Almost all that is known of his life is contained in a notice added by himself to his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (v. 24), which states that he was placed in the monastery at Wearmouth at the age of seven, that he became deacon in his nineteenth year, and priest in his thirtieth. He was trained by the abbots Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrid, and probably accompanied the latter to Jarrow in 682. There he spent his life, finding his chief pleasure in being always occupied in learning, teaching, or writing, and zealous in the performance of monastic duties.
His works show that he had at his command all the learning of his time. He was proficient in patristic literature, and quotes from Pliny the Younger, Vergil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace, and other classical writers, but with some disapproval. He knew Greek and a little Hebrew. His Latin is clear and without affectation, and he is a skilful story-teller.
Bede practiced the allegorical method of interpretation, and was by modern standards credulous concerning the miraculous; but in most things his good sense is conspicuous, and his kindly and broad sympathies, his love of truth and fairness, his unfeigned piety, and his devotion to the service of others combine to make him an exceedingly attractive character.
Bede's writings are classed as scientific, historical, and theological. The scientific include treatises on grammar (written for his pupils), a work on natural phenomena (De rerum natura), and two on chronology (De temporibus and De temporum ratione). Interestingly, Bede wrote that the Earth was round "like a playground ball", contrasting that with being "round like a shield".
The most important and best known of his works is the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) giving in five books the history of England, ecclesiastical and political, from the time of Caesar to the date of its completion (731). The first twenty-one chapters, treating of the period before the mission of Augustine, are compiled from earlier writers such as Orosius, Gildas, Prosper of Aquitaine, the letters of Pope Gregory I, and others, with the insertion of legends and traditions. After 596, documentary sources, which Bede took pains to obtain, are used, and oral testimony, which he employed not without critical consideration of its value.
His other historical works were lives of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and lives in verse and prose of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. The most numerous of his writings are theological, and consist of commentaries on the books of the Old and New Testaments, homilies, and treatises on detached portions of Scripture.
His last work, completed on his death-bed, was a translation into Anglo-Saxon of the Gospel of John.
Bede is often known as the Venerable Bede, which suggests that he failed to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and remains a "venerable". In fact, the title seems to have been generally given to him soon after his death. In the archdiocese of York there was a feast of Saint Bede but it was little observed in southern England and never penetrated to continental Europe. In 1899 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.