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^ PRINCETON, N. T. <ff

Purchased by the
Mrs. Robert Lenox Kennedy Church History Fund.

"T> V.I r- /^ t-^ r—

BR 749 .C65 1898
Collins, William Edward,

1867-1911. .

The beginnings of Englisn

r.br i <=^t i ani tv _ — -— — ■

Edited by J. II. Burn, B.D








BY ^/








TiiK Sei-woou Printing V.'gkks,
Frome, and Lo:;don.







Prcjace ........ 9

Introduction 13

Chapter I. The Romano-British Church and

Celtic Christianity . . 17


II. The Beginnings of English

Christianity. ... 50

III. The Welsh Church and the

English 82

„ IV. The English Church and the

Roman 109


A The British Church not a Church of

Baptists 157

B Augustine's first Band of Missio?tarics . 159


C The Language of the Frankish Inter
pretcrs .....

D TJic Date of Ethelberfs Marriage.

E The Landing-Place of Angus tine .

F The Gift of the Pailium

G Saxo/i Christians before Augustine

H T/u: Authenticity of Gregory s Answers
to Augustine ....

I Antioch and Rome . .

K The Numbering of Gregory's Letters









at end


In the spring of this year I was called upon to
deliver three lectures at Liverpool on ' The Begin-
nings of English Christianity.' They were not
written, but much of their subject-matter was
afterwards embodied in a series of articles con-
tributed to the Church Times in May, on * The
Coming of St. Augustine.' These lectures and
articles form the basis of the present volume.

The book itself however is in no sense a
reprint. It has been re-written throughout, and
represents the result of much further study.
Considerably more than half of its subject-matter
is new, including most of what gives it a claim
(if indeed it has any), to be regarded as a fresh
study of the original sources. In j^articular, the
whole of the appendices now appear for the
first time.

10 Preface

These appendices are to be looked upon as an
integral portion of the book, consisting, as they do
for the most part, of the detailed inquiries upon
which arc based many statements made without
discussion in the text.

I had hoped to contribute to Dr. Mason's
recently published work. The Mission of St,
Augustine according to the Original Documents,
a dissertation on The Relations hetiveen the
English Church and the Papacy to the Norman
Conquest, the preparation of which had been
entrusted to me. Ill-health made this impossible.
Its subject-matter however is not included here ;
since what would have found a natural place
amongst the dissertations bearing on such a col-
lection of documents could form no proper part
of an essay which endeavours to deal, somewhat
discursively it is true, with the beginnings of
English Christianity. But I hope to make use
of it in another form before lone.

I have, as a rule, quoted and referred to
Gregory's Epistles in the order of the l^cnedlctine

Preface 1 1

edition as reprinted by Migne, making use how-
ever of the new edition in the Momiuienta Ger-
inaniae Historica where necessary. To facihtate
reference, the last appendix contains a Hst of the
letters referred to, with their numbering according
to the two editions.

Since these pages were in type the new edition
of Duchesne's Origines du Culte Chretien has
appeared ; but I have as yet had no opportunity
of seeing it.


Allh ALLOWS Barking, E.G.
St. Simon ami St. Judc, 1897


In the following chapters I propose to
treat of the Mission of St Augustine and
the beginnings of English Christianity, In
connection with the events that went before
and that followed after. The subject is one
of very wide Interest at the present time,
in view of the commemoration in which the
members of the Anglican communion have
been taking part in the past summer ; of the
thirteenth centenary of the landing of Augus-
tine and the baptism of Ethelbert of Kent.

But it has a wider and more permanent
bearing. One cannot read contemporary
literature without seeing how differently the
events of the year 597 are regarded by people
who look at them from different intellectual
standpoints. To some it becomes a point of
the utmost importance to show that Augus-

14 The Beginnings of English Christianity.

tine's mission was simply an Incident In a
continuous history which began earlier/ and
that our real Inheritance comes to us from
'the British Churches.' To some, on the
other hand, the fact that English Chris-
tianity begins with the Mission of Augus-
tine, a missionary sent by Pope Gregory the
Great, has seemed to lead logically to a re-
lationship to the Roman Communion which
would have been unthinkable in Gregory's
own day.^

It may therefore be profitable to endea-
vour to present the facts again in their
historical setting, allowing them so far as
possible to speak for themselves ; although,
in view of modern controversies and of
present-day interests, it will be necessary in
certain cases to point out the bearings of
the events in some detail. And the same
object being kept In view, it will follow that

^ ' Ecclesiastically, we are as truly descended from [the Celtic
Churches] as from St Augustine and Archbishop Theodore.' — The
Ancient British Churches^ by the Ven. Archdeacon Sinclair.

