THE SAXONS, English, and Jutes, pagan Germans, who in this island began in 454 to expel the old Britons into the mountainous part of the country, had reigned here about one hundred and fifty years, when God was pleased to open their eyes to the light of the gospel.
St. Gregory the Great, before his pontificate, had desired to become himself their apostle; but was hindered by the people of Rome, who would by no means suffer him to leave that city. This undertaking, however, he had very much at heart, and never ceased to recommend to God the souls of this infidel nation. When he was placed in the apostolic chair, he immediately turned his thoughts towards this abandoned part of the vineyard, and resolved to send thither a select number of zealous labourers. For this great work none seemed better qualified than Augustine, then prior of St. Gregory’s monastery, dedicated to St. Andrew in Rome. Him, therefore, the pope appointed superior of this mission, allotting him several assistants who were Roman monks. The powers of hell trembled at the sight of this little troop, which marched against them armed only with the cross, by which they had been stripped of their empire over men. Zeal and obedience gave these saints courage, and they set out with joy upon an expedition, of which the prize was to be either the conquest of a new nation to Christ, or the crown of martyrdom for themselves. But the devils found means to throw a stumbling-block in their way. St. Gregory had recommended them to several French bishops on their road, of whom they were to learn the circumstances of their undertaking, and prepare themselves accordingly. But when the missionaries were advanced several days’ journey, probably as fair as Aix in Provence, certain persons, with many of those to whom they were addressed, exaggerated to them the ferocity of the English people, the difference of manners, the difficulty of the language, the dangers of the sea, and other such obstacles, in such a manner that they deliberated whether it was prudent to proceed: the result of which consultation was that Augustine should be deputed back to St. Gregory to lay before him these difficulties, and to beg leave for them to return to Rome. The pope, well apprized of the artifices of the devil, saw in these retardments themselves greater motives of confidence in God; for where the enemy is most active, and obstacles seem greatest in the divine service, there we have reason to conclude that the work is of the greater importance, and that the success will be the more glorious. Souls are never prepared for an eminent virtue and the brightest crowns but by passing through great trials. This, though often immediately owing to the malice of the devil, is permitted by God, and is an effect of his all-wise providence to raise the fervour of his servants for the exceeding increase of their virtue. St. Gregory, therefore, sent Augustine back with a letter of encouragement to the rest of the missionaries, representing to them the cowardice of abandoning a good work when it is begun; exhorting them not to listen to the evil suggestions of railing men, and expressing his desire of the happiness of bearing them company, and sharing in their labours had it been possible. The temptation being removed, the apostolic labourers pursued their journey with great alacrity, and, taking some Frenchmen for interpreters along with them, 2 landed in the Isle of Thanet, on the east side of Kent, in the year 596, being, with their interpreters, nearly forty persons. From this place St. Augustine sent to Ethelbert, the powerful king of Kent, signifying that he was come from Rome, and brought him a most happy message, with an assured divine promise of a kingdom which would never have an end. The king ordered them to remain in that island, where he took care they should be furnished with all necessaries, whilst he deliberated what to do. This great prince held in subjection all the other English kings who commanded on this side the Humber; nor was he a stranger to the Christian religion; for his Queen Bertha, a daughter of Caribert, king of Paris, was a Christian, and had with her Luidhard, bishop of Senlis, for her director and almoner. After some days, the king went in person to the isle, but sat in the open air to admit Augustine to his presence; for he had a superstitious notion that if he came with any magical spell, this would have an effect upon him under the cover of a house, but could have none in the open fields. The religious men came to him in procession, “carrying for their banner a silver cross, and an image of our Saviour painted on a board; and singing the litany as they walked, made humble prayer for themselves, and for the souls of those to whom they came.” Being admitted into the presence of the king, they announced to him the word of life. His majesty listened attentively; but answered, that their words and promises indeed were fair, but new, and to him uncertain: however, that since they were come a great way for his sake, they should not be molested, nor hindered from preaching to his subjects. He also appointed them necessary subsistence, and a dwelling-place in Canterbury, the capital city of his dominions. They came thither in procession, singing, and imitated the lives of the apostles, serving God in prayer, watching, and fasting; despising the things of this world, as persons who belonged to another, and ready to suffer or die for the faith which they preached. There stood near the city an old church of St. Martin, left by the Britons. In this was the queen accustomed to perform her devotions, and in it the apostolic preachers began to meet, sing, say mass, preach, and baptize, till the king being converted, they had license to repair and build churches every where. Several among the people were converted, and received the holy sacrament of regeneration; and in a short time the king himself, whose conversion was followed by innumerable others. 1
Bede says that St. Augustine after this went back to Arles to Etherius, bishop of that city, from whose hands he received the episcopal consecration; but for Etherius we must read Virgilius, who was at that time archbishop of Arles, Etherius being bishop of Lyons. 3 The reason why he went so far, seems to have been because the Archbishop of Arles was not only primate, but apostolic legate in Gaul; and Augustine probably wanted his advice in many things. The saint had baptized the king, and was himself ordained bishop before October, 597, within the space of one year; for the letter of St. Gregory to encourage the missionaries in France to proceed, was dated on the 10th of August, 596. In 598 the same pope wrote to Eulogius, patriarch of Alexandria, that Augustine had been ordained bishop, with his license, by the German prelates; so he calls the French, because they came from Germany. He adds: “In the last solemnity of our Lord’s nativity, more than ten thousand of the English nation were baptized by this our brother and fellow-bishop.”
