James Wayland Joyce.

England's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic online

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Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 11 of 83)
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assemblies public matters were generally discussed previously
to the Norman Conquest, and ecclesiastical as well as temporal
laws were there made. But it must be borne in mind that
the ecclesiastics went apart ^ for separate deliberation when
the law divine came into question.

5. Wittcna- Wittena-gemote will be used, in accordance
s^""**'®- with Anglo-Saxon nomenclature, in the same
sense as mixed council, whenever it appears on the records
that the " wites" or " sapientes,"" in addition to the " clergy,"
optimates " and "duces," were constituent members of the

Our present period extends from the planting of Christianity
in Britain, to the accession of Augustine the monk to the see

^ " EadmuTidus Rex congregavit magnam synodura in Londino urbc, sancto
Paschatis tempore, cum ex ordinibus ecclesiasticis tum e secularibus." — Cone.
Mag. Brit. vol. i. p. 294.




of Canterbury ; and accounts of the synods and councils spe-
cified in the tabular list remain upon record as having been
held during that time.

There is o-ood evidence'^ to prove that the

II. British -,, , ° , -, . T» . . . , 1 f.

Church of East- Church was planted m Bntam either by one of
cm oiigin. ^j^^ Apostles themselvcs, or, at any rate, con-

temporaneously with them. It is clear also that the British
Church sprang from an Eastern origin, her mode of deter-
mining the season for the celebration'^ of the Easter festival
being conclusive on this point. The difference between the
method adopted on this head between the Eastern and
Western Churches in the earliest ages will be apparent, when
we come to consider the questions, of which this was one, dis-
cussed at the British provincial Synod of Augustine's Oak,
in the year 601 .

In our reception of the blessed truths of the Gospel from
the East, spreading hither to the extremest bounds' of the
known Western world *, the prophetic words of Isaiah found
their realization : "So shall '" they fear the name of the Lord
from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun." In
the case of those British converts whose eyes were directed *
eastward to catch the rising glories of the Sun of righteous-
ness, and who thence first received the glad tidings, — "On earth
peace, good will s toward men," — we may trace the fulfilment
of this prophecy as regards our native land — " The Lord shall
arise upon thee, and his glory ^ shall be seen upon thee ; and
the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the bright-
ness of thy rising." The heralds who brought "good' tidings
of good" from the land of the Saviour's birth, they whose feet
" beautiful J upon the mountains" came hither on messages
of salvation, surely helped to fulfil here the closing words of
the prophetic vision : — " From the rising"^ of the sun even to
the going down of the same my name shall be great among
the Gentiles ; and in every place incense shall be offered unto
my name, and a pure offering : for my name shall be great
among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts."

* tTTi TO Tspixa TJjc Svffiwg. — Coll. Ecc. Hist. i. 10, quoting Clem. Epist. ad Cor

" in ultimos

Orbis Britannos . . . ."— Hor. Od. lib. i. 35, 1. 29, 30.

* " Et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos." — Virg. Ec. i. G7.

^ TTpof dvToXdg (pXoyioTras jy^toari/SfTg. — ^sch. Prom. Vine. 8IG.

A.D. 39-


d Stilling-
flcet, Orig.
Brit. pp. 3G,
37 et seq.

<■ So.ames,
Cli. pp. 57,

kS. Lukeii,

'' Isa. 1.X-. 2,

' Isa. lii. 7.

J Isa. lii. 7.

k Malachi
i. 11.




' See chap.

i. sec. 7.

™ Acts XV.


" Acts XV.


o Acts XV.


P Still ing-
flect, Orig.
Brit. p. 75.

q Stilling-
fleet, Orig.
Brit. p. 77.
"■ Quoted by
Orig. Brit,
p. 7.5.

As the British Church was derived from an Eastern original,
it might be naturally expected that its ecclesiastical assem-
blies would be framed after the Eastern model, of which the
Council of Jerusalem was the type. There the Apostles and
elders (as^ has been shewn above) alone deliberated™ and
decided, but " the whole Cliurch °''"' with united voice ratified
the conclusions at which they had arrived. And subsequently
all in union commended by their letters ° the observance among
the brethren of the decrees which were enacted. And so in
the early history of this country, after the ecclesiastical autho-
rities had defined doctrines and settled matters of discipline,
it is common to see the laity uniting with the spiritualty not
only to commend such decisions for general observance, but
to enforce them by civil sanctions.

The records, however, of early Briti.sh synods
secutions of the are but fcw, for this Church did not escape
those persecutions to which Christians in other
countries were subject. Indeed the names of some of our
early martyrs are handed down, as of Alban?, Aaron, and
Julius. The first was a Roman officer of the town of
Verulam, the modern S. Alban's, said to be the first British
city which enjoyed Roman civil privileges. The other
two were citizens of Caerleon-upon-Usk, where a Roman
colony was planted, and which very early became the metro-
political see of tlie third or western ecclesiastical province of
this island ''. ]3ut after Constantino was firmly settled upon
the throne of the empire, his first care was, according to
Lactantius'', "to secure full liberty to the Christians."" Upon
the authority of Bishop Stillingfleot we learn that the fol-
lowing expressions of Gildas and Bede referred to that period
of British history : " The Christians rebuilt their churches
destroyed to the ground, and therein celebrated their holy
sacraments, and kept solemn festivals in memory of so great a
deliverance." From this remark respecting the rebuilding of
their churches, it is clear not only that persecution had here
done its cruel work, but that a Church had previously existed
in this island sufficiently prosperous to erect and maintain
buildings dedicated to the service of God. The sacrilegious
destruction of those sacred edifices probably took place during
* " Albauum egregium foecunda Britaonia profert." — Fortunatus.




the persecutions under Dioclesian, the sad effects of which
were handed down to memory by that blasphemous inscrip-
tion discovered in Spain, and commemorating the ruthless
acts of the enemies of Christianity — " Superstitione ^ Christi
ubique deleta." From the commencement however of the
fourth century we may trace a more flourishing condition of
the British Christians ; the governors of these provinces before
Constantius having persecuted them, but he especially, towards
the end of his life, pursued a very different course ; and his
favour, together with that of his son Constantine *, caused the
British Church to rise speedily to a more prosperous and a more
settled state. Of this we are certified by the fact that at the
Council of Aries (a.d. 314) three British" prelates are recorded
as subscribing to the proceedings, viz. Restitutus of London,
Eborius of York, and Adelsius, probably "" of Caerleon-upon-Usk.
Besides the persecutions inflicted on the early
of eaily British Church of Britain, other circumstanccs also com-
scantj. ^.^^^ ^^ render the accounts of all the early public
assemblies held here but scanty. The possession of our island
by the pagan Romans during the first centuries of Christianity
— after their departure, the ravages of the Picts and Scots —
and then the barbarous cruelties of the Saxons, called in as
friends, but proving themselves most bitter enemies to those
who invited them hither — these were the causes in succession
which must have prevented councils, whether ecclesiastical or
civil, from being frequently held during that earlier part of our
history, or, at any rate, prevailed to forbid the records of them
from being handed down to posterity. The annals indeed of
such assemblies, even if they were of frequent occurrence, could
hardly have escaped the general havoc which was made by the
Saxon invaders. For the obligation of engagements being
broken through, those who were called in as neighbours to
assist, sent hither their hosts across the German Ocean to
destroy ; their arms were turned against us, and an impious
war devastated the whole land.

" v'' . . movet . . . Germania bellum :
Vicinae ruptis inter se legibus urbes
Arma fei-unt : saevit toto Mars impius orbe."

"That fierce and barbarous^ people, intoxicated with pagan
superstition, burnt the monasteries and churches, plundered

A.D. 39-


s Stilling-
fleet, Ori-r.
Brit. p. 74.

t Stilling-
fleet, Orip:.
Brit. p. 75.

" Stilling-
fleet, Orig.
Brit. p. 7(5.

V Stilling-
flect, Orig.
Brit. p. 76,
and com-
pare p. 78.

VT Virg.^
Georg. i,

'■^ Spelman,
Cone. i. 47.




