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furnished us with an outline of his personal history; a few other details may be gleaned from his writings; and the affectionate regard of one of his scholars has preserved a minute and most touching account of his last moments. Upon these the subsequent sketch is framed, in the course of which the editor will avail himself of such incidental illustrations as may be gathered from other credible authorities.
§ 5. Of the descent or family of Beda nothing is known. He gives us no information respecting the names, circumstances, or rank of his parents; and other writers leave us in the same ignorance upon these particulars. But hence to conclude that he was of lowly origin' would be no fair inference ; for such was his humility that he would, doubtless, have lightly esteemed the advantages of birth, had he possessed them. He was born, according to the most probable calculation, in the year 674, although other writers prefer A.D. 672 or 673. In a previous work the editor stated his belief that the arguments preponderated in favour of the year 674; more recent authors, however, have conceived that this date is certainly one, possibly two years too late. Yet upon a renewed examination of the question, it appears to have lost none of its former verisimilitude, and he has seen no reason to abandon it for any other editor considers it unnecessary to print this narrative. It commences with the words, “ Operæ prætium est cognoscere et celebri memoria tenendum posteritati mandare."
Simeon of Durham, notwithstanding his local advantages, contents himself with inserting in the first book of his Ecclesiastical History of that see, almost in Beda's own words, an account of the erection of the monastery at Jarrow, an extract from the introduction to the Ecclesiastical History, a list of his writings, and lastly, the letter from Cuthbert to Cuthwin. He mentions, incidentally, the translation of Beda's remains at Durham, (of which we know from other authority that he was an eye-witness,) and that the “ porch " of the church of Jarrow had been dedicated to him. From this writer we also learn that there existed, in his day, a "mansiuncula" of stone, in which report said that our historian had been used to study and meditate. For these particulars the reader is referred to Simeon's own history, which forms part of the present series.
Mabillon (Act. SS. Ordinis S. Bened. sec. iii. p. i. p. 501) has given, from a manuscript which formerly belonged to De Thou, a short life of Beda, which professes to have been written by one Anthony, his disciple. It agrees very closely in facts, arrangement, and diction with the production of Simeon; and as it also contains an allusion to Beda's removal at Durham, it must have been written or interpolated after the occurrence of that event; see this Preface, (S 42.)
The compilers of the Acta Sanctorum have inserted in that work (Maii, vi. 718) a life of Beda, which is only, as they remark, a series of extracts from Simeon of Durham and Beda himself, appended to which is Cuthbert's letter to Cuthwin. They refer to another account, which they did not think it advisable to print, in consequence of the fables with which it was interspersed. The same character may be assigned to the legend inserted in the compilation of John Capgrave, (Nova Legenda Angliæ, fol. xxxiii. b. ed. Lond. 1516.)
Beyond these materials we have no other information respecting the life of Beda, excepting a few particulars, which will be noticed in the present memoir.
Whence the Magdeburg Centuriators obtained their authority for the stateonent which they make upon this point does not appear.
• The editor is aware that by far the greater number of authorities ascribe his birth to either 672 or 673. The author of the Life in the Biographia Britannica, and Mr. Wright (p. 264), hesitate between these two years. The earlier date is supported by Smith in his edition of the Hist. Eccl. (p. 222), by Cave (Hist. Eccl. i. 612), by Du Pin, cent. viii. p. 89 (fol. Lond. 1693), and by Natalis Alexand. vi. 30 (fol. Venet. 1778). The year 673 is preferred by Fleury, xlii. & 13, and by Archbishop Ussher, Antiq. Brit. pp. 491, 538.
which has been proposed. It becomes necessary, therefore, that we examine in detail the arguments upon which each theory is founded.
$ 6. Beda tells us ($ 451) that he finished his History in the year 731; and in an appendix to that work ($ 454) he states that, from the time when he received the presbyterate until his fifty-ninth year, he had devoted himself to reading and writing, and that he was the author of certain books, one of which was the Historia Ecclesiastica. It has been customary thence to assume that he was in his fiftyninth year in A.D. 731 ; and this being admitted, we are carried back to 672, or perhaps to 673, for the date of his birth. The position of the editor however is, that thus to synchronize A.D. 731 with Beda’s fifty-ninth year is a hasty assumption, which will not bear the test of a closer scrutiny.
