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The Foundation Of The Anglo-saxo





The Anglo-Saxon Church owes its foundation to the missionary zeal and wise
direction of Gregory the Great. Augustine, whom Gregory sent, arrived in
the kingdom of Kent 597, and established himself at Canterbury. In 625,
Paulinus began his work at York, and Christianity was accepted by the
Northumbrian king and many nobles. On the death of King Eadwine, Paulinus
was obliged to leave the kingdom. Missionaries were brought into
Northumbria in 635 from the Celtic Church, the centre of which was at
Iona, where the new king Oswald had taken refuge on the death of Eadwine.
Aidan now became the leader of the Northern Church. As the
Christianization of the land advanced and Roman customs were introduced
into the northern kingdom, practical inconveniences as to the different
methods of reckoning the date of Easter, in which the North Irish and the
Celts of Scotland differed from the rest of the Christian Church, came to
a settlement of the difficulty at Streaneshalch, or Whitby, 664. Colman,
Bishop of Lindisfarne, the leader of the Celtic party, withdrew, and
Wilfrid, afterward bishop of York, took the lead under the influence of
the Roman tradition. The Church of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, now in
agreement as to custom, was organized by Theodore of Canterbury (668-690),
and developed a remarkable intellectual life, becoming, in fact, for the
first part at least of the eighth century, the centre of Western
theological and literary culture.


Additional source material: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the
English People, for editions, v. supra, 96. This is the best
account extant of the conversion of a nation to Christianity. H.
Gee and W. J. Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church
History, London, 1896; A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs, Councils and
Ecclesiastical Documents, 1869 ff.


(a) Bede, Hist. Ec., I, 29. (MSL, 95:69.)


The scheme of Gregory the Great for the organization of the
English Church A. D. 601.


Gregory, in planning his mission, seems not to have been aware of
the profound changes in the kingdom resulting from the Anglo-Saxon
invasion. He selected York as the seat of an archbishop, because
it was the ancient capital of the Roman province in the North, and
London, because it was the great city of the South. The rivalry of
the two archbishops caused difficulties for centuries, and was a
hinderance to the efficiency of the ecclesiastical system. By this
letter, the British bishops were to be under the authority of
Augustine, a position which was distasteful to the British, who
were extremely hostile to the Anglo-Saxons, and incomprehensible
to them, as they saw no reason or justification in any such
arrangement without their consent. They withdrew from all
intercourse with the new Anglo-Saxon Church and retired into
Wales.


To the most reverend and holy brother and fellow bishop, Augustine,
Gregory, servant of the servants of God.

Although it is certain that the unspeakable rewards of the eternal kingdom
are laid up for those who labor for Almighty God, yet it is necessary for
us to render to them the benefits of honors, that from this recompense
they may be able to labor more abundantly in the zeal for spiritual work.
And because the new Church of the English has been brought by thee to the
grace of Almighty God, by the bounty of the same Lord and by your toil, we
grant you the use of the pallium, in the same to perform only the
solemnities of the mass, in order that in the various places you ordain
twelve bishops who shall be under your authority, so that the bishop of
the city of London ought always thereafter to be consecrated by his own
synod and receive the pallium of honor from the holy Apostolic See, which
by God's authority I serve.(256) Moreover, we will that you send to York a
bishop whom you shall see fit to ordain, yet so that if the same city
shall have received the word of God along with the neighboring places, he
shall ordain twelve other bishops, and enjoy the honor of metropolitan,
because if our life last, we intend, with the Lord's favor, to give him
the pallium also. And we will that he be subject to your authority, my
brother. But after your decease he shall preside over the bishops he has
ordained, so that he shall not be subject in anywise to the bishop of
London. Moreover, let there be a distinction of honor between the bishops
of the city of London and of York, in such a way that he shall take the
precedence who has been ordained first. But let them arrange in concord by
common counsel and harmonious action the things which need to be done for
the zeal for Christ; let them determine rightly and let them accomplish
what they have decided upon without any mutual misunderstandings.

