Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Venerable Bede and the parables (part 1)

The Venerable Bede

As I noted in my previous post, I am within striking distance of the word limit for the book but words are getting harder and harder to cut, and I still have the Introduction and Conclusion to write. At this stage I am looking at deleting entire sections on people/texts.

As I look over the options, I have considered many things, such as importance of the person/text, diversity of voices, and content on the parables. It seems like the section on Bede the Venerable may be the first "casualty," if it comes to cutting entire sections.

So why not highlight some of Bede's contributions here?:

Bede the Venerable (673–735)
Bede is the most important and influential scholar in Anglo-Saxon England (5th century to 1066 CE). He was born in Northumbria in 673 CE, just decades after Christianity became established in England. In the conclusion of his famous Ecclesiastical History of England, Bede tells us a few details of his quiet life in northeast England. When Bede was seven years old, his family presented him as an oblate to the monastery at Wearmouth. Bede spent the rest of his life as a monk in the service of the church, becoming a deacon at the age of nineteen and a priest at the age of thirty. He became well versed in a number of fields—science, mathematics, grammar, rhetoric, history, theology, and the study of the Bible, which was his favorite subject.

Bede’s commentaries on Luke and Mark take the books verse-by-verse, starting with the words themselves and explaining any grammatical difficulties. He cites earlier writers when helpful (e.g., Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great); those interpreters serve as a foundation upon which Bede builds with his own insights. Bede treats the historical sense of the passages he exegetes, but he also seeks to strip “off the bark of the letter to find a deeper and more sacred meaning in the pith of the spiritual sense.” Bede, like Gregory, thus believes that Scripture must be explained in a fourfold way­­—the historical, allegorical, anagogical, and tropological—in order to “ascertain what everlasting truths are there intimated” with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Bede 1985: x–xi; cf. Ward 2002: 15-16, 81; Gowler 2013).

Bede’s allegorical interpretations were in part reinforced by the power of the visual art he experienced. Bede’s monastery, for example, displayed some works of art that portrayed the Hebrew Bible as prefiguring the New Testament: In one set, for instance, a picture of Isaac carrying the wood on which he was to be burnt as a sacrifice was placed immediately below that of Christ carrying the cross on which he was about to suffer” (Ward 2002: 45). Such imagery of Isaac prefiguring Jesus, which was also common in the church’s liturgy (e.g., at Easter), was important for Bede and other early Christians, because the Bible was a unity that spoke with one voice, the voice of God. Any part of Scripture could thus be used to interpret any other part.
Such typological interpretations extend to Bede’s understandings of the parables. Bede’s Homily 2.25: On the dedication of a Church, for example, includes an exposition of the man building his house on a rock (Luke 6:47-48). He begins by stating that the man who builds the house is the incarnated Jesus, the “mediator between God and humankind” (citing 1 Tim. 2:5). The house designates the “beloved and holy” church that Jesus built and consecrated and in which Jesus would “abide forever.” Bede argues, though, that Jesus also is the foundation of rock on which his house/church is built:

Because he took pains to root out utterly whatever earthly intentions he found in the heart of his faithful so that when the rubble of old habits and superfluous thoughts had been cast out, he could have in them a stable and unshaken dwelling place. He himself is the rock upon which he laid the foundation of a house of this sort. For just as in the building of a house nothing is placed before the rock on which the foundation is set, so does the holy church have her rock, namely Christ, buried in the depths of her heart.

The flood symbolizes the afflictions that strike the church, afflictions that the church can weather, because its foundation is laid upon Jesus. On the other hand, individual believers can fall into sin, either being led by their own “concupiscence” (James 1:14) or attacked by wicked unbelievers or the devil:

But if any believers yield when overcome by evils, they certainly did not belong to this house, for if they had made their stand founded upon the rock of faith instead of upon the sand of faithlessness or inconstancy, surely they never could have been shaken (Bede 2011: 271).

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