John Pryce.

The ancient British church : a historical essay online

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Pryce, John

The ancient British church












'Attendite ad petram
unde excisi estis, et ad
cavernam laci de qua
prsecisi estis'



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The following Essay having been adjudged to be
the best on ' The Ancient British Church ' of the
Essays submitted for competition at the National
Eisteddfod of 1876, I have not felt myself at liberty
to introduce alterations except in the way of phrase
and illustration, together with the addition of some
of the Notes and the latter part of Chapter V. The
necessity of keeping closely in my treatment of the
subject to the lines marked out by the Committee in
their programme, is my apology for the dispropor-
tionate length at which I have discussed some points,
and for the consequent want of symmetry which I
feel pervades the whole Essay.

It will probably appear strange to not a few that,
when Dissent is so prevalent in Wales, an enquiry
into the foundation and subsequent history of the
British Church should be considered a question


sufficiently popular and sufficiently far removed from
the region of polemics to find a place in the list
of subjects chosen for competition at an Eisteddfod.
The explanation is not far to seek. The Ancient
British Church is rightly regarded as bound up with
the past history of the Welsh people, exhibiting
both the virtues and the defects of the National
character. On the other hand, the Church in Wales
at the present time, forced by the policy of the
Government and its Episcopal nominees during the
Hanoverian period into an attitude of apparent
antagonism to all that was dear to my countrymen,
has come in a great measure to be considered an off-
shoot of the Anglican Communion, reflecting and
attracting the religious feeling of only the upper
and wealthier classes. V/ith time and patience we
may hope to remove this impression, but of its ex-
istence and of its powerful influence to the prejudice
of the growth of the Church, there can be no doubt.
It is not the least of the many difficulties they have
to contend against who are praying and labouring
that the Church may again become a living power
in Wales, appealing to and commanding the sym-
pathies of the people.


Of modern authors, I would gratefully mention
as those to whom especially I am indebted for
information on points bearing on the Irish and
Columban Churches, Dr. Reeves, Dr. Todd, Mr. King,
Dr. Skene, and Dr. Forbes late Bishop of Brechin.
On the differences between Rome and Britain at the
beginning of the sixth century, I am greatly beholden
to the interesting and, on the non-oriental character
of British peculiarities, unanswerable Essay of M.
Varin, printed in Tom. V. (Premiere serie) of the
' Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres ' (Paris,
1858). From Bishop Basil Jones and Freeman's
'History of S. David's Cathedral' I have derived much
help in connection with the early history of the See
of S. David's. Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy's * Descrip-
tive Catalogue' has been invaluable as a guide to
original sources of information, and, in the * Lives
of the Saints,' to the comparative historical value
of each separate biographical compilation. Of
' Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents ' (Haddon
and Stubbs), I have made continual use, not omitting
however to verify the extracts quoted by reference
to the original authorities, with a view to see how
far the meaning might be qualified by the context.


I trust there is no irreverence in my closing these
lines with the words of S. Augustine, slightly altered
into the form of a prayer to suit our present needs :

' O cBterna Veritas, et vera Caf itas, et cara
^ternitas, Tti sis Deus noster!

Bangor : May, 1878.




Original Inhabitants of Britain — Gaelic and Cymric Immigrations
— Organic Unity of the Britons — Modern Celtic I>anguages —
Vitality of the Welsh Language — Druidism — Suppression of
the Druidical Order — The National Character — Patriotism of
the Britons — Divine Design — Historical Tendency — Suscep-
tivity of the Britons — Love of Christ constraining them . , i


Christianity in Britain — Alleged Agencies — Glastonbury Legends
— ^Joseph of Arimathea — Abbey of Glastonbury — Bran ab Llyr
and Caradog — S. Paul — Authorities quoted — Vagueness of
Clemens Romanus — Lucius or Lleurwg ab Coel — Conflicting
Statements — Rapid Spread of Christianity — Greek Character
of Early Christianity — Platonic Teaching — The British and
Gallic Churches — Persecution at Vienne and Lyons — Gildas —
Condition of Britain — Earliest Notices of Christians in Britain 31


State of Roman Society — Fiscal Oppression — Misery of the Times
— Roman Provinces— Constantius, Helen — Diocletian Perse-



cution — British Martyrs — S. Alban, S. Amphibalus— Church
Councils — Donatism — Council of Aries — Easter Controversy —
Adoption of Different Lunar Cycles— Council of Nic?ea —
Council of Sardica — Council of Rimini — History of the term
Homoousion 69