But you, my brother, shall have subject to you not only the bishops whom
you have ordained and those ordained by the bishop of York, but also, by
the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the priests [i.e., the bishops]
of Britain; so that from the lips of your holiness they may receive the
form both of correct faith and of holy life, and fulfilling the duties of
their office in faith and morals may, when the Lord wills, attain to the
kingdom of heaven. May God keep you safe, most reverend brother. Dated the
22d June in the nineteenth year of the reign of Mauritius Tiberius, the
most pious Augustus, in the eighteenth year of the consulship of the same
Lord, indiction four.


(b) Bede, Hist. Ec., III, 25 f. (MSL, 95:158.)


The Easter dispute and the synod of Whitby. The triumph of the
Roman tradition.


The sharpest dispute between the Celtic and the Roman churches was
on the date of Easter as presenting the most inconveniences. The
principal points were as follows: Both parties agreed that it must
be on Sunday, in the third week of the first lunar month, and the
paschal full moon must not fall before the vernal equinox. But the
Celts placed the vernal equinox on March 25, and the Romans on
March 21. The Celts, furthermore, reckoned as the third week the
14th to the 20th days of the moon inclusive; the Romans the 15th
to the 21st inclusive. The Irish Church in the southern part of
Ireland had already adopted the Roman reckoning at the synod of
Leighlin, 630-633 [Hefele, 289]. The occasion of the difference
of custom was, in reality, that the Romans had adopted in the
previous century a more correct method of reckoning and one that
had fewer practical inconveniences. For a statement by a Celt, see
Epistle of Columbanus to Gregory the Great, in the latter's
Epistolae, Reg. IX, Ep. 127 (PNF, ser. II, vol. XIII, p. 38). In
the following selection space has been saved by omissions which
are, however, indicated.


At this time [circa 652] a great and frequent controversy happened about
the observance of Easter; those that came from Kent or France asserting
that the Scots kept Easter Sunday contrary to the custom of the universal
Church. Among them was a most zealous defender of the true Easter, whose
name was Ronan, a Scot by nation, but instructed in ecclesiastical truth,
either in France or Italy, who disputed with Finan,(257) and convinced
many, or at least induced them, to make a stricter inquiry after the
truth; yet he could not prevail upon Finan James, formerly the deacon of
the venerable archbishop Paulinus kept the true and Catholic Easter,
with all those that he could persuade to adopt the right way. Queen
Eanfleda [wife of Oswy, king of Northumbria] and her attendants also
observed the same as she had seen practised in Kent, having with her a
Kentish priest that followed the Catholic mode, whose name was Romanus.
Thus it is said to have happened in those times that Easter was kept twice
in one year;(258) and that when the king, having ended the time of
fasting, kept his Easter, the queen and her attendants were still fasting
and celebrating Palm Sunday.

After the death of Finan [662] when Colman, who was also sent out of
Scotland, came to be bishop, a great controversy arose about the
observance of Easter, and the rules of ecclesiastical life. This reached
the ears of King Oswy and his son Alfrid; for Oswy, having been instructed
and baptized by the Scots, and being very perfectly skilled in their
language, thought nothing better than what they taught. But Alfrid, having
been instructed in Christianity by Wilfrid, a most learned man, who had
first gone to Rome to learn the ecclesiastical doctrine, and spent much
time at Lyons with Dalfinus, archbishop of France, from whom he had
received the ecclesiastical tonsure, rightly thought this man's doctrine
ought to be preferred to all the traditions of the Scots.

The controversy having been started concerning Easter, the tonsure, and
other ecclesiastical matters, it was agreed that a synod should be held in
the monastery of Streaneshalch, which signifies the bay of the lighthouse,
where the Abbess Hilda, a woman devoted to God, presided; and that there
the controversy should be decided. The kings, both father and son, came
hither. Bishop Colman, with his Scottish clerks, and Agilbert,(259) and
the priests Agatho and Wilfrid. James and Romanus were on their side. But
the Abbess Hilda and her associates were for the Scots, as was also the
venerable bishop Cedd, long before ordained by the Scots. Then Colman
said: "The Easter which I keep, I received from my elders who sent me
hither as bishop; all our fathers, men beloved of God, are known to have
kept it in the same manner; and that the same may not seem to any to be
contemptible or worthy of being rejected, it is the same which St. John
the Evangelist, the disciple especially beloved of our Lord, with all the
churches over which he presided, is recorded as having observed."

