Links: The Medieval Period

General Information on Icons — Icons are crucial for an understanding of Eastern Christianity, which really began to have a separate identity in what we call the “medieval period.”  This is a helpful site on the topic, formatted as questions with answers.

Icon Blog — You may also find helpful this “Reader’s Guide” to understanding icons.  When iconographers create an icon, Eastern Christians say that they “write” the icon; as a result, one must learn how to “read” them, and this blog can help!

Description of Hagia Sophia — Here you’ll find a description of Hagia Sophia (the great church of Constantinople/Istanbul) from Procopius, a sixth-century figure who was alive when Hagia Sophia was built.  At the bottom of the page, there is a link to learn more about the destruction of the city in 1204 — that is interesting.  But the other link (“Hagia Sophia”) is dead, so don’t bother with it.  Also interesting is this link, which provides the history of the church up to the present, as well as a contemporary description.

A Full List of Popes — It’s impossible to think of medieval Christianity without thinking of the popes of Rome.  You’ll find many names in our textbook; however, if you’d like a full list of the popes — from Peter to Francis — check out this link to the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Each pope’s name also links to his biography  You’ll occasionally see the word “antipope” — that’s the word used when there was more than one pope claiming the office at one time.

Boniface and the Oak Tree — Early medieval Christianity also saw the development of Christian traditions among the Germanic/Teutonic peoples and the Celts.  The Germanic tradition included the work of several missionary monks, including the famous Boniface.  This link tells of his life — scroll down to chapter 6 for the famous story of the oak tree he cut down in the name of God.

The Life of St. Patrick — Similarly, the Celtic tradition of Ireland and Scotland had its famous characters, chief among them the man known as St. Patrick.  This link gives you his biography, written by a 7th-century monk.

Pope Gregory I on Mission Work in England — One of the important influences on British Christianity was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.This is a rather famous section from the Ecclesiastical History written by Bede, the seventh-century English monk, regarding Gregory’s sending missionaries to the Angles and Saxons.  Note the pope’s instructions regarding native worship: don’t destroy everything, but see how it can be converted to the worship of the True God.  For more on Bede’s text, see this link.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne — One of the towering figures of early medieval Christianity is the Frankish king Charlemagne.  Happily, we have a biography of him from his contemporary Einhard.  Here’s a link to Einhard’s work, with a handy, click-able table of contents at the top, so you can scan for something that you’d like to read about.

Vikings in England — Not long before the turn of the second millennium CE, folks we call “Vikings” appeared on the shores of Western European lands, including Great Britain.  Here’s a link (including a nice map) that describes the Vikings’ raids into England, and the effects of those raids.

Gothic Architecture — An important development in medieval art was Gothic architecture, but you may not remember as much about it as you’d like.  Here’s a little more information, with images, about this style of architecture that became so influential and widespread in the High Middle Ages.  The language is somewhat technical, but I think it gets its information across.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris — One of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture is the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  This link is the official website of the Cathedral — in the English version.  You might find especially interesting the tab called “Cathedral for Art and History” — lots and lots of images there, including panoramic views of the structure.

More on the Crusades — One of the darkest episodes in all of church history is the Crusades.  Here’s more information on that movement.  The site is nicely organized, but it can be a little challenging to tell what is a link and what is just a heading, but it’s still useful.

Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae — This is a free online version of the great Dominican’s Summa Theologiae, perhaps the most famous single work of theology in all of Christian history.  It has a table of contents and links to each section, so that you can get an idea for how big this work is, and you can also peruse different articles within it.

Quodlibet Disputations — One of the great contributions of the medieval period to the modern world is the university.  However, medieval universities weren’t always peaceful places, as regular “disputations” were held — something like academic debates

.  These disputations can be revealed in written form in a variety of texts, but one that is interesting is what is called the “quodlibets” of medieval writers.  “Quodlibet” literally means “whatever,” and it refers to a semi-annual tradition in some universities where students could come and ask “whatever” question they wanted — essentially a “stump the professor” session.  Some of these sessions were recorded.  This link has translations of some of the quodlibets of Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval teacher.  Peruse the table of contents for something interesting to you.

More on the Waldensians — Here you can find more information on the Waldenses, or Waldensians, that group that was accused of heresy and also provided an important forerunner to Luther’s Reformation.  This site is run by Anabaptists, who are not historically related to the Waldensians.  But they do have some affinities with them, and so they have an investment in understanding this group more fully.

