Art. IV.-The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, from the Coming of Julius Cæsar into the Island, in the sictieth year before the Incarnation of Christ, till the year of our Lord 731. By the VENERABLE BEDE. Carefully revised and corrected from the translation of Mr. Stephens.

By Rev. J. A. GILES, LL. D. London: 1810. THERE are special reasons why English and American scholars should be acquainted with the history of the ancient British and Anglo-Saxon churches, for here were our own ancestorsthe fathers and mothers from whom we are lineally descended. Could we trace our lineage backward, from forty to fifty generations, we should find our progenitors either among the rude savages who so sternly resisted the invasion of their country by Julius Cæsar, or among the ruder and fiercer Saxons who conquered the ancient Britons in the fifth century.

The individual to whom we are chiefly indebted for what we know of the first introduction of Christianity into Britain and of its re-introduction, when it had been subverted by the Saxon invasion, is the Venerable Bede.* He is as much the father of English church history as Eusebius is of church history in general.

Bede was born, A. D. 672, in the vicinity of Durham, in a village now called Farrow, near the mouth of the Tyne. Having early lost both his parents, he was placed, by his relatives, in a monastery at Weremouth, where he was educated with much strictness, and became in youth, it is hoped, a child of God. He was afterward removed to a monastery at Jurrow, where he spent the remainder of his life. These monasteries were of the order of the Benedictines, which, in their earliest and purest times, were useful institutions. The monks lived abstemiously, and divided their waking hours between study, devotion, and labor. Many of them were employed in transcribing books ; and we are indebted to them for much that we know of ancient sacred and classical literature. The labor performed by them was agriculture, gardening, and the various mechanical trades, by which means they made their lands productive, and supplied, in a great measure, their own personal wants.

* Gildas, sumamed the Wise, was the most ancient British historian. He is supposed to have died at Bangor (Wales), about the year 590. His only complete work now extant is Epistola de Excidio et Castigatione Ordinis Ecclesiastici, in which he graphically depicts and mourns over the ruin of his country by the Saxous. He is often referred to by Bede.

From his earliest years Bede was a diligent student, and he soon came to be regarded as the most learned man of his time. He was well skilled in the Greek and Hebrew languages, while the Latin, in which most of his works are written, was to him as his mother-tongue. He was ordained deacon in the nineteenth, and presbyter in the thirtieth year of his age; and to higher promotion he did nct aspire. Bede never knew what it was to be idle. He


himself to the study of the Scriptures, to the instruction of young men, and to the preparation of numerous literary and religious works. He wrote on most of the branches of knowledge at that time cultivated in Europe. His famne soon spread beyond the bounds of England, and was celebrated in the surrounding countries. He was invited by Pope Sergius to visit Rome, but the great world had no charms for him. He preferred the routine and seclusion of monastic life, and it does not appear that he ever wandered far from his cell.

The works of Bede have been published in eight folio volumes, consisting of commentaries on nearly the whole Bible, numerous homilies and letters, and a great number of tracts. But his most valuable work, and that by which he is now chiefly known, is his “Ecclesiastical History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Cæsar to the year 731 "-only four years previous to his death. This work was undertaken at the special request of Ceolwulph, one of the Saxon kings, to whom it was dedicated, and in whose dominions Bede's monastery was placed. He spent many years in collecting materials for his history, which he gathered from the lives and letters of particular persons, from the annals of convents, and from such chronicles as had been written before his time. He died, at the age of sixty-three, of an affection of the lungs, attended with great difficulty of respiration.

His last work was a translation of “ John's Gospel” into English. Only a short time before his death, his amanuensis said to him : “My

beloved master, one sentence of your translation remains to be written.”_“ Write it quickly,” replied the dying man; and summoning up all his spirits, like the last blaze of a candle, he indited the passage, and expired.

Bede's dying scene was peaceful and glorious. His body was interred in the church of his own convent, but was afterward removed to Durham, and placed in the same coffin with that of St. Cuthbert. According to the fashion of the times, his tomb was often visited, and his relics were held in the highest honor.

Bede was a sincere and devout member of the Church of Rome,-as Rome was in the eighth century,—and sympathized with the Romish clergy in their disputes with the British and Scottish missionaries of those times about Easter, the tonsure, and other matters of the like nature. Still, he bears ample testimony to the piety of the Scottish missionaries, and especially honors them for their strict adherence to the teachings of Scripture.