North Britons -S. Ninian — Permanence of the Mission — Second
Order of Irish Saints — S. Columba and S. Kentigern — Ob-
stacles to the Conversion of the English — Pelagianism — Pela-
gianism in Britain — SS. Germanus and Lupus — Victory of the
Hallelujah — Permanent Results of the Missions — British
Synods — Lives of the Saints ; Welsh Genealogies — S. David —
His Childhood— Monastic Rule of S. David — His Humility —
Llanddewi-Brefi — Last Days of S. David — His Death . .103


Diocesan Episcopate — Sees in Wales — See of Bangor — Title of
Archbishop — See of Llanelwy — S. Kentigern — Bishops of
Llanelvvy — See of S. David's — See of Llanbadam — See of
Llandaff. S. Dubricius - S Teilo — Bishops of Llandaff — Un-
diocesan Bishops in Wales — Great Number of Bishops — No
Archiepiscopate in Wales — Giraldus Cambrensis — Claims of S.
David's and Llandaff— Monastic Colleges — Clanship of Welsh
Monastic Foundations— Mutual Influence of Celtic Churches —
Conversion of Ireland — The Columban Order — Monks, De-
fenders of the weak and oppressed — Their Sympathy with the
Irrational Creation — Monks upheld the heroic side of Christi-
anity — Origin and Extension of Monasticism — British Monastic
Rule— Marriage of the Clergy— Ritual of the British Church-
Peculiar Ecclesiastical Usages 142




The English Conquest — Heathenism of the Conquerors — English
Slaves at Rome — Gregory the Great — Augustine — Journey of
the Missionaries across Gaul — First Interview with ^Ethelberht
— Success of the Mission — New Bishoprics — Augustine and the
British Bishops — 'The First Conference — The Second Confer-
ence — Schism between British and Roman Churches — Tem-
porary Reaction in favour of Paganism — Christianity in
Northumbria— S. Aidan and S. Finan — Growth of the English
Church — Synod of Whitby — Submission of the Columban
Communion — The Welsh adopt the Roman Easter — Political
Relation of Wales to England — Tokens of Spiritual Subjection
— Interference of Eadgar as Suzerain — Jurisdiction by the See
of Canterbury — Appointment of Antinational Bishops — Politi-
cal Use of the Episcopate — Abuse of Spiritual Powers —
Worldliness of the Church in Wales — Welsh Methodism —
Church and Dissent in Wales — Alleged Erastianism of the
Church — Difficulties of a Welsh -Nonconformist — Prospects of
a Reunion — Lessons and Warnings of the Past — The Assur-
ance of Christ's Presence . . . . . . .211




' Divina provide ntia, qitce, siciit bona, ita pia et jiista est, agitur
mundus et Jiomo.'' — Orosius, lib. i. cap. i.

The first settlers In Britain were probably a
branch of the Turanian Family. At that time the
principal group of the Westerly section of hJ'if^^j^J/jf
this family extended, under different names, ph"Sc"'iVea-

tures, in-
over the greater part of Europe. The teiiectuai de-

■*• '■ velopment,

Northern branch was known as Cimbri, the JTrTcfrelflion.
central as ^qultanl, colonising partially at least
Spain, Gaul, and the British Islands ; while the
Southern portion, comprising the TyrrhenI and the
Pelasgi, occupied Italy and Greece.^ The physical

' This view and nomenclature were advocated ably, and at length,
in the Quarterly Review, No. 256. The whole subject, however, is in
so doubtful and shifting a condition, that at present a guess at truth is
necessarily almost the highest aim of critical research.



features of the race, judging from those of the
Tyrrheni as portrayed in the earHer Etruscan paint-
ings, were shortness of stature, a broad strong frame,
with large heads and thick arms, high cheek bones,
hair black, or very dark, in small crisp curls.^ The
least progressive of mankind in moral and intellectual
development, their language occupied a mid-v/ay
position, removed from monosyllabic languages, like
the Chinese, but falling short of the inflected lan-
guages of the Aryan or Semitic speech.^ They were
replaced in Europe, the Cimbri by the Goths, the
^quitani, leaving however a residual Basque element,
by the Celts, the Tyrrheni by the Latins, and the
Pelasgi by the Hellenes. Whether their disappearance
in Britain is to be accounted for by a war of exter-
mination or by incorporation, we have no means of
judging; probably the former, as we can find no trace
of their having influenced the mental qualities, or

' Taylor's Etruscan ResearcJies^ p, 6i.

