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Bede and Education

Bede and Education

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Published by Michael Gibson
Calvin Kendall
Calvin Kendall

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Published by: Michael Gibson on Nov 24, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Bede and education
Education in Britain and the West
The Venerable Bede occupies a pivotal place and moment in the history of Western education.
By the seventh century public schools no longer existedin Europe; only scattered remnants of the liberal aristocratic educationalsystem of the Roman empire remained in northern Italy and Spain, none atall in Gaul and Britain. Bede
s lifetime coincides with the revival of educationand the beginnings of a new medieval Christian culture in the West.
smonastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow is the nodal point and Bede the intellectualforce that link the civilization of the ancient world with the Carolingianrenaissance, which fuelled in its turn the renaissances of the twelfth and the
fteenth and sixteenth centuries.In Britain, the old educational system had disappeared without leaving atrace. Missionaries from the continent and from Ireland, beginning with theGregorian mission under Augustine in
, carried out their work of con-version most effectively through the establishment of monasteries. Monkshad to be trained for their vocation; monastic schools followed inevitably.Irish models of scholarship and monastic education exerted their in
uencethroughout the seventh century. There was no formal division of the curri-culum into subjects along the lines of the seven liberal arts of late classicalantiquity. Pupils learned what they needed to know by a kind of apprentice-ship system. Young boys were put under the tutelage of an older monk
amaster with his disciples, possibly in groups of ten on the model of the
described in the Benedictine Rule (ch.
), although the Rule doesnot concern itself speci
cally with education. One learned in part by imitat-ing and doing. Details elude us. If a room were set aside for instruction, thescene may have resembled a
school of the American frontier. Rotememorization, effected by repeating aloud the text to be studied, was theprimary method of instruction, followed by dictation onto wax tablets.Oblates and novices needed only to acquire enough Latin to be able toperform the Divine Of 
Cambridge Collections Online © Cambridge University Press, 2011
With the arrival at Canterbury of Archbishop Theodore in
and AbbotHadrian
, we are on more solid ground. Theodore reorganized theepiscopal school and gave Hadrian the monastery of St Peter and St Paul of Canterbury, where Benedict Biscop, the future abbot of Wearmouth-Jarrow,ruled for two years until Hadrian was ready to take up his duties. Bedeinforms us that Theodore and Hadrian
were extremely learned in sacredandsecularliterature
gavetheirhearersinstructionnotonlyinthe books of Holy Scripture but also in the art of metre, astronomy, andecclesiastical computation
, p.
). Their students learned musicalchant and Greek as well as Latin. Hadrian
s pupil Aldhelm adds that hestudied Roman law.
Education at Wearmouth-Jarrow
In evaluating Bede
s achievement, it is important to underscore the symbioticrelationship betweenBede andhis abbots, Benedict Biscop andCeolfrith. Hisachievement depends absolutely on their extraordinary and, one wants toadd, improbable efforts to create a centre for learning in Northumbria. He isimpossible to imagine without them, just as they would be an obscurefootnote in history without his achievement. Bede stands on the shouldersoftwo giants. BenedictBiscop importedmuchoftheprogrammeofstudiesatCanterbury to Northumbria when he established the monastery of St Peter atWearmouth in
. Bede was probably born less than a year before thisestablishment, and he entered the monastery at the age of seven. A year or solater,in
,Benedictchoseasmallnumberofmonks,withCeolfrithastheirabbot, to build the sister monastery of St Paul at Jarrow. Whether the youngBede was in this initial group is unclear, but he certainly came underCeolfrith
s tutelage as a boy. In Bede
s own words,
When I was seven years of age I was, by the care of my kinsmen, put into thecharge of the reverend Abbot Benedict and then of Ceolfrith, to be educated.From then on I have spent all my life in this monastery, applying myself entirelyto the study of the Scriptures; and, amid the observance of the discipline of theRuleandthedailytaskofsinginginthechurch,ithasalwaysbeenmydelighttolearn or to teach or to write. (
, p.
Despite the fact that the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow was no older thanBede himself, there must have been scholarship of a high order there alreadyin Bede
s youth. Latin, which was not the native tongue of any inhabitant of Britain, was the language of instruction. No doubt Bede was a precociouslyadvanced student and, as he implies in his
Letter to Bishop Egbert 
),he certainly supplied de
ciencies in his formal instruction from his own
the cambridge companion to bede100
Cambridge Collections Online © Cambridge University Press, 2011
extensive reading. But
uent mastery of Latin requires contact with highlyeducatedLatinspeakers.Bede
sLatinisclassicallycorrect,displayingnoneof the mannerisms of the
amboyant style favoured by Insular authors likeAldhelm nor any of the grammatical solecisms of continental authors likeGregory of Tours (see Chapter
cationtothepointwherehecouldcomposequantitativelycorrectclassicalmetresandin mathematics and astronomy to the extent that he was able to work out themostdif 
(roughly,thescienceofdeterminingbyastronomicalcalculationthedateofEaster).Itmustbeemphasizedthatbothof these attainments are more remarkable than may at
rst appear. To composequantitative verse in an age when speakers of Latin were no longer able todistinguish the difference between a long and a short vowel aurally, and whenno dictionaries existed to preserve the historical vowel lengths of classicalantiquity,necessitatedcommittingtomemoryaprodigiousamountofclassicalverse. And to carry out complex calculations that require long division or theuse of fractions is several orders of magnitude more dif 
cult and laboriouswhen working with Roman than it is with Arabic numerals. Bede surely owedhisaccomplishmentbothtoasuperbmemoryandtoanelitecadreofteachers.Who were Bede
s teachers and where were they trained? These questionsare inextricably linked with the history of the twin monastery and the per-sonnel whom Benedict Biscop brought with him to assist in the doublefoundation. Benedict himself would have had the opportunity of learning orimprovinghisknowledgeofLatinonhis
attheageoabout twenty-
ve, and of polishing it further in the course of his subsequenttrips,especiallyhissecondtrip
Historyof theAbbots
).OnhisreturnfromrinstoRome,thepopeappointedBenedict to be Theodore and Hadrian
s guide on their journey to Britain andinterpreter of their teachings when they got there (
History of the Abbots
). The appointment presumes his bilingual
uency.But Bede
s opportunitiestobetutored byBenedict wouldhavebeenlimited.Benedict was in Rome during a good part of 
, at approximately the timewhen Bede entered Wearmouth as an oblate. Shortly after Benedict
s appoint-ment of Ceolfrith as abbot of the new foundation of Jarrow (
) and of Eosterwine as abbot of Wearmouth (
), he again set out for Rome, not toreturnuntilafterEosterwine
sdeath in
).Itwaspreciselyonaccountofhisfrequentabsencesthathenamedthesementobe abbots under him. After suffering for three years from a creeping paralysis,Benedict died in
when Bede was seventeen or eighteen (
History of theAbbots
, chs.
Bede and education
Cambridge Collections Online © Cambridge University Press, 2011

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