Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrity Then - The Case of Bede

Some 337 or 338 years after his birth, we still encounter the name of a man known as The Venerable Bede in quotes or attributions—as in the last post. Here is an interesting example of celebrity then. No book tours, no TV appearances, no appearance on talk shows—but the sound-bytes still echo oddly—making us wonder what that “venerable” meant. Bede (born 672 or 673, died 731) was an English monk, famed for writing the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He was born in the region of Northumberland in northeastern England. He was sent to a Benedictine monastery at age seven near Durham to be educated and—never left. He became a monk, was later ordained a priest. Eventually, in 1899, Leo XIII named him one of the doctors of the Church (thus in company of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Theresa of Avila, and thirty others). He was the only native-born Englishman to merit that honor. He spent his life entirely in prayer, chanting, and in scholarly work. On rare occasions he visited friends, but never, as it were, even left the neighborhood. Yet his name echoes through time. The contrast between that time and this is truly astonishing. Indeed one has to look at the stretch of time from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries really to see an age that, to us, today, would appear radically different.

One regretful footnote. In looking up the Doctors of the Church, I failed to see there the name of a woman I genuinely believe belongs on that list: Hildegard of Bingen. But the mills grind very, very slowly, and in due time I may yet see my wish fulfilled.

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