral.

Saint Bede tells how Chad depended on his community life:

He had built himself a retired habitation not far from the church, wherein he was wont to pray and read in private, with a few, it might be seven or eight of the brethren, as often as he had any spare time from the labour and ministry of the Word.

Bede: Ecclesiastical History, IV.3. at  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38326?msg=welcome_stranger

Together with his well, Lichfield has another precious reminder of Chad – a carved angel from his vandalised tomb. Birmingham’s St Chad’s Cathedral houses his relics, preserved through difficult times by recusant Catholics.

Through Chad we have a line from the earliest missionary monks forward to the Church of today, and as Bede reminds us, when Chad and his flock died of the plague, God translated the living stones of the Church from their earthly places to the heavenly building. May we be living stones and build each other up!

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