Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

From the way he introduces one of his works, we may gather that the envy and acrimony of criticism was almost as great a spectre to the author of the eighth, as of the nineteenth century. It is contained in an accompanying letter to his friend Herenfrid: “ Veruntamen subnixis precibus flagito ut contra invidos qui vel dente canino hoc opusculum corrodere aut subsannare conaturi sunt del quasi latrantes canes adversum me rabido ore descævient,” &c.

The quiet monotony of his life was at one time threatened with interruption, when Pope Sergius, attracted by the fame of his talents and learning, invited him to Rome, to assist him by his counsel. But no prospect of clerical or secular advancement could move him from his solitude.

The Church of Rome had a great and wonderful regard for him. Nor did he want respect or reverence for his mother church; but with all this, he was not a blind follower of her train. He held fast the essentials of Christianity,--and more than this, he maintained her higher and stricter doctrines. He maintained election; he asserted the impotence of man to do aught himself; and he held those as one who had felt and experienced their truth. We cannot enlarge upon this point to any great length, but we cannot omit, that he was not immaculate in his doctrine. In some points he coincided with the Roman Church, at least so far that he assented to the doctrine in general, but explained it in a very different way from his fellow-churchmen. He allowed images in churches, but it was to fix the attention and impress the

memory; not to worship. He held a sort of confession to priests, but it was a very different one from the demoralizing secret-extracting system of the papacy. He endeavoured to check the increasing abuses of the monasteries, and to procure a supply of bishops for many needy districts, almost destitute of religious instruction, from the fewness of active priests and impassable forests. Anxious for the religious welfare of the people, and deeply concerned for their miserable ignorance, he wrote to Egbert, archbishop of York, admonishing him of neglect in his calling, and charging him to translate the Scriptures into Saxon. Egbert answered, thanking him for his admonition, and set about the work to which Bede had invited him.*

· Britain did now," says Bede, “ in five languages confess one truth.”+ And Britain owes much to Bede, both in learning and religion. He was her light in the midst of thickening darkness, and seemed raised up to retard the hastening gloom, and as a witness of the truth against the encroachments of Romish error-one confessor in that unbroken line which from the first entrance of Christianity into our island, down through every age, has marked out Britain as “ the protesting kingdom.”

* Petrie says, bishop of Lindisfarne. All the other biographers and historians say, of York. We have no means of settling the inconsistency.

+ English, British, Scottish, Pictish, Latin. We may here notiee the Anglo-Saxon clergy. Their chief duty was, to read the Scriptures for themselves, and to have them well-written, that they might rightly teach their people. “ Study Christ,” says Alcuin,

as foretold in the prophets and exhibited in the gospels; and when you find him do not lose him, but introduce bim into the home of thy heart, and make him the ruler of thy life.” Their canons were strict, but we have no room for quotation.

But though zealous for the spread of truth, studious quiet alone was the air without which Bede could not enjoy existence. Though little liable to interruption in his calm retirement, either from the cares of life or the tumults of the world, the strife of emulation or ambition,—yet even in his solitude he had more cares than suited him. He laments the disturbances which he experienced from the changes which took place among the brethren of his monastery, either when death or removal had left a vacant abbacy for the strife of aspiring ambition. Such interruptions would be hailed by many as agreeable excitements, relieving the else intolerable monotony of a studious life. Bede felt their dissipating, discomposing influence, and lamented their occurrence; and not only by these complaints, but by the very manner in which they are made, we might learn his calm and thoughtful habits. There is a quiet subdued tone in these which exhibits an unruffled mind in the very midst of the interruptions which he mourns.

We formerly said that he was credulous, and we remarked that he was to be implicitly trusted only when he was a personal witness of the facts he narrates; we may add to this a very curious fact in reference to it, which shows the remarkable honesty and unsuspicious credulity of the man. In his lives of the saints and other biographical notices which he wrote, we find plenty of miracles recorded, but every one of these was performed by persons with whom he was not personally acquainted; for whenever he comes to narrate the lives and actions of those with whom he had passed his days, we read of no miracles! He heard of many but he never saw one! For all his facts he gives his authorities most rigidly; but the only authority we can rely upon is his own attestation of events he himself had witnessed. There was so little truth to be collected about many of the saints of these times, that it was almost necessary to fill up their stories with agreeable legends, to give a character of high saintship to the memory of the dead. But there was enough of truth for biographers to relate in the life of the “ Venerable” Bede, and we have no mention of miracles performed by him, though not less entitled to the character of saint than many whose miracles are all their fame. But he sought not the praise of men. To benefit them was all he aimed at, to succeed in his aim was his best reward. - Three things," says an old historian, “ were familiar to him during his whole life, to pray, write, and preach. He was very modest, never hunting after preferments; so devout in reading the Scriptures, that he would often shed tears; and after he ended reading, conclude with prayers.

He hated idleness, and would often say, 'that there was so much work to do for a divine, in so little time, that we ought not to lose any of it.' He was venerable for his knowledge and integrity of life, of a very bountiful disposition, full of charity and devotion.” The different reasons which have been assigned for his receiving the name of “ Venerable,” are as curious as they are evidently fabulous. One is that his sight failing him as he grew old, and his love of preaching still as strong as ever, he was one day as he walked abroad, seized with a desire to address the people, and asked a boy who met him to lead him where he might have some congregation to exhort. The boy, in wantonness, took advantage of his blindness, and led him to a heap of stones, and told him there was now plenty to hear him. The good old man began his address, and on finishing, a voice from the stones (in proof that his intention was approved of) answered, “Thou hast preached well, O venerable Bede.” Another is, that one of his disciples being anxious to compose an epitaph on his master in the leonine style, began “ Hac sunt in fossa Bedæ . .. ossa ;” but being unable to find the penultimate word of the hex-. ameter, he left it in despair; and on coming back, found to his astonishment, the line completed, Hac sunt in fossa Bedæ venerabilis ossa.” But we have said enough of such stories; let us hasten to conclude our narrative.