St. Augustine, immediately after his return into Britain, sent Laurence and Peter to Rome to solicit a supply of more labourers, and they brought over several excellent disciples of Pope Gregory; among whom were Mellitus, the first bishop of London; Justus, the first bishop of Rochester; Paulinus, the first archbishop of York; and Rufinianus, the third abbot of Augustine’s. “With this colony of new missionaries, the holy pope sent all things in general for the divine worship and the service of the church, viz. sacred vessels, altar-cloths, ornaments for churches, and vestments for priests and clerks, relics of the holy apostles and martyrs, and many books,” as Bede writes. 4 St. Augustine wrote frequently to St. Gregory, whom he consulted in the least difficulties which occurred in his ministry; which shows the tenderness of his conscience; for in many things which he might have decided by his own learning and prudence, he desired to render his conscience more secure by the advice and decision of his chief pastor. The same pope wrote to the Abbot Mellitus, 5 directing the idols to be destroyed, and their temples to be changed into Christian churches, by purifying and sprinkling them with holy water, and erecting altars, and placing relics in them; thus employing the spoils of Egypt to the service of the living God. He permits the celebration of wakes on the anniversary feasts of the dedications of the churches, and on the solemnities of the martyrs, to be encouraged among the people, the more easily to withdraw them from their heathenish riotous festivals.
The good King Ethelbert laboured himself in promoting the conversion of his subjects during the twenty remaining years of his life; he enacted wholesome laws, abolished the idols, and shut up their temples throughout his dominions. He thought he had gained a kingdom when he saw one of his subjects embrace the faith, and looked upon himself as king only that he might make the King of kings be served by others. He built Christ Church, the cathedral in Canterbury, upon the same spot where had formerly stood a heathenish temple. He also founded the abbey of St. Peter and Paul without the walls of that city, since called St. Augustine’s, the church of St. Andrew in Rochester, &c. He brought over to the faith Sebert, the pious king of the East Saxons, and Redwald, king of the East Angles, though the latter, Samaritan-like, worshipped Christ with his idols. Ethelbert reigned fifty-six years, and departed to our Lord in 616. He was buried in the abbey-church of SS. Peter and Paul, which himself had founded. He had been baptized in the church of St. Pancras, which St. Augustine had dedicated, and which had been a pagan temple, on that very spot where he built soon after Christ Church, as is mentioned in an old manuscript preserved in the Library of Trinity Hall in Cambridge, quoted by Spelman 6 and Tyrrel. St. Ethelbert is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on the 24th of February.
St. Gregory, in the year 600, sent, with many noble presents, a letter of congratulation and of excellent advice to king Ethelbert. He in the same year sent to St. Augustine the archiepiscopal pall, with authority to ordain twelve bishops, who should be subject to his metropolitan see; ordering that when the northern English should have embraced the faith, he should ordain a bishop of York, who should likewise be a metropolitan with twelve suffragan bishops. But particular circumstances afterwards required some alterations in the execution of this order. The fame of many miracles wrought by St. Augustine in the conversion of the English having reached Rome, St. Gregory wrote to him, 7 exhorting him to beware of the temptation of pride or vain-glory, in the great miracles and heavenly gifts which God showed in the nation which he had chosen. “Wherefore,” says he, “amidst those things which you exteriorly perform, always interiorly judge yourself, and thoroughly understand both what you are yourself, and how great a grace is given in that nation for the conversion of which you have even received the gift of working miracles. And if you remember that you have ever at any time offended your Creator either by word or deed, always have that before your eyes, to the end that the remembrance of your guilt may crush the vanity rising in your heart. And whatever you shall receive or have received in relation to the working of miracles, esteem the same not as conferred on you, but on those for whose salvation it hath been given you.” He observes to him, that when the disciples returned with joy and said to our Lord, In thy name be the devil subject unto us, they presently received a rebuke: rejoice not in this, but rather that your names are written in heaven.
St. Augustine ordained St. Mellitus bishop of the East Saxons in London, and St. Justus bishop of Rochester; and seeing the faith now spread wide on every side, he took upon him, by virtue of his metropolitan and legatine authority, which the pope had conferred upon him over all the bishops of Britain, to make a general visitation of his province. He desired very much to see the ancient Britons, whom the English had driven into the mountains of Wales, reclaimed from certain abuses which had crept in among them, and to engage them to assist him in his labours in converting the English. But malice and an implacable hatred against that nation blinded their understandings and hardened their hearts. However, being on the confines of the Wiccians and West-Saxons, that is, on the edge of Worcestershire, not far from Wales, he invited the British bishops and doctors to a conference. They met him at a place which was called at the time when Bede wrote, Augustine’s Oak. 8 The zealous apostle employed both entreaties and exhortations, and required of them three things: First, That they should assist him in preaching the gospel to the pagan English: Secondly, That they should observe Easter at the due time: and, Thirdly, That they should agree with the universal Church in the manner of administering baptism. But they obstinately refused to comply with his desires. Whereupon St. Augustine proposed, by a divine impulse, that a sick or impotent person should be brought in, and that their tradition should be followed, as agreeable to God, by whose prayer he should be cured. The condition was accepted, though very unwillingly; and a blind man was brought, and presented first to the British priests, but found no benefit by their prayers or other endeavours. Then Augustine bowed his knees to God, praying that by restoring the sight to this blind man, he would make his spiritual light shine on the souls of many. Upon which the blind man immediately recovered his sight, and the Britons confessed that they believed that the doctrine which Augustine preached was the truth; but said, that without the general consent of their nation they could not quit their ancient rites and customs. Wherefore they desired that a general synod of their country should be held. Accordingly a second more numerous council was assembled, in which appeared several British bishops (their annals say seven) and many learned men, especially from the monastery of Bangor, which stood in Flintshire, not far from the river Dee; not in the city of Bangor in Carnarvonshire. A little before they came, they sent to consult a famous hermit among them, whether they should receive Augustine or reject his admonitions, and retain their ancient usages. He bade them, so to contrive it, that Augustine and his company should come first to the place of the synod, and said, that if he should arise when they approached they should look upon him as humble, and should hear and obey him; but if he should not rise to them that were more in number, then they should despise him. They took this ignorant and blind direction, and instead of weighing the justice and equity of the archbishop’s demands, his right, and the truth of his doctrine, committed this important decision to a trifling casual circumstance or punctilio. They had before confessed that he taught the truth, and he had convinced them both by reasons and a miracle, that he only required of them what charity and obedience to the church in points of discipline obliged them to; nevertheless, revenge and malice against the English made them still stand out and have recourse to the most idle pretence. 