Wilfrid, having been ordered by the king to speak, said: "The Easter which
we observe we saw celebrated by all at Rome, where the blessed Apostles,
Peter and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried; we saw the same
done in Italy and France, when we travelled through those countries for
pilgrimage and prayer. We found the same practised in Africa, Asia, Egypt,
Greece, and in all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread
abroad, through several nations and tongues, at one and the same time
except only those and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and
the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and
only in part of them, oppose all the rest of the universe. John, pursuant
to the custom of the law, began the celebration of the feast of Easter on
the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, not regarding whether the
same happened on a Saturday or any other day. Thus it appears that you,
Colman, neither follow the example of John, as you imagine, nor that of
Peter, whose traditions you knowingly contradict. For John, keeping the
paschal time according to the decree of the Mosaic law, had no regard to
the first day after the Sabbath [i.e., that it should fall on Sunday],
and you who celebrate Easter only on the first day after the Sabbath do
not practise this. Peter kept Easter Sunday between the fifteenth and the
twenty-first day of the moon, and you do not do this, but keep Easter
Sunday from the fourteenth to the twentieth day of the moon, so that you
often begin Easter on the thirteenth moon in the evening besides this in
your celebration of Easter, you utterly exclude the twenty-first day of
the moon, which the law ordered to be especially observed."

To this Colman rejoined: "Did Anatolius, a holy man, and much commended in
ecclesiastical history, act contrary to the Law and the Gospel when he
wrote that Easter was to be celebrated from the fourteenth to the
twentieth? Is it to be believed that our most reverend Father Columba and
his successors, men beloved of God, who kept Easter after the same manner,
thought or acted contrary to the divine writings? Whereas there were many
among them whose sanctity was attested by heavenly signs and the workings
of miracles, whose life, customs, discipline I never cease to follow, not
questioning that they are saints in heaven."

Wilfrid said: "It is evident that Anatolius was a most holy and learned
and commendable man; but what have you to do with him, since you do not
observe his decrees? For he, following the rule of truth in his Easter,
appointed a cycle of nineteen years, which you are either ignorant of, or
if you know yet despise, though it is kept by the whole Church of Christ.
Concerning your Father Columba and his followers I do not deny that they
were God's servants, and beloved by Him, who, with rustic simplicity but
pious intentions, have themselves loved Him. But as for you and your
companions, you certainly sin, if, having heard the decrees of the
Apostolic See, or rather of the universal Church, and the same confirmed
by Holy Scripture, you refuse to follow them. For though your Fathers were
holy, do you think that their small number in a corner of the remotest
island is to be preferred before the universal Church of Christ throughout
the world? And if that Columba of yours (and, I may say, ours also, if he
was Christ's servant) was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet could
he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the Apostles, to whom
our Lord said: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and to thee I will
give the keys of the kingdom of heaven'?"

When Wilfrid had thus spoken, the king said: "Is it true, Colman, that
these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?" He answered: "It is true, O
king." Then he said: "Can you show any such power given to your Columba?"
Colman answered: "None." Then the king added: "Do you both agree that
these words were principally directed to Peter, and that the keys of
heaven were given to him by our Lord?" They both answered: "We do." Then
the king concluded: "And I also say unto you that he is the doorkeeper
whom I will not contradict, but will, as far as I know and am able in all
things, obey his decrees, lest, when I come to the gates of the kingdom of
heaven, there should be one to open them, he being my adversary who is
proved to have the keys." The king having said this, all present, both
small and great, gave their assent, and renounced the more imperfect
institution, and resolved to conform to that which they found to be
better. [ch. 26]. Colman, perceiving that his doctrine was rejected and
his sect despised, took with him such as would not comply with the
Catholic Easter and the tonsure (for there was much controversy about that
also) and went back to Scotland to consult with his people what was to be
done in this case. Cedd, forsaking the practices of the Scots, returned to
his bishopric, having submitted to the Catholic observance of Easter. This
disputation happened in the year of our Lord's incarnation, 664.