Two Perspectives on the Inquisition — This link is to the old version of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on the Inquisition.  For material connected the Inquisition’s work against heresy (its original function), scroll or click down to the section called “The suppression of heresy by the institution known as the inquisition.”  For an interesting Jewish perspective on the Inquisition, see this link.

More on Indulgences — This site is an interesting one, as it considers famous historical trials.  One of those trials is that of Martin Luther, and one of the resources it includes is a page called “Questions & Answers Concerning Indulgences.”  For a modern Catholic perspective sympathetic to the use of indulgences, see this link.

The Borgia Family — You may have heard of the Borgia family, who were involved with “political corruption and immorality” to “unbelievable heights,” as one church history textbook has it.  If you’d like to know more about them, including Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), see this link.

John Wycliffe’s English Translation of the Bible — Another important forerunner to the Protestant Reformation was the work of John Wycliffe, who among other things advocated the use of the Bible in the vernacular to aid in people’s understanding.  If you would like to read some of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, see this link.  Granted, it is written in a form of middle English, so it might be challenging.  You might start with a book with which you’re familiar — like maybe “Romaynes” or “1 Corinthis,” or perhaps one of the Gospels.

Image credit (Girolamo Savonarola; edited by the blogger): https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the Reformation period)

Links: The Reformation Period

Luther’s 95 Theses — If you’ve ever wanted to read Luther’s actual theses, here they are (in translation)!  You’ll probably be varyingly interested in these, but I’ve found the following to be quite provocative: 6, 21, 27, 36-37, 52-53, 62, 79, and 92-95.

The Condemnation of Martin Luther — This is the text of the papal bull, called “Exsurge, Domine” (from its first words), in which Pope Leo X expressed the church’s condemnation of Luther. The whole thing is interesting, but you might especially enjoy the last few paragraphs, beginning with the one starting, “As far as Martin himself is concerned….”

The Preaching of John Tetzel — This is a YouTube clip from the 2003 movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes in the title role (please forgive the Dutch subtitles — I hope they aren’t distracting!).  Scroll forward to the 4:40 mark, where you will see about 4:00 of footage depicting what the preaching of Tetzel might have been like.  Notice the emotional pleas Tetzel makes — it is easy to see how his rhetoric would have been effective in selling indulgences!

The Schleitheim Confession — The sometimes-called “Radical Reformers,” who later became the Anabaptists’ text, developed a seminal text in 1527 called the “Schleitheim Confession.”  It reflects well several Anabaptist values.  Most of it is self-explanatory, except for the term “the ban,” which appears now and again.  This refers to a method of church discipline by which sinful members are ostracized from the church until they repent of their sins.  It is like what Paul prescribes in 1 Corinthians 5, and it is the predecessor of the Amish practice of “shunning.”

The Drowning of Dirk Willems — This image comes an etching connected with an important Anabaptist work stretching back to the 16th century, called The Martyrs’ Mirror.  It was a crucial community-building text for the Anabaptists — it sealed their identity as a persecuted, but ultimately triumphant people.  And the story below the image, about a man named Dirk Willems, is the most famous of the stories contained therein.  He saved one of his persecutors but was executed nonetheless.

A Selection from Calvin’s Institutes — Here you have a selection from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a staple text of the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity.  Specifically, this is Book III’s “Chapter 21” on the “eternal election” of God, “by which God has predestined some to salvation, and others to destruction.”  You’ll get a sense of Calvin’s ideas about predestination, as well as his method.  He is quite a thorough thinker, considering both Scriptural foundations for his own arguments, and also the merits of those of his accusers.

Calvin’s Letter to France’s King Francis I — As a preface to the 1536 edition of his Institutes, Calvin wrote a letter to France’s King Francis I.  Here is a link to that letter.  It’s an interesting companion piece to some of Luther’s writings to the leaders of Germany in his heyday.

The Thirty-Nine Articles — The Reformation in England took a unique course, issuing in the doctrinal text called the Thirty-Nine Articles.  They represent Anglican theology as it came to be under Queen Elizabeth I, built on the foundation of Thomas Cranmer in the days of King Henry VIII.  Notice how the first five articles represent classic Christian orthodoxy, article 6 sounds quite Protestant, and articles 11 and 17 take up issues dear to the hearts of Luther and Calvin, respectively.  And yet there are things that are still Catholic, including what sounds like the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in Communion, as stated in article 28 (although transubstantiation is repudiated), as well as the power of the church to establish “rites and ceremonies,” as stated in article 20.  Note also that article 39 seems to interact with Anabaptist teaching on oaths.