9 Strong endeavours to do wrong God usually punishes with success. It so happened that when they entered the place of the synod, Augustine did not rise from his seat; whether this was done by inadvertence, or because it might be the custom of the countries where he had been not to use those compliments in public places, or at least in synods, any more than in churches. But whatever was the occasion, nothing could be more unreasonable than the conclusion which the Britons drew from this circumstance. Had the inference been just, the archbishop did not lose his right, nor was his doctrine the less true. His humility and charity were otherwise conspicuous. He was come so far for their sake, and out of humility was accustomed to travel on foot. Nor did he in this conference mention his own dignity or authority: he seems even to have waived the point of his primacy; which from his charity we cannot doubt but he would have been glad to have procured leave to resign to their own archbishop of St. David’s, had the Britons been willing on such terms to have conformed to the discipline of the universal church, and lay aside their rancour against the English. However, upon this ridiculous pretence did that nation remain obstinate in their malice. 10 Which St. Augustine seeing, he foretold them, that “if they would not preach to the English the way of life, they would fall by their hands under the judgment of death.” This prediction was not fulfilled till after the death of St. Augustine, as Bede expressly testifies, 11 when Ethilfrid, king of the northern English, who were yet Pagans, gave the Britons a terrible overthrow near Caer-legion or Chester, and seeing the monks of Bangor praying at a distance, he cried out after the victory: “If they pray against us they fight against us by their hostile imprecations.” And rushing upon them with his army, he slew twelve hundred of them, or, according to Florence of Worcester, two thousand two hundred. For so numerous was this monastery that being divided into seven companies, under so many superiors, each division consisted of at least three hundred monks, and whilst some were at work others were at prayer. Their obstinate refusal of the essential obligation of charity towards the English was a grievous crime, and drew upon them this chastisement; but we hope the sin extended no further than to some of the superiors. This massacre was predicted by St. Augustine as a divine punishment; but those who accuse him as an instigator of it are strangers to the spirit and bowels of most tender charity, which the saint bore towards all the world, who knew no other arms against impenitent sinners and persecutors than those of compassion, and tears and prayers for their conversion. And long before the accomplishment of this threat and prophecy in 607, St. Augustine was translated to glory, 12 as appears from several circumstances related by Bede himself, though the year of his death is not expressed by that historian, nor in his epitaph, which seems composed before the custom of counting dates by the æra of Christ was introduced in this island, though it began to be used at Rome by Dionysius Exiguus, an abbot, in 550.
St. Augustin, whilst yet living, ordained Laurence his successor in the see of Canterbury, not to leave at his death an infant church destitute of a pastor. 13 He died on the 26th of May; and as William Thorn says, from a very ancient book of his life, in the same year with St. Gregory, viz. 604; which Mr. Wharton proves from several other authorities. 14 Goscelin, a monk of Canterbury in 1096, besides two lives of St. Augustine, compiled a book of his miracles wrought since his death, and a history of the translation of his relics in 1091, which was accompanied with several miracles, to which this author was an eye-witness. This work is given at length by Papebroke on this day. The second council of Cloveshoe, that is, Cliffe in Kent, in 747, under archbishop Cuthbert, Ethelbald king of Mercia being present, commanded 15 his festival to be kept a holiday by all the clergy and religious, 16 and the name of St. Augustin to be recited in the Litany immediately after that of St. Gregory.
The body of St. Augustine was deposited abroad till the church of SS. Peter and Paul near the walls of Canterbury, which king Ethelbert built for the burying-place of the kings and archbishops, was finished; when it was laid in the porch, with this epitaph, which is preserved by Camden in his Remains, 17 and by Weever in his Funeral Monuments. 18 “Here rests lord Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, who being sent hither by the blessed Gregory bishop of Rome, and by God upheld by the working of miracles, 19 brought king Ethelbert and his nation from idolatry to the faith of Christ, and having completed the days of his office in peace, died on the seventh day before the calends of June, in the reign of the same king.” In the same porch were interred also the six succeeding archbishops, Laurence, Mellitus, Justus, Honorius, Deusdedit, and Theodorus; these in their epitaph are called the seven patriarchs of England. The porch being by that time full, and the custom beginning to allow persons of eminent dignity and sanctity to be buried within churches, St. Brithwald the eighth archbishop, was interred in the church of this abbey in 731; and near him his successor St. Tatwin. Weever says, besides the first archbishops and the kings of Kent, thousands of others were here interred; but by the demolition of this monastery, “not one bone at this time remains near another, nor one stone almost on another, the tract of this most goodly foundation no where appearing.” One side of the walls of king Ethelbert’s tower, the gates, houses, and some ruins of the out-buildings are still standing; but the site of the abbey cannot be traced, and the ground is a cherry orchard. This was the great abbey which some time after changed the name of SS. Peter and Paul for that of St. Augustine’s. But the remains of our saint were afterwards removed hence into the north porch of the cathedral of Christ Church within the city; and on the 6th of September, 1091, leaving in that place some part of the ashes and lesser bones, abbot Wido translated the remainder into the church; where they lay for some time in a strong urn in the wall under the east window. In 1221 the head was put into a rich shrine ornamented with gold and precious stones; the rest of the bones lay in a marble tomb enriched with fine carvings and engravings till the dissolution. 20
Cuthbert, the eleventh archbishop, was the first person buried in Christ Church in 759, since which time it had been the usual burying-place of the archbishops, till the change of religion; for none of the Protestant archbishops have hitherto been there interred. In the cathedral of Christ Church were the shrines of St. Thomas, St. Wilfride, (whose relics were translated from Rippon by Odo,) St. Dunstan, St. Elphege, St. Anselm, St. Odo, St. Blaise bishop, St. Owen archbishop of Rouen, St. Salvius bishop, St. Woolgam, St. Swithun, &c. Battely 21 and Dr. Brown Willis 22 justify the monks of Christ Church from the crimes laid to their charge at the dissolution; but say the riches of their church were their crime. Also the ingenious Mr. Wharton, under the name of Antony Harmer, in his Specimen of Errors in B. Burnet’s History of the Reformation, p. 48. takes notice, that whereas the monks of Christ Church in Canterbury and those of Battel-abbey were principally charged with enormous irregularities at the dissolution of abbeys, their innocence in both places, especially the former, is notorious from several evident circumstances. Christ Church at Canterbury was rated at the dissolution at two thousand three hundred and eighty-seven pounds per annum; St. Augustine’s in the same place at one thousand four hundred and thirteen pounds, according to Dugdale.
