Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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professed in Snglaad, or that of Borne? If this be determinecl, the
busineflB is «t an issue. We are persuaded Joseph brought no other
religion with him than what was taught by Peter and Paul, and the
rest of the apostles and evangelists^ in other parts of the world What
religion men taught '' viva voce/' in any age, is beet known by their
writingB, if they left any behind them. ^ No other way have the
Bomanists themselves, nor other do they use, in judging what was
&e dootrine of the fathers in the following agea The writings of
the apostles are still extant; by them alone can we judge of the doo-
trine that they imaohed* That doctrine, then, unquestionably taught

8178 he, liter mentioning Spain, "preached saly&tion to the islands that lie in the
oeean." — ^VoL ir. dtrm. 0. He makes a sfimilar statement in his exposition of 2 Tim.
It. 17 : ** St Paul, after his release at Boms^ went to Spain, and thence oairied the ligH
of the gospel to other nations."

If these testimonies do not prore that to the great apostle of the Gentiles in parti*
eolar we are indebted for the irst pabUcation of the gospel in our iskmd, tb^ show
that, coeral with the veiy origin of ecdesiastieal history, a belief existed that within
the first century, and even in the days of the apostles. Britain had been ftiYoured, to
some extent, with the light of dlyinererelation. If we discard, therefore, the traditicm
tiiat the first erangelist in Britain was Joseph of Ariaathea, to which Jh Owen seems
wining to attach some importance, it is only to fill back upon an account of the intro-
duction of the Christian religion into our country that nas more of the wei^^ and
digniij of genuine liistoiy, and which supplies an answer more conolusiYe and satia&e-
tory to the reasoning of his opponent in ^ Fiat Lux." The curious incident recorded
by Tacitus (** AnnaL" jdil. cap. 82) has been regarded as proring that even in the reign of
Claadiua, A. D. 41-64, there mig^t have been Christians in BritfSn. Pomponia GTrsaoins,
on the return of her husband finom Britain, was accused of being tainted with a *< fi»*
reign superstition;" and if this be the Christian religion, as is conmionly supposed, her
seal as a primitiTe Christian, in difusing the gospel, u not likriy to haTe slumbered In
Britain, where human degradation around hjr wcmld serre so powerftilly to erokeit into
operation ; and distance fit)m Borne might lead her to avow her principles more tneHj
than in a city where the martyrdom of Christians was no uncommon spectacle. Ter-
tulliam also affirms (" Adver. Jud.," cap. rii) that by his time those parts of Britain
inaccessible to the arms of Rome had been })enetrated by the gospel Mosbeim (" Df
Bebus Christianis," p. 205) alludes to this testimony in disparaging terms : ^ Bhetori.
eatur paullulum rir bonua" If, howeyer, there were no precise and definite fhcts to
sustain his assertion, it is difficult to conoeive how Tertullian could indulge in a state*
ment so specific as that the gospel had entered countries which had checked the trium.
phant adyance of the Boman legions^ and so likely to offbnd the pride of the Roman, to
provoke a denial and reooU upon its author if untrue. Qildas, writing in the sixth oeo.
Uajf states that the sun of Christianity shone upon our island about the time whsii
Boadioea rerolted against the authority of Rome, a-d. 62; and seems to intimate that
the Boman soldiers, of whom there were forty-eight thousand in Britain, and whom it
was unlawful to accuse of Christianity, had been the means of diAising a knowledge of
the goq>el Mosbeim, it may be added, in the work to which we haye already referred,
holds that the balance of probability is in fikveur of the view which ascribes the first
pni^ication of Christianity in our country to an apostle, or some oompanien of the
apostks; and sa the British churdies were in the first oentory independent of the Bo*
mao sec^ had the same forms of worsh^ and obscrYed Easter ai the same time, with the
churehesofOsnl, wldch doubtless had an Asiatic origin, tlie eridenee is very staong thai
the gospel reached us originally by a eonne exdusive of Roma The *«OrigiDss" <tf
Still^igfleet were publishsd two years after the death of Owen; and the latter, aecord.
in^y, net hairing the adtantags of the sifting diaeussion which tiie story about Joseph of
AriuMthca has since undergone, mig^t the more readily commit himself to a profisnion 0^
belief in its truth. His own language, howsfer, <* Either by him or some other erange-
list," is suiftelentiy guarded. The faeto we have stated enhance the strei^;th of the
genenJ argmnsnt; sad the knoiriedge of them will adapt it to the pnseiit state of the