"^ E.g. Pere Brou S. J., St Aiigustin de Canterbury et scs Com-
fagnonSf passim.

Introduction, r 5

many doubtful points, or points not bearing
dlrectly upon English Christianity, may be
treated very slightly or passed over alto-
gether. On the other hand, some points
which might appear to be of somewhat
lesser importance will need fuller considera-
tion, either because of their bearing upon
later events, or because they seem to be
capable of a fuller elucidation than they
have hitherto received.

For after all, and although we may regard
the facts from different points of view, the
history of what actually happened cannot
simply be a matter of opinion, as the present
age is only too ready to assume. The views
which we hold in the matter ought surely
not to be (though they too frequently are)
something purely subjective — the mere result
of our prejudices or pre-conceived ideas. It
ought to be possible for us to lay aside
such hindrances as these, and to endeavour
to see things as they really are : to see,
in other words, not simply that which was

1 6 The Beginnings of English Chrislianity,

transitory and accidental, the result of local
and temporary causes, but that which is
permanent and real.

It is In the hope that the facts may be
able to speak for themselves that what
follows has been written.



Before entering upon the consideration
of the mission of St Augustine there is an
important preliminary question to be dealt
with. What signs of Christianity, if any,
did he find in the country on his arrival ?
and how far, if at all, would it be true to
say that he was simply following in the foot-
steps of others ? What, in a word, was the
relation of the Church of the English to the
previously existing Church of the Britons ?

The question, important in itself, is in-
vested with a yet greater importance in view
of ideas which are not wholly extinct even
in these enlightened days. Uncritical ages
were content to base upon the fact of the
priority of British Christianity the assump-
tion that there was some direct historical con-
nection between it and that of the English.

1 8 The Beginnings of English Chrisltanity,

And Indeed, it was in effect held that
Augustine's mission displaced or swallowed
up, an older Christianity. Now although it
would hardly be true to say that these views
are controversial in origin — dating as they
do from long before the Reformation — yet
undoubtedly they have been used constantly
for purposes of mere controversy, as against
Roman claims. As a reply to certain ag-
gressive Roman claims of jurisdiction, it has
seemed a sufficient answer to say that the
Church In England originally derived the
faith not from a Pope through St Augustine,
but from an older British Church, whose
origin Is lost In antiquity. Not only so ;
the tendency which was prevalent in every
part of Europe to find apostolic founders,
and the belief that the Apostles must actually
have gone into ' all the world,' presently gave
us St Paul as our founder. And by a little
further development of the position, contro-
versialists have even claimed that the British
Church, from which we derived our origin,
was a Church from the beginning ' evan-
gelical ' in doctrine, free from the power of
the Papacy, and therefore from Roman
• corruptions.' St Augustine's mission on

Celtic Christianity, 19

this theory was little more than the subjec-
tion of this Church to the tyranny and the
corruptions of Rome. And the Reformation,
in which the shackles and fetters were broken
off, was practically the undoing of the work
which had been inaugurated by Pope Gre-
gory when he sent St Augustine to us.
This line of argument, which is to be found
in its main features as early as the first half
of the sixteenth century — it is found, for
instance, in Foxes Book of Martyrs^ and in
the third edition of Fabyan's Chronicle^ —
has continued down to our own day. For
although, no doubt, few people would make
use of it at the present day in set terms, yet
its traces are still to be found not only in
the statements put forward by English
Churchmen, but even more in the replies
of their opponents. Our position is in every
way the weaker for it. For, like every other
false line of argument. It tells in the long run
ao-alnst those on whose behalf it has been
used ; whilst the crop of perverted ideas of

1 E.g. in the Preface To the True and Faithful Congregation of
Christ's Universal Chtirch (vol. I. p. xx. ed. Pratt & Stoughton).

^ This passage is of some interest from the use which has been
made of it subsequently, to prove that the British Church held the
principles of the modern Baptists. See Appendix A.

^o The Beginnings of English Christianity,

history to which It has given rise in the
minds of our own people is very hard to

For the line of argument itself, and the
alleged facts on which it is based, are alike
untrue from beginning to end. (a) It is not
the case that St Augustine's work displaced
an older form of Christianity. There was
indeed a Church of British Christians ; but
it was something entirely distinct from the
English. It is not the land that becomes
Christian, but the people ; and the fact that
the lands of the Christian Britons afterwards
came to be occupied by heathen Angles,
Jutes, and Saxons has nothing whatever to
do with the Christianity of the latter.^ {b)
The Apostolic origin of British Christianity
heis not indeed been disproved ; it is rarely
possible to disprove an alleged historical
event. But It simply stands on the same
level as any other assumption which is Itself
unlikely, and for which evidence is altogether
wanting. (r) Again, to say that British

^ Cf. Duchesne, I'-.gHsas SSparces \^. 7. He points out that we
can no more argue any continuity l)ct\vecn the British and Eng-
lish Churches than we can between the Hungarian Church of the
cleventli century and the Pannonian of the fourth and fifth centuries,
because they happened to occupy the same territory.

Celtic Christianity, 21

Christianity was ' free from the power of the
Papacy ' is ambiguous, and may be mislead-
ing. ' The power of the Papacy ' In the
sense of later days was, of course, a thing
entirely unknown to the early British Church,
as It was to the rest of the Church Catholic.
But as the Abbe Duchesne has sald,^ the
Church of Roman Britain occupied precisely
the same position with regard to the Roman
See as did the Galilean Church or the
Spanish. What then did this mean? It
certainly did not mean that they regarded
it as the source of their spiritual life, or
that they looked to It for direction, or that
the word that came from Rome was law
to them. But they reverenced it and de-
ferred to It as the first see of the West,
and indeed of all Christendom. For In the
graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul it
had memories more sacred for them than
any outside the Holy Land. Moreover, the
Bishop of Rome shone with the reflected
glory of his city, the centre of the world,
to which, on account of Its greater pre-
eminence, the faithful from every quarter of

' £glises Sej>a>\'cs p. 1 2.

2 2 The Begimiinos of English Chi^istianity.

necessity resorted/ And this reverence for
the Roman See must have been as truly felt
in the Romano- British Church as elsewhere.
No doubt, in the latter part of the fifth cen-
tury there came a change.^ But it was only
by degrees, and even then partially, that
the British Church drifted out of relations
with the Church at large, and therefore with
the Roman Church ; and this in a great
measure as the direct result of the fact that
Britain itself had ceased to have any very
active intercourse with the Continent after

* S, Iren. adv. Haer, lib. iii. c. 3.

2 The last recorded intercourse between the British Church and
the Roman See was in a.d. 455, when, at the desire of ' Pope
Leo, the Bishop of Rome,' they changed the date previously fixed
for Easter, according to the Celtic rule {Annales Caudniac s.a. 453 ;
wrongly for 455). It was a year in which the divergence between
Rome and Alexandria was specially wide : S. Leon. ^L Opp. L
p. 1055, ed. Ballerini ; Duchesne, £j^liscs SJparees p. 12).
Apparently the change was only made temporarily, and the Britons
reverted to their rule.

When the cycle of Dionysius Exiguus was adopted at Rome about
seventy years later, the Britons knew nothing of it, and continued
to use the old cycle. Hence arose the second point at issue in the
Paschal Controversy.

After this there was no intercourse between Rome and this
island till Augustine landed in 597 (Loofs, De Antiqua Britonum
SiOtirumqiie Ecclesia p. 12). With regard to Ireland, it was again
brought into contact with the Roman Church, as Mr Skene has
pointed out by the misi.ion of St Columban to the Continent,
at a somewhat earlier date. (Skene, Celtic Scotland so\, II. p. 12.)

Celtic Christianity, 23

the withdrawal of the Roman legions. And
so far was this from being a source of
strength to the British Church that it re-
sulted in nothing but stagnation and decay.
(d) And lastly, instead of the British Church
being especially pure and enlightened, it was
in the highest degree weak, wanting in
initiative, and debased both in faith and
morals. So that we of the English Church
have abundant reason to recognise the merci-
ful Providence of God in the fact that we
received the beginning and the shaping of
our national Christianity from the fuller and
better ordered life of the mainland.