Note 1. The Saxons are placed by Ptolemy, when they became first known to the Romans, at the back of the Cimbrians. Grotius, in his history of the Goths, proves them to have been originally Getæ or Goths, who passed from Sweden into Germany: he also shows that the Scythian Getæ founded the Gothic nation; and it is evident from the English Saxon, the Mæsogothic, and other Grammars, printed by Dr. Hicks, that the English Saxon language is derived from the Gothic, or that of the Scythian Getæ, which was Celtic in its ground. That the Celtic language was brought from Scythia in Asia, in the migrations of the first colonies, and was the ground and original of the Teutonic and all the other languages anciently used in Gaul, Scandinavia, Britain, and almost all Europe, is very well proved by Pelloutier, (Hist, des Celtes, l. 1, c. 15, p. 155.) Mallet only excepts the Sarmatian, the Grecian (derived in part from the Egyptian,) and the Roman, (partly derived from the Grecian.) This language remains most entire in those countries which were never subject to the Romans, chiefly in Ireland and the north of Sweden. The Teutonic or Gothic of the fourth and fifth centuries has an affinity with the Welsh tongue, and that of Lower Brittany and Biscay, and seems to have some with the Irish. The ancient Etruscan is supposed to have been a dialect of the Celtic. The modern French and Spanish, though dialects of the Latin, still retain many Celtic words. The Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are evidently dialects of the Celtic, and are allied to the German, especially that used in Lower Germany. The Asiatic Scythian colony which Odin or Woden settled in the southern provinces of Scandinavia and the northern of Germany, introduced a softer dialect of the Celtic, with some new words and new terminations. This was the English Saxon tongue. See Mallet, Introd. à l’Histoire de Dannemarc, l. 5, p. 236. It may be added, that ancient Saxons brought into England the religion and idols of the Goths, the same with the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians, who all descended from the Goths, likewise worshipped; as Thor, the god of thunder, like the Roman Jupiter, from whom Thursday takes its name: Woden, the chief god and the god of war, from whom Wednesday is derived: Friga or Frea, his wife, the goddess of love, like Venus, from whom comes the name of Friday. Tuesday seems called, not from the peculiar god of the Germans, Tuisco, as Verstigan imagines, but either from Tys, a son of Woden, from whom the Islanders call it Tysdag, or rather from Dysa or Thisa, the wife of Thor, the goddess of justice, to whom several temples were built among the Swedes and Danes. See on the mythology and divinities of the Celtes, Schedius de Diis Germanis; Pelloutier, Hist. des Celtes, t. 2, l. 3, Mallet, Introd. à l’Hist. de Dannem. l. 2, p. 48, and his comments on the Edda or Islandic mythology, compiled by Snorro Sturleson; Sammes, Antiq. of Brit. &c. The Swedes, Danes, Gauls, and all the Celtes sacrificed men to Thor before any great enterprise. The Saxons, crossing the Weser, acquired a new settlement near the coast towards Friseland, and by their piracies grew terrible to the Romans in the fourth and fifth centuries, as appears from Ammianus Marcellinus, the poet Claudian, and Orosius. The Angles seem to have been a tribe of the Cimbrians; and the Jutes (so called from their ancestors the Getæ) inhabited Jutland. All the Danish, Swedish, and Saxon writers say that Woden was a Goth, who, returning with an army of adventurers from the Asiatic Scythia or Georgia, beyond the Palus Mœotis, settled with his people in Jutland, and was a great conqueror in those parts, about seventy years before Christ. From this Woden all the first English Saxon kings who founded the Heptarchy in England, are said to have descended. Their pedigrees are published by Dr. Gale, at the end of his last volume. Mallet suspects that as Odin or Woden, the Asiatic Scythian conqueror of the North, took the name of the ancient god of the country, which was favourable to his ambitious views, so other princes seem to have made this a name of dignity. But we must allow that all the first English Saxon kings were descended from the same conqueror who bore that name. Hengist, the first king of Kent, was only the fifth from Woden. The Britons being abandoned by the Romans, who had drained the country of its soldiery and strength, and being cowardly, vicious, full of mutual contentions, and extremely addicted to drunkenness and debauchery, were unable to withstand the Picts and Scots, and implored the succour of the Saxons, who, under Hengist and Horsa, two brothers, defeated the Picts in Lincolnshire, and received for their recompense of King Vortigern a settlement in Kent. But seeing the cowardice and weakness of the Britons, they invited over their countrymen from Germany, and seized