Adventures in Bookland: The Cambridge Companion to Bede edited by Scott DeGregorio
Probably the definitive single volume looking at Bede, his life, work and influence. An array of scholars examine what we know of his, generally uneventful considering the turbulence of the times, life and place Bede in the context of those times, when the first heroic generation of missionaries to the pagan Anglo-Saxons had died and the church was decided what it was and what it would be. How could an institution founded by a man whose refusal to take up the sword in his own defence find resonance and a home among a people so devoted, at least in their upper echelons, to violence, as passion, past time and purpose. There is an interesting contrast with the Romans and Romanised peoples in southern Europe. The Empire had fielded a professional army (it continued to field a professional army in defence of its eastern iteration in Constantinople), allowing for a separation in the state and the people between the civilian and the military. Indeed, this contrast endured in Italy, so that the city states there, during their interminable wars, generally preferred to employ mercenaries, condottieri, rather than calling on the citizenry or the nobility to fight. But in the north, among the descendants of the tribesmen who had settled in France and Britain, the elite fought. Indeed, the nobleman, the knight, was defined as a man who fought, a warrior. How to find purchase in a society like that?
One way was for a heroic religion, one marked by feats of spiritual daring that matched the feats of physical heroism and endurance that called forth songs from the scops. Such had been the approach from many of the Irish monks, men more than a little mad with God, who would as soon cast themselves upon the waves for providence to take them where it would as they would stand to their necks in the Irish Sea, singing psalms and prayers. Such endurance called forth the admiration of warriors. But another way was the way of prayer and study and learning, the new magic of writing that allowed a man and his words to be present where he was not. This was the way of Bede, and doing it, he became the greatest scholar of his age: a remarkably acute and subtle mind. This book is a worthy companion to his study.