Skip to comments.ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY CONFESSOR, APOSTLE OF THE ENGLISH 605 [Feast: May 27/28]
Posted on 05/26/2008 7:40:01 PM PDT by Salvation
|SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY CONFESSOR, APOSTLE OF THE ENGLISHC. 605|
|Feast: May 28
|When Pope Gregory began to plan for the evangelization of England, the land was still largely pagan, although in the southwest there were remnants of earlier missionary efforts. To lead this important mission, Gregory chose Augustine, prior of St. Andrew's monastery in Rome, of which Gregory had been the founder. Nothing is known of Augustine's life until the year 596, when, with a party of Benedictine monks, he set out northwards from Rome. He carried letters of commendation to various Gallic bishops. On reaching Provence, the monks accompanying Augustine grew fearful of the dangers that lay ahead. Alarming stories were told of the ferocity of the pagans and the hazards of the Channel crossing. They persuaded Augustine to return to Rome to ask the Pope's permission to abandon the whole enterprise. Meanwhile the Pope had received word that the common people of England and also some of their chieftains and kings were ready to welcome Christian missionaries. After Pope Gregory had told Augustine this news and had discussed the situation with him further, Augustine rejoined his companions and inspired them with his own courage. Taking with them several Franks to act as interpreters, the party crossed safely over to the Isle of Thanet, in the domain of Ethelbert, King of Kent, whom they formally notified of their arrival and of their purpose in coming.
Ethelbert was still a pagan, but his wife Bertha, daughter of King Charibert of the Franks, had been converted to Christianity. Sitting under a spreading oak, Ethelbert received the missionaries. After listening carefully to their words, he gave them permission to preach to his subjects. He also made over to them a house in Canterbury, with the use of the little stone church of St. Martin, which had stood there since the period of Roman occupation. This had formerly been the oratory of Queen Bertha and her confessor Liud hard. Ethelbert was converted and baptized at Pentecost, 597. After this promising start, Augustine went back to Provence to be consecrated bishop by Vergilius, metropolitan of Arles and papal legate for Gaul. On his return some ten thousand of Ethelbert's subjects were baptized in the Swale River.
Augustine, greatly heartened by the success of his mission, now sent two of his monks to Rome to report to the Pope, and to ask for more helpers. Also he wished to have the Pope's counsel on various problems. When the monks came back to England with a fresh band of missionaries, they brought the pallium for Augustine. Among the new group were Mellitus, Justus, and Paulinus, who was afterwards archbishop of York. With these "ministers of the Word," wrote the Venerable Bede, "the holy Pope sent all things needed in general for divine worship and the service of the Church, viz. sacred vessels, altar cloths, ornaments for churches, and vestments for priests and clerks, and also many books." The latter item was especially important, for the books helped to inspire the great love of learning which characterized the English Church.
Gregory sent to Augustine a plan for developing an ecclesiastical hierarchy and establishing a working organization for the whole country-a plan which was not fully carried out in Augustine's lifetime. There was to be a northern and a southern province, with twelve suffragan bishops in each. In a letter to Mellitus, which is presented earlier, following the life of <St. Gregory>, he gave instruction on other points, showing his administrative ability as well as considerable psychological insight. Pagan temples were, as far as possible, to be Christianized and retained. Consecration rites and feasts of martyrs were to replace the heathen festivals, for, Gregory wisely writes, "he who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps."
In 603 Augustine rebuilt and reconsecrated the Canterbury church and the house given him by King Ethelbert. These structures formed the nucleus for his metropolitan cathedral. They were destroyed by fire in 1067, and the present cathedral, begun by the great Lanfranc in 1070, stands on their site. A converted temple outside the walls of Canterbury was made into another religious house, which Augustine dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. After his death this abbey became known as St. Augustine's.
With the King's support, the Christianization of Kent proceeded rapidly, but Gregory's charge had stated, "All the bishops of Britain we commend to your Fraternity." The survivors of the ancient British or Celtic Church and their bishops had been driven westward and southward into Wales and Cornwall by the Saxon conquerors of the fifth century. Here they had persisted as Christian communities, cut off from the outside world. Although they were sound in fundamental doctrine, some of their usages were at variance with those of Rome. Now, in virtue of his archiepiscopal jurisdiction, Augustine invited the Celtic bishops to meet with him at a spot outside the confines of Wessex, which has since come to be known as Augustine's Oak. In long conferences with the representatives of the Celtic Church Augustine urged them to comply with the customs of the rest of Western Christendom, in particular in the method of determining the date of Easter, and to aid him in converting the pagans. Loyalty to their own local traditions, however, and bitterness against their Saxon conquerors, made them unwilling to agree, even though Augustine performed a miracle of healing in their presence to prove the supernatural source of his authority. They consented to attend a second conference, held in Flintshire, but it too proved a failure. Augustine did not rise to greet his Celtic brothers when they arrived and they felt that he lacked Christian humility. They refused either to listen to him or acknowledge him as their archbishop. It was not until 664, at the Synod of Whitby, that their differences were resolved and ecclesiastical uniformity was established.