the country of the Britons, whom they drove into the mountains of Wales, though after the death of the vicious British kings, Vortigern and Vortimer, Aurelius Ambrosius, (who from the command of the army was advanced to the throne,) and afterwards King Arthur, during the reign of twenty-seven years, made a glorious stand. Hengist arrived in Britain in 449, but was only chosen king of Kent eight years after, in 457; Ethelbert, his fourth descendant, came to the crown in 561. From the Jutes came the inhabitants of Kent, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight; from the Saxons, the East-Saxons, South-Saxons, and West-Saxons; and from the Angles, the East-Angles, Mercians, and Northumbrians. The kingdom of the South-Saxons contained Sussex, Surry, and the Isle of Wight: that of the East-Saxons, Essex, Middlesex, and part of Hertfordshire: that of the West-Saxons or Gevissians, Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Somersetshire, and Devonshire: that of Kent, the county of that name: that of the East-Angles, Norfolk, Suffolk, the Isle of Ely, and part of Hertfordshire: that of the Mercians, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire: that of the Northumbrians, subdivided into the provinces of Deira to the south, and Bernicia to the north, comprised Yorkshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, and part of Scotland as far as the Frith. See Sammes, Antiq. Brit. Tyrrell; Joannis Georgii Eccardi de Origine Germanorum eorumque Coloniis et Migrationibus, &c. Studio Christ. Lud. Scheidii, Goettingæ, 1750, in 4to. [back]
Note 2. The Franks and English Saxons were equally German nations; the former came one hundred and thirty years earlier from beyond the Rhine; the latter from the countries about the mouths of the Rhine and the Elbe, and about Holstein, or the continent of Denmark, still called Jutland. Hence the French and English both had the same language, as Bishop Godwin observes from this circumstance. This is confirmed by other clear proofs by the learned and judicious William Howel, in his Institution of General History, t. 4, p. 435. [back]
Note 3. See the Benedictins in their life of St. Gregory; also Mrs. Eliz. Elstob. Wharton thinks St. Augustine was ordained in France before he went over into England, because St. Gregory, in his letter to Queen Brunechilde, in October, 597, styles him his brother and fellow-bishop. But the express testimony of Bede is not to be so easily set aside; and had St. Augustine been first sent over bishop, he would have rather been ordained before he left Rome. He might have baptized the king and made his journey to Arles within the space of one year. Which account best agrees with the letters of St. Gregory, as the Benedictins remark. [back]
Note 4. Bede, Hist. b. 1, c. 29. [back]
Note 5. Ib. c. 30. [back]
Note 6. Conc. Brit. t. 1. [back]
Note 7. Bede, b. 1, c. 31. [back]
Note 8. This conference was held after St. Austin was consecrated archbishop; consequently after the year 601. Spelman thinks the place to have been Ausric, that town being situated on the edge of Worcestershire, towards Herefordshire; for Augustine’s-ric in the English Saxon language signifies Austin’s patrimony or country. [back]
Note 9. The Britons might have suspended their submission to Augustine as their new metropolitan, without questioning the pope’s authority. St. Gregory knew he had power to alter the metropolitical jurisdiction of particular churches when circumstances made such an alteration necessary, or exceedingly expedient. We have of this several instances in the history of the church in those very ages. Thus Pope Zozimus declared the Archbishop of Arles to be primate of Gaul by ancient right, out of respect to St. Trophimus. (See de Marca de Primat. p. 169.) Yet Boniface I. and Celestine I. both exempted the whole province of Narbonne from any obedience or subjection to the church of Arles; and Leo I. declared the Archbishop of Vienna primate; till after the death of St. Hilary he restored the primacy of part of those provinces to Arles; and St. Gregory the Great, Vigilius, Pelagius, Symmachus, &c., maintained the primacy of Arles. Not that the pope is at discretion to infringe the privileges of churches, which he is bound to maintain; neither is the jurisdiction of churches to be altered but upon cogent reasons of public necessity and utility. Such St. Gregory thought the reformation of the Britons to be, who, by the testimony of Gildas, were sunk into the lowest degree of ignorance and barbarism, so as to retain little more than the name of Christians. Yet that the Britons might deny the necessity of such change, and be tenacious of their ancient hierarchy is no way surprising, and what others might have done for some time. But their true reason appears to have been their implacable hatred against the English, which betrayed them into glaring injustice and impiety.