A.D. 39-

" Vir?.
Georg. iii.

the sacred deposits of the Christians, and killed or banished
God's ministers ;" until at last those who stood in the fore-
front of the Christian warfare, Theonas, metropolitan of
London, and Thadiocus, metropolitan of York, finding their
churches levelled with the ground, and their flocks scattered
among deserts and forests, were compelled to take refuge in
Wales. Thither the invaders had been unable to penetrate,
and there the third metropolitan of Britain, the Bishop of
Caerleon-upon-Usk, still ruled within the boundaries of his
province that remnant of the native Church which survived to
testify to the truth of God : the flight of the two metro-
pohtans first mentioned from their respective sees of London
and York having taken place about 586, i.e. ten years before
the arrival of Augustine the monk in England. In conse-
quence of the invasions of this country, and of the persecutions
to which reference has been made, it cannot be a matter of
wonder that the records of such public assemblies as were held
in those ages should be but few, and that the information
handed down respecting even those few should be scanty. The
particulars indeed of those which are recounted are far from
minute, even of such as were held after the year 446 ; of those
which were held previously ^ the records are lost, and it is
therefore impossible to investigate their history. Commencing
however at the time above mentioned (a.d. 446), there now
remain accounts of twelve public assemblies as held between
that date and the year 601, and which may be called empha-
tically British synods and councils.

V. Manner of It may be gathered from divers^ sources
holding them. ^i^j^^ ^j^g aboriginal inhabitants of this island
were accustomed to hold their public meetings on the banks
of rivers. It is likely that they were led to select such spots
for that purpose on account of the convenience there afforded
for obtaining ready supplies of water and of pasturage, large
numbers not only of men, but of horses and beasts of burden,
being gathered together on those occasions. The place usually
chosen for their assembly was under some large oak tree,

" "'»■ Sicubi magna Jovis antiquo robore quercus
Ingentes tendat ramos. ..."

' TO. tri iraXaiorepa aa^HJQ fih
Thucyd. Hist. lib. i. c. 1.

ivpiTv dia ^^povov irXijOog aSvvara t]v.-




Such a choice was made partly for shelter or shade, partly
that the tree might be a landmark to guide the various
comers to the appointed spot, and partly perhaps on account
of some traditionary ^ custom handed down from the Druids,
who always met under oak trees, whence indeed it is believed
that the name of those fanatics was derived. Thus Augustine
the monk had his interview with the seven British bishops at
a provincial Synod of Caerleon-upon-Usk, which was held
under an oak tree in Worcestershire, and on the borders of
the ancient dioceses of Hereford and Worcester, that place,
according to Bede, being afterwards called Augustine's Oak.
It is also said by more than one author ^, that Bare-oak-shire
was the original name of Berkshire, and that that county was
so named from a great old and dead oak tree in Wind-
sor Forest, under which councils had aforetime been held.
In the extreme north of England the same custom of
holding councils under oak trees seems to have prevailed,
as there are records of a synod held within the bishopric
of Durham, at a place called " Actes," which, according to
Simeon Dunelmensis % signifies " the oak in the plain," or
" the" field of the oak." Indeed the custom of selecting oak
trees as places of meeting for large assemblies of persons has
prevailed to a comparatively late period. It is a matter of
notoriety in some neighbourhoods, even if it is not within the
memory of men now living, that on the occasion of the bounds
of parishes being beaten, it was customary for the clergyman
to read the gospel for the day under some particular oak tree
to the assembled people, whence the terms " Gospel oak "
and " Bible oak " are to this hour applied to those trees. Of
such there are more than one in the neighbourhood whence
these lines are written *.

The form of holding the ancient mixed councils of Britain
may be in some measure learnt from an account more detailed
than usual, which has been handed down by Heddius ". At the
invitation of the metropolitan in the instance referred to, three
bishops, with their abbots and one abbess, together with the
king and his princes, having met together upon the banks of
a river, took their seats in the appointed place of conference.
The metropolitan opened the proceedings, and after several
* One in Ribbesford parish, and other instances.

A.D. 39-

y Hodv, p.
33. ■

z Higden
and Bromp-
ton, quoted
bv Hodv, p.

" Ilody, p.

b Hody, Ap-
pendix, p.

e Hodv
35, 36".




J TloJy, p.

* Bourn's
' Spelni.
Cone. i. 47.
K Hume, p.

•> Spelm.
Cone. i. 47.

' Spelm.
Cone. i.


of the members of the council had dehvered their opinions,
that prince who was next in dignity to the king dechircd the
united wishes of the sovereign and his nobles on the subject
of the debate. The bishops then withdreio^ to a separate place
and took counsel together, after which a common agreement was
entered into upon the matters which had occupied their sepa-
rate dehberations. The bishops then having given the kiss
of peace and embraced each other by turns, partook ^ of the
holy communion, and then, with thanks to God for his good-
ness, returned each to his own home in Christian peace.
VI. All here It will be Seen by reference to the list of synods
and councils held in Britain during the period
which this chapter embraces, that they are twelve in number.
Although in pursuing the subject it will not be necessary in
future periods of our inquiry to remark on every pul)lic meeting
separately, yet in this chapter a brief account will be given of
the object and acts of each one ; for these seem to possess a
peculiar interest as being emphatically British assemblies, and
as having been held before any attempts at usurpation on
the part of Rome had been even partially successful.

