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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 Romnish 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 religious 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, 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.
the fifth century, is indubitable. It was during this period that the British churches suffered persecution under Diocletian, and were troubled by the Arian and Pelagian heresies. But their great, overwhelming trouble was from another
After the subversion of the Roman government, the southern part of the island was invaded by the Picts and Scots from the north ; and in their distress, the Britons invited the Saxons of Germany to come to their relief. The Saxons, who were still pagans, came, at several times, and in great numbers; drove back the Picts and Scots, and compelled the native Britons to retire,—some to Cornwall and Wales, some to Ireland, and some to other countries. The conquest by the Saxons was not effected, however, without a struggle. The Britons fought bravely for their religion and their hoines; but, after a contest of one hundred and fifty years, they were subdued, and the Heptarchy was established. The old British churches were nearly all destroyed, paganism prevailed, and England needed to be converted to Christianity a second time.
This work of re-conversion and evangelization commenced near the close of the sixth century. The story of Augustine and his forty monks, who were sent over by Gregory, bishop of Rome, to impart the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxons, is familiar to every reader. The kingdom of Kent was first converted; then that of the East-Angles; and afterward,-amidst trials and struggles, running through the space of almost a hundred years,—the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy. While Augustine and his missionaries from Rome were laboring in the south of England, Oswald, king of Northumberland,—the northernmost branch of the Heptarchy,-applied for teachers to another source.
A missionary school--or convent as it was called--had been for some time established at Iona, one of the Hebrides Islands, under the direction of Columba, an Irish monk, from which proceeded, for a long course of years, a most valuable class of missionaries, called Culdees. For one of these Oswald made application; and Aidan was sent to instruct him in the faith. The character of this missionary would have done honor to the purest times. He gave to the poor whatever presents he received from the rich, and
diligently employed himself, with his associates, in the study of the Holy Scriptures. He strictly avoided every thing luxurious, and every appearance of secular avarice and ambition. He redeemed captives with the money that was given to him, and afterward instructed them, and fitted them for the ministry. He labored, indeed, under a disadvantage, in not being able to speak the language of the English ; but King Oswald, who perfectly understood both languages, acted as his interpreter, and did what he could to assist him in his labors. The zeal of this monarch was extraordinary. He was a nursing father to the infant church. Encouraged by his protection, more missionaries came from Iona, and churches in considerable numbers were gathered.
Aidan was their first bishop, and had his seat at Lindisfarne, a small island in the German Sea. He was succeeded in office by Finan, and he by Colman, both of whom were ordained and sent forth from the school at Iona.*
This work of evangelizing England, being commenced in the south, by missionaries from Rome, and in the north by missionaries from Iona, in a little time, the two classes of teachers came together; when it was found that, on several points of doctrine and practice, they did not agree. They differed as to the proper time of observing Easter; the northern missionaries following, on this point, the Asiatic churches, and the southern the church of Rome. The northern missionaries did not practise auricular confession; they rejected penance and priestly absolution; they made no use of chrism in baptism, or of confirmation; they opposed the doctrine of the real presence; they condemned the worship of saints and angels; they dedicated their church to God, and not to the saints; they placed no reliance on merits of any kind, except the merits of Jesus Christ; they were opposed to the celibacy of the clergy, and were themselves married men. In short, they were witnesses to the simple truths and institutions of the Gospel, in an age of abounding and increasing superstition.
* As these men, having no other than Presbyterian ordination, officiated as bishops, and ordained others, this fact has cast no little uncertainty upon the alleged uninterrupted apostolical succession of bishops in England.