The Northern Way

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation

CHAPTER 21 Cont'd

"Now if it will please you likewise to hear the mystical reason in this matter, we are commanded to keep Easter in the first month of the year, which is also called the month of the new fruit, because we are to celebrate the mysteries of our Lord's resurrection and our deliverance, with our minds renewed to the love of heavenly things. We are commanded to keep it in the third week of the same month, because Christ, who had been promised before the Law, and under the Law, came with grace, in the third age of the world, to be slain as our Passover; and rising from the dead the third day after the offering of his passion, He wished this to be called the Lord's day, and the festival of his resurrection to be yearly celebrated on the same. For we also, in this manner only, can truly celebrate his solemnity, if we take care with Him to keep the Passover, that is, the passage out of this world to the Father, by faith, hope, and charity. We are commanded to observe the full moon of the Paschal month after the vernal equinox, to the end, that the sun may first make the day longer than the night, and then the moon may afford the world her full orb of light; inasmuch as first 'the sun of righteousness, in whose wings is salvation,' that is, our Lord Jesus, by the triumph of his resurrection, dispelled all the darkness of death, and so ascending into heaven, filled his Church, which is often signified by the name of the moon, with the light of inward grace, by sending down upon her his Spirit. Which plan of salvation the prophet had in his mind, when he said 'The sun was exalted and the moon stood in her order.'

"He, therefore, who shall contend that the full Paschal moon can happen before the equinox, deviates from the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, in the celebration of the greatest mysteries, and agrees with those who confide that they may be saved without the grace of Christ forerunning them; and who presume to teach that they might have attained to perfect righteousness, though the true light had never vanquished the darkness of the world, by dying and rising again. Thus, after the equinoctial rising of the sun, and after the subsequent full moon of the first month, that is, after the end of the fourteenth day of the same month, all which, according to the law, ought to be observed, we still, by the instruction of the Gospel, wait in the third week for the Lord's day; and thus, at length, we celebrate our due Easter solemnity, to show that we do not, with the ancients, honor the shaking off of the Egyptian yoke; but that, with devout faith and affection, we worship the redemption of the whole world; which having been prefigured in the deliverance of God's ancient people, was completed in Christ's resurrection, to make it appear that we rejoice in the sure and certain hope of the day of our own resurrection, which we believe will happen on the same Lord's day.

"Now this calculation of Easter, which we show you is to be followed, is contained in a circle or revolution of nineteen years, which began long since, that is, in the very times of the apostles, especially at Rome and in Egypt, as has been said above. But by the industry of Eusebius, who took his surname from the blessed martyr Pamphilus, it was reduced to a plainer system; insomuch that what till then used to be sent about to all the several churches by the patriarch of Alexandria, might, from that time forward, be most easily known by all men, the course of the fourteenth day of the moon being regularly ordered. This Paschal calculation, Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, composed for the Emperor Theodosius, for a hundred years to come. Cyril also, his successor, comprised a series of ninety-five years in five revolutions of nineteen years. After whom, Dionysius Exiguus added as many more, in the same manner, reaching down to our own time. The expiration of these is now drawing near, but there is so great a number of calculators, that even in our churches throughout Britain, there are many who, having learned the ancient rules of the Egyptians, can with great ease carry on those revolutions of the Paschal times for any distant number of years, even to five hundred and thirty-two years, if they will; after the expiration of which, all that belongs to the question of the sun and moon, of month and week, returns in the same order as before. We therefore forbear to send you those revolutions of the times to come, because you only desired to be instructed respect mg the Paschal time, and declared you had enough of those catholic tables concerning Easter.