▼OL XIV. 7

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Joseph in Britain; and that doctrine (blessed be Qod I) is still owned
and professed amongst us. All, and only what is contained in their
writings, is received with us as necessary to salvation. This conver-
sion was wholly oura '' Quod antiquissimum id verissimum.'^ Being
the first, it was certainly the best Our author, indeed, teUs us of
crosses, shrines, oratories, altars, monasteries, vigils, embers, honour-
ing of saints (you must suppose all in the Roman mode), making
oblations and orisons for the dead ; and that this was the religion in
those days planted amongst ua If this be so, I wonder what we do
to keep the Bible, which speaks not one word of that religion which
the apostles and apostolical men preached. Strange, that in all
their writings they should not once mention the main parts and
duties of the doctrines and worship which they taught and propa-
gated ! that Paul, in none of his epistles, should in the least give the
churches any direction in or concerning the things and ways wherein
their worship principally consisted, and their devotion was chiefly
exercised I But how comes our author to know that these things, in
the Roman mode, were brought into England at the first entrance
of Christianity? Would he would give us a little information from
what writings or monuments of those times he acquired his know-
ledga I know it is imreasonable to put an historian to his oath ; but
yet, unless he can plead that he received his acquaintance with things
that are so long past by inspiration, as Moses wrote the stoiy of the
creation and ages before the flood, being destitute of any other monu-
ments or testimony that might give evidence to what he says, I hope
he will not be offended if we suspend our belief. " Solus enim hoc
Ithacus nuUo sub teste canebat,'' [Juv., xv. 26]. This first conversion,
then, as was said, is wholly ours; it neither came firom Rome, nor
knew any thing of that which is the present religion of Rome, wherein
they differ fix)m ua

That which is termed our second conversion, is the preaching of
Damianus and Fugatius, sent hither by Eleutherius, bishop of Rome,
in the days of king Lucius, in the year 190, as our author saith; Beda^
156; Nauclerus, Baronius, 178; Henricus de Erfordia> 169, in the
days of Aurelius or Commodus. I have many reasons to question
this whole story;* and sundry parts of it, as those about the epistles

oontroyersy with Bomanista, who are fond of urging the claims of the Boman see to sa-
firemacy, on the ground that Britain is indebted to it for its first acquaintance with
Christianity. Besides the fact, that not till after the lapse of centuries did popes arise
to nsorp an impions lordship over the church of Christ, all the history which can be
summoned in adjudication of the dispute shows that the Christian religion, in its pure
and primitiYe form, reached our island by a different channel — Ed.

* Several learned authors, such as Usher, Stillingfleet, Hooker, and others, concur in
^hinlting that some British prince of the name of Lucius must haTC rendered eminent
service in diffusing the Christian faith in some part of Britain. In the attempt to de-
termine one point only, — the year of his admission into the Christian church, — ^Usher
has occasion to quote i^mards of fifty Latin authorities ; and thou^ it appears that one
«f the two coins on which he partly relied as evidence that such a royal personage onoe

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of Lucius and Eleutherlus^ are palpably fictitioua But let us grant
that about those days Fugatius and Damianus came hither from
Bome^ and furthered the preaching of the gospel, which had taken
footing here so long before, and was no doubt preserved amongst
many, — ^we know Qod in his providence used many various ways for
the propagating of his gospel; sometimes he did it by merchants,
sometimes by soldiers, sometimes by captives, as a poor maid gave
occasion to the conversion of a whole province, — ^what will hence
ensue to the advantage of the pretensions of the Romanists ? The
religion they planted here was doubtless that (and no other) which
was then professed at Bome, and in most other places in the world,
with some small differences in outward observances, wherein each
church took liberty to follow traditions or prudential reasonings of its
own. When our author, or any for him, can make it appear that
any thing material in that which we call Popeiy was in tiiose days
taught, believed, preached, or known among the churches of Christ,
they will do somewhat to the purpose ; but the present flourish about
the catholic £uth planted here, which no man ever denied, is to none
at all. It was the old catholic fisdth we at first received, and therefore
not the present Romish.