By way of illustrating and substantiating
the statements which have just been made,
we proceed to gather up shortly what can
really be said to be known about pre-
Augustinian Christianity in Britain. Much
good and careful work has been clone upon
the subject in recent years, first and foremost
being the first volume of Haddan and
Stubbs's great Councils. Then there is an
article in Mr A. W. Haddan's Remains,
' The Churches of the British Confession,*
originally published in the Christian Re-

24 T/iC Begmnino's of English Christiamfy,

viaiibranccr ; an excellent degree-thesis, Dc
Antiqua Britonuni Scotorunique Eccksia, by
Dr rViedrich Loofs, whose other thesis, Zur
Chronologie dcr azif die frlinkischen Synoden
des III. Bonifatiits, contains work no less
excellent. Since then there has appeared a
valuable paper by Dr Bright on 'The Celtic
Churches of the British Isles,' in his volume
The Roman See in the Early Chur^ch, and an
article by Mr V . Haverfield in the English
Historical Reviezu for July 1896, entitled
* Early British Christianity ' ; not to speak
of the Bishop of Bristol's lectures on the
same subject. Above all, the early months
of the present year have seen the appearance
of Mr J. W. Willis Bund's Celtic Church in
Wales, which in spite of many drawbacks —
a confused and involved method, and a lack
of acquaintance with continental Church
History, which often leads the author astray
— is the first attempt to study Welsh Christi-
anity by the comparative method, and has
thrown a Hood of light upon the British
Churches and Celtic Christianity at large.

The idea that Britain owed its Christianity
to St Paul, or indeed that St Paul ever

Celtic Ch7nstianity, 25

visited Britain, Is a pure surmise. There Is
nothing whatever that can be considered real
evidence for It. It Is, of course, always
open to people to say that he may have
been our Apostle : so may St John, or St
Bartholomew, or St Peter ^ ; and the one
is about as likely as the other. The same
thing is true of the story of St Joseph of
Arlmath^ea, which dates from the Norman
Conquest. Not less legendary, though
earlier In date, is the story of King Lucius
and Pope Eleutherius ; It is Roman, not
British, In origin,^ and may possibly have

^ Oddly enough the idea that St Peter came to Britain has
cropped up many times and in widely different places ; probably
owing to a misapprehension of the fact of the sending of Augustine
to England by the ' successor of St Peter ' (see the quotation from
Tliietmar on p. 115). It appears in the Greek Mcnologion [Menolog.
6';-a^i;-. IMart. xvi.) : ^Treira [6 llerpos] . . . eU BpeTTUviav irapa-
yiverai, . . . iTnaelvat re Toh eV BpeTTavia '/;,a^/)as tlvus, ical
TToWovi ry X6y(p (puTLuas tyjs x^-P'-tos, iKK\r](rias re ava-TrjcrdfxcPo?,
iTTiaKOTTovs re ical TrpeajSvrepovs kul oiaKovovs xeLpoTOV7](yas, SudeKarco
tT€i Tod Kaiaapos avOis els 'Vu/.t,r]u irapixyiveTai. (Quoted in Kemble,
Saxons in EngLxnd vol. II. p. 355). A like view was put forward
in 1609 by Dr Richard Smith, afterwards (1625-1655) the second
Roman Catholic Vicar-Apostolic in England ; and it has been
again asserted by a Roman Catholic clergyman in our own day. —
See Cressy, Church History of Brittany p. 16 ; and Bishop of
Bristol, Th: Church in these Islands before Augustine p. 40 note.

2 Zimmer, Numius Vindicatus p. 140 f., defends the British
origin ; but Mommsen, Die Hist. Brittonum nnd K. Lucius
{Neites Archiv vol. XIX. p. 291 f.) shows clearly, by a comparison

26 The Beginnings of English Christianity.

been invented, as the Abbe Duchesne sug-
gests/ as early as the fifth century.

When, then, was Christianity introduced
into Britain ? To begin with, it is in the
highest degree improbable that it entered
Britain until after it entered Gaul ; and a
few Christian Churches were first planted in
Gaul about 1 50 a.d. Then again, the fact that
St Irenaeus does not mention it in a passage
where he is speaking of the triumphs of the
Gospel ^ would seem to show that he was
not aware of its existence in Britain then ;

of the three texts in the Liber ronlificalis, Lede, and tlie Hisforia
Jirittoiuuii, that the fable, doin 7/ichr ist es siclur nicht, came from
Rome to Britain. Cf. Mommsen's edition of the Historia Brit-
to)iiiin : M.G.II., CJiron. Minora, vol III. p. 1 15 f.

^ Liber Pon/ifualis vol. I. p. ciii.f, 136. With this agree Mr
Iladdan and Bishop Stubbs, who assign it to the time of Prosper
{Councils \o\. I. p. 25). Mr llaverfield favours a later date, on
the ground that it was not made use of by Wilfrid and others of his
time. This can hardly be considered a sufficient reason if it came
from Rome. Still, it is first found in a MS. of about 700 A.D.

