The thousand years from the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. to the dawn of the Renaissance in the fourteenth century were, for a long time, called the Dark Ages. The named seemed appropriate to describe the period that witnessed the decay of the “glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” as Europe was overrun, plundered, and ruled by the Vandals, and invaded and partly conquered by the Arabs.
History however shows that it was a time of religious fervor, missionary zeal, philosophical inquiry, and artistic achievement. Scholars have recognized that the so-called Dark Ages were the time of retrieval, reconstruction, and preservation that prepared the way for the Renaissance.
The monks of that era patiently copied by hand the great works of the Greek and Roman literature and thereby preserved them for future generations. Theology kept alive the development of thought that later led to revolutions in philosophy. The heritage from the past was transmitted by the monks to their pupils, some of whom later became princes of both Church and Sate.
In that era, about two centuries after the fall of Rome, in the year 672, in the region of Northumbria in England, the Venerable Bede was born. At the age of seven, he was entrusted by his family to Abbot Benedict Biscop of the Monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth, and from then on lived in the monastery and became a monk. By the end of his life, which spanned sixty three years, he had produced a vast amount of literature on various subjects and had assembled, for purposes of teaching, a wide range of knowledge available then. He was probably the most learned man of his generation. If the Dark Ages were indeed dark for a time, Bede was one of those who brought in an enduring light.
Surely, it was not only knowledge that Bede sought, but wisdom. The passage from the Book of Wisdom could have been spoken by Bede himself: “I prayed and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the wisdom came to me.” With such wisdom, Bede saw Jesus Christ as the center of human history and the Incarnation as its turning point.
Bede was a man with a great heart. The account of his last moments reveals the affection he had for his fellow monks and the affection they had for him. When he was dying, he asked for his box and distributed its contents as gifts to his fellow monks. They wept as he bade them farewell. Even in the agony of death, he did not cease to be thoughtful. As life ebbed, he could still express his love for God with fervor. “The moment of my departure,” he said, “is at hand, and I yearn to go and be with Christ. For my soul yearns to see Christ my king in his beauty.” With his dying breath he sang, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” As he lived, so did he die, singing praise to God and offering himself to the surrender of loving worship.
It was a man with a great mind and a great heart that Bede was the light of the world – to the people with whom he shared his life, to the era in which he lived, and to the centuries that followed.
Every country has its own “Dark Ages”, days of violence, injustice, and moral decay, prevailing in the entire society or existing in pockets. That is why the Lord tells us, urges us to be the light of the world, to dispel that darkness, to bring God’s saving light into the lives of those afflicted by the evils of the times. For as St. Paul says, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”
As the light of the world in the so-called Dark Ages, St. Bede wrote history. We may not have the gift of writing history, but we all have the gift of changing history, so to speak, by working together to lead our nation out of its “Dark Ages”.
When Jesus Christ said, “You are the light of the world,” he was not speaking to people in power but to the poor and the powerless of Israel. He called them to bring light into the world through their faith and righteousness. In the darkness of our times we hear cries for light. Through those cries, the Lord calls us to be “the light of the world” and to be one with him who is the supreme light of the universe.