Friday, April 25, 2014


Through the pages of music history, the names of Notker the Stammerer and of Herman the Cripple continue to live. I talked about them both in class today – and shook my head as I said their names. I guess a Notker by any other name still smells as sweet, but I still feel bad about these traditional monikers (although I'm struggling right now to determine exactly who or what I feel bad for). Surely it's much better to be known to history as venerable. But then why does Bede get to be known as venerable? I thought for a moment that the introduction to my copy of his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation would tell, but I only got theories about who first applied the nickname.

But venerable indeed is the Venerable Bede. I only read Book I this month (the rest of the history comes up in the next two years of my plan), but I already see venerable qualities in his writing. For instance, I was tickled to see that this historian from the so-called Dark Ages approached his sources with caution and a dose of skepticism. A modernist might wish that he applied a more strict standard to the scrutiny of his sources – regarding claims of miracles, for instance – but then the modernists themselves deserve heavy doses of skepticism. Bede definitely piqued my interest when he mentioned the story of Vortigern opening the door to the Angles and Saxons by inviting the Horsa and Hengist over from the mainland to help keep the Picts at bay. Reading about Vortigern, I expect to hear next about Merlin, Uther Pendragon, and King Arthur. But Bede left all mention of the wielder of Excalibur out of his history, itself perhaps a tacit comment about sources.

Other omissions were a little frustrating to me, though. I wish Bede had told more about the origins of Christian faith (both orthodox and heretical) in the island in late Roman days. He has a lot to say about the mission of Augustine (the other Augustine) in the sixth century, which began the continuous history of English Christianity. But maybe the stories of the gospel's first appearances in Albion are lost, and Bede (again, venerably) declined to invent a tale or even speculate.

The most tantalizing gap for me involves the story of Pope Gregory the Great establishing the episcopal hierarchy in England. To Augustine he gave the authority to ordain twelve bishops in southern England and an archbishop of York, who in turn had the authority to ordain twelve additional bishops, for northern lands. But the appointment of the Bishop of London, Gregory kept all to himself. Why did London get special treatment? Did Augustine have no influence over the Church in London? Maybe I'll learn more next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment