In Praise of St. Bede the Venerable and St. Gregory the Great

There are two ways to look at history. One way is to see it as a series of random occurrences. The other way is to view history through the lens of ‘Kairos.’

James Doyle Penrose [1862-1932], “The Venerable Bede Translates John”
James Doyle Penrose [1862-1932], “The Venerable Bede Translates John” (photo: Public Domain)

There are so many great saints from England who should be better known by English-speaking people, especially in the United States of America. One of them is St. Bede the Venerable. No one is quite sure when or even if Bede was canonized, but in 1899, Pope Leo XIII made him a Doctor of the Church, so he must also be a saint.

Bede was important, of course, for being the first historian of English history and popularized the usage in history studies of “AD” and “BC,” bringing a Christian understanding into history — just as in the past history was given by what year in the reign of a king took place, now with Christ the King, he to whom all time belongs, there is no need to track chronology in anything other than a kairotic way, meaning from the time of Christ’s entry into history.

Another saint with close ties to England is St. Augustine of Canterbury. He was Bede’s older Benedictine confrere and the abbot of the church that is now San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome. Sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the Anglo-Saxon people in AD 595 — and there is some debate as to whether Gregory himself came up with the idea of this mission, having seen Anglo-Saxon slaves and thinking them angels or whether Aethelbert, the pagan King of Kent requested Gregory to send them because his beloved wife, Bertha, was a Christian) — Abbot Augustine became the first bishop of Canterbury and established Christianity as the main religion of the English people. (And here I might point out that Christianity was already well established in Ireland by this time, but they spoke their own language!)

No matter how Augustine got to England, the fact remains that he converted that “green and pleasant land” (as William Blake described it) to Christianity. As English-speaking people, we have much to be grateful for the life and ministry of Augustine of Canterbury. Had he failed, would we Americans, Canadians, Australians, and in so many other countries — children of the English of sorts — really be celebrating Holy Mass in English?

You see, everything matters. There are two ways to look at history. One way is to see it as a series of unconnected events, random occurrences that really don’t have any meaning.

The other way — the proper way, in my opinion — is to view history through the lens of Kairos. Yes, everything matters — the fact that you and I are here in this place, right here, right now, worshipping our God in spirit and truth, together, is part of chronology. The fact that we are now living through this odd time in the history of the world, filled with pandemics and election results, matters. Why? Because together we are living in the moment of Kairos, our own personal salvation histories, all tied into the larger scheme of salvation history which the Lord of Time allows us to occupy. 

Perhaps in our prayer today, we might wish to acknowledge our history — our personal history, the history of the Church and the history of the world. Do we live (like the philosopher Leibniz states) “in the best of all possible worlds?” Who knows? Regardless, this is the world we have been given. Thank God for our histories which are tied intrinsically to salvation history.