After those days, wherein this propagation of Christianity by the
ministry of Fugatius and Damianus in this province is supposed to
have fallen out^ a sad decay in faith and holiness of life befell pro-
fessors, not only in this nation, but, for the most p^ all the world
over; which especially took place after Qod had graciously, in the

held s?ray in southern Britain is now pronounced false and oonnterfeit, this amount of
historic testimonj cannot be sommarily discarded. There is extreme difficulty in dis-
criminating the actual truth of history from the copious growth of fiction which loads
the monkish narratiyes, from which all information respecting Lucius must be drawn.
That there was such a natiye prince in Britain, while Antoninus and Commodus were
emperors, amounts almost to a certainty; and hik dominions seem to haye comprised the
modem counties of Sun-ey, Sussex, Oxfordshire, and Gloucestershire. Baronius states
that fh>m an early period of his life he had shown an inclination to espouse and befriend
the Christian cause, having already obtained a partial knowledge of it from its adherents
in Britain. Some account reaching him of the heroic constancy evinced by the martyrs
at Yienne and Lyons amid their sufferings, and of conversions which had occuned
among the nobility of Bome to the Christian faith, he could no longer refrain from a
more careM inquiry into its principles and claims. He sent a deputation, consisting
of two British Christians, to Eleutheriiis, at that time bishop of Bome, and deserving of
respect for his personal integrity, although he had once given his sanction, — ^which indeed
he afterwards revoked, — ^to the impious heresy of Montanus, who assumed to be the Para-
clete promised by our Saviour, alleging that the term denoted not the Holy Ghost, but
an inspired teacher authorized to prescribe a frOler rule of life than Christ himself had
given. The result may be given in the words of Baronius, who cannot be suspected of
any leanings to a version of the story unfavourable to the pretensions of the Bomish
church, and by whose account it appears, that whatever information Damianus and
Fugatius (Buvianus and Faganus according to other authors) conveyed to the British
prince, Christianity was alr^y well known in the island before their arrival at his
court: — "This pontiff sent into Britain Fugatius and Donatianus, otherwise named
Damianus, that they might initiate in the sacred mysteries the kin^ and others who
were imbued with the Christian religion, — a duty which they diligently fulfilled, — ^for
long before (as Gildas the Wise testifies), the gospel of Christ had b^ oarried thither."
— AnnaL Ecotos. H a.d. 188.— Ed.

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43onTeTBioii of the emperom to the &itb, mtrosted them with outward .
peace and prosperity. I desire not to make naked their miscarriageB
whom I doubt not but in mercy Qod bath long nnoe pardoned; but
it cannot be denied that the stories of thoie dscjs are full of nothing
more ikan the oppressions, luzuiy, axid sloth of rakis; the pride,
ambition, and unseemly, scandalous contests for pre-eminence of sees
and extent of jurisdiction, amcmg bishops; the sensuality and igno-
rance ci the most of mea. In this season it was ibat the bishop of
Borne, adTantaged by the prerogative of ihe city, the ancient seat
and spring of the empire, began gradually to attempt a superintend-
eacj orer his Inrethren, aooording as any advantages for that end
(which could not be wantiii^ in the inte^ine tumults and seditions
wherewith Christians were tumunled) offered themselves unto him.
Wherever an opportunity could be q>ied, he was still interposing his
mnpirage and authority amongst them, and that sometimes not with-
out sinfol artifioes and downright forgeries; wherein he was always
accepted or refused, acccnrdii^ as the interest of them required with
whom he had to da What the lives of priests and people, what their
knowledge and profession of the gospel, of the poor Britons espe-
cially, in those days were, our own countryman, Gildas, doth suffi-
ciently testify and bewail Scdvianus doth the same for other parts
of the world ; and, generally, all the pious men of those ages. Whilst
the priests strove for sovereignty and power, the people perished
through ignorance, and sensuality. Neither can we possibly have
a more full conviction of what was the state of Christians and Christ-
ianity in those days in the worid, than may be seen and read in the
horrible judgments of God, wherewith he punished their wickedness
and ingratitude. Whai he could no longer bear the provocations of
his people, he stirred up those swarms of northern nations, Goths,
Yandals, Huns, Franks, Longobards, Alans, Saxons, eta, — some few
of them Arians, the most Pagans, — ^and poured them out upon the
western empire, to the utter ruin of it, and the diviaon of the pro-
vinces amongst themselves. After a while, these fierce, cruel, and
barbarous nations, having executed the judgments of God against the
ungodliness of m^a, — seating themselves in the warmer climates of
Ihose whom they had in part subdued, in part extirpated, as is the
manner of all persons in transmigration firom one country to another,
— began to unlearn their ancient barbarism, and to indine to the man-
ners, fashions, and religion of the people to whom they were come,
and with whom, after their heats were over and lusts satisfied, they
began to incorporate and coalesce; together, I say, with their man-
ners they took up, by various ways and means, the religion which
they did profess. And the bishop of Borne having k^t his outward
station in that femous city during all those turmoils, becoming vene-
rable unto them, imto him were many applications made; and his

