Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 25 - Bede, Teacher, Raised by the Monastery, Venerable

When Bede began to get sick he knew that it wasn't going to be long until he succumbed to the illness that he had seen in so many other monks. The swelling in his legs only confirmed to him that he had less time than he had expected. He spent the remainder of his days, though, doing what it was that he felt called to do--called to do from the beginning of his life. Bede had been raised in the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Christian Britain. In fact, he spent every day from the age of seven on as a member of that cloistered community because his parents sought to give him the best life they knew by fostering him to a group of monks and scholars.Because of this life, Bede received an education of such quality that it was beyond compare in the seventh and eighth centuries. He learned the teachings of the Church and how to read the scriptures they valued so highly. But at the end of his life, he was still paying back the gift of his magnificent education by passing it on to those around him--to his many students. So, as his life slowly drained away from him he began teaching more fervently and worshiping even more often than was already his regular and consistent practice.

He taught his many students on the many different subjects of his expertise. In his time period, he was considered the most intelligent and highly educated person alive. He taught rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, history, homiletics, grammar, philosophy, music, science, and a variety of other subjects. It was his firm conviction that there were two powerful sources of transformation within the Christian religion. Through the Holy Spirit, Bede believed that education would whittle away violence and oppression by increasing knowledge among the people of the world. In fact, Bede understood education to be a ladder which God would help us to climb out of our broken lives and derelict relationships. Bede's commitment to education would characterize the Church's devotion to scholastic endeavors for many centuries to come. But the essential teaching was that education didn't matter if it lacked a powerful love that could animate all of a person's actions and make them truly and holistically redemptive. Bede wrote, "He alone loves the Creator perfectly who manifests a pure love for his neighbour." However, as he approached his death he had yet more to write and classes to finish. So, he called his students to him on his death bed.

One by one he recited teaching to them and they memorized it. Having memorized it they rushed from the room to record it in books. This curious process of dictation went on for some time before Bede's strength failed further and he was forced to rest in his own bed--within sight of his familiar spot of prayer. As death stalked him more closely and he could smell the scent of his own impending passing on the air he called for the monks to come to him by his bed. He had a few scant possessions--some pepper, some fabric, and a little incense--and he gave them away so that he might face death and his loving God with nothing more than when he entered into this world to seek God's will and calling on his life. Then, in his dying moments he gave what little he had left to give: a few more words of teaching for his students eager to record every word for posterity. Even as he approached his death he still taught the power of education--the power of a transformed life--and the primacy of love in all thoughts and actions. Having given his final lesson, he passed from this world and into the embrace of his creator.

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