§ 7. Let us bear in mind the circumstances under which the History was written. Having finished it towards the middle of the year 731, Beda transmitted a copy to Ceolfrith, king of Northumbria, with the request that he would read it carefully, and permit it to be inscribed to himself. Both these requests were granted, and the volume was returned to its author, who, after he had made a few additions, sent it once more to the king, in the form in which we now have it. It is important for us to bear in mind the inference, that some time must necessarily have been occupied in this process, and the fact that a revision of the whole, embodying certain alterations and additions, was actually made between its first and its second presentation to Ceolfrith. That one of these additions was the prologue to the History, in the form of a letter addressed to that sovereign, is self-evident; another is an allusion to the victory gained in October 732 (§ 448) by Charles Martel over the Saracens, the information respecting which could scarcely have reached Northumbria before the end of that year; and a third, the editor apprehends is the Appendix, which contains the notice of Beda's age, already mentioned. These appear to him to have been all written in 732 at the earliest. One certainly was; and he is at a loss to conceive how, under the circumstances of the case, the others could have been written sooner. The list of Beda's writings, moreover, which is embodied in that Appendix, includes the Historia Ecclesiastica, and it must therefore have been drawn up after that work had received Ceolfrith's final approbation ; for until that period Beda could not have regarded it as a completed work, or as entirely out of his hands. There seems, then, a strong body of evidence leading us to the inference that this Appendix was written, not in 731, but in 732 at the soonest, and that this date coincides with Beda's fifty-ninth year; and so we are carried back to A.D. 674, for his birth. And this brings into harmony, as we shall presently see, the chronology of Florence of Worcester, one of our earliest and most valuable historians, which otherwise must be rejected, for it is incompatible with any other date than that for which we have been contending.
§ 8. When Benedict Biscop returned from his journey to Rome in 672, he obtained from Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, the gift of a large tract of ground lying on the north side of the river Wear, upon which he forthwith proceeded to erect a monastery. “ The territory of this monastery,” as Beda himself expresses it, was his birth-place. This passage is so rendered by king Alfred in his Anglo-Saxon version, as to have led to the supposition that the present town of Sunderland was the exact locality which Beda had expressed so vaguely. This supposition is a natural one ; and the temptation to hazard it is certainly very great. The present town of Sunderland stands within a short distance of the spot on which the ancient monastery of Wearmouth was erected, and the similarity of the name to that mentioned by Alfred, might at first sight appear conclusive evidence of identity. Yet the theory is attended with difficulties too weighty to be rejected. The present Sunderland stands on the south side of the river Wear; whereas the spot on which Beda was born was on the northern bank, as was the whole district granted by king Ecgfrith. King Alfred, moreover, as is obvious from the sentence in which it occurs, uses the word “ Sundorland,” not as a proper name, but as a close rendering of Beda's Latin “territorium ;” and other instances occur in which these terms are explained the one by the other. We cannot, therefore, advance beyond the information which Beda himself has given us; and we must be satisfied with knowing that he was born somewhere to the north of the river Wear, and probably at no great distance from the present port of Wearmouth.
§ 9. About the year 681 : the greater part of England was ravaged by one of those devastating pestilences by which it was so frequently visited. It is by no means improbable that the parents of Beda fell victims to this scourge ; but be this as it may, it would appear that at this time he was already an orphan. It is recorded by himself that in his seventh year, which (adopting our chronology as to the period of his birth) corresponds with A.D. 681, he was handed over by his relatives to the care of Benedict Biscop, that he might be educated in the newly-erected monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth. From the earliest period of the history of the Benedictine order, its monasteries had been more especially dedicated to the advancement of learning. It could scarce be otherwise ; for St. Benedict hesitated not to take upon himself the education of such children as were offered through him to God's service, and gladly received them within his monastery, thus necessarily entailing upon himself the responsibility of their education. No sooner was he settled at Subiaco, than Placidus and Maurus were confided to his instruction; and the precedent thus established
"natus in territorio ejusdem monasterii"...($ 454,) which is thus rendered by king Alfred :..."wæs ic acenned on sundorlande þæs ylcan mynstres.” This term “sundorland," as its etymology shows, means land set apart, or sundered from the rest for some particular purpose, as this district was for the use of the newly-founded monastery.
Lye quotes two passages from an ancient glossary in the Cottonian MS. Julius A. ii. fol. 5 and 152, in which Sundorland is rendered by “separalis terra, prædium, fundus, territorium." No other instance of the use of this word occurs in Alfred's version of Beda besides that already quoted.
3 “ Eodem fere tempore . . . multas Britanniæ provincias mortalitas sæva corripiebat.” Hist. Eccl. & 292; Annales Cambriæ, ap. Petrie and Hardy, p. 883.
having been sanctioned by the provisions of his rule, was perpetuated without interruption.'
8 10. The circumstances which attended Beda's renunciation of the world and the solemn dedication of himself to the more immediate service of God, must have produced a deep impression on the boy's mind, softened as it probably was by the sorrow occasioned by the death of his parents. The rule of St. Benedict had made ample provision for such occurrences, and they were by no means unfrequent. The parents or guardians of the child, as the case might be, led him up to the altar ; they solemnly swore before witnesses that he should be deprived of whatever worldly goods might otherwise become his; or if they were unwilling to do this, an offering might be made on his behalf to the monastery; the child's hands were then folded in the covering of the altar, and the rites by which he was irrevocably bound to the service of that altar were completed."