Augustine's last years were spent in spreading and consolidating the faith in Ethelbert's realm, which comprised large sections of eastern England south of Northumbria. Sees were established in London and Rochester, with Mellitus appointed bishop over one and Justus over the other. Seven years after his arrival Augustine died, leaving the continuation of his work to others.
Correspondence with Pope Gregory I
<On his return to Britain he (Augustine) sent Laurentius the> priest and Peter the monk to Rome to inform Pope Gregory that the English nation had accepted the faith of Christ and that he himself was made their bishop. At the same time he requested his solutions to some problems that had occurred to him. He soon received satisfactory answers to his questions, which we have thought suitable to insert in this history.
<First question of Augustine, Bishop of the Church of Canterbury>: As regards bishops, how are they to conduct themselves towards their clergy? In how many portions should the gifts of the faithful to the altar be divided? How is the bishop to act in the church?
<Answer of Gregory, Pope of the City of Rome>: Holy Writ, with which doubtless you are familiar, has instruction for you, in particular, St. Paul's Epistle to Timothy, wherein he endeavors to explain to him how he should behave himself in the house of God. The Apostolic See is accustomed to prescribe rules to bishops newly ordained, that all revenues that accrue should be divided into four portions: one for the bishop and his household for purposes of hospitality and entertainment, another for the clergy, a third for the poor, and a fourth for the upkeep of churches. But since you, my brother, were brought up under monastic rules and should not live apart from your clergy in the English church, which by God's help has lately been brought into the faith, you will follow that course of life which our forefathers led in the time of the primitive church, when no one called anything he possessed his own but all things were common among them....
<Augustine's Second Question>: Whereas the faith is one and the same, why are there different customs in different churches? And why is one custom at masses observed in the holy Roman church and another in the Gallican church?
<Pope Gregory answers>: You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman church in which you remember you were trained. But if you have found anything in either the Roman or the Gallican or any other church which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, I am willing that you carefully make choice of the same and diligently teach the English church, which is as yet new in the faith, whatever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places but places for the sake of good things. Select, therefore, from every church the things that are devout religious and upright, and when you have, as it were, combined them into one body, let the minds of the English be trained therein.
<Auqustine's Third Question>: I beg you to tell me what punishment to inflict if a man takes anything away by stealth from the church.
<Gregory answers>: You may judge, my brother, by the person of the thief how he is to be corrected. For there are some who having plenty commit theft, and there are others who sin in this way from poverty. Wherefore it is right that some be punished in their purses, others with stripes, some with more severity, others more mildly. When severity is greater, it must proceed from charity, not from anger, because he who is corrected is thus treated in order that he may not be delivered over to hell- fire... You may add that they are to restore the things they have stolen from the Church. But God forbid that the church should make profit from earthly things it seems to lose or seek gain out of such vanities.
<Augustine's Fourth Question>: Whether two brothers may marry two sisters who are of a family far removed from them?
<Gregory answers>: This may lawfully be done, for nothing found in Holy Writ appears to forbid it...
(Bede, <Ecclesiastical History of England>, ed. by J. A.)
Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Confessor, Apostle of the English. Celebration of Feast Day is May 28. Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
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Thank you for the post.
My pleasure. I found it very interesting also.
What would St Augustine think of the current occupant of his chair? For that matter, what would Anselm, Lanfranc, Becket, Cranmer, Parker or Laud think?
Considering what the UK is like AFTER Augustine, dare we imagine what it would have been like without the Gospel?
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On the subject of early evangelization in England, I love Bede’s account of St. Alban:
THE PASSION OF ST. ALBAN AND HIS COMPANIONS, WHO AT THAT TIME SHED THEIR BLOOD FOR OUR LORD. [A.D. 305.]
AT that time suffered St. Alban, of whom the priest Fortunatus, in the Praise of Virgins, where he makes mention of the blessed martyrs that came to the Lord from all parts of the world, says
In Britain’s isle was holy Alban born.
This Alban, being yet a pagan, at the time when the cruelties of wicked princes were raging against Christians, gave entertainment in his house to a certain clergyman, flying from the persecutors. This man he observed to be engaged in continual prayer and watching day and night; when on a sudden the Divine grace shining on him, he began to imitate the example of faith and piety which was set before him, and being gradually instructed by his wholesome admonitions, he cast off the darkness of idolatry, and became a Christian in all sincerity of heart. The aforesaid clergyman having been some days entertained by him, it came to the ears of the wicked prince, that this holy confessor of Christ, whose time of martyrdom had not yet come, was concealed at Alban’s house. Whereupon he sent some soldiers to make a strict search after him. When they came to the martyr’s house, St. Alban immediately presented himself to the soldiers, instead of his guest and master, in the habit or long coat which he wore, and was led bound before the judge.
