May. 25th, 2009

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Today is - still just about - the lesser festival of the Venerable Bede (or, as Sellars and Yeatman would have it, the Venomous Bede). Bede is the sort of person one would be tempted to call a renaissance man if it weren't hideously anachronistic. As well as writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples, which by the standards of the day was an excellent and careful piece of historigoraphy, he compiled a highly influential series of Biblical commentaries, which though largely based on the Greek fathers, were very significant in how the Bible was read throughout the Middle Ages. He wrote works on cosmology and time, and popularised the BC/ AD method of dating (though he actually used the term 'ab incarnatione Domine', which is better theology if requiring slightly more ink). Notker the Stammerer of St Gall (the first pioneer of German spelling reform, but that's another story entirely) wrote a century later "God, the orderer of natures, who raised the Sun from the East on the fourth day of Creation, in the sixth day of the world has made Bede rise from the West as a new Sun to illuminate the whole Earth".

He also knew a lot of vernacular poetry, and possibly wrote it himself, though the only example which is preserved is the rather gloomy 'Before the forced journey,' otherwise known as Bede's Death Song, and every bit as cheery as you'd expect. More of his Latin hymns survived; earlier on [personal profile] el_staplador quoted a rather beautiful bit:

Christus est stella matutina, Alleluia;
Qui nocte saeculi transacta, Alleluia;
Lucem vitae sanctis promittit, Alleluia;
Et pandit aeternam, Alleluia.

Christ is the morning star, Alleluia;
Who, when the night of this world is past, Alleluia;
Promises and reveals to his saints, Alleluia;
The everlasting light of life, Alleluia.


The Anglo-Saxons liked religious imagery relating to the morning star, of course: you may remember, if you are a Tolkien fan, the famous line from Crist: Eala Earendel, engla beorhtast, ofer middangeard monnum sended. Of course, there's been some scholarly debate as to whether the angel is Christ or the Baptist; either reading is possible. Either way, the idea of revelation, of our sense of God's presence as the small, steady light in the darkness before dawn is a powerful one.

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