Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.


Friday, 25 May 2012

St Bede


Today is the feast of St Bede (673-735), the great historian of the conversion of England and the only English Doctor of the Church (to date).

http://www.dur.ac.uk/r.c.widdison/tour/graphics/bede.jpg 

The tomb of St Bede in Durham Cathedral

Image: dur.ac.uk 

Here, from the Office of Readings for today, is the account by the monk Cuthbert of the death of Bede:

"On the Tuesday before Ascension, Bede began to suffer greater difficulties in breathing and his feet began to swell slightly. Nevertheless, he continued to teach us and dictate all day, and made jokes about his illness: “Learn quickly,” he would say, “because I don’t know how long I’ll last: my Creator may take me very soon.” But it seemed to us that he was perfectly conscious of his approaching end.
He spent all night in giving thanks to God. As dawn broke on the Wednesday, he ordered us to finish writing what we had started, and we did this until the third hour [mid-morning]. Afterwards we carried the relics of the saints in solemn procession, as it was the custom to do on that day. One of us stayed with him, and asked him: “Dear master, the book is almost complete, there is one chapter left to go – would it be difficult for you if I asked you to do more dictation?.” “No,” Bede replied, “it is easy. Take your pen and ink, and write quickly” – which he did.
At the ninth hour [mid-afternoon] he said to me “I have a few precious things in my cell: some pepper, some napkins, and some incense. Run quickly and call the priests of the monastery to me, so that I can give to them the few little gifts that God gave me.” When they came he spoke to them in turn, giving advice to each one and begging him to say a Mass and pray for him; which they all willingly promised to do.
They were grief-stricken and wept, especially because he had said that he thought they would not see his face much more in this world. But at the same time it made them glad when he said “It is time – if it is my Maker’s will – to return to him who made me, who shaped me out of nothing and gave me existence. I have lived a long time, and the righteous judge has provided well for me all my life: now the time of my departure is at hand, for I long to dissolve and be with Christ; indeed, my soul longs to see Christ its king in all his beauty.” This is just one saying of his: he said many other things too, to our great benefit – and thus he spent his last day in gladness until the evening.
Then Wilbert (the boy who asked him for dictation) asked him again: “Dear master, there is still one sentence left to write.” “Write it quickly,” he answered. A little later the boy said “now it is completed” and Bede replied “you have spoken truly, it is finished. Hold up my head, because I love to sit facing my holy place, the place where I used to pray, and as I sit I can call upon my Father.”
And so, on the floor of his cell, he sat and sang “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”; and as he named the Spirit, the Breath of God, he breathed the last breath from his own body. With all the labour that he had given to the praise of God, there can be no doubt that he went into the joys of heaven that he had always longed for."

Quite apart from its description of the peaceful death of man immersed in scripture and prayer, what interests me about this account are the references to Rogation processions and to the concept of offering Mass for an individual soul being well established in England by 735 - these are not late nedeival accretions, and nor was the Northumbrian church primative and folksy - it was very much part of Catholic Christendom.


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