2 Adv. Hacr. lib. i. c. x. § 2. ' Neither have the churches
situated in the regions of Germany believed otherwise, nor in the
parts of Spain, nor among the Celts, nor in the East, nor in Egypt,
nor in Libya, nor those which are situate in the middle parts of the
earth.' The Celts here mean those of Irenaeus's own part of Gaul ;
cf. lib. i. pracf. § 3 : ' We who dwell amongst the Celts.'

This is dated circ. 176 A.D. by Iladdan and Stubbs; but it was
certainly written later. Dr Lipsius thinks that Irenaeus was en-
gaged upon the whole work from A.D. iSo to 1S5 {Diet. Chr.
Bio:^\ III. 25S), whilst Dr Ilarnack {Altehristliehen Litteratnr
vol. II.) dates it between 181 and 189 A.D.

Celtic Christianity, 27

and Lyons, which was his see, was so im-
portant a centre of communication with
northern Gaul, and thence with Britain, that
he could hardly have been ignorant of the
fact had Christianity been of any standing
here. On the other hand Tertullian, writing
in a similar strain, does mention it, and in
very exultant language.^ We are thus led
to think that Christianity may have entered
Britain towards the end of the second

Who were the inhabitants of Britain at
this time ? No greater mistake could be
made than to think of the people of even
southern Britain {i.e. what is now England
and Wales) as one homogeneous whole. The
old Ivernian Inhabitants of the island, who
were non-Aryans,^ had been quickly con-
quered, and almost entirely swallowed up by
an invasion of the Goidels, a Celtic people
who came from the mainland, probably from
the mouth of the Rhine. They in turn were

* Adv.Jiid. c. vii. ' The haunts of the Britons, inaccessible to tlie
Romans, yet subject to Christ.' Dated a.d. 208 by Haddan c\:
Stubbs : it was probably written somewhat earlier — before 202
{Did. Chr. Biog. vol. IV. pp. S22, 827).

2 As were also the Picts of the North, in all probability.

2 8 The Beginnings of English Christianity,

afterwards Invaded, also from the south-east
and probably through Gaul, by another
Celtic race, the Brythons or Britons proper,
who were the very same people as the bulk
of the tribes of northern Gaul in the time
of Caesar. These Brythons slowly forced
the Goidels before them into the mountains
and western parts of the country, dividing
them into two parts by a wedge of Brythons
which pierced to the Welsh sea, between the
Mawddach and the Dovey.^

The two peoples differed not a little in
religion and customs. The religion of the
Goidels was Druidism, a kind of pantheistic
nature worship with much star lore and a
great deal of vague philosophy ; and they
seem to have adopted from the earlier In-
habitants their holy places, customs and
rites, including human sacrifices. That of
the Brythons on the other hand was the
same simple polytheism which was common,
in its general elements, to most of the peoples
of the mainland of Europe.

^ A traveller who goes to liarmouth from Chester t'Af Ruabonand
T)i)]gclly, and returns to Shrewsbury viA Aberdovey and ^[oat
Lane, has gone round the territory formerly occupied by this
]>rythonic wedge. Sec the map at the beginning of Rhys, Celtic

Celtic Christianity, 29

Now even If there had been no more
than this to be said, it Is not to be sup-
posed that Christianity would have touched
these two peoples in precisely the same
way. But this is not all. Upon the land
thus occupied and thus divided had come
the flood of the Roman Invasions. Litde
by little a network of Roman roads, secured
by Roman strongholds, spread Itself over
the land. By a.d. 61 Suetonius had pierced
to Anglesey, and in a.d. 85 Agrlcola com-
pleted the conquest. Of course this con-
quest made no difference In the distribution
of the peoples of Britain, for the Romans had
no desire to displace anybody. But by the
nature of the case most of their Intercourse
lay with the Brythonic tribes of the East.
Accordingly these tribes were gradually
Romanised ; and their own tribal system and
ethnic peculiarities were to some extent
sapped and transformed as they themselves
acquired something of Roman civilisation.
Whilst, to mention a result of another kind,
the accounts which we have from Roman
writers of the Inhabitants of Britain are for
the most part concerned with Brythons,
not with Goldels.

30 The Beginmiigs of English Christianity.

By the conquest Britain became a sharer

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Online LibraryWilliam Edward CollinsThe beginnings of English Christianity : with special reference to the coming of St. Augustine → online text (page 1 of 11)