Review: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert by Bede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bede was a monk in England and wrote this history in 731. Several themes are prominent, the last two being positive while the rest are more critiques.
1. Bringing the church in the British Isles under Roman customs. Bede was obsessed with the proper celebration of Easter, by the Roman calendar. Some see this positively as a zeal for church unity. It often appeared to me more pursuing a hegemony of the Roman bishop.
2. The power of miracles and relics to prove the faith. Missionaries to a new land would ask for relics from Rome to put in newly built churches (251). A couple times a devout and dead king would be invoked for aid (195). Many miracles connected to relics are related as an apologetic for the Christian faith that converts many.
3. Merit and works earning favor. Self-denying practices like fasting are used to atone for past offenses (161). One would live as a stranger to the world in the monastery, to attain heaven more easily.
4. Asceticism and gnosticism. The body is only a hindrance to spiritual life. Many acts of self-flagellation are lauded as worthy of imitation. At death “his holy soul was released from the prison house of the body” (177).
5. Bringing kings under the rule of Christ. Many letters from popes to the English kings call them "my son." Quite the audacity to write to a king you've never met, far away, and call him your son! Maybe it was a bit overdone, but it is right to seek to convert rulers and have them come under the yoke of Christ themselves (Psalm 2:10-12).
6. Teaching and preaching. Bede often castigates the Irish for their Easter observance, but commends them for their diligence and persistence in sending missionaries to Britain. Right beside the need for relics in the church, he places the need for good teaching. His letter to Egbert at the end of this edition movingly exhorts him to go out and teach the common man, rebukes lazy priests for not doing so, and commends translation of Scripture into the native language. On his deathbed he said, “My soul longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty” (302).
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