Preface to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer — This is the preface to the first edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in its original 15th-century English (you can handle it).  Noteworthy things include: 1) the concern in the first paragraph for people’s continually growing knowledge of God, and that they be inflamed with a love for the Christian religion; 2) the note in the second paragraph that only portions of Scripture were typically being read in church, and that worship was just plain difficult in the medieval church; 3) and the resulting desires that Anglican worship should be easy for people to follow and perform, that it should be done in their own language (fourth paragraph), and that it should be the same all over England (fifth paragraph).

History of the English-Language Bible — If you’re interested in learning more about the history of English-language Bibles, see this site.  It’s very informative!  It even gets up to just a few years ago in its narrative.

More about Ignatius Loyola — Here’s a link to a site with more information about Ignatius Loyola, that important figure in the Catholic Reformation.  The top of the page is a biography of the saint, with discussion of his life and thought below.  Further, there is a link in the left-hand sidebar to his Spiritual Exercises, so important for the Jesuit movement that he founded.  Explore to your heart’s content!

The Beginning of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises — And here’s the beginning of that very text!  He talks a bit about different kinds of sin, when we should talk about sin, etc., but the most interesting part is at the very bottom.  While the majority of the text sounds rather medieval and rather Catholic, the last bit about confession is something that most Christians can easily agree with.

Bartolome de las Casas on the Devastation of the Caribbean Islands — Bartolome (“Bartholomew”) de las Casas was an important figure in the history of Christianity in the New World, first as a priest and later as a champion of the oppressed natives.  This link is his famous Brief Report of the Devastation of the Indies.  For more about him overall, check out this link.

Preface to the Original King James Bible — The King James Bible has been the single most influential English translation of the Bible in history.  Read here the first part of the preface to the first edition — the section to King James.  You can get a sense of the values of the translators.  Given James’s actual actions toward the Dissenters who produced the translation, one wonders if there was some irony in the effusive praise they give him in the text.

Thumbnail image credit (Martin Luther): https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: the next set of links (the early modern period)

In the News: Medieval Church Buildings

Today I watched a brief video on the BBC’s website, accessible at this link (requires Flash).  The video was about the apparently popular phenomenon of camping overnight in medieval church buildings!  The Churches Conservation Trust (see this link) works to protect churches “at risk,” and they do so in a variety of ways, from sponsoring preservation efforts to hosting events at various places.  And perhaps the most unexpected part of their work: helping people camp out in churches! 

Of course, you might be wondering a couple of things: how long have these churches been around, and why are they so empty?  Well, the first question can be answered with this good (but a bit lengthy) summary of English church history, and the second may be understood better through this discussion of and this warning about the decline of Christianity in modern England.  It is a sad story, from the perspective of church history, but there is also hope, as this columnist suggests — not just in people preserving churches, but also in the continued work of new evangelists in the UK.  (Side note: if you want a nice gallery of English church buildings, this site should satiate your desire.)

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Suggested next click: Back to the In the News home page

The Venerable Bede: Ecclesiastical History (Part 2)

bede windowWelcome back to the CHEF and to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People!  In the first post I talked about some background info and about Book I of the work, which gets us up to ca. 600 AD/CE.  In this post I’ll have some things to say about Books II and III, and then in the last one I’ll discuss books IV and V.

First, though, the big picture.

  • Chronology: while Book I consists of several centuries of history, Books II and III are focused on only about 60 years — from ca. 605 to about 665.
  • Geography: Books II and III discuss events that happened all over what we now think of as England, but it also includes stories and personalities connected with places like Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, and even Rome!  In other words, medieval England included a lot more “coming and going” than we might think of for the early Middle Ages.
  • The big points: 1) slowly, and in fits and starts, the various tribes that make up the “English people” are becoming Christian; and 2) the Christianity in England is becoming more and more influenced by “Roman Catholicism” as the native Celtic traditions are replaced by Continental ones.