- Bunsen classifies all languages under three heads : '(i) those of
the primitive formation — monosyllabic languages, like the Chinese —
these he represents as decidedly inorganic, each word implicitly con-
taining the power of a complete phrase in itself, so that thought is, as
it were, confined and pulverised in the separate inert molecules which
compose the vocabulary ; (2) those of the secondary formation— the
agglutinative or Turanian languages — as exhibiting peculiarities analo-
gous to the characteristics distinctive of the incomplete organisation of
vegetables ; and (3) the inflected languages, whether Semitic or Iranian,
as completely and spiritually organised.' — Summary of Bunsen's Lin-
guistic Researches in Professor Flint's Philosophy of History, vol. i.
p. 564.


the language, or even the physical character of their
successors, unless we attribute to them the sallow
complexion, broad shoulders, and dark hair of the
Silurians of South Wales.^ Proofs of their residence
in Europe remain in the cromlecJiau, which may be
traced from the Mediterranean northward, across
Russia, to the Caucasus.'- The strength and huge size
of the masonry not unnaturally led subsequent ages to
attribute to it a supernatural origin. Comparing the
Turanians with what is known of other kindred tribes,
such as the Mongolians, Finns, and Lapps, and judg-
ing from the architectural evidence of their tombs, we
may gather that they never rose to a clear conception
of a spiritual God external to and independent of the
outward world, or to the idea of a future state, except

^ ' Silurum colorati vultus et torti plerumque crines.' — Tacit. A<yric.
Vita, c. xi. Compare, ' In the Walloon Country, which surrounds
Liege, the people are distinguishable from their Teutonic neighbours
by dark, often black hair, gaunt angular forms, square foreheads, and
narrow pointed chins : in fact, they have the characters assigned by
W. F, Edwards to the Cimbrian race.' — Dr. Beddoe * On the Physical
Character of Ancient and Modern Germans.' — Report of the British
Association for 1857, p. 118.

- There has been a similar and an equally strange extinction of what
must have been at one time a powerful nation, — the mound-builders of
North America. The Indians, although in possession from a remote
period, have no traditions or even stories to tell respecting these former
occupiers, how or when they disappeared, or for what purpose their
mound-walls were erected ; they can only give the same reply as would
probably have been given by the Celtic Druids of the cromlechaic, ' Our
fathers found them here when they came.' A full account is given of
the monuments of this forgotten race in Prehistoric Races of the United
States of America, by Y. W, Foster, LL.D. (1873).

B 2


as a long-continued transmigration into different
bodies of living beings, ending in annihilation.
Their religion is resolvable into a worship of the
spirits of Heaven, of spirits of nature, and of
ancestral spirits. The last idea found expression in
reverence for the tombs of their ancestors, and a
desire to perpetuate their memory by rude but
gigantic earthworks or immovable and imperishable
masses of stone. How prominent this element was in
their religious conceptions appears from the Etruscan
names of their four great deities, found, with slight
variation, in the dialects of the Ugric or Turkic tribes
of Siberia — Kulmu, the spirit of the Grave, Vanth,
who holds the key of the Tomb, Hinthial, the spectre
of the Dead and the image of the Living, and Nathum,
the Avenger of innocent blood. ^

Leaving the almost impenetrable darkness which

envelops the Turanian colonisers of Britain, and

which renders their history mainly conjec-

Cymric im-

migraiion. \;^x2\, wc are Comparatively on historic ground
when we come to the century immediately preceding
the Christian era. In the meantime, a portion of
the Celtic group of the Aryan or Indo-European race
had settled in Britain. At what period this immi-
gration took place, or of the circumstances which
attended or immediately preceded it, there is no

' Taylor's Etruscaji Researches, pp. 412, 413.


trustworthy record. Minute though varying accounts
are given in the Triads and in the old English
Chronicles ; but the legendary matter forms so large
a portion of, and is so interwoven with, these accounts
that we can with safety only extract from them a few
leading conceptions, which will admit of more or less
historical positiveness : that the immigration was from
the East ; that on its way to Europe it traversed the
countries adjoining the Black Sea in a series of waves,
which became more uneven and broken the further
they advanced westward ; and that its impulsive
force was only finally spent, when the Gaelic and
Cymric tribes reached, successively, and not simulta-
neously, Britain and Ireland.^

