UVM Theses and Dissertations
Throughout his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Bede displays a recurring interest in and admiration for the lives of bishops who also live as monks. The reason for this is better understood in the context of Bede's Letter to Egbert, written a few years after the completion of the Historia, and a few months before Bede's death. In the Letter, Bede complains of contemporary Northumbrian bishops who lack any personal discipline and who fail to adequately provide pastoral care for their oversized dioceses, while they yet demand excessive tributes from the laity; he also laments the presence of "false monasteries," which fail to follow any monastic rule. Bede argues that the solution to both problems is to create new episcopal seats on the sites of properly Rule-based monasteries, with the bishop chosen by and from among the monks. The aforementioned "false monasteries" may then be added to the episcopal monastery's territory, where they may be reformed under the monk-bishop's leadership. I argue that the Historia Ecclesiastica serves this reformist program as a text of exempla. Bede is an inheritor of classical and patristic rhetorical traditions, which favor the use of good examples as a means of provoking imitation in the listener or reader. The patristic tradition in particular views history as a source uniquely authored by divine will, whose events and lessons may be rightly applied to present-day circumstances. This view of history synergizes well with Bede's background as a biblical exegete--he essentially performs an exegesis of English Church history, drawing the reader's attention to the monk-bishops who showcase the merits of his monastic-episcopal model. These exemplary bishops spring from two lineages: those of the Augustinian mission ordered by Gregory the Great and those of the Irish Ionan mission to Northumbria. Yet despite notable liturgical and organization differences between these two traditions, Bede narrates exempla from both as participants in the same tradition as that of the early apostolic Church, a tradition which he presents as critical to the success of the English and Northumbrian Church of both past and present.