contributor.author: Gernot R. Wieland

title.none: Ward, The Venerable Bede (Wieland)

identifier.other: baj9928.9902.010 99.02.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gernot R. Wieland, University of British Columbia, gwieland@arts.ubc.ca

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Ward, Benedicta, SLG. The Venerable Bede. Cistercian Studies Series, No. 169. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1998. Pp. iv, 156. ISBN: 0-879-07469-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.02.10

Ward, Benedicta, SLG. The Venerable Bede. Cistercian Studies Series, No. 169. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1998. Pp. iv, 156. ISBN: 0-879-07469-X.

Reviewed by:

Gernot R. Wieland
University of British Columbia
gwieland@arts.ubc.ca

Th e present volume is a re-edition of a booklet which originally appeared in 1990 in the Outstanding Christian Thinkers series. As such, it shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of the earlier volume. The booklet is aimed at a general audience, and seeks to acquaint the general reader with the times and works of Bede. This it does admirably, and with great verve. In six chapters Ward introduces "Bede and his times," "Bede the teacher," "Bede and the Bible," "Bede and the saints," "Bede and the English," and "Bede's influence." The chapters thus deal with the few biographical data of Bede, with his didactic, exegetic, hagiographic, and historical works, and with the liturgical cult of Bede in later times. Anyone familiar with Bede's numerous works must realize that a short booklet like this cannot treat them in great detail, but must concentrate on their essence. This Ward does very well: in a few short sentences she explains the content of Bede's work, characterizes his methodology, mentions a few of the influences, provides a representative sample or two, and then moves on to the next work. She is not content, however, to simply string the works together without finding cohesion in them. In everything he did, she argues, Bede strove to bring the Word of God to the Anglo-Saxons, whether in his metrical or computistical works, in his hagiographies, his exegesis, or the Ecclesiastical History. She finds that Bede organized the five chapters of his Ecclesiastical History according to the six ages of man (infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age, death), which in turn are modelled on the six ages of the world (from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Noah to David, from David to the exile in Baylon, from the exile in Babylon to the coming of the Saviour, from the coming of the Saviour to the present): exegesis, computus, and historiography are interwoven here with a mastery that only Bede could command. This is an excellent introduction to the works of Bede, especially to his lesser known exegesis, and it is entirely persuasive in arguing that all of Bede's works are exegetical, in the sense of explaining the working of God in the world.

Since the work is aimed at a general audience and not at scholars, it clearly would be inappropriate to demand that Ward include all the latest scholarship on Bede, and reproduce all the scholarly nuances worked out over the last decades. In comparison to the 1990 volume, the bibliography has been slightly expanded: two post-1990 entries appear. One puzzling omission is George H. Brown's Bede the Venerable, Twayne's English Authors Series 443 (Boston: Twayne, 1987), since that book, like Ward's, also is meant to simply introduce Bede to the modern reader, and actually has an identical structure with six chapters treating Bede's life and times, his educational treatises, the exegetical works, his hagiography, his historical works, and his legacy. The contents of the two books differ, but some of the scholarly nuances that Brown was able to include into his volume might have suggested a similar path to Ward.

This book has been reviewed previously (e.g. Julia Crick, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 43, 1992, 338-9), and one could expect that some of the criticisms made then would be corrected in the re-edition. Crick criticizes, for instance, that "Lowe" is mentioned, but that this name does not appear in the bibliography, and that therefore the general reader would have no idea in determining that this is the editor of the Codices Latini Antiquiores. "Lowe" still appears without a reference in the 1998 edition on p. 75: "There is a copy of the Latin text of Proverbs (MS Bodley 819) which Lowe has identified as a Jarrow manuscript, possibly that used by Bede." I give the full quotation here because the content of this manuscript, according to H. Gneuss, "A preliminary list of manuscripts written or owned in England up to 1100," Anglo-Saxon England 9 (1981), p. 38 (no. 604) is "Beda, In Proverbia Salomonis." Since Bede wrote the text of that manuscript, it is not likely that this is "possibly that used by Bede." And while we are speaking about manuscripts, Ward's reference to the Codex Laudianus Graecus as "MS Bodley 35" is confusing. It should be "Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Gr. 35" (see Gneuss, no. 654).

Generally speaking, Ward footnotes carefully. A few exceptions occur, e.g. when she says that "Bede mentions more than once that he found the English unready to study Latin assiduously" (p. 15). Maybe it is just this reviewer's special interest who would like to see whether Bede's complaint about the lack of Latin provided the verbal model for Alfred's similar complaint in the preface to his translation of Gregory's Cura Pastoralis, but the absence of a footnote to any, let alone all, of Bede's statements on this topic was rather disappointing.

On pp. 24-5 Ward introduces Anglo-Latin and Old English riddles, only to finish the section with this statement: "But poetry for Bede was a serious matter; he wrote no riddles." Then why were the riddles introduced at all? A learned aside might have helped Ward out of an awkward passage. While there are no riddles that can definitively claim Bede as their author, F. Tupper has published some riddles which in the twelfth-century contents list of Cambridge, University Library Ms Gg.5.35 are ascribed to Bede. See "Riddles of the Bede Tradition," Modern Philology 2 (1904-05), 561-72.

These few criticisms do not intend to detract from the real achievement of Ward's book: in a few bold strokes she delineates the essence of each of Bede's works, and she detects an overall purpose behind their great variety. Each of her pages makes Bede come alive as a quiet, self-effacing, yet intensely learned monk whose works outlasted the centuries. Whether by accident or design, Ward's six chapters parallel the six ages of man as well as the six ages of the world she outlined in her discussion of the Ecclesiastical History, and thus suggest not only the completeness of Bede's life and his works but also their importance in the history of mankind. To do that in only about 150 pages is a great achievement indeed.