Life, Salvation, & Eternal Happiness


Less well-known as a Benedictine monk than as the father of English history, Bede (c. 673 – 735) was a prolific Bible scholar, scientist, author, and the only English doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. In his best-known work, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), Bede recounts the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity in 627 A.D.

King Edwin, although personally persuaded to follow Christ for himself, discussed the matter with a council of his principal advisers. Coifi, the high priest, argued that it was pragmatic to examine Christianity to see if it was “better and more effectual” than their current pagan religion. Another adviser agreed and in so doing outlined the universal human predicament: our knowledge is limited to the confines of the world in which we exist.

Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a lone sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you sit in the winter months to dine with your thanes and counsellors. Inside there is a comforting fire to warm the room; outside, the wintry storms of snow and rain are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the darkness whence he came. Similarly, man appears on earth for a little while, but we know nothing of what went before this life, and what follows. Therefore if this new teaching [Christianity] can reveal any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.1

After the council had heard the Christian message explained in greater detail, they realized that whilst truth about origins and ultimate ends cannot be discovered from within this world, it can be disclosed by someone from outside. Coifi, the previously pagan high priest, saw Christianity as unique among world religions—only in Jesus, the Word of God, does God reveal Himself. Confronted with the truth, unlike many today who seek to suppress such a revelation, Coifi decisively repented.

I have long realized that there is nothing in what we worshipped, for the more diligently I sought after truth in our religion, the less I found. I now publicly confess that this teaching clearly reveals truths that will afford us the blessings of life, salvation, and eternal happiness. Therefore, Your Majesty, I submit that the temples and altars that we have dedicated to no advantage be immediately desecrated and burned….I will do this myself, for now that the true God has granted me knowledge, who more suitably than I can set a public example, and destroy the idols that I worshipped in ignorance?2


1 St. Bede, A History of the English Church and People, trans. Leo Sherley-Price (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1955), 124-125.

2 Ibid., 125.

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