Various opinions have been expressed by different authors respecting the character of Bede's writings—some extolling them immoderately, and others disparaging them as much. Du Pin says: "His style is clear and easy, but without purity, elegance, or sublimity. He wrote with a surprising facility, but without art or reflection, and was a greater master of learning than of judgment or critical taste.” On the other hand, Bayle says: “There is scarcely any thing, in all antiquity, that is worthy to be read, which is not found in Bede; and if he had flourished in the times of Augustine, Jerome, and Chrysostom, he would undoubtedly have equalled them.” And Pitts tells us that “ he was so well versed in the several branches of learning that Europe scarce ever produced a greater scholar. Even while he was living, his writings were of so great authority, that it was ordered, by a council held in England, and afterward approved at Rome, that they should be publicly read in churches.”

If we would form a just estimate of Bede, we must judge of him, not by our standards, but by that of his own times. And weighed in this balance, he is entitled to a high rank, both as a scholar and a writer. That he was superstitious and credulous there can be no doubt- -as was every other churchman of the eighth century. That he believed in marvels and miracles, and has written of them, ad nauseam, in his history, is also certain. Nevertheless, he was a diligent searcher for the facts of history, and when he speaks from his own knowledge, he is always reliable. He is reliable, too, as a narrator of what he had heard from others, though not always a voucher for its truth. His style is direct, readable, and more nearly classical than that of many of the fathers. We are not surprised, therefore, to hear him favorably spoken of by such men as Selden, Sir Henry Spelman, and Bishop Stillingfleet.

The piety of Bede, as might be expected, was that of the cloister; and yet he seems to have been a truly religions man, and the same remark may be extended to most of the Romish and Scottish missionaries, who were engaged at that period in planting churches throughout the Heptarchy, and bringing back England to the faith of the Gospel. The clergy were, in general, a self-denying and laborious class of men, exposed to many dangers, and inured to hardship, in their endeavors to enlighten the stubborn Saxons, and lead them in the way of truth. We may deplore their superstitions, and laugh at what seems to us their frivolous disputes ; but we can but admire their zeal, their diligence, their cheerful endurance, and constant privations in carrying forward the work they had undertaken. Nor can any one of English descent avoid thinking of his own personal indebtedness to these men, and to the cause in which they were engaged. What had been the condition of England at this day, and what our own condition, but for their persistent efforts to turn our heathen ancestors from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God!

The island of Great Britain seems to have been settled, originally, by three distinct races or classes of men. The Britons, who inhabited all the southern part of the island, were Celts, who came over from Gaul, and in character and language were like the other Gauls. The Scots were from Ireland, which was the original Scotia, while the Picts were of Scythian descent. Fifty-three years before the birth of

Christ,-or fifty-nine years, according to Bede, -Julius Cæsar, having conquered Gaul, commenced his attack upon the British islands. The conquest, however, was not completed until near the close of the first century after Christ. Indeed, the Romans never conquered the whole of Britain, but only that part of it which now bears the name of England. This became, at length, a Roman province, and so continued for more than three hundred years.

When, and by what means, Christianity was first introduced into Britain, it is impossible to say. Many are of the opinion that the Gospel was preached there by the Apostles, or certainly in the apostolic age. Thus Eusebius testifies that some in this age "passed over the sea to those which are called the British Islands."* And Clement of Rome says, that Paul “preached righteousness through the whole world, and in so doing went to the utmost bounds of the West ;" which may mean that, after his first imprisonment, he preached it, not only in Spain and Gaul, but also in Britain.

That Christianity prevailed in Britain in the second century, extending even beyond the conquests of the Romans, is certain, from the testimony of Tertullian. For, in writing against the Jews, he mentions, among the nations which had embraced the Gospel, not only the Getuli, and the Mauri, and the Spanish clans, and the different tribes of Gaul, but the regions of the Britons, inaccessible to the Romans, but subject to Christ."

Bede tells of a British king, Lucius, who, about the middle of the second century, applied to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome, for teachers, to instruct him and his people in the doctrines of Christianity. There may have been such a tributary king in Britain at this time, and the story of his having received teachers from Rome is not improbable. This does not imply, however, that Christianity had not previously secured an entrance into some parts of Britain, though it had not reached the court of the king.

That Christianity had become firmly established in England before its abandonment by the Romans in the beginning of

Demonstratie Evangelica, Lib, iii., cap. 7.

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