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Some lives crackle with adventure—great answers to prayers, narrow escapes, dramatic conversions, broad travel. But Christians with quieter lives often cast longer shadows. The life of Venerable Bede was so uneventful that little can be said about him. Yet few have left such a record of scholarship and faithfulness.
Bede was born about 672 in north England. At seven, probably orphaned, he went to live at a nearby monastery. The boy took to books, studying Scripture, biography, literature, music, and history. He pored over manuscripts—the church fathers, the Vulgate, the classics. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. By age 30, he was adding to early literature with books of his own. “I always took delight,” he said, “in learning, teaching, and writing.” He became the greatest scholar of his era, the father of English history and theology. His Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation is meticulously accurate, setting a standard for historians.
Spring of 735 found Bede laboring on his crowning work, translating the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon. On May 25, he told his assistant, “Go on quickly, I know not how long I shall hold out, and whether my Maker will not soon take me away.” By early morning, May 26, 735, only one chapter remained, and Bede said, “Take your pen and write fast.” He told a friend, “I have some little articles of value in my chest—pepper, napkins, and incense: Quickly bring the priests to me that I may distribute among them the gifts God has bestowed on me.” He spoke to each priest, and they wept. “I have lived long,” he said. “I desire to die and be with Christ.”
Bede spent the day joyfully, and near evening his helper said that only one sentence remained to be translated. “Write quickly,” Bede replied with satisfaction. The work finished, Bede sat on the floor of his small room and began singing, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” and, finishing the hymn, passed quietly into the presence of the Lord.
If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don’t know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better. But I know that all of you still need me. (Philippians 1:21-24)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 26.