From the Scriptures, Bede moves on to hagiography, history and martyrology, hymns and epigrams, and natural science and computus, concluding with orthography, meter and grammar. Now there is nothing random or accidental in all this. For Bede, knowledge was highly interconnected. Its primary focus was the Christian Scriptures and the body of authoritative learned commentary on those Scriptures. It was natural therefore to begin with biblical exegesis, Hagiography and history follow since they demonstrated the teaching elucidated in abstract terms in the commentaries in action, in the theater or human affairs. The close connections in Bede’s mind between exegesis and history are particularly evident in the links between the late commentaries, such as De tabernaculo, De templo, and In Ezram et Neemiam, and the Historia ecclesiastica.
After history and historiography, the next significant section in Bede’s list of his writings focuses on his scientific treatises on chronology and the natural world. Computistical calculation of course had considerable practical implications for monks and liturgists, and Bede was, as we all know, an outstanding computist. At a deeper level, however, he was interested in chronology as revealing the structure of time, that structure which, as Faith Wallis has recently pointed out, represented the “continuity and patters” of divine providence. Both his chronological treatises therefore culminate in discussion of the ages of the world, of the progress of time from creation to the sixth and present age, the last of historical time that will usher in “the eternal stability and stable eternity” of the seventh and final age. That doctrine of the seven ages of the world, predicated on the seven days of creation, brings us of course back full circle to the creation myth of Genesis and biblical exegesis.
Such concerns are intimately connected with Bede’s analysis of the natural world. That world could only be understood through the lens of Genesis, and De natura rerum begins with a discussion derived from Augustine of the biblical creation story. What follows (in which the principal sources -Augustine, Pliny and Isidore- are carefully indicated) is designed to bring the ancients’ understanding of the world into a scriptural perspective.
Computus also naturally intersected with history. Both Bede’s treatises on time ended in world chronicles, dating events by annus mundi, the age of the world. In them, as Faith Wallis has pointed out, Bede was writing universal history with a universal dating system. In the Historia ecclesiastica, he is specific, focused upon the salvation history of a single nation -and here, in work solely devoted to the last age, he uses a different dating system, centered on the incarnation, thereby Cristianizing the structure of time.
Alan Thacker, “Bede and the Ordering of Understanding”, in ‘Innovation and Tradition in the Writings of The Venerable Bede’, ed. by Scott DeGregorio, pp. 47-49. West Virginia University Press, 2006.