PW: Trumberht, Bede’s Teacher

hermit.jpgne of his [Bishop Chad’s] brothers named Trumberht, a monk educated in his monastery and under his Rule and one of those who taught me Scriptures, used to tell me about him: if he happened to be reading or doing something else and suddenly a high wind arose, he would at once advoke the mercy of the Lord and beg him to have pity on the human race. If the wind increased in violence he would shut his book, fall on his face, and devote himself more earnestly to prayer. But if there were a violent storm of wind and rain or if lightening and thunder brought terror to earth and sky, he would enter the church and, with still deeper concentration, earnestly devote himself to prayers and psalms until the sky cleared. When his people asked him why he did it, he replied, ‘Have you not read, “The Lord also thundered in the heavens and the Highest gave His voice. Yea, He sent out His arrows and scattered them and He shot out lightenings and discomfited them”? For the Lord moves the air, raises the winds, hurls lightening, and thunders forth from heaven so as to rouse inhabitants of the world to fear him, to call them to remember the future judgment in order that He may scatter their pride and confound their boldness by bringing the their minds to that dread time when he will come in the clouds in great power and majesty, to judge the living and the dead, while the heavens and the earth are aflame. And so,’ said he, ‘we ought to respond to his Heavenly warning with fear and love; so that as often as He destrubs the sky and raises His hand as if about to strike, yet spares us still, we should implore His mercy, examining the innermost recesses of our hearts and purging out the dregs of our sins, and behave with such caution that we may never deserve to be struck down.’ This brother’s account of the bishop’s death also agrees with the story of a vision related by the most reverend father Egbert…” (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV Chapter 3; McClure and Collins, eds. 1994: p. 177-178.)

 

This is one of the few passages that tells us anything about Bede’s training. Trumberht had been trained by Bishop Chad and was probably a member of his household. Although Chad founded a monastery at Barrow in Lindsey, it seems more likely that he came from Lastingham since he came to Northumbria after the death of Chad. Barrow was probably Chad’s primary residence while he was administering to his duties in Lindsey.

Bede tells us that Trumberht was one of those who taught him scriptures as a child. As Trumberht himself had been trained under Chad’s direction, we can guess that he was significantly influenced by the Irish in his scriptural interpretation. We can imagine that this story of Chad’s Fear of God and of storms would have come up several times in Bede’s scriptural studies. We can envision the child Bede sitting near Trumberht listening to stories from his travels and the monasteries that he had lived in. It may be from Trumberht and his stories of Chad that Bede gained some of his initial good will toward the Anglo-Celtic party.

This story of Chad that Trumberht tells Bede reminds me of the Fear of God found in Cuthbert’s ‘Letter on the Death of Bede’. What we know for certain is that with the help of Trumberht and others, Bede developed a palpable Fear of God. Bede clearly thought that Chad’s Fear of God was appropriate. Of the stories that Trumberht told Bede, this is the story that Bede chose to include in his History.

As for Chad’s fear of storms, this may come from his childhood on Lindisfarne when they would have weathered storms in probably initially insubstantial cells. The monastery was on the side of the island that faced the mainland. This is not high ground like the location of the castle. Indeed, the mainland side is low enough for the sea to flood in making it a tidal island. What high ground there is on Lindisfarne is on the sea side, which makes a great deal of sense for the island’s formation. During my visit to Lindisfarne in 2003 we happened to come to the island when a regular storm rolled in over the North Sea. It wasn’t a great thunderstorm, just driving rain, but on Lindisfarne it was quite impressive. Feeling the sea charged up by the storm on a tidal island where it seems like the sea could swallow it up at any time, its not hard to imagine where Chad’s fears originated. The Christian God of storms is found most strongly in the psalms, particularly psalm 29. We know the tradition set up by Aidan and continued by Chad placed great emphasis on the psalms. Psalm 29 must have felt like it was written particularly for Lindisfarne.

“Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is mighty upon the waters.

The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is splendor.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.

And in the temple of the Lord, all are crying, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

The Lord shall give strength to his people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 29, p. 620-621.

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