Page images

This, however, no doubt happened after he took priest's orders in his thirtieth year, though the eleven years which intervened must have been sedulously spent in laying up that store of erudition which afterwards enabled him to shine forth to the world in every department of literature. For it does not appear that he published any thing in writing until after he had undergone the second of the church's ordinances. This we have from his own words, "From the time of my taking priest's orders, to the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have occupied myself in making these short extracts from the works of the venerable fathers for the use of me and mine, or in adding thereto somewhat of my own, after the model of their meaning and interpretation."

If, however, he was admitted unusually early to the orders of deacon, he was in no mind, on the other hand, to rush hastily, or without long and patient study, into the full duty of the priest's office; and thus he devoted eleven patient years to qualify himself for the various services which he was preparing to render to the literature of his country, and the interests of the church.

Sect. 4.-Of his clerical and literary labours.

THE office of priest, or mass-priest, as he is called in king Alfred's Anglo-Saxon translation, brought with it a considerable portion of duties which would not allow him to devote the whole of his time to his favourite occupations. His employment was to say mass in the church, by which we are to understand that he officiated at the various masses which were performed at different hours in the day, besides perhaps assisting in the morning and evening prayers of the monastery. The following extracts from Anglo-Saxon writers. quoted by Sharon Turner, will well describe the responsible functions which were supposed to belong to the priest's office.

"Priests! you ought to be well provided with books and apparel as suits your condition. The mass-priest should at least have his missal, his singing-book, his reading-book, his psalter, his hand-book, his penitential, and his numeral one. He ought to have his officiating garments, and to sing from sun-rise, with the nine intervals and nine readings. His sacramental cup should be of gold or silver, glass or tin, and

not of earth, at least not of wood. The altar should be
always clean, well clothed, and not defiled with dirt.
should be no mass without wine.


"Take care that you be better and wiser in your spiritual craft than worldly men are in theirs, that you may be fit teachers of true wisdom. The priest should preach rightly the true belief; read fit discourses; visit the sick; and baptize infants, and give the unction when desired. No one

should be a covetous trader, nor a plunderer, nor drunk often in wine-houses, nor be proud or boastful, nor wear ostentatious girdles, nor be adorned with gold, but to do honour to himself by his good morals.

"They should not be litigious nor quarrelsome, nor seditious, but should pacify the contending; nor carry arms, nor go to any fight, though some say that priests should carry weapons when necessity requires; yet the servant of God ought not to go to any war or military exercise. Neither a wife nor a battle becomes them, if they will rightly obey God and keep his laws as becomes their state."*

Their duties are also described in the Canons of Edgar in the following terms:

"They are forbidden to carry any controversy among themselves to a lay-tribunal. Their own companions were to settle it, or the bishop was to determine it.

"No priest was to forsake the church to which he was consecrated, nor to intermeddle with the rights of others, nor to take the scholar of another. He was to learn sedulously his own handicraft, and not put another to shame for his ignorance, but to teach him better. The high-born were not to despise the less-born, nor any to be unrighteous or covetous dealers. He was to baptize whenever required, and to abolish all heathenism and witchcraft. They were to take care of their churches, and apply exclusively to their sacred duties; and not to indulge in idle speech, or idle deeds, or excessive drinking; nor to let dogs come within their church-inclosure, nor more swine than a man might govern.

"They were to celebrate mass only in churches, and on the altar, unless in cases of extreme sickness. They were

* Elfric, in Wilkins's Leges Anglo-Saxon. 169–171

[ocr errors]

to have at mass their corporalis garment, and the subucula under their alba; and all their officiating garments were to be woven. Each was to have a good and right book. No one was to celebrate mass, unless fasting, and unless he had one to make responses; nor more than three times a day; nor unless he had, for the eucharist, pure bread, wine and water. The cup was to be of something molten, not of wood. No woman was to come near the altar during mass. bell was to be rung at the proper time.


