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The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (in English: Ecclesiastical History of the English People) is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Church in Englandmarker, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.

It is considered to be one of the most important original references on Anglo-Saxon history. It is believed to have been completed in 731, when Bede was approximately 60 years old.

Overview

Bede's best-known work is the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, or An Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Completed in about 731, the first of the five books begins with some geographical background, and then sketches the history of England, beginning with Caesar's invasion in 55 B.C. A brief account of Christianity in Roman Britain, including the martyrdom of St Alban, is followed by the story of Augustine's mission to England in 597, which brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. The second book begins with the death of Gregory the Great in 604, and follows the further progress of Christianity in Kent and the first attempts to evangelize Northumbria. These ended in disaster when Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, killed the newly Christian Edwin of Northumbria at the Battle of Hatfield Chasemarker in about 632. The setback was temporary, and the third book recounts the growth of Christianity in Northumbria under kings Oswald of Northumbria and Oswy. The climax of the third book is the account of the Council of Whitby, traditionally seen as a major turning point in English history. The fourth book begins with the consecration of Theodore as Archbishop of Canterbury, and recounts Wilfrid's efforts to bring Christianity to the kingdom of Sussex. The fifth book brings the story up to Bede's day, and includes an account of missionary work in Frisia, and of the conflict with the British church over the correct dating of Easter. Bede wrote a preface for the work, in which he dedicates it to Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria. The preface mentions that Ceolwulf received an earlier draft of the book; presumably Ceolwulf knew enough Latin to understand it, and he may even have been able to read it. The preface makes it clear that Ceolwulf had requested the earlier copy, and Bede had asked for Ceolwulf's approval; this correspondence with the king indicates that Bede's monastery had excellent connections among the Northumbrian nobility.

Scope

Divided into five books (about 400 pages), the Historia covers the history of England, ecclesiastical and political, from the time of Julius Caesar to the date of its completion (731). The first twenty-one chapters, covering the period before the mission of Augustine, are compiled from earlier writers such as Orosius, Gildas, Prosper of Aquitaine, the letters of Pope Gregory I, and others, with the insertion of legends and traditions.

After AD 596, documentary sources, which Bede took pains to obtain throughout England and from Romemarker, are used, as well as oral testimony, which he employed along with critical consideration of its authenticity.

The Historia, like other historical writing from this period has a lower degree of objectivity than modern historical writings. It is a mixture of fact, legend and literature. For example, Bede quotes some speeches at length, by people who were not his contemporaries, and yet whose speeches do not appear in any other source.

Sources

The monastery at Jarrow had an excellent library. Both Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith had acquired books from the Continent, and in Bede's day the monastery was a renowned centre of learning.Cramp, "Monkwearmouth (or Wearmouth) and Jarrow", pp. 325–326.

For the period prior to Augustine's arrival in 597, Bede drew on earlier writers, including Orosius, Eutropius, Pliny, and Solinus. He used Constantius's Life of Germanus as a source for Germanus's visits to Britain. Bede's account of the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons is drawn largely from Gildas's De Excidio Britanniae.Lapidge, "Gildas", p. 204. Bede would also have been familiar with more recent accounts such as Eddius Stephanus's Life of Wilfrid, and anonymous Lives of Gregory the Great and Cuthbert. He also drew on Josephus's Antiquities, and the works of Cassiodorus, and there was a copy of the Liber Pontificalis in Bede's monastery.

Bede also had correspondents who supplied him with material. Albinus, the abbot of the monastery in Canterbury, provided much information about the church in Kent, and with the assistance of Nothhelm, at that time a priest in London, obtained copies of Gregory the Great's correspondence from Rome relating to Augustine's mission.Keynes, "Nothhelm", pp. 335 336. Almost all of Bede's information regarding Augustine is taken from these letters. Bede acknowledged his correspondents in the preface to the Historia Ecclesiastica;Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, Preface, p. 42. he was in contact with Daniel, the Bishop of Winchester, for information about the history of the church in Wessex, and also wrote to the monastery at Lastinghammarker for information about Cedd and Chad. Bede also mentions an Abbot Esi as a source for the affairs of the East Anglian church, and Bishop Cynibert for information about Lindsey.

The historian Walter Goffart argues that Bede based the structure of the Historia on three works, using them as the framework around which the three main sections of the work were structured. For the early part of the work, up until the Gregorian mission, Goffart feels that Bede used Gildas's De excidio. The second section, detailing the Gregorian mission of Augustine of Canterbury was framed on the anonymous Life of Gregory the Great written at Whitby. The last section, detailing events after the Gregorian mission, Goffart feels were modelled on Stephen of Ripon's Life of Wilfrid. Most of Bede's informants for information after Augustine's mission came from the eastern part of Britain, leaving significant gaps in the knowledge of the western areas, which were those areas likely to have a native Briton presence.