The Welsh manuscript printed by Spelman makes them disclaim any foreign supremacy; but is an evident piece of forgery, not so old as the Reformation, as is demonstrated by Mr. Turberville (Manual of Controversies, p. 406,) and Dr. Hawarden, (Preface to Church of Christ showed, t. 2, p. 20.) Nor was there at that time any archbishop of Caer-leon upon Usk; the metropolitan see having been translated from that city to Landaff by St. Dubritius; and soon after by St. David to Menew, almost fourscore years before the arrival of St. Augustine. [back]
Note 10. That the British Christians agreed in faith with the universal church is clear, First, From St. Augustine, who demanded of them only three things, namely, charity towards the English, and conformity in two points of discipline. Any difference in faith would have been mentioned in the first place: Secondly, The Britons confessed that the faith of Augustine was the truth, as Bede testifies: Thirdly, They had lived in a perpetual intercourse and communion with the churches of Gaul, Rome, &c. Pope Celestine sent St. Palladius to preach to the Scots, and St. Patrick to the Irish. St. Ninion, a Briton, studied at Rome before he preached in his own country, where he died in 432: Fourthly, The primitive Christians were so watchful and jealous in preserving the purity of the faith derived from Christ and his apostles, that the least adulteration or change introduced by any bishop or private person was immediately observed and corrected, or punished by excommunication, as all the writings of the fathers, the councils, and all the ancient monuments of the church evince: Fifthly, Gildas and Bede testify that the faith remained untainted, and without the least division in Britain, till the Arian heresy, under Constantius shot its baneful sprouts in this island; which were, however, extirpated. Pelagianism had no sooner infected this church, but the Gaulish bishops deputed hither SS. Germanus and Lupus, who checked the growing evil, and preserved this flock. Pope Celestine had vested St. Germanus with the legatine authority for this purpose, as St. Prosper testifies in his chronicle. Lastly, Gildas, who was a learned divine, and lived many years in Britain and abroad, always in communion with the universal church, and has left us the most severe invectives against the vices of the Britons, bears testimony to the purity of their faith, which had suffered no alteration, except from these attempts of Arianism and Pelagianism. He therefore accuses them only for their crimes of tyranny, murders, extortions, adulteries, impurities, sacrilegious marriages under religious vows. (L. de Excidio Britan. Bibl. Patr. t. 5, part 3, p. 681, ed. Colon.) As to their clergy, he censures them as unchaste, drunkards, slothful, haters of reading, seldom offering sacrifice, seldom standing at the altar with a pure heart. (Corrupt, in Clerum, ib. p. 682.) [back]
Note 11. Hist. l. 2, c. 2. [back]
Note 12. See this demonstrated by Wharton, Anglia Sacra; Tyrrell, t. 1, &c. [back]
Note 13. Neither gratitude nor the great veneration which our ancestors have ever paid to the memory of St. Augustine, have been able to protect his name in our times from the envenomed darts of slander; and, among others, Rapin has disgraced several pages of his history with the most bitter invectives against our apostle. Had any actions of this saint appeared equivocal, the law of equity and charity would have obliged us to construe them in a favourable sense. We judge of actions and intentions in ambiguous cases by the known character and steady conduct of the person. But by these envenomed writers, the very virtues of a saint have been transformed into vices. It is said, that he betrayed an excessive pusillanimity in Gaul. But he only suffered himself to be persuaded by those French bishops to whom he had been referred by St. Gregory, for immediate intelligence about the English nation, that the undertaking was not prudent; and upon this information he consulted St. Gregory, and governed himself by his advice, because he sought only the will of God. If any pusillanimity could be here laid to his charge, his zeal certainly made a speedy amends. It is secondly urged, that the English were previously disposed to receive the faith by Queen Bertha. But the French bishops were unacquainted with such an inclination in that people; and apprehended the mission to be most dangerous, and success impossible. The English were perfidious, and the fiercest and most savage of all the barbarians of that age, as our own historians call them, and as their actions show; yet these men Augustine civilized by his preaching, and rendered mild, humble, and patient, despisers of the goods of the world, and in fervour and sanctity surpassing all the nations of the earth.
These authors urge that he converted only Kent; but many other English provinces owed their faith to his labours, or to others who preached under his direction, though the conversion of Kent alone was an abundant field for his zeal. Rapin, indeed, omits the most severe censure of Archbishop Parker, that St. Augustine did not oblige the English Saxons to restore the whole country to the Britons. By which principle our Norman gentry would be obliged to resign their lands to God knows who, the Scots theirs to the old Caledonians; all nations in the world would be unhinged, and the unanimous conduct of the apostles of the Franks, Vandals, Goths, &c., and that of the bishops and saints of all ages equally condemned. For public peace and tranquillity being the chief end of civil government, by the law of nations, prescription, when of so long standing, hath been always allowed to give a right. And this the public peace and tranquillity of the whole world make necessary: which general peace and weal of the community, is the great end of society and government to which inferior motives and rules are to give place. According to the principle of Archbishop Parker, the Romans themselves ought to have been also ousted, and the poor descendants of the old Aborigines every where sought out, and made the lords of the country. In cases of settlements of whole nations, restitution becomes in a little time impossible, and the law of nations then gives a right for the sake of public peace and necessity.