"They were to preach every Sunday to the people; and always to give good examples. They were ordered to teach youth with care, and to draw them to some craft. They were to distribute alms, and urge the people to give them, and to sing the psalms during the distribution, and to exhort the poor to intercede for the donors. They were forbidden to swear, and were to avoid ordeals. They were to recommend confession, penitence, and compensation; to administer the sacrament to the sick, and to anoint him if he desired it; and the priest was always to keep oil ready for this purpose and for baptism. He was neither to hunt, or hawk, or dice: but to play with his book as became his condition." *

But the duties pointed out in these extracts do not seem to have satisfied the Venerable Bede; he applied himself to every branch of literature and science then known, and besides study, and writing comments on the Scriptures, he treated on several subjects, on history, astrology, orthography, rhetoric, and poetry; in the latter of which he was not inferior to other poets of that age, as appears by what he has left us on the life of St. Cuthbert, and some verses in his Ecclesiastical History; he wrote likewise two books of the Art of Poetry, which are not now extant; a book of Hymns, and another of Epigrams. Bede's own writings inform us of the names of some of his literary friends; among whom were Eusebius or Huetbert, to whom he inscribed his book, De Ratione Temporum, and his Interpretation on the Apoca lypse, and who was afterwards abbat of Wearmouth: Cuthbert, called likewise Antonius, to whom he inscribed his book, De Arte Metrica, and who succeeded Huetbert. and was afterwards abbat of Jarrow; he wrote of his master's death, but of this hereafter: also Constantine, to whom he * Wilkins's Leges Anglo-Saxonicæ, 85-87.

inscribed his book, De Divisione Numerorum; and Nothelm, then priest at London, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he wrote his Questions on the Books of Kings; to which we may add several in other monasteries; whilst others have improperly classed amongst them Alcuinus, afterwards preceptor to Charles the Great.

Thus was the time of that excellent man employed in doing good to mankind, seldom or never moving beyond the limits of his own monastery, and yet in the dark cloister of it surveying the whole world, and dispensing to it the gifts entrusted to him; it seems not a little surprising, that one who had scarcely moved away from the place of his nativity, should so accurately describe those at a distance; and this quality in his writings, when considered with reference to the age in which he lived, is the more remarkable, as there is but one other recorded in history who possessed it in equal perfection, the immortal Homer.

Sect. 5. Of his supposed journey to Rome.

THE peaceful tenor of Bede's monastic life was apparently uninterrupted by absence or travel, and his own words might be thought to afford sufficient authority for the supposition. A controversy, however, on this subject has arisen from a letter first published by William of Malmesbury, which to this hour has not been satisfactorily decided. This historian says that Bede's learning and attainments were so highly esteemed, that pope Sergius wished to see him at Rome, and consult him on questions of importance and difficulty relating to the church. He accordingly quotes a letter, addressed by Sergius to abbat Ceolfrid, in which he is requested to send Bede without delay to Rome. Now it is argued, and apparently with truth, that Bede would not have dared to decline an invitation coming from so high a quarter; and yet it is all but certain that Bede never was out of England. He tells us distinctly that his whole life was spent in the neighbourhood of Jarrow; and that the letters, which he has inserted in his Ecclesiastical History, had been procured for him at Rome by Nothelm, which would certainly lead us to infer that Bede was not there himself. Moreover, he tells us in his treatise, De Natura Rerum [46], that he was not with the monks of Jarrow

who went to Rome in the year 701. It is therefore certain that Bede, if invited, never went to Rome; and it is most probable, as has been stated by Gehle in his Latin Life of Bede, that the unexpected death of Pope Sergius, which happened shortly after, was the cause of his not undertaking the journey.

Sect. 6. Of his pretended residence at Cambridge.

It has been also asserted, that Bede resided at the University of Cambridge, and taught there in the office of Professor. This has been maintained by certain members of that University, who have been eager to claim such an illustrious man as their own; whilst other writers of the University of Oxford have been induced, by a corresponding jealousy, to deny the fact.

The principal authority for this ill-supported statement is found in a volume called Liber Niger, preserved in the University of Cambridge. Out of that book, Hearne, in the year 1719, published "Nicolai Cantalupi Historiola de Antiquitate et Origine Universitatis Cantabrigiensis, simul cum Chronicis Sprotti Ox."*

In this history Bede is said, "at the request of doctor Wilfred, and at the bidding of abbat Ceolfrid, to have left the territory belonging to the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, and being even then a monk in mind and regular discipline, though not in dress, to have gone, in the year 682, to Cambridge, where by sowing the seeds of knowledge for himself and others, by writing books and teaching the ignorant, he was of use before God and man in eradicating prevailing errors.

It is hardly necessary to observe, that this is said to have happened at a time when Bede was little more than nine years old! Seven years after he is stated to have had public honours conferred on him by the University, and at a later period to be still pursuing the duties of a teacher.

In support of these statements a letter is produced, purporting to be addressed to the Students of the University

This work has been twice published in English, under the following titles, "History and Antiquities of the University of Cambridge, in two parts, by Richard Parker, B.D., and Fellow of Caius College, in 1622 London, 1721; and again printed for J. Marcus, in the Poultry, London'

« PreviousContinue »