The Celtic Church In The British
Christianity was probably planted in the British Isles during the second
century; as to its growth in the ante-Nicene period little is definitely
known. Representatives of the British Church were at Arles in 314. The
Church was in close connection with the Church on the Continent during the
fourth century and in the fifth during the Pelagian controversy. The
Christianity thus established was completely overthrown or driven into
Wales by the invasion of the pagan Angles, Jutes, and Saxons circa
449-500. (For the conversion of the newcomers, v. infra, § 100.) Early
in the fifth century the conversion of Ireland took place by missionaries
from Britain. In this conversion St. Patrick traditionally plays an
Additional source material: Bede, Hist. Ec., Eng. trans. by
Giles, London, 1894; by A. M. Sellar, London, 1907 (for Latin
text, v. infra, a); Adamnani, Vita S. Columbae, ed. J. T.
Fowler, 1894 (with valuable introduction and translation); St.
Patrick, Genuine Writings, ed. G. T. Stokes and C. H. H. Wright,
Dublin, 1887; J. D. Newport White, The Writings of St. Patrick,
1904. For bibliography of sources, see Gross, The Sources and
Literature of English History, 1900, pp. 221 f.
(a) Bede, Hist. Ec. Gentis Anglorum, I, 13. (MSL, 95:40.)
The Venerable Bede (672 or 673-735), monk at Jarrow, the most
learned theologian of the Anglo-Saxon Church, was also the first
historian of England. For the earliest period he used what written
sources were available. His work becomes of independent value with
the account of the coming of Augustine of Canterbury, 597 (I, 23).
The history extends to A. D. 731. The best critical edition is
that of C. Plummer, 1896, which has a valuable introduction,
copious historical and critical notes, and careful discrimination
of the sources. Wm. Bright's Chapters on Early English Church
History is an elaborate commentary on Bede's work as far as 709,
the death of Wilfrid. Translation of Bede's History by J. A.
Giles, may be found in Bohn's Antiquarian Library, and better by
A. M. Sellar, 1907.
In the following passage we have the only reference made by Bede
to the conversion of Ireland, and his failure to mention Patrick
has given rise to much controversy, see J. B. Bury, The Life of
St. Patrick and his Place in History, 1905. This passage,
referring to Palladius, is a quotation from the Chronica of
Prosper of Aquitaine (403-463) ann. 431 (MSL, 51, critical edition
in MGH, Auct. antiquiss, 9:1); from Gildas, De excidio
Britanniae liber querulus (MSL, 69:327, critical edition in MGH,
Auct. antiquiss, 13. A translation by J. A. Giles in Six Old
English Chronicles, in Bohn's Antiquarian Library), is the
reference to the letter written to the Romans; from the Chronica
of Marcellinus Comes (MSL, 51:913; critical edition in MGH, Auct.
antiquiss, 11) is the reference to Blaeda and Attila.
In the year of the Lord's incarnation, 423, Theodosius the younger
received the empire after Honorius and, being the forty-fifth from
Augustus, retained it twenty-six years. In the eighth year of his reign,
Palladius was sent by Celestinus, the pontiff of the Roman Church, to the
Scots(212) that believed in Christ to be their first bishop. In the
twenty-third year of his reign (446), Aetius, the illustrious, who was
also patrician, discharged his third consulate with Symmachus as his
colleague. To him the wretched remnants of the Britons sent a letter
beginning: "To Aetius, thrice consul, the groans of the Britons." And in
the course of the letter they thus express their calamities: "The
barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians;
between them there have arisen two sorts of death; we are either slain or
drowned." Yet neither could all this procure any assistance from him, as
he was then engaged in a most dangerous war with Blaeda and Attila, kings
of the Huns. And though the year next before this, Blaeda had been murdered
by the treachery of his brother Attila, yet Attila himself remained so
intolerable an enemy to the republic that he ravaged almost all Europe,
invading and destroying cities and castles.
(b) Patrick, Confessio, chs. 1, 10. (MSL, 53:801.)
The call of St. Patrick to be a missionary.
There is much dispute and uncertainty about the life and work of
St. Patrick. Of the works of Patrick, two appear to be genuine,
his Confessio and his Epistola ad Coroticum. The other works
attributed to him are very probably spurious. The genuine works
may be found in Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical
Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. II, pt. ii,
I, Patrick, a sinner, the most ignorant and least of all the faithful, and
the most contemptible among many, had for my father Calpornius the deacon,
son of the presbyter Potitus, the son of Odissus, who was of the village
of Bannavis Tabernia; he had near by a little estate where I was taken
captive. I was then nearly sixteen years old. But I was ignorant of the
true God(213) and I was taken into captivity unto Ireland, with so many
thousand men, according to our deserts, because we had forsaken God and
not kept His commandments and had not been obedient to our priests who
warned us of our salvation. And the Lord brought upon us the fury of His
wrath and scattered us among many nations, even to the end of the earth,
where now my meanness appears to be among strangers. And there the Lord
opened the senses of my unbelief, that I might remember my sin, and that I
might be converted with my whole heart to my Lord God, who looked upon my
humbleness and had mercy upon my youth and ignorance, and guarded me
before I knew Him, and before I knew and distinguished between good and
evil, and protected me and comforted me as a father a son.
And again after a few years(214) I was with my relatives in Britain, who
received me as a son, and earnestly besought me that I should never leave
them after having endured so many great tribulations. And there I saw in a
vision by night a man coming to me as from Ireland, and his name was
Victorinus, and he had innumerable epistles; and he gave me one of them
and I read the beginning of the epistle as follows: "The voice of the
Irish." And while I was reading the epistle, I think that it was at the
very moment, I heard the voice of those who were near the wood of
Fochlad,(215) which is near the Western Sea. And thus they cried out with
one voice: We beseech thee, holy youth, to come here and dwell among us.
And I was greatly smitten in heart, and could read no further and so I
awoke. Thanks be to God, because after many years the Lord granted them
according to their cry.
(c) Bede, Hist. Ec., III, 4. (MSL, 95:121.)
St. Ninian and St. Columba in Scotland.
In the year of our Lord 565, when Justin the younger, the successor of
Justinian, took the government of the Roman Empire, there came into
Britain a priest and abbot, distinguished in habit and monastic life,
Columba by name, to preach the word of God to the provinces of the
northern Picts, that is, to those who are separated from the southern
parts by steep and rugged mountains. For the southern Picts, who had their
homes within those mountains, had long before, as is reported, forsaken
the error of idolatry, and embraced the true faith, by the preaching of
the word to them by Ninian,(216) a most reverend bishop and holy man of
the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith
and mysteries of the truth, whose episcopal see was named after St.
Martin, the bishop, and was famous for its church, wherein he and many
other saints rest in the body, and which the English nation still
possesses. The place belongs to the province of Bernicia, and is commonly
called Candida Casa,(217) because he there built a church of stone, which
was not usual among the Britons.
Columba came to Britain in the ninth year of the reign of Bridius, the son
of Meilochon, the very powerful king of the Picts, and he converted by
work and example that nation to the faith of Christ; whereupon he also
received the aforesaid island [Iona] for a monastery. It is not large, but
contains about five families, according to English reckoning. His
successors hold it to this day, and there also he was buried, when he was
seventy-seven, about thirty-two years after he came into Britain to
preach. Before he came into Britain he had built a noble monastery in
Ireland, which from the great number of oaks is called in the Scottish
tongue(218) Dearmach, that is, the Field of Oaks. From both of these
monasteries many others had their origin through his disciples both in
Britain and Ireland; but the island monastery where his body lies holds
That island always has for its ruler an abbot, who is a priest, to whose
direction all the province and even bishops themselves are subject by an
unusual form of organization, according to the example of their first
teacher, who was not a bishop, but a priest and monk; of whose life and
discourses some writings are said to have been preserved by his disciples.
But whatever he was himself, this we regard as certain concerning him,
that he left successors renowned for their great continency, their love of
God, and their monastic rules. However, they followed uncertain
cycles(219) in their observance of the great festival [Easter], for no one
brought them the synodal decrees for the observance of Easter, because
they were placed so far away from the rest of the world; they only
practised such works of piety and chastity as they could learn from the
prophetical, evangelical, and apostolical writings. This manner of keeping
Easter continued among them for a long time, that is, for the space of one
hundred and fifty years, or until the year of our Lord's incarnation 715.
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