Saturday, 9 June 2012

St. Augustine of Canterbury – Our Patron


What might we say about our Patron, in simple terms the facts are fairly easy. Thus - First Archbishop of Canterbury, Apostle of the English; date of birth unknown; died. 26 May, 604. Symbols used in art: cope, pallium (a white vestment that rests on the shoulders with pendants hanging at its front and back) and mitre as Bishop of Canterbury, and pastoral staff and gospels as missionary. However, details of his life and role as the first Archbishop of Canterbury, whilst generally available, are not widely known. As our national Church seeks to appoint Augustine’s next successor I thought I might re-iterate some of the points of his mission to England.

As a youngster we know nothing except that he was probably a Roman of the better class, and that early in life he become a monk in the famous monastery of St. Andrew erected by St. Gregory the Great out of his own patrimony on the Cælian Hill. It was thus amid the religious intimacies of the Benedictine Rule and in the bracing atmosphere of a recent foundation that the character of the future missionary was formed. Chance is said to have furnished the opportunity for the enterprise which was destined to link his name for all time with that of his friend and patron, St. Gregory the Great, as the "true beginner" of one of the most important Churches in Christendom and the medium by which the authority of the Roman See was established over men of the English-speaking race.

Some five years after his elevation to Pope (590) Gregory began to look about him for ways and means to carry out the dream of his earlier days. He naturally turned to the community he had ruled more than a decade of years before in the monastery on the Cælian Hill. Out of these he selected a company of about forty and designated Augustine, at that time Prior of St. Andrew's, to be their representative and spokesman. The appointment, as will appear later on, seems to have been of a somewhat indeterminate character; but from this time forward until his death in 604 it is to Augustine as "strengthened by the confirmation of the blessed Father Gregory that English, as distinguished from British, Christianity owes its primary inspiration.

The event which afforded Pope Gregory the opportunity he had so long desired of carrying out his great missionary plan in favour of the English happened in the year 595 or 596. A rumour had reached Rome that the pagan inhabitants of Britain were ready to embrace the Faith in great numbers, if only preachers could be found to instruct them. The first plan which seems to have occurred to the pontiff was to take measures for the purchase of English captive boys of seventeen years of age and upwards. These he would have brought up in the Catholic Faith with idea of ordaining them and sending them back in due time as apostles to their own people. He accordingly wrote to Candidus, a presbyter entrusted with the administration of a small estate belonging to the patrimony of the Roman Church in Gaul, asking him to secure revenues and set them aside for this purpose.

It is possible, not only to determine approximately the dates of these events, but also to indicate the particular quarter of Britain from which the rumour had come. Aethelberht became King of Kent in 559 or 560, and in less than twenty years he succeeded in establishing an overlordship that extended from the boulders of the country of the West Saxons eastward to the sea and as far north as the Humber and the Trent. The Saxons of Middlesex and of Essex, together with the men of East Anglia and of Mercia, were thus brought to acknowledge him as Bretwalda (wide ruler), and he acquired a political importance which began to be felt by the Frankish princes on the other side of the Channel.

Charibert of Paris gave him his daughter Bertha in marriage, stipulating, as part of the nuptial agreement, that she should be allowed the free exercise of her religion. The condition was accepted and Luidhard, a Frankish bishop, accompanied the princess to her new home in Canterbury, where the ruined church of St. Martin, situated a short distance beyond the walls, and dating from Roman-British times, was set apart for her use. The date of this marriage, so important in its results to the future fortunes of Western Christianity, is of course largely a matter of conjecture; but from the evidence furnished by one or two scattered remarks in St. Gregory's letters and from the circumstances which attended the emergence of the kingdom of the Jutes to a position of prominence in the Britain of this period, we may safely assume that it had taken place fully twenty years before the plan of sending Augustine and his companions suggested itself to the Pope.

to be continued…………………………………….

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