(c) Bede, Hist. Ec., IV, 5. (MSL, 95:180.)


The Council of Hertford A. D. 673. The organization of the
Anglo-Saxon Church by Theodore.


As the important synod of Whitby marks the beginning of conformity
of the Anglo-Saxon Church under the leadership of the kingdom of
Northumbria to the customs of the Roman Church, so the synod of
Hertford brings the internal organization of the Church into
conformity with the diocesan system of the Continent and of the
East, where the principles of the general councils were at this
time most completely enforced. Theodore of Canterbury was a
learned Greek who was sent to England to be archbishop of
Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668. The Council of Hertford was
the first council of all the Church among the Anglo-Saxons. For
the council, see also Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and
Ecclesiastical Documents, III, 118-122. The text given is that of
Plummer.


In the name of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the perpetual
reign of the same Lord Jesus Christ and His government of His Church. It
seemed good that we should come together according to the prescription of
the venerable canons, to treat of the necessary affairs of the Church. We
are met together on this 24th day of September, the first indiction in the
place called Hertford. I, Theodore, although unworthy, appointed by the
Apostolic See bishop of the church of Canterbury, and our fellow priest
the most reverend Bisi, bishop of the East Angles, together with our
brother and fellow bishop Wilfrid, bishop of the nation of the
Northumbrians, present by his proper legates, as also our brethren and
fellow bishops, Putta, bishop of the Castle of the Kentishmen called
Rochester, Leutherius, bishop of the West Saxons, and Winfrid, bishop of
the province of the Mercians, were present. When we were assembled and had
taken our places, each according to his rank, I said: I beseech you,
beloved brethren, for the fear and love of our Redeemer, that we all labor
in common for our faith, that whatsoever has been decreed and determined
by the holy and approved Fathers may be perfectly followed by us all. I
enlarged upon these and many other things tending unto charity and the
preservation of the unity of the Church. And when I had finished my speech
I asked them singly and in order whether they consented to observe all
things which had been canonically decreed by the Fathers? To which all our
fellow priests answered: We are all well agreed readily and most
cheerfully to keep whatever the canons of the holy Fathers have
prescribed. Whereupon I immediately produced the book of canons,(260) and
pointed out ten chapters from the same book, which I had marked, because I
knew that they were especially necessary for us, and proposed that they
should be diligently observed by all, namely:

Ch. 1. That we shall jointly observe Easter day on the Lord's day after
the fourteenth day of the moon in the first month.

Ch. 2. That no bishop invade the diocese of another, but be content with
the government of the people committed to him.

Ch. 3. That no bishop be allowed to trouble in any way any monasteries
consecrated to God, nor to take away by violence anything that belongs to
them.

Ch. 4. That the monks themselves go not from place to place; that is, from
one monastery to another, without letters dismissory of their own
abbot;(261) but that they shall continue in that obedience which they
promised at the time of their conversion.

Ch. 5. That no clerk, leaving his own bishop, go up and down at his own
pleasure, nor be received wherever he comes, without commendatory letters
from his bishop; but if he be once received and refuse to return when he
is desired so to do, both the receiver and the received shall be laid
under an excommunication.

Ch. 6. That stranger bishops and clerks be content with the hospitality
that is freely offered them; and none of them be allowed to exercise any
sacerdotal function without permission of the bishop in whose diocese he
is known to be.

Ch. 7. That a synod be assembled twice in the year. But, because many
occasions may hinder this, it was jointly agreed by all that once in the
year it be assembled on the first of August in the place called Clovesho.

Ch. 8. That no bishop ambitiously put himself before another, but that
every one observe the time and order of his consecration.

Ch. 9. The ninth chapter was discussed together: That the number of
bishops be increased as the number of the faithful grew;(262) but we did
nothing as to this point at present.

Ch. 10. As to marriages: That none shall be allowed to any but what is a
lawful marriage. Let none commit incest. Let none relinquish his own wife
but for fornication, as the holy Gospel teaches. But if any have dismissed
a wife united to him in lawful marriage, let him not be joined to another
if he wish really to be a Christian, but remain as he is or be reconciled
to his own wife.