Major Elements in Books II and III

  1. As noted above, a primary part of this middle part of Bede’s History is the slow move of the various Anglo-Saxon tribes toward Christianity.  The Danes and the Normans are not yet in view; rather, one reads a great deal about the West Saxons, the East Saxons, the Mercians, the Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, etc.  These are all Germanic groups and are Bede’s primary focus; the Britons and Irish are mentioned but are the groups he finds to be imperfect in their Christian beliefs (see below).  In fact, if you’re like me, you find it hard to keep straight the different kingdoms and kings — names like Oswin and Oswald, Ethelwald and Ethelbert, and Edwin and Egbert are WAY too similar to make it easy for casual readers.  Happily, the Internet can help us here.  You can find lists of the kings of the various kingdoms at this link (although a comparative chart would be very helpful, and I haven’t found one yet).  Also this link gives you more information about the different kingdoms at this time, and the decent-enough map to the left can hopefully help you visually.
  2. But it’s not just about the places; for Bede, it’s about their conversion.  At the beginning of the 600s, Britain was a largely “pagan” place, but by the end of Book III, most of the English kingdoms have become Christian.  In one sense, this development occurs rather quickly, in that someone born around 600 (and living to 665) would have seen his surroundings change drastically.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Bede doesn’t present a smooth transition.  Sometimes one king converts, only for his son(s) to revert to paganism (see, e.g., King Ethelbert of Kent in II.5); at other times, a preacher comes to convert the king, but it takes him a long time to decide what to do (as with Edwin of Northumbria in II.13).  This picture helps nuance one of the aspects of early medieval Christianity that is sometimes troubling: the conversion of whole people groups upon the conversion of a king.  While these are not forced conversions (as discussed in this link), as modern people, we worry about the thoughts and actions of the individuals involved — whether they REALLY knew what they were doing.  But as we see here, it was an unsurprisingly complex phenomenon.
  3. Speaking of early medieval Christianity, there are a number of aspects of this portion of the text that are very “medieval,” that is, that fit our stereotypes of “the Middle Ages.”  We see things like daily Mass becoming normal (as in II.9), the “sign of the cross” becoming a cipher for Christianity and Christ (as in II.10 and III.2), “the Pope” becoming the standard name of the bishop of Rome (II.11), the use of saints’ relics or their derivatives for the purposes of healing or protection (III.2, 9-13, etc.), and a picture of continually developing church hierarchy (II. 17, where we see archbishops having some amount of authority over “just regular” bishops).  Personally, it had never really occurred to me to question our traditional delineation of the “Middle Ages” as a discrete thing, but Bede’s history shows me that there really is value in our thinking this way — that there were aspects of medieval Christianity that are just plain different from what came before and what would come after.
  4. A central event in Books II and III is the so-called “Synod of Whitby,” of which Bede is a major source (III.25).  MUCH more has been written elsewhere (for example, here and here), and so I’ll just offer a few comments.  First, this conflict gets set up from the very beginning of Book II, with Bede’s panegyric on Gregory I.  The fact that he praises a Roman bishop so highly shows us where his sympathies lie (notwithstanding Gregory’s role in evangelizing the English people).  Second, Bede makes it very clear (in several places, like II.4 and III.4) that the Britons, while they have admirable spiritual leaders, are not “doing Easter” right, specifically in the timing of their observance.  This may seem like a trivial problem, but for Bede, it represents their being out-of-step with the rest of the Christian world, especially with its center in Rome.  Third, we get a sense that there is a top-down urgency to this situation (much like Constantine’s motivations in calling the first Council of Nicaea in 325): King Oswiu of Northumbria followed the Celtic traditions, while his wife Eanfled (from Kent) followed the Roman ones.  As a result, as Bede says, there could be a time when the king was feasting and the queen was fasting!  Fourth, Bede does acknowledge that other issues were a part of the synod, like the so-called “tonsure” — the image below shows a drawing of the Roman practice on the left, with what might have been the Celtic practice on the right (we’re not exactly sure — but he doesn’t make a big deal about these “other matters.”  Finally, it’s interesting to me how the conversation ends.  Both sides have “tradition” on their side, and both claim apostolic origins for their practices.  However, when it becomes clear that the Celtic argument is largely based on the holiness of their saints, but that the Roman one is based on the authority of Peter, the king chooses Peter.  I might disagree with him historically, preferring the preservation of cultural diversity, but it’s hard for me to disagree with him personally.  Notice, by the way, that this is another chapter in the long and convoluted history of Britain and the continent of Europe (see the Anglican Reformation in the 1500s, the “Brexit” referendum of 2016, etc.).