Contents

The History of the English Church and People has a clear polemical and didactic purpose. Bede sets out, not just to tell the story of the English, but to advance his views on politics and religion.In political terms he is a partisan of his native Northumbriamarker, amplifying its role in English history over and above that of Merciamarker, its great southern rival. He takes greater pains in describing events of the seventh century, when Northumbria was the dominant Anglo-Saxon power, than the eighth, when it was not. The only criticism he ventures of his native Northumbria comes in writing about the death of King Ecgfrith in fighting the Picts at Nechtansmere in 685.

Bede attributes this defeat to God's vengeance for the Northumbrian attack on the Irish in the previous year. For while Bede is loyal to Northumbria he shows an even greater attachment to the Irish and the Irish Celtic missionaries, whom he considers to be far more effective and dedicated than their rather complacent English counterparts.

His final preoccupation is over the precise date of Easter, which he writes about at length. It is here, and only here, that he ventures some criticism of St Cuthbert and the Irish missionaries, who celebrated the event, according to Bede, at the wrong time. In the end he is pleased to note that the Irish Church was saved from error by accepting the correct date for Easter.

Models

Bede's stylistic models included some of the same authors from whom he drew the material for the earlier parts of his history. His introduction imitates the work of Orosius, and his title is an echo of Eusebius's Historia Ecclesiastica. Bede also followed Eusebius in taking the Acts of the Apostles as the model for the overall work: where Eusebius used the Acts as the theme for his description of the development of the church, Bede made it the model for his history of the Anglo-Saxon church. Bede quoted his sources at length in his narrative, as Eusebius had done. Bede also appears to have taken quotes directly from his correspondents at times. For example, he almost always uses the terms "Australes" and "Occidentales" for the South and West Saxons respectively, but in a passage in the first book he uses "Meridiani" and "Occidui" instead, as perhaps his informant had done. At the end of the work, Bede added a brief autobiographical note; this was an idea taken from Gregory of Tours' earlier History of the Franks.

Bede's work as a hagiographer, and his detailed attention to dating, were both useful preparations for the task of writing the Historia Ecclesiastica. His interest in computus, the science of calculating the date of Easter, was also useful in the account he gives of the controversy between the British and Anglo-Saxon church over the correct method of obtaining the Easter date.

Themes

One of the important themes of the Historia Ecclesiastica is that in the conversion of the British Isles to Christianity, it had all been the work of Irish and Italian missionaries, with no efforts being made by the native Britons. This theme was developed from Gildas' work, which denounced the sins of the native rulers during the invasions, with the elaboration by Bede that the invasion and settlement of the British Isles by the Angles and Saxons was God's punishment for the lack of missionary effort and the refusal to accept the Roman date for celebrating Easter. Although Bede discusses the history of Christianity in Roman Britain, significantly he utterly ignores the missionary work of Saint Patrick. He writes approvingly of Aidan and Columba, who came from Ireland as missionaries to the Picts and Northumbrians, but disapproved of the failure of the Welsh to evangelize the invading Anglo-Saxons. Bede was a partisan of Rome, regarding Gregory the Great, rather than Augustine, as the true apostle of the English. Likewise, in his treatment of the conversion of the invaders, any native involvement is minimized, such as when discussing Chad of Mercia's first consecration, when Bede mentions that two British bishops took part in the consecration, thus invalidating it. No information on who or where these two bishops came from is presented. Also important is Bede's view of the conversion process as an upper-class phenomenon, with little discussion of any missionary efforts among the non-noble or royal population.

Another view, taken by historian D. H. Farmer, is that the theme of the work is "the progression from diversity to unity". According to Farmer, Bede took this idea from Gregory the Great, and illustrates it in his work by showing how Christianity brought together the native and invading races into one church. Farmer cites Bede's intense interest in the schism over the correct date for Easter as support for this argument, and also cites the lengthy description of the Synod of Whitby, which Farmer regards as "the dramatic centre-piece of the whole work." The historian Alan Thacker wrote in 1983 that Bede's works should be seen as advocating a monastic rather than secular ministry, and Thacker argues that Bede's treatment of St Cuthbert is meant to make Cuthbert a role-model for the role of the clergy advocated by Gregory the Great.