After we had jointly treated on and discussed these chapters, that no
scandalous contention should arise henceforth by any of us, and that there
be no changes in the publication of them, it seemed proper that every one
should confirm by the subscription of his own hand whatever had been
determined. I dictated this our definitive sentence to be written by
Titillus, the notary. Done in the month and indiction above noted.
Whosoever, therefore, shall attempt in any way to oppose or infringe this
sentence, confirmed by our present consent, and the subscription of our
hands as agreeable to the decrees of the canons, let him know that he is
deprived of every sacerdotal function and our society. May the divine
grace preserve us safe living in the unity of the Church.


(d) Bede, Hist. Ec., IV, 17. (MSL, 95:198.)


Council of Hatfield, A. D. 680.


At the Council of Hatfield the Anglo-Saxon Church formally
recognized the binding authority of the five general councils
already held, and rejected Monotheletism in accord with the Roman
synod A. D. 649. It seems to have been, as stated in the
introduction to the Acts of the council, a preventive measure. In
Plummer's edition of Bede this chapter is numbered 15.


At this time Theodore, hearing that the faith of the Church of
Constantinople had been much disturbed by the heresy of Eutyches,(263) and
being desirous that the churches of the English over which he ruled should
be free from such a stain, having collected an assembly of venerable
priests and very many doctors, diligently inquired what belief they each
held, and found unanimous agreement of all in the Catholic faith; and this
he took care to commit to a synodical letter for the instruction and
remembrance of posterity. This is the beginning of the letter:

In the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in the reign of our most
pious lords, Egfrid, king of the Humbrians, in the tenth year of his
reign, on the fifteenth day before the Kalends of October [September 17]
in the eighth indiction, and Ethelred, king of the Mercians, in the sixth
year of his reign; and Adwulf, king of the Kentishmen, in the seventh year
of his reign; Theodore being president, by the grace of God, archbishop of
the island of Britain and of the city of Canterbury, and other venerable
men sitting with him, bishops of the island of Britain, with the holy
Gospels laid before them, and in the place which is called by the Saxon
name of Hatfield, we, handling the subject in concert, have made an
exposition of the right and orthodox faith, as our incarnate Lord Jesus
Christ delivered it to His disciples, who saw Him present and heard His
discourses, and as the creed of the holy Fathers has delivered it, and all
the holy and universal synods and all the chorus of approved doctors of
the Catholic Church teach. We therefore piously and orthodoxly following
them and, making our profession according to their divinely inspired
teaching, believe in unison with it, and confess according to the holy
Fathers that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are properly and
truly a consubstantial Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity; that is, in
one God in three consubstantial subsistencies or persons of equal glory
and honor.

And after many things of this kind that pertained to the confession of the
right faith, the holy synod also adds these things to its letter:

We have received as holy and universal five synods of the blessed Fathers
acceptable to God; that is, of the three hundred and eighteen assembled at
Nicaea against the most impious Arius and his tenets; and of the one
hundred and fifty at Constantinople against the madness of Macedonius and
Eudoxius and their tenets; and of the two hundred in the first Council of
Ephesus against the most wicked Nestorius and his tenets; and of the six
hundred and thirty at Chalcedon against Eutyches and Nestorius and their
tenets; and again of those assembled in a fifth council at Constantinople
[A. D. 553], in the time of the younger Justinian, against Theodore and
the epistles of Theodoret and Ibas and their tenets against Cyril.

And a little after: Also we have received the synod(264) that was held in
the city of Rome in the time of the blessed Pope Martin in the eighth
indiction, in the ninth year of the reign of the most pious
Constantine.(265) And we glorify our Lord Jesus Christ as they glorified
Him, neither adding nor subtracting anything; and we anathematize with
heart and mouth those whom they anathematized; and those whom they
received we receive, glorifying God the Father without beginning, and his
only begotten Son, begotten of the Father before the world began, and the
Holy Ghost proceeding ineffably from the Father and the Son, as those holy
Apostles, prophets, and doctors have declared whom we have mentioned
above. And we all who with Theodore have made an exposition of the
Catholic faith have subscribed hereto.





Next: The Foundation Of The Ecclesiast

Previous: Gregory The Great And The Roman



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