"But having said thus much briefly and succinctly, as you required concerning Easter, I also exhort you to take care to promote the tonsure, as ecclesiastical and agreeable to the Christian faith, for concerning that also you desired me to write to you; and we know indeed that the apostles were not all shorn after the same manner, nor does the Catholic Church, though it agrees in the same Divine faith, hope, and charity, agree in the same form of tonsure throughout the world: in fine, to look back to remote times, that is, the times of the patriarchs, Job, the example of patience, when, on the approach of tribulation, he shaved his head, made it appear that he had used, in time of prosperity, to let his hair grow; and Joseph, the great practicer and teacher of chastity, humility, piety, and other virtues, is found to have been shorn when he was to be delivered from servitude; by which it appears, that during the time of servitude, he was in prison without cutting his hair. Now you may observe how each of these men of God differed in the manner of their appearance abroad, though their inward consciences were alike influenced by the grace of virtue. But though we may be free to confess, that the difference of tonsure is not hurtful to those whose faith is pure towards God, and their charity sincere towards their neighbor, especially since we do not read that there ever was any controversy among the Catholic fathers about the difference of tonsure, as there has been about the difference in keeping Easter, or in matters of faith; however, among all the tonsures that are to be found in the Church, or among mankind at large, I think none more worthy of being followed than that which that disciple had on his head, to whom, on his confession, our Lord said, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.' Nor do I think any more worthy to be abhorred and detested, by all the faithful, than that which that man used, to whom Peter, when he would have bought the grace of the Holy Ghost, said, 'Thy money be with thee to perdition, because thou thoughtest the gift of God to be purchased for money; there is no part or lot for thee in this speech.' Nor do we shave ourselves in the form of a crown only because Peter was so shorn; but because Peter was so shorn in memory of the passion of our Lord; therefore we also, who desire to be saved by the same passion, do with him bear the sign of the same passion on the top of our head, which is the highest part of our body. For as all the Church, because it was made a church by the death of Him that gave it life, is wont to bear the sign of his holy cross on the forehead, to the end, that it may, by the constant protection of his sign, be defended from the assaults of evil spirits, and by the frequent admonition of the same be instructed, in like manner, to crucify its flesh with its vices and concupiscences; so also it behooves those, who have either taken the vows of monks, or have any degree among the clergy, to curb themselves the more strictly by continence.

"Every one of them is likewise to bear on his head, by means of the tonsure, the form of the crown which Christ in his passion bore of thorns, in order that Christ may bear the thorns and briars of our sins; and also that they may at once show that they, willingly and with a ready mind, endure scoffs and reproaches for his sake; to make it appear, that they always expect 'the crown of eternal life, which God has promised to those that love Him,' and that for the gaining thereof they despise both the adversities and the prosperities of this world. But as for the tonsure which Simon Magnus is said to have used, what Christian will not immediately detest and cast it off together with his magic? Upon the top of the forehead, it does seem indeed to resemble a crown; but when you come to the neck, you will find the crown you thought you had seen so perfect cut short; so that you may be satisfied such a distinction properly belongs not to Christians but to Simoniacs, such as were indeed in this life thought worthy of a perpetual crown of glory by erring men; but in that life which is to follow this, are not only deprived of all hopes of a crown, but are moreover condemned to eternal punishment.

"But do not think that I have said this much, as judging those who use this tonsure, are to be damned, in case they favor the catholic unity in faith and actions; on the contrary, I confidently declare, that many of them have been holy and worthy of God. Of which number is Adamnan, the abbot and renowned priest of Columba, who, when sent ambassador by his nation to King Alfrid, came to see our monastery, and discovering wonderful wisdom, humility, and religion in his words and behavior, among other things, I said to him in discourse, 'I beseech you, holy brother, who think you are advancing to the crown of life, which knows no period, why do you, contrary to the habit of your faith, wear on your head a crown that is terminated, or bounded? And if you aim at the society of St. Peter, why do you imitate the tonsure of him whom St. Peter anathematized? And why do you not rather even now show that you imitate to your utmost the habit of him with whom you desire to live happy for ever.' He answered, 'Be assured, my dear brother, that though I have Simon's tonsure, according to the custom of my country, yet I utterly detest and abhor the Simoniacal wickedness; and I desire, as far as my littleness is capable of doing it, to follow the footsteps of the most blessed prince of the apostles.' I replied, 'I verily believe it as you say; but let it appear by showing outwardly such things as you know to be his, that you in your hearts embrace whatever is from Peter the Apostle. For I believe your wisdom does easily judge, that it is much more proper to estrange your countenance, already dedicated to God, from resemblance to him whom in your heart you abhor, and of whose hideous face you would shun the sight; and, on the other hand, that it becomes you to imitate the outward resemblance of him, whom you seek to have for your advocate with God, as you desire to follow his actions and instructions.'

"This I then said to Adamnan, who indeed showed how much he had improved upon seeing the statutes of our churches, when, returning to Scotland, he afterwards by his preaching brought great numbers of that nation over to the catholic observance of the Paschal time; though he was not yet able to gain the consent of the monks that lived in the island of Hii, over whom he presided. He would also have been mindful to amend the tonsure, if his authority had extended so far.