The historian Walter Goffart says of the Historia that many modern historians find it a "tale of origins framed dynamically as the Providence-guided advance of a people from heathendom to Christianity; a cast of saints rather than rude warriors; a mastery of historical technique incomparable for its time; beauty of form and diction; and, not least, an author whose qualities of life and spirit set a model of dedicated schoalrship." Goffart also feels that a major theme of the Historia is concerned with local, Northumbrian concerns, and that Bede treated matters outside Northumbria as secondary concerns to his main concern with northern history. Goffart sees the writing of the Historia as motivated by a political struggle in Northumbria between a party devoted to Wilfrid, and those opposed to Wilfrid's policies.

Much of the "current" history in the Historia is concerned with Wilfrid, who was an bishop in Northumbria and whose stormy career is documented not only in Bede's works, but in a Life of Wilfrid. A theme in Bede's treatment of Wilfrid is the need to minimize the conflict between Wilfrid and Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was involved in many of Wilfrid's difficulties.

The Historia Ecclesiastica includes many accounts of miracles and visions. These were de rigueur in medieval religious narrative, but Bede appears to have avoided relating the more extraordinary tales; and, remarkably, he makes almost no claims for miraculous events at his own monastery. There is no doubt that Bede did believe in miracles, but the ones he does include are often stories of healing, or of events that could plausibly be explained naturally. The miracles served the purpose of setting an example to the reader, and Bede explicitly states that his goal is to teach morality through history, saying "If history records good things of good men, the thoughtful reader is encouraged to imitate what is good; if it records evil of wicked men, the devout reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse."

Omissions and bias

Bede apparently had no informant at any of the main Mercian religious houses.Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms, p. 100. His information about Mercia came from Lastinghammarker, in Northumbria, and from Lindsey, a province on the borders of Northumbria and Mercia. As a result there are noticeable gaps in his coverage of Mercian church history, such as his omission of the division of the huge Mercian diocese by Theodore in the late 7th century. His sympathies were with Northumbria; Bede viewed Mercia under King Penda in the 7th century as an aggressive pagan force, responsible for the death of the Christian king Edwin of Northumbria. Mercia was a rising power when Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, and Bede's regional bias is apparent.

There were clearly gaps in Bede's knowledge, but Bede also says little on some topics that he must have been familiar with. For example, although Bede recounts Wilfrid's missionary activities, he does not give a full account of his conflict with Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, or his ambition and aristocratic lifestyle. Only the existence of other sources such as the Life of Wilfrid make it clear what Bede discreetly avoids saying. The omissions are not restricted to Wilfrid; Bede makes no mention at all of Boniface, though it is unlikely he knew little of him; and the final book contains less information about the church in his own day than could be expected. A possible explanation for Bede's discretion may be found in his comment that one should not make public accusations against church figures, no matter what their sins; Bede may have found little good to say about the church in his day and hence preferred to keep silent. It is clear that he did have fault to find; his letter to Ecgberht contains several criticisms of the church.

The Historia Ecclesiastica has more to say about episcopal events than it does about the monasteries of England. Bede does shed some light on monastic affairs; in particular he comments in book V that many Northumbrians are laying aside their arms and entering monasteries "rather than study the arts of war. What the result of this will be the future will show." This veiled comment, another example of Bede's discretion in commenting on current affairs, could be interpreted as ominous given Bede's more specific criticism of quasi-monasteries in his letter to Ecgberht, written three years later.

Bede's account of life at the court of the Anglo-Saxon kings includes little of the violence that Gregory of Tours mentions as a frequent occurrence at the Frankish court. It is possible that the courts were as different as their descriptions makes them appear but it is more likely that Bede omitted some of the violent reality. Bede states that he wrote the work as an instruction for rulers, in order that "the thoughtful listener is spurred on to imitate the good". It also was no part of Bede's purpose to describe the kings who did not convert to Christianity in the Historia.

Anno Domini

Bede's use of something similar to the anno Domini era, created by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 525, throughout Historia Ecclesiastica was very influential in causing that era to be adopted thereafter in Western Europe. Specifically, he used anno ab incarnatione Domini (in the year from the incarnation of the Lord) or anno incarnationis dominicae (in the year of the incarnation of the Lord). He never abbreviated the term like the modern AD. Bede, like Dionysius, counted anno Domini from Christ's birth, not from Christ's conception. Within this work, he was also the first writer to use a term similar to the English before Christ. In book I chapter 2 he used ante incarnationis dominicae tempus (before the time of the incarnation of the Lord). However, the latter was not very influential—only this isolated use was repeated by other writers during the rest of the Middle Ages. The first extensive use of "BC" (hundreds of times) occurred in Fasciculus Temporum by Werner Rolevinck in 1474, alongside years of the world (anno mundi).