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aothority iras first signally advanoed by this new race of Christianfl,
The religion they thus took up was not a little degenerated from its
primitiye aportolioal purity and sjdendour. And they were among
the first who feh the efiGdots of their fonner barbaroos inhnmanity,
in thdbr sedulous endeavour to destroy all books and learning out of
the world, which brought that darkness upon mankind wherewith
they wrestled fcnr many succeeding generations; for, having them-
selyes made an intennsion of the current and piogress of studies mm!
learning, they were forced to make use, in their entertainment of
Christianity, of men meanly skilled in the knowledge of Qod or
themselves, who, some of them, knew little more of the goq>el than
what they had learned in the outward observances and practices of
the places where they had been educated Towards the beginning
of this hurry of the world, this shufBing of the nations, was the pro-'
vince of Britain, — ^not long before exhausted of its stores of men and
arms and defeated by the Bomans, — ^invaded by the Saxons, Picts,
Angles, and others out of Germany, who, accomplishing the will of
God, extirpated the greatest part of the ^tish nation, and drove the
remainders of them to shelter themselves in the western mountamous
parts of this island. These new inhabitants, after they were some-
what civilised by the vidnity of the provincials, and had got a little
breathing from their own intestine feuds, by fixing the limits of their
leaders' dominions, which they called kingdoms, began to be in some
preparedness to receive impressions of religion above that rude Pa-
ganism which they had before served Satan in. These were they
to whom came Austin from Bome; — a man, as far as appears by the
story,^ little acquainted with the mystery of the gospel; yet one whom

1 The Suon invasion sufficiently aoooonte for the degree of barbarism and heathen-
ism into which the most of Britain had relapsed before Augustine, with a commission
fhmi Gregory the Great, Yiaited it to engage in the work ot conTerting its inhabitants
to the Christian faith. Galled by the repet^ inoursions of the Soots and Picts on the
north, when the Boman soldiery had been recalled fh)m the island to protect the sink-
ing empire against the threatened descent of the Huns, the Britons invited the Saxons
to assist them inrepresBing theencroacfameBtsof their warlike neighbours. Tlie Saxons
soon gained the ascendency; and the Britons, instead of being secured in the peaceable
enjoyment of their territories, were driven to the west of the island, whilst their treach-
erous allies seised upon the largest portion of it. The arrival of the first Saxon army,
at the invitation of Yortigem, was in the year 449. It was in the year 697 that the
Boman abbot, Augustine, reached our idand. In the interval, Christianity had been
obliterated ftom Saxon EnglaiMt.

Augustine was soon able to report to Gregoty considerable success in his mlssioii,
though the equivocal diaraoter of his ]»oceedingi may be understood from the fikct, that,
in his communications to Bome, he dwelt with especial pride and satis&ctlon on the
baptism of ten thousand heathens in one Christmas-day. The vain-glory of the man
did not altogether escape the notice of Gregory, if we may Judge from the earnest ad-
monition to be humble which he tenders in one of his earliest letters to the missionary.
Along with such good advices, he sent a copy of the holy Scriptures to our island, — a
xare and precious gift in those days.

