Reading Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People

MOTHER CULTURE SELECTION FOR SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 2016

Bede, a monk who lived during the 8th century after Christ in the northeast of England, is called the Father of English History, primarily because of this, his best-known work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People—Latin title Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Bede is the best kind of historian—a storyteller. Some scholars today discount his veracity, especially in light of the miracles he recorded. Bede, however, reminiscent of Herodotus, is very careful to name his sources, many of whom were eyewitnesses to the events he narrates.

Often referred to as The Venerable* Bede, he was a medieval polymath. He authored more than forty works with subjects ranging from theology and poetry to mathematics and science, in addition to history.

*Venerable  means “old and respected : valued and respected because of old age, long use, etc.”;  from the Latin venerari, from vener-, venus – love. (Merriam Webster)

The version we use at Providence Prep is Oxford World’s Classics, which is the Colgrave translation, first published in 1969 (click on image at right for Amazon affiliate link). As always, your first priority should be to just enjoy Bede’s marvelous storytelling. The ideas below for a close reading of this book build on the principles and practices detailed in this post I wrote for Scholé Groups:

TOWARD A LIFE WELL READ

The master aim of literature study should be to read and delight in the story. Keep these reading helps in their rightful place as servant to that master.

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

Find out a bit about Bede’s life and times. Let’s be honest, Wikipedia is usually a good place to start! The introduction in the Oxford edition is also pretty good. Or, you might enjoy Henrietta Marshall’s chapter on Bede in her lovely English Literature for Boys and Girls.

There were others who wrote history before Bede, but he was perhaps the first who wrote history in the right spirit. He did not write in order to make a good minstrel’s tale. He tried to tell the truth. He was careful as to where he got his facts, and careful how he used them. So those who came after him could trust him. Read the rest at The Baldwin Project

COMMONPLACE BOOK ENTRIES

If you are new to commonplacing, read this series of posts which includes lots of practical advice and specific how-tos for the practice of commonplacing.

THE ART OF COMMONPLACE

You might also enjoy my personal reflections on a lifetime of commonplacing.

Always read with a pen in hand! Mark possible passages for commonplacing at a future time. Of course, commonplacing favorite passages as you read should be a regular habit. 

Copy passages from The Ecclesiastical History that

  • spark your interest, remind you of something else, or bring up questions in your mind
  • delight you – especially figures of speech and eloquent turns of phrase
  • point you to the good, the true, and the beautiful

A few specific commonplace suggestions:

  • Bede’s “purpose of historical study” statement from the Preface, beginning with “Should history tell of good men…”
  • Passages that reflect Bede’s view of God’s sovereignty and providence over history
  • Passages that reflect Bede’s concern with the unity of the church
  • Passages that reflect Bede’s view of the miraculous, and his mindset concerning the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual realms  

REFLECTIONS AS YOU READ

Review the  general reading journal options. In addition, here are a few specific Reading Journal prompts to consider. This is not meant to be a deep analysis. Use this kind of guided journaling only as a way to enhance enjoyment of the story!

  • Journal your thoughts on the miracles that Bede records, and the manner in which he records them.
  • Note stories you’ve heard or seen in other literature or history studies.
  • Journal your thoughts on Bede’s view of God’s sovereignty and providence over history? For one example, consider Book I, Chapter 15 (read the final line of I.14 first).
  • Journal your thoughts on Bede’s concern with the unity of the church. What are some specific areas he addresses?

CONNECTIONS AND THE GREAT CONVERSATION

Write a response to the reading and/or community discussion. What did you find most interesting (or odd, or convicting…)? Are there any common themes or ideas from this reading which remind your of other books you have read? Are there any common themes or ideas from your Bible reading or recent sermons you have heard? Always be on the lookout for references to earlier or contemporaneous authors, ideas, and events—the ongoing Great Conversation.

Here are a few specific connections/reflections:

  • How is Bede’s purpose in writing history like and unlike historians from antiquity? modern historians?
  • What can we learn from Bede about God’s sovereignty and providence? How ought we to view history, as well as the events of our day, in light of this?
  • How have others throughout history viewed the miraculous? How do we and others view it today? How have others throughout history viewed the interconnectedness (or not) of  the physical and spiritual realms? How do we and others today view it?
  • From Scripture, what is your understanding of miracles? Do miracles still happen today? Is there a distinction between miracles during the New Testament period those that are reported in church history and up to  today? Include Scripture references. Begin to think about this, and study it in Scripture. Check your church’s confession or statement of faith for guidance as well.
  • What can we learn from Bede about unity in the body of Christ? What have others in history taught about this?

LINKS WORTH A LOOK


MOTHER CULTURE COMMUNITY

Mother Culture Community is an online fellowship of Christian classical home educators and other reading mothers (and aunts, and sisters, and grandmothers, and daughters), sponsored by The Reading Mother. Our mission is inspire our students in the pursuit of a life well‐read. We believe our own pursuit of a life well‐read is the best place to start.

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