In the midst of his studies old age surprised him, and disease came on apace. Short and difficult respiration, broken and unrefreshing sleep, with other infirmities, indicated a speedy dissolution. “God scourgeth every son whom he receiveth," was his comfort; and to his weeping disciples who surrounded him he said in the words of Ambrose, “ Non sic vixi ut pudeat me inter vos vivere, sed nec mori timeo quia bonum Dominum habemus.” Still he was calm and cheerful, still teaching and dictating, in spite of the remonstrances of his affectionate disciples. “I must be diligent,” said ,he, "for I know not how long I may last.” The night previous to the day on which he died, he slept none, but spent it in thanksgiving and prayer; and at earliest dawn called his scholars to their labours to finish the Anglo-Saxon version of St John's Gospel, which was all but completed. Some hours after he distributed his simple effects among the priests of the monastery.* “I shall

* It is painful to be obliged to notice that Bede wished masses to be performed for him when dead. We know that he did not trust to them, but he seems to have been unsatisfied without them. There were not a few superstitions prevailing in this age.

soon be released, and shall behold Christ Jesus my Lord.” His scholar to whom he had been dictating, whispered, that there was yet another sentence,“Write quickly," replied his master. “ It is done,” said Wilbert, now.” Aye, truly, it is finished," said the dying Bede; “ take my head in your hands, and place me towards the oratory, that I may call on my Father.” Being placed according to his wish, he began a doxology, but ere he could conclude it he expired.

He was buried at Jarrow, and afterwards removed to Durham, where the stone which once covered* his remains is still exhibited. The remains of the monastery of Jarrow, where he lived and died, is at the present day, almost invisible from ashes and coal-dust.

The massy Saxon strength of Bede's chair has enabled it to survive the mouldering influence of time, and the still more ruinous mutilations of antiquarian virtuosos. His stone cell in which he used to enjoy a double solitude, from the interruption not only of the world but of the monastery, continued an object of devotion or curiosity for some centuries after his death, but it is now unknown.

" He was,” says Clarke, the old biographer, “of a comely stature, grave pace, clear voice, eloquent tongue, amiable countenance, which seemed to be composed of gravity and mildness. He was very affable to the good, a terror to the proud and wicked, yet mild and humble to his fraternity.” In the old chronicle his death is singled out as the remarkable occurrence of the year 735. " This year died Bede the wise Saxon.” His life forms an era in British history. He was the light of a dark island, in a dark age, himself unconscious of its shining: British learning in him shot up, as it were, a momentary expiring flame, ere it sunk into the darkness of the middle ages. Born and bred in solitude, he drank in thought from his earliest years. His patient, studious, pensive habits soon enabled him to outstrip the age which gave him birth, and to throw off the mental bondage in which it was enthralled, and dispel much of its darkness and error. Much, no doubt, still cleaved to him and disfigured his life, but let us rather admire him for what he did, than condemn him for what he failed to do. He had to kindle the light by which he shone, as well as to clear the element in which it was placed. One man's powers

Relics were extravagantly venerated-penances were quite common. Transubstantiation was not universally believed in, nor was celibacy; for at the council of Calne, 978, one Beornhelme, called by the monks, “a most loquacious Scottish bishop,” strenuously opposed the doctrine.

“Once covered.” Because his relics were removed, no one knows whither, by Whitingham, dean of Durham, in the reign of Elizabeth, that they might not be vi. sited by papists. Southey says this dean brought puritanical opinions with him from Frankfort !

VOL. XX. NO. 111.

Y

were hardly adequate for both. He shone as a “bright particular star” in a gloomy heaven. Let us not blame the star for the atmosphere that dimmed it.

Art. II.--Christ's Second Coming: will it be Pre-Millennial? By

the Rev. David Brown, A.M., Minister of St James Free Church, Glasgow. Edinburgh : John Johnstone. 1846.

SECOND ARTICLE.

There is a small matter, personal to ourselves, which it may not be amiss to notice by way of preface to this second review of Mr Brown's volume. Reference is made by him more than once to an article in this journal more than two years ago, in which we came into collision with Mr Scott, on several points of his premillennial theory. Of this collision Mr Brown has made some handle, taking advantage of it, not only to show the discord among pre-millennialists, but to argue that their main theory has, of necessity, landed them in this confusion, which he affirms to be inextricable, save by the total abjuration of that noxious chiliasm which has flung around them both its entangling net-work of error.

We are sorry, of course, that there should exist this want of harmony. We are sorry that we cannot agree with Mr Scott, or rather, that Mr Scott cannot agree with us. We should greatly have preferred entire unanimity of sentiment; but we cannot help it. We differ from him, and we have done our best to render a reason for our difference. The fact of our difference is undeniable. Mr Brown would extricate us from our confusion, by suggesting that we “should abandon the doctrine common to both, and fall back upon the doctrine to which both are with equal zeal opposed."* No doubt, this method would release us from some difficulties, but it might only the more deeply entangle us in others of a more insoluble kind. We should like to be very sure of what we are to “fall back upon,” before taking a step which might only aggravate the discord. We are still unablet o see the great difficulties involved in our view of the matter. On the contrary, we are entirely persuaded that it is the view least beset with difficulties, and most sustained by Scripture. Mr Scott has not yet convinced us that we are wrong: neither has Mr Brown. Rather otherwise. Both have helped not a little to confirm us. The insuperable difficulties appear to us to

• P. 166.

« ZurückWeiter »