Cuthbert, later Abbot of Jarrow, writes to his friend Cuthwin to tell him of the last days of their revered teacher. The two men had been fellow students of Bede's at Jarrow.
I accepted with much pleasure the little gift you sent me, and I have read with great satisfaction your pious and learned letter, in which I found what I so much wished for-that you are busily celebrating masses and holy prayers for Bede our father and teacher, beloved of God. And so, though out of love for him rather than from any confidence of skill in myself, it is pleasing to tell in a few words how he left this world, since this, as I understand, is what you want and ask for.
For about a fortnight before the day of our Lord's resurrection he was troubled with weakness, and particularly with shortness of breath, although he had no pain to amount to much. And so he lived on until our Lord's ascension, 26 May, cheerful and happy, giving thanks to Almighty God every day and night-indeed, every hour. He gave lessons every day to us his students, and whatever time was left he used in singing Psalms, as much as his strength would allow. He also cheerfully spent the whole night in prayer and thanksgiving to God, save only when a little sleep stopped him. But no sooner did he wake up than he would straightway muse in his usual way about the melodies of Scripture; nor did he forget to give thanks to God with uplifted hands. I tell it, and it is true, that never have I seen with my eyes, or heard with my ears, anyone so painstaking in giving thanks to the living God.
O truly happy man! He would sing the words of St. Paul the Apostle, `It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,' and much else out of Holy Writ, in which he would urge us to shake off the sleep of the soul and to think upon our last hour. And he also spoke in our own language about the terrifying departure of the soul from the body, for he was skilled in our songs:
Before the dread voyage none deems it fit
Wiser in spirit than the world's way
To ponder deeply ere parting hence
What sins or good deeds his soul has done
That after his death-day deemed shall be.
He would also sing antiphons to console us and himself, one of which is:
`O King of Glory, Lord of Hosts, who this day ascended triumphantly above all the heavens, we beseech, you not to leave us as orphans but to send down upon us the spirit of truth, even the promise of the Father. Alleluia.'
When he came to the words `not to leave us as orphans', however, he burst into tears and wept a good deal. And after a time he began and repeated what he had started. He would do this all day long, and we who were listening wept and lamented with him. Sometimes we read, sometimes we mourned; no, rather we wept as we read. In such happiness we passed Quinquagesima until the aforesaid day; and he greatly rejoiced, giving thanks to God that he was deemed worthy to suffer such affliction. He would often repeat, `God whips every son whom He receives,' and a saying of Ambrose's, `I have not lived in such a way as to be ashamed of living among you; nor do I fear to die, for we have a gracious Lord.'
During those days, besides the lessons we had from him each day and his singing of the Psalms, he laboured on two little `works that are worth remembering. He translated into our own tongue, for the use of God's Church, the Gospel of St. John from the beginning to the point where it reads, `But what are they among so many?' and certain passages from the works of Bishop Isidore, saying, `I would not have my boys read a lie, and labour therein without benefit after my death.'
But when the Tuesday before our Lord's ascension came, his breathing began to grow much more difficult, and a small swelling showed in his feet. But he taught and dictated cheerfully all that day, and now and then he would say, among other things, `Learn quickly, for I know not how long I shall hold out, or whether my Maker will take me before long.' It seemed to us, though, as if he knew very well the time of his going. And so he spent the night, awake, giving thanks. And when morning dawned— Wednesday, that is— he told us to write busily on the work we had begun, and we did so until nine. But at nine o'clock we walked in procession with the relics of the saints, as the practice of that day demanded. One of us who stayed with Bede said to him, `There is still one chapter lacking in the book you have dictated; but it seems hard to ask you more questions: But he answered, `No, it is easy. Take your pen, calm yourself, and write quickly.' And he did so. At the ninth hour, Bede said to me, `I have a few valuables in my casket-pepper, vestments, and incense. Run quickly and bring the priests of our monastery, so that I may share among them little gifts, such as God has granted me.' And I did so with trembling.
When they were all present, he addressed each and every one, urging them, imploring they should say prayers and masses for him— which they freely promised. But they all kept weeping and sorrowing, especially because he said they must not think to see his face much longer in this world. But they rejoiced because he said, `It is time for me, if my Maker sees fit, to be freed from the flesh and go to him who made me out of nothing, at the time when I was nothing. I have lived a long time, and my merciful judge has ordered my life well. The time of my going is at hand, for my soul wishes to see my King, even Christ in his glory.' This and much else he said for our instruction, and passed his last day happily until evening. And the boy called Wilbert, whom we spoke of before, said once more: `Dear Teacher, there is still one statement that isn't done.' `Very well,' he said, `write!' And soon after the boy said, `It is done now.' `You speak very truly,' he said, `it is brought to an end. Take my head in your hands, for it is very pleasing to me to sit facing my holy place where I have been used to pray, so that I may sit and call upon my Father.' And thus, upon the floor of his little cell, chanting `Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritu Sancto' and the rest, his spirit passed from the body....
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