The ancient Britons, however, still had their own Christian church. Neander states
that ** numerous clergy and monks" were connected with it Augustine was anxious

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it pleased God graciously to use to bring the Scripture toiongst them,
— ^that inexhaustible fountain of light and truth, and by which those
to whom he preached might be infallibly freed from any mixture of
mistakes that he might offer to them. That he brought with him a
doctrine of observances not formerly known in Britain is notorious,
from the famous story of those many professors of Christianity which
he caused to be murdered by Pagans for not submitting to his power,
and refusing to practise according to his traditions; whose unwilling*
ness to be slain, if they could have otherwise chosen, is that which,
I suppose, our author calls their " disturbing good St Austin in his
pious work." But yet neither will this conversion of the Saxons,
begun by Austin the monk, at all advantage our author as to his
pretensions. The religion he taught here, as well as he could, was
doubtless no other than that which at those days was professed at
Bome: mixtures of human traditions, worldly policies, observances
trendiing upon the superstitions of the Qentiles, in many things it
had then revived; but, however, it was fer enough from the present
Bomanism, if the writers and chief bishops of those days knew what
was their religion. Papal supremacy and infallibility, transubstan-
tiation, religious veneration of images in churches, with innumerable
other prime fundamentals of Popery, were as great strangers at Bome
in the days of Gregory the Great as they are at this day to the
church of England.

to secnre their co-operation with hinif and quite as anxious to obtain their recognition of
his superiority as appointed by the see of Rome. The Britons, however, reftised to own the
supremacy of the pope. *' We are all prepared," said Deynock, an abbot of Bangor, " to
hearken to the church of God, to the pope of Rome, and to every pious Christian, in such
a way as to manifest to all, according to their several stations, perfect charity, and to
uphold them both by word and deed. We know not what other obedience we can owe
to him whom you adl pope, or father of fathers." A public conference between the
representatives of the British and Romish churches had no efifect in promoting the
amalgamation at which Augustine aimed, and he died in 606 without effecting his
object. The stand which the Britons made against the usurpation of the Roman see
exerted a wide influence at the time. Neander ascribes to it the reaction which arose
about this period, and continued for centuries afterwards, against the claims of the
Romish hierarchy. The usages in which a difference existed between Rome and the
earlier Christianity of the isluid, or the " Scotch church," to employ the designation of
Neander, — so called in virtue of the fact that its ministers and missionaries were chiefly .
educated in the institutions founded by Columba and his successors, — ^relate to the time
of Easter, the form of tonsure, and the administration of baptism. The Britons, more-
over, sturdily resisted the supremacy which the Roman see arrogated over the western
church. A century elapsed before the arts of Rome prevailed, with the help of Saxon
asoendoicy, in enforcing its ritual on the Christians of this island, and supplanting the
more ancient forms which they had learned, directly or indirectly, from the east.

It is said that, after a second conference had been without avail in securing the ad-
hesion of the British Christians to the Roman see, Augustine threatened vengeance on
them for thus refusing submission to a foreign prelate. Ethelfrid, king of Korthum-
berland, at the head of an army, marched upon Bangor, and put nearly twelve hundred
monks to the sword. To this carnage Owen alludes, though there is some difficulty in
ascertaining what share in the atrocity belongs to Augustine, beyond the threatening
which he had uttered of some impending calamity on the Britona The massacre is
dated seven years after his death. — ^Ed.

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After these times, the world continuing still in troubles, religion
began more and more to decline, and &11 off from its pristine purity;
at first, by degrees insensible and almost imperceptible, in the broach-
ing of new opinions and inventing new practices in the worship of
God; at length, by open, presumptuous transgressions of its whole
rule and genius, in the usurpation of the pope of Rome, and imposi-
tions of his authority on the necks of emperors, kings, princes, and
people of all sorts. By what means this work was carried on, what
advantages were taken for, what instruments used in it, what oppo-
sition by kings and learned men was made unto it, what testimony
was given against it by the blood of thousands of martyrs, others have
at large declared; nor will my present design admit me to insLst on
particulars. What contests, debates, tumults, wars, were, by papal
pretensions, raised in these nations, what shameful entreating of some
of the greatest of our kings, what absolutions of subjects fix)m their
allegiance, with such like effluxes of an abundant apostolical piety,
this nation, in particular, was exercised with from Rome, all our his-
torians isufficiently testiiy. " Tante molis erat Romanam condere
gentem!" The truth is, when once Romanism began to be en-
throned, and had driven Catholicism out of the world, we had very
few kings that passed their days in peace and quietness from contests

Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 13 of 67)