VII. Synod of The first British synod of which records
s. Aiban's. remain was held at Verulam, a celebrated-

Roman town in Hertfordshire, near the present S. Ai-
ban's. As early as in the time of Nero it was a munici-
pium", and its inhabitants enjoyed the privileges of Roman
citizens. This synod was held in the year 4i6 \ i. e. in the
third or fourth year before the arrival of Hengist ^, the Saxon
invader of British rights and liberties. It was convened to
resist the increase of the Pelagian heresy then spreading
in this country under the influence of Agricola, who was a
disciple ^ of the author of that false belief. The Britisli cham-
pions of the true faith having felt themselves unequal to main-
tain the contest successfully against their wily adversaries, had
invited Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, and Lupu.s, bishop of
Troyes, to come over to their assistance. Upon their arrival
so great an interest was felt by the British Christians in the
approaching controversy, that when the synod met at S. Ai-
ban's, " an ' immense multitude of men, with their wives and

" " Panemquc frangentcs communicaverunt." These words, it is presumed, are
intended to convey the meaning given in the text.




children," assembled there to witness the proceedings. The
Pelagian party first stated their views, but their arguments
were met on the part of the Gallican bishops by overpowering
eloquence, by weighty arguments derived from the writings of
the Apostles and Evangelists, and by full statements of the
true doctrines of Christianity, confirmed by scriptural testi-
mony. The false tenets of Pelagianism were thus refuted ;
" the very leaders ^ in the dispute are said to have acknow-
ledged their errors;" the audience were scarcely restrained
from a clamorous expression of their approval, and " an ^
innumerable multitude of both sexes were converted to the
true faith."

The spot where this synod met was probably about a
mile to the south-west of the modern town of S. Alban'^s.
The present abbey of S. AlbanX built in 1017, stands at the
edge of the town, upon an eminence from which the land
slopes towards the south. At the foot of the hill runs the
little river " Ver," and at a short distance on the opposite
bank the remains of the ancient town of Verulam are still
I visible. The site of the Eoman city was lately bought by
I a land society, and the purchasers"' intentions were to convert
I the classic spot to purposes consistent with the views of this
j utilitarian age. In that case whatever vestiges of antiquity
still remain would have been sacrificed. Happily "", however,
the property has again changed hands, and sufficient land-
marks will still be preserved which may serve to determine
the spot for future inquirers, where the first British synod
now on record was held, and where the eloquence of Germanus
and Lupus, confuting the mischievous doctrines of the heretic
Pelagius, prevailed to confirm our ancestors in the true faith.
VIII A mixed ^^^^ second public assembly — a mixed council
council. — of wliich WO read as held in Britain took

place in the year 449 "\ Its object was to repress some fresh
appearances of the Pelagian heresy. Another subject was
also brought under the notice of this meeting, K. Vortigern
had entered into an incestuous marriage with his own daughter,

«' ram Hictbalamum invasit natse, vetitosque hymenseos."

Such conduct of evil example and general notoriety seemed to

1" A.D. 1853.

A. D. 39-


k Chuiton's
Earl}' Kng.
Cli. Y>. 21.

' Spelni.
Cue. i. 48.

.Eu. li%2S.




A.D. 39-

n Spelm.
Cone. i. 49.

o Spelm.
Cone. i. 49.

P Spelm.
Cone. i. GO.

1 Conr.
i\Iag. Brit,
vol. i. i). 7.

■■ Spelm.
Cone. i. GO.

^ Spelm.
Cone. i. GO.
• Poole's
Eecl. Ant.
pp. 19, 20,
Geoffrey of
" Fuller,
Ch. Hist,
book i. pp.
3G, 37.

» Spelm.
Cone. i. 494.

* Hoare's

Hist, of

^ Spelm.
Cone. i. GO.
Fox, Aets
and Mon.
vol. i. p. 97.

y Hodv, p.

15. '

demand a firm resistance and a public reproof on the part of
his subjects. In order to secure such an expression of opinion
a great assemblage of clergy and laity ^ were convened in one
council, and thither Germanus, who-se assistance had again
been sought, came with all° the clergy of the Britons to con-
demn this crime. A condemnation was there passed upon the
conduct of the king, and his unhappy daughter sought the
seclusion of a convent.

