Historical Works of Venerable Bede/Volume 2/Life of Bede/Chapter 3

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The twenty-fifth year of one's age, was then, as the twenty-fourth at present, the limit of admission to Deacon's Orders. Of his own entry into this holy ordination, let us hear what he says himself. "Nono decimo vitæ meæ anno, Diaconatum, tricesimo gradum Presbyteratus, utrumque per ministerium reverendissimi Episcopi Joannis, jubente Ceolfrido Abbate, suscepi."—"In the nineteenth year of my life I was made Deacon, and in the thirtieth was ordained Priest; both ordinances were conferred on me by Bishop John, at the bidding of Abbot Ceolfrid."

This John was Bishop of Hagulstad, now Hexham, in the county of Northumberland, and the monasteries of Weremouth and Jarrow were in his diocese, for the see of Durham did not exist until a later period, when the Brotherhood of Lindisfarne settled there, carrying with them the bones of St. Cuthbert. This John is also better known by the name of John of Beverley, and is mentioned in high terms by Bede in his History. So remarkable a deviation from the general rule as the ordination of a candidate for Holy Orders in the nineteenth year of his age, is in itself a sufficient proof of the estimation in which the young Student was held. His piety, moreover, must have been well known to the Abbot who sent him for ordination, and to the Bishop, who hesitated not to admit him so prematurely to that holy rite. It is moreover said of him that, in his ardour for study, he declined to be raised to the dignity of an Abbot, lest the distraction to which the care of such an establishment, or family, as the Historian expresses it, would subject him, might allow him less time and leisure for his favourite pursuits. "Officium quippe curam requirit, cura mentem distrahit, distractio studium literarum impedit."[1]

This, however, no doubt happened after he took priest's orders in his thirtieth year, though the eleven years which intervened must have been sedulously spent in laying up that store of erudition which afterwards enabled him to bring forth from his treasury things both new and old. For it does not appear that he published any thing in writing until after he had undergone the second of the Church's ordinances. This we have from his own words, "Ex quo tempore accepti Presbyteratus usque ad annum ætatis meæ quinquagesimum nonum, hæc in Scripturam Sanctam meæ meorumque necessitati ex opusculis Venerabilium Patrum breviter adnotare, sive etiam ad formam sensus et interpretationis eorum superadjicere curavi."—"From the time of my taking Priest's orders, to the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have occupied myself in making these short extracts from the works of the Venerable Fathers for the use of me and mine, or in adding thereto somewhat of my own, after the model of their meaning and interpretation."

If, however, he was admitted unusually early to the orders of Deacon, he was in no mind, on the other hand, to rush hastily, or without long and patient study, into the full duty of the priest's office; and thus he devoted eleven patient years to qualify himself for the various services which he was preparing to render to the Literature of his country, and the Interests of the Church.

  1. Trithem. de Viris illust. ord. Bened. II. 21, 34.