At the time of the landing of Julius Caesar (r,.c. 55
and 54) the Cymry and kindred tribes peopled the
North and West of what afterwards came to Constituent

elements of

be called England, Wales, and Cornwall, f^gre^ate.
while the South-east and South may have been

1 In North Wales, particularly in Anglesey, on the Menai Straits
and Holyhead side of the island, there are sites of ancient habitations
now traceable, usually in clusters of five or more, although at Tyniawr,
on the Holyhead mountain, they must have formed a considerable
village of more than fifty huts. The Welsh people call them Cyttimt,
'r Gwyddelod. The common etymology of the name, ' Huts of the
Gael,' has not been unchallenged ; but the remains seem to point to a
prior occupation of the country by a Gaelic race, or, according to
another theory, to a I'efluent Gaelic race, subsequently thrown back
from Ireland upon the sea-board of Wales. — Vestiges of the Gael in
Gii'ynedd, p. 35. Archceologia Cambreiisis^ No. Ixi. pp. 3S5-400.
Quarterly Revienu, No. 174, September 1851.


inhabited by Celts more nearly akin to the Gauls
than to the Cymry. It is not impossible that even
then the East coast may have been fitfully occupied
by tribes which, if not of direct Teutonic origin, were
in some degree mingled with Teutonic elements.
But, with the last-mentioned possible insignificant
exception, we may conclude that the whole island, as
far north as Glasgow, was in the possession of a
people throughout akin, if not absolutely identical,
bound together by the four ties of (i) fellowship of
blood, (2) identity of language, (3) a common religion,
and (4) like manners and dispositions.

Independently of certain physical features, such,

for instance, if we trust all ancient authors, as the

^, , xanthous complexion which characterised

I. Blood-re- ^

lationship. ^j^^ Celtic race, though Strabo describes the
Britons as less yellow-haired than their Gaulish
kindred,^ we find deeper and truer proofs of the
blood-relationship of the Britons in the national
indignation which a foreign attack always evoked.
Upon such occasions the sense of organic unity, as
distinguished from the mere agglomeration of indi-
viduals or of tribes based upon considerations of
policy or goodwill, asserted itself, and proved stronger

* "^Ho-o-ov ^a.vQoTpix'^s. Dr. Beddoe, however, is of opinion that
^avdhs and Jiav7is, as applied to the colour of the hair, probably meant
chestnut, or light brown, rather than bright yellow. —Report of the
British Association for 1 85 7, p. 1 1 7.


than the accidents of mutual estrangement or jarring
interests. ' Cas gwr na charo y wlad ai macco,' be-
came the rallying cry of the whole country, and the
native princes or chieftains, laying aside for the time
all existing jealousies, united against the common
foe, electing, with a view to unity of action, a military
dictator, under the title of ' Pendragon.' The Triads
significantly record the names of those who, siding
with the foreigner or otherwise injuring their country,
had ignored the sacred ties of kinship. The full
measure of the impression which their conduct had
stamped upon the conscience of their countrymen can
only be duly realised, when we bear in mind the com-
paratively late date of these Welsh documents in their
present form,^ and that the names of these men must
have been kept alive in the memory for generations
before they were committed to writing. ' Du-Bradwr '
is the epithet invariably affixed ever afterwards to
Avarwy, the Mandubracius of Caesar or the Andro-
gorius of Orosius ; the Triads reckoning him as the
first of the three arrant traitors (' earn vradwyr ')
against the Isle of Britain.^

The Welsh tongue is a member of the Cymric

* Stephens, Literatin-e of the Cymry (ch. iii. sect. 4), places the col-
lection we have as late as the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and
fifteenth centuries.

- Myfyrian Archeology, ii. 61.


group of the two divisions into which the modern
2. Common Ccltic languages naturally fall.' For in these


groupr- dialects two distinctive divergences can be
.nnd Cymric, clcarly disccrncd, embedded in their very
structure, and thus indicating the existence of tribal
separations at a very remote period, probably long an-
terior to the arrival of the Celts in Western Europe.
But while there is this line of demarcation between the
two groups, there is, on the other hand, evidence of
certain analogies and common principles underlying
them all, which establishes their descent from an ideal
mother-language, and their consequent relationship to
each other. For instance, (i) their vocabulary is to a
great extent substantially identical ; (2) a number of
their primitive adjectives expressing the simplest
conceptions are the same ; and (3) it is one of their
peculiarities that, while the irregular forms bear a
smaller proportion to the regular forms than is usual,