IX Mixed '^^^^ third British public assembly p of which re-
Council of Snow- cords remain was held in Wales, near the moun-
tains of Erir, in Caernarvonshire. Erir is said to
designate the "eagle's nest," and is admitted on all hands to sig-
nify Snowdon. In this mixed council, which was convened in
the year 465, i.e. the fifteenth or sixteenth year after the arrival
of Hengi.st the Saxon, the Britons who had been scattered were
gathered together, and the^ clergy"^ of the kingdom being called in,
all with united approbation conferred the crown upon Aurelius
Ambrosius, in the stead of Vortigern. This event is said to
have taken place in accordance"^ with some prophecies of Mer-
lin, who had foretold the death of Vortigern and the accession
of Aurelius in his room,
X. Mixed Coun- "^^^^ fourth public assembly^ of Britain was
cii of sionehenge. convcned at the hill' of Ambro.sius, in Salisbury
Plain, a place now commonly known by the name of Stone-
henge" — the "stones of Hengist." Ambrosius Aurelius was
solemnly crowned on this occasion; and with his consent,
as well as with that of all the clergy^ Dubritius was there
consecrated an archbishop. The name of Ambrosius is still
connected with that neighbourhood, Amesbury, a town within
a few miles of the spot at which this mixed council was held,
being a corruption of Ambre's bury, i. e. " Ambrosii urbs \"

It is reported on the authority of Capgrave, in his life of
S. Patrick, that at this time those enormous blocks of stone,
which even to this day are considered "the"' wonder of the
west," were brought from Ireland, and set up as monuments
to perpetuate the memory ^ of those British patriots who had
fallen by the hands of Hengist and his followers. The as-
sertion, however, that these stones were brought from Ireland
must be received with great caution. In the first place, their
' " Convocato regni clero." — Cone. Mag. Brit. i. 7.




enormous size would seem to render the transit impossible ;
and in the second place, " the outer circles of large stones . . .
are of the sandstone ^ found plentifully in the neighbourhood."
But that this was a place of sepulture for the slain Britons,
and these stones a memorial of their death, is rendered proba-
ble enough from the facts that "the^ ground around Stonehenge
is covered with barrows ;" and that " heads of arrows, some
pieces of armour eaten ^ out with rust, and rotten bones,"" were
discovered during an excavation made by Aubrey, duke of
Buckingham, in 1620. This monument, for whatever purpose
erected ^ was originally composed of an outer circle of thirty
upright stones, each about fourteen feet high, seven broad,
and three thick. Each of the upright stones was hewn and
squared by the tool, and provided also with two tenons, which
fitted into corresponding mortices worked in other stones
placed horizontally upon the summits of the uprights, and
forming a continuous impost. This outer circle was about
one hundred feet in diameter. Within it was a lesser circle,
" eighty-three feet in diameter ^, containing about the same
number of perpendicular stones, but much smaller, and with-
out imposts." Some further arrangements, in an elliptical
form, within this second circle, have been discovered, consist-
ing of groups of three stones, two upright ones and an impost
called " triliths " by archaeologists. These varied from sixteen
to twenty-one feet in height : before each trilith stood three
small upright stones, and " in the central ^ space in front of the
principal trilith is a large flat stone." But whatever was the
original purport of this extraordinary monument of antiquity,
this place was the scene of the "mixed council" now under
consideration ; and in addition to the solemn act of the coro-
nation of Anrelius Ambrosius, the metropoHtical sees of Caer-
leon-upon-Usk, and of York, were on this occasion conferred
respectively upon Dubritius and Sampson ^.

XI A mixed In the year 51 6 the fifth British pubHc assem-
council. bly s_^ of which information reaches us, was con-

vened in this country. It is called by the learned Spelman "a
most celebrated council ^ of all the authorities of Britain, viz.
of the archbishops, bishops, abbots, and others, in order to
solemnize the coronation of the great K. Arthur." Three
days were devoted to this celebration ; and on the fourth.

A. D. 39—


2 Wright's
History of
tlic Early
of Britain,
p. 60.
^ Ibid.

). 59.

b Ibid. p. 8-2.

"^Vid. ibid,
p. 59.

Ibid. p. 59.

f Spelm.
Cone. i. 61.

g Spelm.

Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 11 of 83)