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Bede, the early eighth-century monastic author, discusses many kings as well as bishops in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. In this History, Bede assumed his earlier delineation of Christian kingship in his commentary On Ezra and Nehemiah: that a Christian king ought to protect and promote the church and be deferential with the clergy as he cooperates with them to regulate the Christian people. However, Bede’s claim in Books IV and V of his History that the age of Bishop Theodore was “the happiest time for the English people” because, in part, they benefitted from “the most powerful Christian kings,” is startling, since the kings discussed do not measure up to Bede’s claim. After clarifying Christian kingship according to Bede and then examining Bede’s discussion of each king in Books IV and V, this article’s author draws on the scholarship of N.J. Higham, Claire Stancliffe, and Walter Goffart to offer irony as the key for understanding Bede’s claim. Thus, Bede was being ruefully ironic about the age of Theodore: if only this happiest of ages had enjoyed the benefit of powerful Christian kingship! The best that Bede would say about the “most powerful kings” of the age was that they retired from their kingship.

About the Author

Robert Winn earned his Ph.D. in the Early Christian Studies program at the Catholic University of America, and his degree focused on two examination areas: late antique history and Greek and Latin patristics. His research interests include religious and intellectual history in Late Antiqiuity and the early Middle Ages. Prior to joining Northwestern’s faculty, he was a visiting professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Dr. Winn is the author of Eusebius of Emesa: Church and Theology in the Mid-Fourth Century, which was published by The Catholic University of America Press in 2011. His published articles have appeared in the Journal of Early Christian Studies and Vigiliae Christianae., and he has presented papers at the International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford University. His most recent conference papers, both read at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (2011 and 2012), were entitled “Lessons from Lesser Kings: Books IV and V of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica” and “On Avarice: Eusebius of Emesa and John Chrysostom.”

Winn recently published Christianity in the Roman Empire: Key Figures, Beliefs and Practices of the Early Church (A.D. 100-300). The book studies early Christian who lived in the Roman Empire before Constantine and is written for a general audience.

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