"But I also admonish your wisdom, O king, that you endeavor to make the nation, over which the King of kings, and Lord of lords, has placed you, observe in all points those things which appertain to the unity of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; for thus it will come to pass, that after your temporal kingdom has passed away, the blessed prince of the apostles will lay open to you and yours the entrance into the heavenly kingdom, where you will rest for ever with the elect. The grace of the eternal King preserve thee in safely, long reigning, for the peace of us all, my most beloved son in Christ."

This letter having been read in the presence of King Naitan, and many more of the most learned men, and carefully interpreted into his own language by those who could understand it, he is said to have much rejoiced at the exhortation; inasmuch that, rising from among his great men that sat about him, he knelt on the ground, giving thanks to God that he had been found worthy to receive such a present from the land of the English; and, said he, "I knew indeed before, that this was the true celebration of Easter, but now I so fully know the reason for observing of this time, that I seem convinced that I knew little of it before. Therefore I publicly declare and protest to you that are here present, that I will for ever continually observe this time of Easter, with all my nation; and I do decree that this tonsure, which we have heard is most reasonable, shall be received by all the clergy in my kingdom." Accordingly he immediately performed by his regal authority what he had said. For the circles or revolutions of nineteen years were presently, by public command, sent throughout all the provinces of the Picts to be transcribed, learned and observed, the erroneous revolutions of eighty- four years being everywhere suppressed. All the ministers of the altar and monks had the crown shorn, and the nation thus reformed, rejoiced, as being newly put under the direction of Peter, the most blessed prince of the apostles, and secure under his protection.

CHAPTER XXII

THE MONKS OF HII, AND THE MONASTERIES SUBJECT TO THEM, BEGIN TO CELEBRATE THE CANONICAL EASTER AT THE PREACHING OF EGBERT. [A.D. 716.]

NOT long after, those monks also of the Scottish nation, who lived in the isle of Hii, with the other monasteries that were subject to them, were by the assistance of our Lord brought to the canonical observation of Easter, and the right mode of tonsure. For in the year after the incarnation of our Lord 716, when Osred was slain, and Coenred took upon him the government of the kingdom of the Northumbrians, the holy father and priest, Egbert, beloved of God, and worthy to be named with all honor, whom we have often mentioned before, coming among them, was joyfully and honorably received. Being a most agreeable teacher, and devout in practicing those things which he taught, and being willingly heard by all, he, by his pious and frequent exhortations, converted them from that inveterate tradition of their ancestors, of whom may be said those words of the apostle, "That they had the zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." He taught them to perform the principal solemnity after the catholic and apostolic manner, as has been said, under the figure of a perpetual circle; which appears to have been accomplished by a wonderful dispensation of the Divine goodness; to the end, that the same nation which had willingly, and without envy, communicated to the English people the knowledge of the true Deity, should afterwards, by means of the English nation, be brought where they were defective to the true rule of life. Even as, on the contrary, the Britons, who would not acquaint the English with the knowledge of the Christian faith, now, when the English people enjoy the true faith, and are thoroughly instructed in its rules, continue inveterate in their errors, expose their heads without a crown, and keep the solemnity of Christ without the society of the Church.

The monks of Hii, by the instruction of Egbert, adopted the catholic rites, under Abbot Dunchad, about eighty years after they had sent Aidan to preach to the English nation. This man of God, Egbert, remained thirteen years in the aforesaid island, which he had thus consecrated again to Christ, by kindling in it a new ray of Divine grace, and restoring it to the unity of ecclesiastical discipline. In the year of our Lord's incarnation 729, in which the Easter of our Lord was celebrated on the 24th of April, he performed the solemnity of the mass, in memory of the same resurrection of our Lord, and dying that same day, thus finished, or rather never ceases to celebrate, with our Lord, the apostles, and the other citizens of heaven, that greatest festival, which he had begun with the brethren, whom he had converted to the unity of grace. But it was a wonderful dispensation of the Divine Providence, that the venerable man not only passed out of this world to the Father, in Easter, but also when Easter was celebrated on that day, on which it had never been wont to be kept in those parts. The brethren rejoiced in the certain and catholic knowledge of the time of Easter, and rejoiced in the protection of their father, departed to our Lord, by whom they had been converted. He also congratulated his being so long continued in the flesh till he saw his followers admit, and celebrate with him, that as Easter day which they had ever before avoided. Thus the most reverend father being assured of their standing corrected, rejoiced to see the day of our Lord, and he saw it and was glad.

 

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