On the Nature of Things

Tiberius Bede, the Venerable Bede (672-735) an English church historian was the first Englishman to write about the weather after making his careful observations of the locale in which he lived, focusing on a stream that would babble its way through a meadow.  In 703, he composed a book titled On the Nature of Things, where he wrote about rain, snow, water evaporation, rivers, and the ocean being in harmony with each other.  Bede wrote that all things that are seen on earth are formed and reformed by the dual nature of waters.  The centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. are often referred to as the Dark Ages and during this time various Germanic peoples conquered the former Roman Empire in the West, making this a time that was fraught with disease and danger.

Latin was the official language spoken in Europe at this time and it allowed all the countries to communicate with each other.  Authorities in the Catholic Church decided what was normal and moral and what was sinful and bad and how that should be punished.  Monks lived a simple life in abbeys and monasteries owning only a few possessions, spending their time attending services, being involved in religious studies, and some produced books and illuminated manuscripts which became invaluable records of medieval life for modern historians.

Bede was an English Benedictine monk and a prolific writer and, in a time, where many people still considered the world to be flat, he knew the reason why some days were of unequal length, attributing this to the Earth being round, a sphere set in the middle of the whole universe.  On the Nature of Things is a survey of cosmology, that starts with Creation and the universe as a whole, Bede interprets the cosmos downwards from the heavens, through the atmosphere, to the oceans and rivers of earth.  Bede said that rains were formed from the little drops of the clouds and as they coalesced into bigger drops that were no longer supported by the nature of air, sometimes driven by wind, sometimes dissolved by the sun, they fell down in the form of rain to the earth.  He called gentle and steady rains showers and sudden and violent rains were called storms.  He said that hailstones were coagulated in the air from drops of rain and frozen by the harshness of cold and wind.  Hail melts more quickly than snow and it falls more often during the day than at night.  Snow is formed from the vapor of water that is being forestalled by cold and has not yet condensed into drops.

He said that salt water nourishes food in the sea for mortals on land, and fresh water is more properly suited for nourishing food in the air and for quenching thirst.  Bede said that the ocean’s tide follows the moon as it is forced out of its exhalation and flows back when its impulse is withdrawn.  It is seen to flow and ebb twice daily and it surges up more strongly than usual at the equinoxes and solstices.  Bede wrote that the sea does not increase in size from rivers flowing into it because the fresh flow is consumed by the salt waters, or that it is carried off by the wind or the heat of the sun which differs from lakes and ponds as they may dry up over a period of time.

Bede assembled a very credible explanation of the nature of clouds as condensed water vapor, formed by evaporation.  However, the heat of the sun and the action of the winds are regarded not so much as the forces responsible for vaporization as the means by which water from any source is transmuted into sweet rain water.  He invokes an idea about filtering salt water through soil will make it sweet, just as straining sweet water through sea-weed will make it salt.  For Bede rainbows were formed when the sun illuminated clouds and the four colors would scatter in the air from the directly opposed sun and the clouds.

Clouds, being composed of water vapor, are essentially made of tiny drops of water.  Bede imagines these droplets coalescing into larger drops which the air can no longer hold up.  Bede explained that thunder and lightning were caused by natural factors, and the sound of thunder was said to happen when wind escaped from clouds and lightning was a spark that occurred when clouds collided, although Bede actually thought that the main reason for these occurrences were ultimately controlled by God, the creator and director of the universe.

In 336, during the reign of Emperor Constantine Christmas was first celebrated, but it did not become an official Roman state festival at this time.  Bede wrote about pagan practices and their primitive behavior and he said that the pagan year began on a date fixed by the solar calendar, which was the Winter Solstice, on December 25th, pointing out that this same day is now when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and the casualties of Christmas.

He is known for his scholarly works in the fields of English history, grammar, hymns, chronology and the lives of the saints.  Many see Bede as the first modern historian because he was careful to separate fact from legend and cited his sources.  He has been called the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar and author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People and has also been referred to as being a candle of the Church which the Holy Spirit has illuminated.

Written for Sheryl’s Daily Word Prompt – Venerable, for Roger Shipp’s Daily Addictions prompt – Sound, for the Daily Spur prompt – Main, for FOWC with Fandango – Fraught, for December Writing Prompts – Casualties of Christmas, for Ragtag Community – Candle, for Di’s Three Things Challenge prompt words – Spoken Scatter Bad and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Babble.

14 thoughts on “On the Nature of Things

    1. Tracy history is an interpretation of what people think has happened. It should be backed up with facts, but often that is not possible. Many historians group the dark Ages in with the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment or the Renaissance is when the Middle Ages end, so a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. Thanks for your wishes and I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas.

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