§ 11. Such was the ceremony in the case of those who were offered, as Beda was, by relatives; it was different, however, with those who had arrived at years of maturity, and were competent to form a decision for themselves. With them there was more delay, difficulties were accumulated, and all was done to test the patience and the sincerity of the candidate for admission. He was required to apply at the gates of the monastery during five successive days ; nor was he then permitted to enter beyond that portion of the building appropriated to the use of the laity. Here he was interrogated by the officer whose duty it was to investigate the character of the applicant, by whom the petition was conveyed to the abbot. The rule of St. Benedict was then read and explained to him, and he was told that to this law he must henceforth be subject. If he persevered in his intention, he was brought, clothed as he was in his secular habit, before the assembled chapter, and the abbot inquired of him the nature of his request. He answered, " I wish to lay aside the world, and to serve God.” The abbot replied, “ Hear, brother; it may perchance happen that you are unable to observe our rule; for, having pledged yourself to it, you may not return to the world. The Canons of the Council of Nice say, 'If any one return to the world after having laid aside his arms, he shall be a penitent for ten years. Therefore, although our rule
1 Mabill. Annal. Bened. ii. & 3; Act. SS. Bened. Præf. sec. iii. & 39.
? See Reg. S. Benedicti, cap. Ixvi. “De filiis nobilium et pauperum qui offeruntur.” Care was taken to strip the child of all his temporal property, that he might thus be freed from one temptation to which he would otherwise be exposed, and have less inducement to return to the world which he had abjured. That this dedication bound the child irrevocably to the monastery, will appear by the following extract from the Rule of St. Isidore (ap. Menard. Concordia Regularum, p. 991, edit. Par. 1638) :-“Quicunque a parentibus propriis in monasterio fuerit delegatus, noverit se ibi perpetuo permansurum.” The same is confirmed by the 49th canon of the Fourth Council of Toledo (A.D. 671, ap. Bruns, Canones Concil. i. 235) :-“ Monachum aut paterna devotio aut propria professio facit ; quidquid horum fuerit, alligatum tenebit; proinde eis ad mundum reverti intercludimus aditum, et omnem ad seculum interdicimus regressum." Here return to the world is alike forbidden to both.
3 It was provided by the Rule of St. Benedict (cap. Ixv.) “ Ut prædicentur ei omnia dura et aspera, per quæ itur ad Deum.”
does not enjoin it, yet it is better that you should have space for deliberation.” The candidate was then dismissed; but if he continued steadfast in his resolution, he was once more summoned before the abbot and convent, and having solemnly professed that he would not, on any account, return to the world, he laid aside his secular dress, his hair was shorn, he was clothed in the garb appropriate to his new situation, and was consigned to the care of the master of the novices.
§ 12. The regulations of the monastery required that the novice should remain for ten months under the instructions of this indivi. dual. During this period he was subjected to the strictest discipline. He was not permitted to speak with any secular person, nor to leave the walls of the convent, except when forming one of a procession, nor to taste animal food, even though he might be sinking under bodily weakness. In short, all was calculated to test the sincerity of his attachment to the monastic institution, before that step was taken which could not be recalled, and which bound him to its observance for the remainder of his life. The
of his probation having expired, the novice who resolved to continue steadfast in his profession, knelt before the altar, and the following was the ceremony of his admission as a monk.
§ 13. The abbot addressed the novices thus :
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, out of his love to sinners, humbled Himself so as to take our flesh upon Him, and was willing to appear as the most lowly in the world, yet without sin. He reconciled us to God the Father; and us who were the children of wrath He made the children of adoption. By baptism He has given us the remission of all our sins; and the anger which we had incurred He has turned into pity. But since after the regeneration of baptism we have done many evil things, and, departing from Him, have in a sort lost the adoption of sons, of his free love He has shown to us the way of humility and repentance, by which we may again be reconciled to God. Let none of you, therefore, although oppressed by the weight of your sins, despair of his love ; for He who was willing to be made flesh for sinners, daily pleads even for them with the Father.
$ 14." You therefore, my children, who having left the world have taken refuge with God, standing before Him and his holy altar, and in the presence of your assembled brethren, let each of you with your own mouths declare whether you are willing to renounce the world and its pomps."
The answer. -"We will.”
The abbot.—“Will you change your habits of life, and leave and renounce the affection of your kindred ?"
The answer.-"We will.”
The abbot.-—“ Will you profess obedience according to the rule of St. Benedict, renouncing even your own inclinations ?”
The answer.--" We will.”
The novice, having professed obedience to the rule of the monastery, was clothed in the robe which the abbot had blessed upon the