Continuation of Bede

Some early manuscripts contain additional annalistic entries that extend past the date of completion of the Historia Ecclesiastica, with the latest entry dated 766.Whitelock, English Historical Documents, p. 259–260. No manuscripts earlier than the 12th century contain these entries, except for the entries for 731 through 734, which do occur in earlier manuscripts. Much of the material replicates what is found in Simeon of Durham's chronicle; the remaining material is thought to derive from northern chronicles from the 8th century. The Historia was translated into Old English sometime in the 9th century in southern Britain, and this translation has traditionally been held to have been done by King Alfred of England, but scholarship now has cast doubt on this tradition. Although Alfred may not have personally made the translation, it probably was connected with the promotion of learning that Alfred fostered. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, composed around this time, drew heavily on the Historia, which formed the chronological framework of the early parts of the Chronicle.

Assessment

The Historia Ecclesiastica was copied often in the Middle Ages, and about 160 manuscripts containing it survive. About half of those are located on the European continent, rather than on the British Isles. Most of the 8th- and 9th-century texts of Bede's Historia come from the northern parts of the Carolingian Empire. This total does not include manuscripts with only a part of the work, of which another 100 or so survive. It was printed for the first time between 1474 and 1482, probably at Strasbourg, Francemarker. Modern historians have studied the Historia extensively, and a number of editions have been produced. For many years, early Anglo-Saxon history was essentially a retelling of the Historia, but recent scholarship has focused as much on what Bede did not write as what he did. The belief that the Historia was the culmination of Bede's works, the aim of all his scholarship, a belief common among historians in the past, is no longer accepted by most scholars.

The Historia Ecclesiastica has given Bede a high reputation, but his concerns were different from those of a modern writer of history. His focus on the history of the organization of the English church, and on heresies and the efforts made to root them out, led him to exclude the secular history of kings and kingdoms except where a moral lesson could be drawn or where they illuminated events in the church. Besides the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the medieval writers William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, and Geoffrey of Monmouth used his works as sources and inspirations. Early modern writers, such as Polydore Virgil and Matthew Parker, the Elizabethan Archbishop of Canterbury, also utilized the Historia, and his works were used by both Protestant and Catholic sides in the Wars of Religion.

Some historians have questioned the reliability of some of Bede's accounts. One historian, Charlotte Behr, feels that the Historia's account of the arrival of the Germanic invaders in Kent should not be considered to relate what actually happened, but rather relates myths that were current in Kent during Bede's time.

Printing history

The first printed copy of the Historia Ecclesiastica appeared from the press of Heinrich Eggestein in Strasbourgmarker, probably between 1475 and 1480. A defect in the text allows the identification of the manuscript Eggestein used; it subsequently appeared in a catalogue of the Vienna Dominicans of 1513. Eggestein had also printed an edition of Rufinus's translation of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, and the two works were reprinted, bound as a single volume, on 14 March 1500 by Georg Husner, also of Strasbourg. Another reprint appeared on 7 December 1506, from Heinrich Gran and S. Ryman at Haguenaumarker.Colgrave & Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, pp. lxx–lxxiii.

A Paris edition appeared in 1544, and in 1550 John de Grave produced an edition at Antwerpmarker. Two reprints of this edition appeared, in 1566 and 1601. In 1563, Johann Herwagen included it in volume III of his eight-volume Opera Omnia, and this was in turn reprinted in 1612 and 1688. Michael Sonnius produced an edition in Paris in 1587, including the Historia Ecclesiastica in a collection of other historical works; and in 1587 Johann Commelin included it in a similar compilation, printed at Heidelbergmarker. In 1643, Abraham Whelock produced at Cambridge an edition with the Old English text and the Latin text in parallel columns, the first in England.

All of the above editions were based on the C-text. The first edition to use the m-type manuscripts was printed by Pierre Chifflet in 1681, using a descendant of the Moore MS. In 1722, John Smith obtained the Moore MS., and also having access to two copies in the Cotton Librarymarker was able to print a very high quality edition. Subsequently the most notable edition was that of Charles Plummer, whose 1896 Venerabilis Bedae Opera Historica, with a full commentary, has been a foundation-stone for all subsequent scholarship.

