Long before the dawning of the Renaissance, Bede, also known as Bede the Venerable, could accurately be described as a Renaissance Man. Accomplished in many fields, his major focus was holiness and faith.

Bede was born in Jarrow, England, about 672 A.D. At the age of three, his parents sent him to the nearby Monastery of St. Paul to be placed in the care of the abbot there. The abbot, Benedict Biscop, who would eventually become a saint in his own right, possessed an extensive library. It was here that the young Bede would find an outlet for his intellectual curiosity.

His own propensity for learning combined with the excellent teaching of the monks resulted in a young man who was proficient in many branches of knowledge. Interestingly, one of his deep interests was in the sciences of his time – natural philosophy and astronomy. He was also well-versed in the philosophical principles of Aristotle, as well as arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, sacred music, poetry, Greek, and the lives of the saints. Most of all, he had a love for and a deep knowledge of Sacred Scripture.

Another abbot at Jarrow, Ceolfrid, who was a companion to Biscop, decided to have Bede ordained to the diaconate at the age of 19. The young man then proceeded to study for 11 years before being ordained to the priesthood at the age of 30. In addition to his intellectual work, as a monk in a Benedictine monastery Bede also took on the responsibility of saying Mass for his brother monks, as well as doing the normal work of a monk, which included farming and baking.

He used his incredible intellect and learning to write prolifically; he not only translated books but wrote 45 of his own. Most of his work centered on theology and the Bible, but he also ventured into science, literature, and history. Undoubtably his most famous work and important contribution was his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” Besides being a model of how such things should be written, it is invaluable as a primary source for information about early English history.

Even in his own lifetime, Bede was recognized as a saint, but such accolades did not seem to faze him. Except for a very brief absence to teach in a school of the archbishop of York, Bede spent his entire life in the monastery, ultimately teaching hundreds of students in the school there. As far as he was concerned, his priorities in life were prayer, fasting, and charitable hospitality. “It is better,” he once said, “to be a stupid and uneducated brother who, working at the good thing he knows, merits life in heaven, than to be one – though being distinguished for his learning in the scriptures, or even holding the place of teacher – lacks the bread of love.”

Bede died in 735 and was declared the only English Doctor of the Church in 1899. The patron saint of scholars, Bede’s feast day is celebrated May 25.

Sources for this article include:




Shreck, Alan. “Catholic Church History from A to Z.” Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.