I once worked for a certain person with whom I disagreed a lot. Oh, let’s be honest: I’ve worked many times for people I’ve locked horns with. But today I have one particular authority figure in mind who once tried to silence my argument for everything good, true, beautiful, decent, and sane by saying, “No, we’re going to do things this way because this is what people want. Everybody will like this.” My very rational (and amazingly controlled) response ran something like this: “Everybody?! Well, obviously I don’t like it, because I’ve told you I don’t want it. So if ‘everybody’ likes it but I don’t, what does that make me? Nobody? If ‘people’ want this and I don’t, I guess that makes me not a person. So you don’t even think I’m a person?”
As I do with lots of books, I’m splitting up Bede’s Ecclesiastical History over a number of years. Last year, I read book I (out of five) and enjoyed it. But I wondered: If Augustine (not that Augustine) brought Christianity to Britain, then who were all these other Christians that he meets? Why doesn’t Bede tell more about the Celtic Christians and the other remnants of the first Christian missions to Britain? This year, I read books II and III, and I think I found out Bede’s angle. The Celts were nobodies.
In book III, the focus zeroes in on the controversy over the date of Easter. The Celtic Christians and the Christians based in the new cathedral in Canterbury disagreed on the method for calculating Easter. The Celts claimed to have received their formula from John the Evangelist. The response from the other side had three main points: (1) John only did it that way before he learned better. (How could they have known that?) (2) Only “ignorant, rude, and barbarous” people (such as, for instance, John the Evangelist?) would do it the Celts’ way. (3) Everybody in the universal Church does it our way. (“Everybody” but you ignorant Celts, that is.) Clearly, Bede was on the side of Everybody. You know. People.
I was looking forward to Bede this year. But I’m less eager now to finish up his history next year.