' 'Dure sunt igitur varietates Celticce linguce pr^ecipuae. Est una
hibernica, ex qua propagatse sunt iingure adhuc extantes hujus generis,
in Hibernia ipsa hibernica kodierna, et in Britannia in montibus quos
dicunt scoticos, gaelica (i.e. gaedelica, ut Hiberni ipsi suam linguam
appellant, media excussa) quse quamvis tuta in altis alpibus vetustiora
monumenta non servavit, attamen in vetusta hibernica fundamentum
habet. Altera est britamiica lingua ... a qua propagatfe sunt cani-
brica, cornica, aremo7'ica, quae omnes possident monumenta plus vel
minus vetusta, vivae et hodie in ore populi, scriptis et carminibus,
excepta cornica, quce jam praeterlapso s?eculo etiam in vicis regionis
Cornubise audiri desiit.' — Zeuss, Granimatica Celtica^ 187 1 ; P7-a:fatio
Aucforis, p. viii.


these irregular forms bear a very remarkable analogy
to each other.^

To the Cymric group belong, in addition to the
Welsh language, the Cornish and the Armorican of
Brittany. The connection between the two ^^^j^j^
last-named is closer than between either of member^

the Cymric

them and the Welsh as spoken in modern family.
Wales. The other group, the Gaedhelic, comprises
(i) the Irish Gaelic or Erse, (2) the Scotch Gaelic,
and (3) the Manx or Gaelic of the Isle of iVIan.
These three members of the Gaedhelic family are
much more nearly allied to each other than the three
which form the Cymric family ; they are also con-
sidered older, more westerly than the Cymric, the
Gaedhelic standing to the latter in a relation analo-
gous to that of Latin towards all the Greek dialects,
with the exception, perhaps, of the old yEolic. The
two groups together form what has been termed
the Insular branch of the Celtic languages. Their
common mother has been supposed to be a sister
language of old Gaulish ; both of them, however,
are now extinct, although old Gaulish was spoken
as late as the fifth century. The few remains
we have of it clearly show that the Cymric family
is the one most nearly identified with it.- This

1 Skene, The Four Books of Wales, ^^. 121, 122.

- ' Gallicatn autem linguam priscam ... si non fuit eadem quce


circumstance reasonably suggests the inference, that
the Cymric dialects have preserved more faithfully
than the Gaedhelic the features of their mother-

So great has been the tenacity with which the
Cymry have clung to their language, not only through
Vitality of all the varying crises of two conquests, but

the Welsh

language. through thc morc trying ordeal of centuries
of commercial and social intercourse with England,
that so far the so-called prophecy of Taliesin has

been verified : —

' Eu ner a folant,
Eu hiaith a gadwant,
Eu gwlad a gollant,
Ond Gwyllt Walia.' i

Britain is a notable exception to the success which
elsewhere uniformly crowned the efforts of the

britannica, huic tamen viciniorem fuisse quam hibernicse, hsec potissi-
mum ostendunt : I. Congruentia sonorum quorundam. quibus dififert
hibernica . . . quae imprimis animadvertitur in vocibus gallicis et
britannicis ... 2. Terminationes quaedam propriae linguae britannicce,
et quas ignorat hibernica, apparentes in vocibus gallicis vetustis . . .
3. Sonorum eadem progressio in lingua britannica atque in gallica
etlam romanica, operante amplius linguae gallicae ingenio, quam pro-
gressionem nescit lingua hibernica ... 4. Voces quaedam in nominibus
gallicis vetustis et britannicis, quae desunt in hibernica lingua,' etc. —
Zeuss, Grammatica Celtica, Pmf. Aiictoris, pp. vi, vii.

» ' Their worship still to God they'll give,
With them their native tongue shall live,
Their Fatherland and fertile vales
They'll lose, except the wilds of Wales.'


Romans to extend into the provinces the general use
of the Latin tongue. Gibbon classes Britain with
Africa, Gaul, and Pannonia, where the language of
Rome was, in the time of Agricola, so universally
adopted, that the faint traces of the native idioms
were preserved only in the mountains, or among the
peasants. Hallam disputes the accuracy of this
sweeping generalisation ; and even Dean Milman
admits that the words of Tacitus, on which Gibbon
based his statements, merely assert the progress of
Latin studies among the higher orders.^

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Online LibraryJohn PryceThe ancient British church : a historical essay → online text (page 1 of 23)