A Patristic Easter Egg Hunt: The Venerable Bede

I think I will look around and find some egg quotes in the Fathers. Here is one.

From St. Bede’s commentary on Luke (Lk. 11:12):

“‘Aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget illi scorpionem?’

“In ovo, indicatur spes. Ovum enim nondum est foetus perfectus, sed fovendo speratur.”

“‘And if [a man’s son] should ask for an egg, will [his father] hand him a scorpion?'”

“Hope is shown in an egg. For an egg is not yet a complete offspring, but it is hoped for and kept warm.”

Bede seems to have gotten this from St. Augustine’s Letter 130 to St. Proba, “a religious handmaiden of God.” She was a nun who wrote letters full of questions, to folks like St. Jerome and St. Augustine. This letter was one of the many answer- slash- treatises she got from these guys.

“‘Aut si ovum petit, numquid porrigit ei scorpium?’ …

“Spes in ovo, quia vita pulli nondum est, sed futura est, nec iam videtur, sed adhuc speratur. Spes enim quae videtur, non est spes.”

“‘But if he asks for an egg, will he hand him a scorpion?’…

“Hope [is signified] in the egg, because the life of a hen is not yet there, but it is coming; nor can it now be seen, but it is still hoped for. For ‘hope which can be seen is not hope.’ (Rom. 8:24)

Augustine and Bede both compare the fish, egg, and bread to faith, hope, and charity; whereas the snake, scorpion, and stone represent the devil making unbelievers in God, worldliness making unbelievers in eternal life, and the hardheartedness making people who have no charity.

You’ll also notice that St. Augustine is using a cool (but more inaccurate) Old Latin translation of the Bible, because the Vulgate hadn’t been finished yet. And both versions of the Bible use “numquid,” a question word indicating that the answer is “No.”

St. Augustine is going by the state of the art, when it comes to Greco-Roman natural philosophy. But St. Bede seems to indicate more clearly that an egg is alive — just not ready to go.

I suspect that monastic life in England included more contact with chicken coops than the life of a minor North African Roman aristocrat, or a bishop in Hippo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Patristics, Translations

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.