Editions

  • 1475: printed in Germany
  • 1563: "basic edition" (incomplete)
  • 1643: first edition printed in England
  • 1688: "Cologne edition"
  • 1742: John Smith
  • 1884: Giles, reprinted in Patrologia Latina
  • 1896 C. Plummer, Oxford
  • 1969: Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, reprint with corrections 1992
  • 2005: Michael Lapidge, Paris


Translations

Bede's Ecclesiastical History was translated into Old English probably in the late 10th century.
  • 1565: Thomas Stapleton, Antwerp (Imprinted at Antwerp: By Iohn Laet, at the signe of the Rape)
  • 1643/4: Anglo-Saxon version parallel with the Latin in Abraham Whelock's edition (editio princeps of the Anglo-Saxon)
  • 1866: M. M. Wilden, Schaffhausen.
  • 1903: L. C. Jane, Temple Classics.
  • 1907: A. M. Sellar, London, George Bell & Sons.
  • 1955: Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, reprinted with revisions 1965, revised 1968, revised 1990.
  • 1969: Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, reprint with corrections 1992.
  • 1997: Günter Spitzbart, Darmstadt.
  • 2005: Histoire ecclésiastique du peuple anglais, notes by André Crépin, ed. Michael Lapidge, trans. Pierre Monat and Philippe Robin (Paris: Cerf).
  • 2008: Hirosi Takahashi (Tokyo: Kodansha).
  • 2009: Beda il Venerabile, Storia degli Inglesi, ed. M. Lapidge, trans. Paolo Chiesa (Milan: Fondazione Valla-Arnoldo Mondadori).


Literature

  • Jones, Putnam Fennell, A Concordance to the Historia ecclesiastica of Bede, Cambridge, 1919.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., Bede's Ecclesiastical history of the English people: a historical commentary, Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.


See also



Notes

  1. Campbell "Bede" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Bede, "Preface", Historia Ecclesiastica, p. 41.
  3. Meyvaert "Bede" Speculum p. 831
  4. Meyvaert "Bede" Speculum p. 843
  5. Goffart Narrators pp. 296-307
  6. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 12-14
  7. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 4-7
  8. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 7-10
  9. Goffart Narrators p. 235
  10. Goffart Narrators p. 240
  11. Goffart Narrators p. 326
  12. Chadwick "Theodore" Archbishop Theodore pp. 92-93
  13. Bede, HE, V.23
  14. Quoted in
  15. (first published 1999)
  16. Wright Companion to Bede pp. 4-5
  17. Goffart Narrators p. 236
  18. Goffart Narrators pp. 238-9
  19. Behr "Origins of Kingship" Early Medieval Europe pp. 25-52
  20. Colgrave gives the sources for this as Pierre Chifflet, who produced an edition of Bede in 1681; Colgrave comments that he himself has not seen this edition. See Colgrave & Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, p. lxxi, n. 1.
  21. Colgrave comments that his omission of manuscript L "does not impair the value of his text, which can fairly be described as final. The width of his interests and the accuracy of his learning must be the envy of any successor". D. H. Farmer, in the Penguin Bede, says that "like all previous editions of Bede's Ecclesiastical History this one depends on the pioneer work of Charles Plummer". See Colgrave & Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, p. lxxiii, and


References

  1. Campbell "Bede" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Bede, "Preface", Historia Ecclesiastica, p. 41.
  3. Meyvaert "Bede" Speculum p. 831
  4. Meyvaert "Bede" Speculum p. 843
  5. Goffart Narrators pp. 296-307
  6. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 12-14
  7. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 4-7
  8. Brooks "From British to English Christianity" Conversion and Colonization pp. 7-10
  9. Goffart Narrators p. 235
  10. Goffart Narrators p. 240
  11. Goffart Narrators p. 326
  12. Chadwick "Theodore" Archbishop Theodore pp. 92-93
  13. Bede, HE, V.23
  14. Quoted in
  15. (first published 1999)
  16. Wright Companion to Bede pp. 4-5
  17. Goffart Narrators p. 236
  18. Goffart Narrators pp. 238-9
  19. Behr "Origins of Kingship" Early Medieval Europe pp. 25-52
  20. Colgrave gives the sources for this as Pierre Chifflet, who produced an edition of Bede in 1681; Colgrave comments that he himself has not seen this edition. See Colgrave & Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, p. lxxi, n. 1.
  21. Colgrave comments that his omission of manuscript L "does not impair the value of his text, which can fairly be described as final. The width of his interests and the accuracy of his learning must be the envy of any successor". D. H. Farmer, in the Penguin Bede, says that "like all previous editions of Bede's Ecclesiastical History this one depends on the pioneer work of Charles Plummer". See Colgrave & Mynors, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, p. lxxiii, and


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