celtic vs roman tonsure

Other Elements of Note in Books II and III

  1. I have read that Bede is the author that really popularized the “AD” dating system (anno Domini = “in the year of the Lord”).  I don’t have independent attestation of that fact, but I’m content to accept it.  We certainly see him using it all over the place, e.g., in II.1 about Pope Gregory.
  2. In his description of Gregory’s life (II.1), we see Bede (a monk) clearly contrast his ideal of monasticism as a pure, unsullied way of existing that seems to be clearly better than a life in the dirty, secular world.  This view makes sense, but it’s also problematic (as later thinkers would help us understand), chiefly in light of Jesus’ incarnation.  Our Lord came into a dirty world — and he took it on himself in the form of a breakable human body!
  3. Bede occasionally uses the word “catholic” in ways that mean “universal.”  He usually does this when talking about heretics or misguided Christians (here, in II.2, regarding the Britons).  However, the translation I’m using usually prints the word as capitalized “Catholic,” which has the presumably unintended connotation of “Roman Catholic,” which is not what Bede means.  He means something like, “Why do you think you’re so special?  EVERYBODY ELSE does it this other way!”
  4. Bede includes interesting and thought-provoking remarks about being a historian.  In III.2 he talks about how all the chroniclers basically decided to wipe a really terrible year (one marauding, invading king, and other apostate ones) off the record, by assigning it to the reign of “their successor King Oswald,” a good and pious ruler!  Then, in III.17, in discussing the death of the great and pious Saint Aidan, Bede says that he can’t “commend or approve his inadequate knowledge of the proper observance of Easter.”  However, he says that “as a truthful historian” he’s told the truth about Aidan’s life, and that he must commend all the virtues of the great saint’s life and actions, concluding by saying, “I greatly admire and love all these things about Aidan.”  A good model for us of how to deal with those with whom we disagree!

That’s it for Books II and III of Bede.  Next time we’ll finish up with Books IV and V.  See you there!  In the meantime, be thinking: What is an issue in Christianity on which you disagree with someone who is a really good follower of Jesus?  How might you focus more on your unity with that person than on your disagreements?

Image credits: www.thebatchelorcollection.co.uk/ (the Bede stained-glass window), www.vulkaner.no/f/odin-england.htm (the map of Anglo-Saxon Britain), and a student’s account at www.studyblue.com (the image of monastic tonsures, apparently captured from a book that I can’t find; if you know what the original source is, please let me know!)

Suggested next click: Ecclesiastical History, Part 3

The Venerable Bede: Ecclesiastical History (Part 1)

Welcome to early medieval England! This is the first of three posts dedicated to the English church historian Bede and his text called Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  The translation that I am reading is the one originally published in 1955 as part of the Penguin Classics series, with a new introduction by D. H. Farmer in 1990.  This version includes more information about Bede’s life in its introduction, in addition to a lot of really interesting notes.  If you want a free, online version of the text (early 20th-century), check out this one at Paul Halsall’s excellent Medieval Sourcebook site.  Also, for more information on the text itself, you may want to get a hold of J. Robert Wright’s A Companion to Bede: A Reader’s Commentary on The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; this book is a helpful companion as you wend your way through a book that is more than 1,000 years old!

Introduction

Bede was a monk and priest who lived in the 600s and 700s, mainly in the area known as Northumberland (that is, north of the river Humber, with varying northern borders). He seems to have lived most or all of his life in a very small geographical area, but thanks to his historical sources, he had access to information from other places in England (like Kent, to the south of London) and even on the European mainland (as far away as Rome).  If you want to know more about Bede, you can check out this encyclopedia link.

Now, the title of the book may suggest to us that he’s writing about the history of the church in England, but when we hear “English people,” we need to think in terms of the “Anglo-Saxons” who came to the island of Britain over the course of centuries after the Roman period. In other words, he is not talking about the history of the church among the Britons or other Gaelic peoples – that is, not the ones we would think of as living in places we now know as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. And when he does talk about these people, it is not in complimentary terms. As a point of comparison, one may consult Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which was written 400 years later and from a Welsh perspective, and which uses Bede as a source. Bede celebrates Anglo-Saxon Christianity, centered in Canterbury, as a huge blessing for the English people; however, Geoffrey emphasizes that it was a mission to the apostate Anglo-Saxons, saying that the Britons had retained their traditional Christianity.  Furthermore, he takes great pains to argue that Augustine and his bishops had no spiritual authority over the Welsh!

