Some words from Pope Benedict on the greatest English teacher

Continuing his series on the Church Fathers, Pope Benedict used one of his February general audiences, to share the teaching of St Bede the Venerable, born in north-east England in 672.

Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to establish many friendships with the principal personalities of his day, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited.

The Sacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection.

Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy [here in the Vatican] of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which he worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: on the one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ, and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as ‘a’ sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions. For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple in Jerusalem are images of the Church, the new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not

only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons…’

Bede has a timely message for the different ‘states of life’:

a) For scholars he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of

the Word of God, to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths, avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the Catholic simplicity, with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that they give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the ‘Our Father,’ and the ‘Creed’ and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language…

Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, ‘bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization’ – clear is the reference to the word [1.5], where the Bride says: Nigra sum sed formosa (I am dark, but beautiful). In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to religious instruction, imitating those ‘insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.’

He teaches them how to pray constantly, ‘reproducing in life what they celebrate in the Liturgy,’ offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that in their small domestic realm they too can exercise ‘the priestly office of pastors and guides,’ by giving Christian formation to their children, and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) ‘capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion’…

Bede contributed hugely to the making of a Christian Europe… Let us pray that today there may be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole continent united. Let us pray that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a truly human and genuinely Christian Europe.