Tuesday, 12 June 2012

St. Augustine of Canterbury – Our Patron

Part 3

The king more than made good his words. He invited the missionaries to take up their abode in the royal capital of Canterbury, then a barbarous and half-ruined metropolis, built by the Kentish folk upon the site of the old Roman military town of Durovernum. Here Augustine and his companions seemed to have established without delay the ordinary routine of the Benedictine rule as practiced at the close of the sixth century; and to it they seem to have added in a quiet way the apostolic ministry of preaching. The church dedicated to St. Martin in the eastern part of the city which had been set apart for the convenience of Bishop Luidhard and Queen Bertha's followers many years before was also thrown open to them until the king should permit a more highly organized attempt at evangelization.

The evident sincerity of the missionaries, their single-mindedness, their courage under trial, and, above all, the disinterested character of Augustine himself and the unworldly note of his doctrine made a profound impression on the mind of the king. He asked to be instructed and his baptism was appointed to take place at Pentecost. Whether the queen and her Frankish bishop had any real hand in the process of this comparatively sudden conversion, it is impossible to say. St. Gregory's letter written to Bertha herself, when the news of the king's baptism had reached Rome, would lead us to infer, that, while little or nothing had been done before Augustine's arrival, afterwards there was an endeavour on the part of the queen to make up for past remissness

Aethelberht's conversion naturally gave a great impetus to the enterprise of Augustine and his companions. Augustine himself determined to act at once upon the provisional instruction he had received from Pope Gregory. He crossed over to Gaul and sought Episcopal consecration at the hands of Virgilius, the Metropolitan of

Arles. Returning almost immediately to Kent, he made preparations for that more active and open form of propaganda for which Aethelberht's baptism had prepared a way. On Christmas Day, 597, more than ten thousand persons were baptized by the first "Archbishop of the English". The great ceremony probably took place in the waters of the Swale, not far from the mouth of the Medway.

As the church grew so Augustine became increasingly concerned by the differences between his church, the Celtic church and that in Gaul. Pope Gregory sent more monks to England to assist in the evangelisation of the country, of these Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, and Ruffinianus are perhaps the best known. Ruffinianus was to become abbot of the monastery established by Augustine in honour of St. Peter outside the eastern walls of the Kentish capital. Mellitus became the first English Bishop of London; Justus was appointed to the new see of Rochester, and Paulinus became the Metropolitan of York.

Of Augustine’s struggle to unite the church in a common calendar and liturgy, much has been written. It is as a result of his efforts that much of the church calendar that we use to this day owes its origin. His death fell in the same year says a very early tradition as his great patron Gregory. Augustine was buried, in true Roman fashion, outside the walls of the Kentish capital in a grave dug by the side of the great Roman road which then ran from Deal to Canterbury over St. Martin's Hill and near the unfinished abbey church which he had begun in honour of Sts. Peter and Paul and which was afterwards to be dedicated to his memory. When the monastery was completed, his relics were translated to a tomb prepared for them in the north porch. A modern hospital is said to occupy the site of his last resting place. His feast day in the Roman Calendar is kept on 28 May; but in the proper of the English office it occurs two days earlier, the true anniversary of his death.

Augustine was , it seems very committed to proclaiming the Christian faith and in working for unity, traits which we can only pray his next successor will share.

May God be with you - Fr. Martin.

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