Back to Bede.  His history is divided into five sections, traditionally called “books.” In this post I will comment upon Book I, and in the next two posts, I’ll talk about Books II and III, and then on Books IV and V. Book I sets the scene by describing British geography, and it gives important background by telling about the Roman influence in Britain, starting with Julius Caesar and other early Roman emperors, and continuing by describing the first British king to be made a Christian (ca. 156 AD/CE). The first book continues all the way until the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury from Rome, and Ethelfrid of Northumbria’s subduing of the Britons and Irish (603 AD/CE).

Before we dig into the meat of the book, we should note that Bede starts with a preface that dedicates the text to Bede’s king (and perhaps patron?), and here we see a point that reminds us of the end of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation: that the point of the text is that people will live more upright lives. Bede isn’t writing history for its own sake; rather, as he says, “if history records good things of good [people], the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil of wicked [people], the devout, religious listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse and to follow what [is known] to be good and pleasing to God.”

Other Notes on Book I

  1. Bede devotes chapter 7 of Book I to the tale of St. Alban‘s martyrdom.  While Bede’s tale is not the first version of this story, it is the most detailed.  The story is a compelling tale of self-sacrifice on the part of a new Christian.  In fact, St. Alban was so new to the faith that he had not yet even been baptized.  However, Bede notes that “although he had not received the purification of baptism, there was no doubt that he was cleansed by the shedding of his own blood, and rendered fit to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This idea is sometimes called the “baptism of blood” and is associated with the early Christian martyrs.  (See also ch. 18, where the relics of St. Alban are used to help effect a healing.)
  2. Chapter 14 describes fifth-century England like something out of the biblical books of Judges or Kings — when their enemies’ attacks had subsided, the people gave themselves to luxury and crime, malice and dishonesty  (See also ch. 15, where he makes explicit connection with the Chaldeans’ destruction of Jerusalem).  As Bede says, “Giving themselves up to drunkenness, hatred, quarrels, and violence, they threw off the easy yoke of Christ.”  After this apostasy, they suffered a terrible plague and then (even worse!) invited the Saxons to come from Germany to help them.  Bede seems to want to speak like a prophet: that even a people blessed by God can fall away from their faith, and this example should serve as a warning to all.
  3. That said, it is also possible for a people to return to God.  Chapter 17 describes two Gaulish (French) bishops who came to the island, preaching the true faith of Christ (that is, not the Pelagian heresy that had been infecting the nation).  The description of preaching in both churches and outdoors in streets and fields reminds me of the 18th- and 19th-century revivals in Britain, under great preachers like John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon.
  4. When Christianity finally took root among the Anglo-Saxons under Augustine’s leadership, it was partly because their queen (a Frankish woman named Bertha, described in ch. 25) came from a family that had been Christian for three generations.  She was apparently married to King Ethelbert of Kent for political reasons, but she was the great-granddaughter of Clovis, founder of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty.  This story is a good reminder of the importance of transmitting the Christian faith within families; one never knows where one’s descendants will end up!
  5. gregory to augustineFinally, Bede preserves several letters from Pope Gregory I (“the Great”).  Scholars feel confident about the authenticity of most of these, and they contain several interesting features.  For example, in letter 1 to Augustine, Gregory notes that clerical celibacy is an ideal, but he does not place it as a requirement on local clergy; in fact, it took many more centuries for priests’ celibacy to become standard and expected.  In letter 2 we find a famous quote of Gregory’s: that we should help young Christians grow in the faith by using good ideas from lots of different church traditions; as he says, “things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.”  And finally, in a subsequent letter to the Abbot Mellitus, Gregory gives the sensible and famous advice that “target populations” should be eased into the Christian faith by understanding their own religion and connecting elements of Christianity with it.  Gregory is careful to avoid syncretism; rather, he teaches something quite like what modern missiologists would call the enculturation of the Gospel.

That’s it for Book I of Bede; in the next post, we’ll go on to Books II and III.  In the meantime, be thinking: what can you do to help spread or shore up the Christian faith in your family or location?

Image credits: www.penguin.co.uk (the cover of their edition of the book), www.dailymail.co.uk (the headshot of Bede), and en.radiovaticana.va (the mosaic of Gregory and Augustine)

Suggested next click: Ecclesiastical History, Part 2