It happened that the judge, at the time when Alban was carried before him, was standing at the altar, and offering sacrifice to devils. When he saw Alban, being much enraged that he should thus, of his own accord, put himself into the hands of the soldiers, and incur such danger in behalf of his guest, he commanded him to be dragged up to the images of the devils, before which he stood, saying, “Because you have chosen to conceal a rebellious and sacrilegious person, rather than to deliver him up to the soldiers, that his contempt of the gods might meet with the penalty due to such blasphemy, you shall undergo all the punishment that was due to him, if, you abandon the worship of our religion.” But St. Alban, who had voluntarily declared himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not at all daunted at the prince’s threats, but putting on the armour of spiritual warfare, publicly declared that he would not obey the command. Then said the judge, “Of what family or race are you?” “What does it concern you,” answered Alban, “of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the truth of my religion be it known to you, that I am now a Christian, and bound by Christian duties.” “I ask your name,” said the judge; “tell me it immediately.” “I am called Alban by my parents,” replied he; “and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.” Then the judge, inflamed with anger, said, “If you will enjoy the happiness of eternal life, do not delay to offer sacrifice to the great gods.” Alban rejoined, “These sacrifices, which by you are offered to devils, neither can avail the subjects, nor answer the wishes or desires of those that offer up their supplications to them. On the contrary, whosoever shall offer sacrifice to these images shall receive the everlasting pains of hell for his reward.”
The judge, hearing these words, and being much incensed, ordered this holy confessor of God to be scourged by the executioners, believing he might by stripes shake that constancy of heart, on which he could not prevail by words. He, being most cruelly tortured, bore the same patiently, or rather joyfully, for our Lord’s sake. When the judge perceived that he was not to be overcome by tortures, or withdrawn from the exercise of the Christian religion, he ordered him to be put to death. Being led to execution, he came to a river, which, with a most rapid course, ran between the wall of the town and the arena where he was to be executed. He there saw a multitude. of persons of both sexes, and of several ages and conditions, who were doubtlessly assembled by Divine instinct, to attend the blessed confessor and martyr, and had so taken up the bridge on the river, that he could scarce pass over that evening. In short, almost all had gone out, so that the judge remained in the city without attendance. St Alban, therefore, urged by an ardent and devout wish to arrive quickly at martyrdom, drew near to the stream, and on lifting up his eyes to heaven, the channel was immediately dried up, and he perceived that the water had departed and made way for him to pass. Among the rest, the executioner, who was to have put him to death, observed this, and moved by Divine inspiration hastened to meet him at the place of execution, and casting down the sword which he had carried ready drawn, fell at his feet, praying that he might rather suffer with the martyr, whom was ordered to execute or, if possible, instead of him.
While he thus from a persecutor was become a companion in the faith, and the other executioners hesitated to take up the sword which was lying on the ground, the reverend confessor, accompanied by the multitude, ascended a hill, about 500 paces from the place, adorned, or, rather clothed with all kinds of flowers, having its sides neither perpendicular, nor even craggy, but sloping down into a most beautiful plain, worthy from its lovely appearance to be the scene of a martyr’s sufferings. On the top of this hill, St. Alban prayed that God would give him water, and immediately a living spring broke out before his feet, the course being confined, so that all men perceived that the river also had been dried up in consequence of the martyr’s presence. Nor was it likely that the martyr, who had left no water remaining in the river, should want some on the top of the hill, unless he thought it suitable to the occasion. The river having performed the holy service, returned to its natural course, leaving a testimony of its obedience. Here, therefore, the head of most courageous martyr was struck off, and here he received the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him. But he who gave the wicked stroke, was not permitted to rejoice over the deceased; for his eyes dropped upon the ground together with the blessed martyr’s head.
At the same time was also beheaded the soldier, who before, through the Divine admonition, refused to give the stroke to the holy confessor. Of whom it is apparent, that though he was not regenerated by baptism, yet he was cleansed by the washing of his own blood, and rendered worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the judge, astonished at the novelty of so many heavenly miracles, ordered the persecution to cease immediately, beginning to honour the death of the saints, by which he before thought they might have been diverted from the Christian faith. The blessed Alban suffered death on the twentysecond day of June, near the city of Verulam, which is now by the English nation called Verlamacestir, or Varlingacestir, where afterwards, when peaceable Christian times were restored, a church of wonderful workmanship, and suitable to his martyrdom, was erected. In which place, there ceases not to this day the cure of sick persons, and the frequent working of wonders.
At the same time suffered Aaron and Julius, citizens of Chester, and many more of both sexes in several places; who, when they had endured sundry torments, and their limbs had been torn after an unheardof manner, yielded their souls up, to enjoy in the heavenly city a reward for the sufferings which they had passed through.