If we judge of the sanctity of St. Augustine and his fellow-labourers by the wonderful fruit which their zealous labours produced, we must entertain the highest idea of their virtue. The English before their arrival were a barbarous nation, ambitious, avaricious, fierce, perfidious, and utter strangers to the very names of the sciences and liberal arts. When they came first into Britain they seem not so much as to have known the use of letters, but to have borrowed their first alphabet from the Irish. The Northumbrians, according to Malmesbury, sold their own children for slaves, surpassing in barbarism and fierceness the negroes at this day. But receiving readily the holy faith, they became at once new men, meek, patient, humble, chaste, mortified: in a word, a church of saints. The converts being mightily taken with the powerful preaching and exemplary lives of their teachers, set themselves with so great ardour both to learn and practise the most perfect maxims of salvation, as entirely to despise the world. The princes and nobles were very zealous in building and endowing churches and religious houses. To form a judgment of their liberality in this respect, it is sufficient to mention one or two instances. Ina, the religious and victorious king of the West-Saxons, after having reigned thirty-two years, and acquired great glory by many warlike triumphs, and settled the public peace by wholesome laws, (extant in Spelman, conc. t. 1,) being arrived at the highest pitch of human felicity, abdicated his crown in 728, and went to Rome with his queen, not to show himself to the world, but to hide himself from it, being there shorn a monk, and growing old in the austerities and mean habit of that profession, whilst his queen put on a religious veil in the same city. This king gave two thousand six hundred and forty pounds weight of silver to make a chapel at Glastenbury; two hundred and sixty-four pounds of gold for the altar; the chalice and paten had ten pounds of gold; the censer eight pounds and twenty mancs of gold; the candlesticks twelve pounds of silver; the covers of the book of the gospels twenty pounds and forty mancs or marks of gold; the vessels of the altar seventeen pounds of gold; the basins eight pounds of gold; the vessel for the holy water twenty pounds of silver; the images of our Lord, St. Mary, and the twelve apostles, one hundred and seventy-five pounds of silver, and thirty-eight pounds of gold; the altar and priestly vestments were all interwoven with gold and precious stones. (Stevens, vol. 1, p. 422, from 15 scriptor. vol. 1, p. 311; Reyner, vol. 1, p. 44; Henschenius ad 6 Febr. in vitâ Inæ.) King Athelstan gave thirty-six towns to the church of Exeter. (Monast. Angl. vol. 1, p. 225.) The sanctity of many of these kings gives a lustre to the ages in which they lived. The royal dignity being attended with honour, power, and riches, though often beset with secret thorns, has attractives so strong in the minds of worldlings, that before Christianity made such examples frequent, it was unheard of that a king, out of mere greatness of soul, should lay down a crown, to obtain which, many spared not parents or children. Dioclesian indeed had done it, influenced by the base motive of cowardice. But a lively faith taught the English kings to despise crowns, and to exchange them for a poor monk’s cowl. In Speed’s history of Great Britain, (pp. 243, 244,) mention is made of eight kings and two queens who renounced the world, and put on the religious habit. The learned and exact author of the preface to the Monasticon testifies, (p. 9,) that within two hundred years, thirty English Saxon kings and queens, in the midst of peace and prosperity, resigned their crowns to embrace the monastic state.
How saintly the deportment of the clergy and monks at that time was; with what zeal they applied themselves to the functions of the ministry, and the care of souls; how perfect was their spirit of poverty and disinterestedness; how mortified and recollected were their lives, we may gather from Bede, (l. 3, c. 20; l. 4, c. 27,) &c. Even so late as the year 824, Vetin, the monk of Richenou, in the account of his visions, is said to have been taught by an angel that the monastic life flourished in its perfection, with true poverty of spirit, beyond the seas, which in that age could not be understood but of England, (Apud Canis. Lect. Ant. Mabill. sæc. Ben. 4, et Fleury, l. 46, p. 220, t. 10,) which, at least, shows the reputation of the English monks abroad. This Order furnished England with its most illustrious lights of piety and learning, and produced apostolic men, to whose zeal the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and almost all the North, were principally indebted for their conversion to the faith.
Though before their conversion utterly illiterate, the English were no sooner enlightened by the faith but they applied themselves with incredible ardour to cultivate their minds by studies, especially sacred learning. Bede is an early instance with what success. Many even among the nobility travelled to Rome and other foreign parts to improve themselves in the sacred sciences. And what is of much greater importance, their fervour in practising all the maxims of Christian perfection kept pace with, or was superior to their ardour in learning them; curiosity and vanity having no share in these studies. Their holy ambition was, not to appear to men, but to be in their hearts and deportment perfect Christians. To promote sacred literature the great monasteries had their public schools before universities were established, and in them the youth of the nobility and clergy were most frequently trained up. The art of printing not being then known, each monastery had its Scriptorium for those who were employed in transcribing books; which was the usual Occupation of the greater part of the monks for the hours allotted to manual labour; each monastery had also its library. There were one thousand seven hundred MSS. in the library at Peterborough. (See Gunton’s Peterborough.) The library of the Grey Friars in London, built by Sir Richard Whittington, was one hundred and twenty-nine feet long and thirty-one feet broad, and well filled with books. (Leland, Collect. vol. 1, p. 109; Stow’s Survey of London.) Ingulf tells us, that when the library of Croyland was burnt in 1091, they lost seven hundred books. The great library at Wells had twenty-five windows on each side of it, as Leland informs us. (Leland, Itin. vol. 3, p. 86.) At St. Augustine’s at Canterbury prayers were always said for the benefactors to the library both alive and dead. (Will. Thorn. inter 10 script. and Tanner. Not. Monast. Præf. p. 40.) In the other monasteries the like libraries were preserved; and in those of the greater monasteries were deposited the acts of parliament after the coming of the Normans; and under the English Saxons the principal decrees of the Whittena Gemote, or Mycel Gemote, i. e. great council or general assembly of the states; likewise the acts of Gemote, or assemblies of lesser districts, as of hundreds. In several monasteries registers of the kings and public transactions were compiled and preserved, some of which have escaped the flames, as the Saxon Annals or Chronicles published by Edmund Gibson, at Oxford, in 1692. From such monastic chronicles, Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury declare that they compiled their histories. The destruction of these monuments are an irreparable loss in our history. Of which Tyrrell writes thus (Tyrrell’s Hist. of Engl. p. 152): “From the conversion of the Saxons most