A Companion to Bede: A Reader's Commentary on the Ecclesiastical History of the English People

By J. Robert Wright | Go to book overview

APPENDIX IV
James Campbell on the Significance of the
Synod of Whitby [Bede III:25]

Bede makes it very clear that the calculation of the date of Easter was not a merely technical or isolated issue. The movement of Easter was one of many things which argument in terms of symbols (as we would say, but symbol is for us a limiting word, mysteries they would say) showed to be loaded with significance. Easter had to be just at the equinox, for the lengthening days represented Christ’s triumph over the powers of darkness. It had to be in the first month of the lunar year, for this was the month in which the world had been created and in which it ought to be newly created. It had to be as the moon was about to wane, for the moon turns from earth toward the sun as it wanes, just as we should turn from earthly to heavenly things. It was appropriate that Easter should always fall within a space of seven days, for seven was a number of divine significance. Considered from another point of view, Easter was to be calculated in such a way as to fulfill both the Old Law of the Jews and the New Law of Christ. If it was celebrated at exactly the right time, then all was in harmony. Nothing can illustrate the gulf between Bede’s thought-world and ours more vividly than his views on Easter. Such views were not simple popular piety. They formed part of an elaborate and not unsophisticated system of thought, which brought all knowledge into unity and to divine ends, and whose power depended on the capacity to see an allegory as a mysterious truth rather than as an illustration or a coincidence. Divergence between churches on such a matter as Easter was not a trivial matter. It was a rent in the seamless garment, and it is not surprising that Bede, who was by far the most learned man of his day on computation, would have devoted much of his history to this issue….

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