of the laws made in the Wittena Gemote, or great councils, were carefully preserved, and would have been conveyed to us more entire, had it not been for the loss of so many curious monuments of antiquity, at the suppression of monasteries, in the reign of King Henry VIII.” Fanaticism, and more than Gothic rage did not even spare the libraries of the two universities, especially the two most noble public libraries at Oxford, the one founded by Richard of Burg or Richard Aungerville, lord treasurer of England and bishop of Durham in the reign of Edward III. who spared no cost or pains to render this collection complete; the other furnished with books by Thomas Cobham, bishop of Worcester, in 1367, and exceedingly augmented by King Henry IV., his sons, and by the addition of the library of the most noble Prince Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, filled with curious manuscripts, got, at any rates, from foreign parts. Of the havoc there made, Chamberlain (Present State of England, part 3, p. 450,) complains in the following words: “These men, under pretence of rooting out Popery, superstition, and idolatry, utterly destroyed these two noble libraries, and embezzled, sold, burnt, or tore in pieces all those valuable books which those great patrons of learning had been so diligent in procuring in every country of Europe. Nay, their fury was so successful as to the Aungervillian library, which was the oldest, largest, and choicest, that we have not so much as a catalogue of the books left. Nor did they rest here. They visited likewise the college-libraries, and one may guess at the work they made with them, by a letter still kept in the archives, where one of them boasts, that New-College quadrangle was all covered with the leaves of their torn books, &c. The university thought fit to complain to the government of this barbarity and covetousness of the visitors, but could not get any more by it than one single book, given to the library by John Whethamsted, the learned abbot of St. Alban’s, wherein is contained part of Valerius Maximus, with the commentaries of Dionysius de Burgo; and to this day there is no book in the Bodleian library besides this and two more which are certainly known to have belonged to either of the former libraries. Nay, and the university itself, despairing ever to enjoy any other public library, thought it advisable to dispose of the very desks and shelves the books stood on, in the year 1555.” Some few books indeed were accidentally redeemed out of the hands of the grocers; and Archbishop Parker afterwards rescued gleanings of many valuable manuscripts, which treasure he bequeathed partly to the university library, but principally to Bennet-College in Cambridge. At Oxford, Sir Thomas Bodley, by a noble munificence, never to be sufficiently extolled, founded a new public library, which was opened in 1602; and his example has been imitated by others. But their diligence was not able to retrieve many valuable manuscripts which were no more.
To return to St. Augustine, the greater the fervour of the English was for the first ages after they were called to the faith, the more criminal was the fall of those who afterwards degenerated from that sanctity, notwithstanding the powerful influence of such examples. This their ingratitude drew upon them heavy chastisements by the inroads of the Danes, and other calamities that succeeded. [back]
Note 14. Anglia Sacra, t. 1, p. 89. [back]
Note 15. Wilkins, Concil. Britan. t. 1, p. 97. [back]
Note 16. What faith St. Augustine brought into our island is plain from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, who says, that those monks imitated the lives of the apostles in frequent prayers, fastings, and watchings, serving God and preaching the word of life with all diligence. By going barefoot the soles of St. Augustine’s feet were become callous. They taught religious vows; the excellency of perpetual chastity; confession of sins to a priest, with absolution and satisfaction; a precept of fasting on Fridays, and in Lent; veneration of relics, which devotion God confirmed with divers miracles; invocation of saints, and many miracles wrought through their intercession; purgatory, praying for the dead, which King Oswald practised with his last breath; holy water, and holy oil, both recommended by miracles; altars of stone, chalices, altar-cloths, the sacrifice of the mass, a number of lights burning day and night at saints’ shrines, and other holy places; pictures of our Saviour; of our Lady; crosses of gold and silver; the holy eucharist reserved, and called the true body of Christ; exorcisms, blessing with the sign of the cross; the supremacy of the pope, to whom all the greater causes were referred, by whose authority bishops went to preach to heathens, and whom Bede calls Bishop of the whole World. The same venerable historian styles St. Peter the First Pastor of the Church; calls him by the ordinary name of Prince of the Apostles, &c. See these points shown at large in the book entitled England’s Old Religion, from Bede’s own words; also in England’s Conversion and Reformation compared. The same might be easily demonstrated from St. Gregory’s works. After this we need not inquire any further why Rapin and many other Protestants discover so much rancour against this holy apostle of our country. [back]
Note 17. Ib. p. 350. [back]
Note 18. Ib. p. 244. [back]
Note 19. A Deo operatione miraculorum suffultus. [back]
Note 20. The reason why the burying-place was first built without the city was an ancient inviolable custom both of the East and West, never to suffer any one to be interred in towns; which the heathens looked upon as a sacrilege. Among the Romans it was a law of the twelve tables: “Intra pomœria ne sepelito neve comburito.” It were to be wished that this law had never been transgressed; for by repeated experiments it is demonstrated, that burials multiplied within towns, especially in churches, extremely infect the air, and render the place unwholesome, and sometimes poisonous. On which may be read the late curious dissertations of several very eminent French surgeons. To this day the consecration of churches shows they are not intended for burying places; whereas both the name cemetery and the form used in blessing a church-yard, direct this to be the place designed for that purpose. Anciently great personages were buried in the porches, as Constantine the Great was in that of the apostles’ church at Constantinople, &c. Whence St. Chrysostom writes, (Hom. 26, in 2 Cor.) that emperors esteemed it an honour to be buried near the porches of the apostles. None but the bodies of martyrs and saints were allowed to be placed in churches, till about the ninth century persons of eminent sanctity were allowed that privilege; and the law being once broken into, and a gap made, the liberty soon became general, though several canons were framed to check the abuse. See l. 1, capitul. cap. 158, and l. 2, c. 48. Also can. 15, causa 13, qu. 2. The council of Rouen in 1581, that of Rheims in 1583, &c. Custom hath now derogated from the law so far, as to authorize the practice; though it were to be wished, that for great cities a decent burying place were built out of the walls, as that for the great hospital out of Milan, with a chapel in the middle. For the monuments of illustrious persons, anciently cloisters were built near great churches, as those near the cathedral of Vienne in Dauphiné, &c. The most finished model is the Campo Santo at Pisa. [back]
Note 21. Antiquities of Canterbury. [back]
Note 22. T. 1, p. 39. [back]
Butler’s Lives of the Saints