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A few years ago, a video went the rounds of the U.K. all about S.Augustine of Canterbury and his place as ,'founder,' of the Church in Britain. 597 A.D.. Augustine and some forty companions were sent by the then Bishop of Rome to take the Catholic faith to Britain, a series of Islands, just off the west coast of Europe. The Mission comes as something as a surprise to clerics and historians alike! One way or another Catholic Christianity had been present in Britain since the early days of the Christian Church, British Clergy were active participant in the early church debates on Christology, British Bishops being present at Niceae .It had also a record of missionary work in Northern Europe. The missionaries, were welcomed by a Catholic Bishop, a Gallican from Gaul, who was chaplain to Queen Bertha, the Christian Queen. They were welcomed by her husband who was a Saxon War Lord in the area where they landed. He gave them permission to use two British Churches and having , as it were, got his feet under the table, Augustine was sent to Gaul for consecration and eventually made Metropolitan of Britain. This inspite of the many British Bishops and the Gallic Chaplain already present and inspite of the presumption that through the Councils the British Church was already in Communion with the Roman Bishop. Augustine , the intruder, was ordered, by the Roman Pontiff, to establish two bishops, Mellitus for London and Justus in Rochester. There were plans for twelve others in the North and a like number in the South.
In 603 A.D. the new Archbishop called a council, or, conference to which the British Bishops were invited,it was held near Bristol in the west. The traditional bishops were non-plussed, here were they, experienced and practicing Bishops, present day apostles, from a line which was possible the oldest in Europe,Members of Christ and Children of God being summoned by a man they didn't know, who told them that he would ignore their practices and peculiarities that were contrary to Roman Usages, if they would submit to him in three things '
- They must change the time of their celebrating Easter.
- They must not administer baptism at Epiphany.
- They must assist him in converting the Saxon.
At the Conference the demands were not even discussed, the independence of their Church from Rome was uppermost in their minds of the bishops. The order of seniority within the Church was not altogether a matter of choice. The parameters were fixed by the Holy Councils and it was not the prerogative of the pope or any individual to change them. Such matters were fixed by custom and practice and confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils, with the help of the Holy Ghost! The British Bishops refused point blank to acknowledge either Augustine or the Bishop of Rome as any thing but bishops. Tradition has it that a statement was issued by S. Dinoth, Bishop of Bangor Iscoed, the huge monastery in North Wales, it reads,
"Be it known to you without any ambiguity, that we are all obedient to the Bishop of Rome and to every Christian, to love each in his own way and to aid each one of them to become Sons of God, in thought, word and deed, in perfect charity. And I know not of any other than this due to him whom ye style pope, nor that he has a claim to be styled Father of fathers. The aforesaid obedience we are ready to yield to him and every Christian. Further we are under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Caerleon who is appointed to over see us and make us keep to the spiritual path."
Augustine was not pleased and his anger resulted in an outburst of spleen being directed against the native bishops and church. He told them that if they would not accept peace from their brethren,they must accept war from their enemies: and that if they would not preach the Word of Life to Saxons they should suffer death by their hands. It is oftime pointed out by our separated brethren that a massacre of Celtic Monks from Iscoed-Bangor took place sometime later and this it is, even now, suggested, was a fulfillment of Augustine's rather peevish utterance at the Council. It did happen, some ten years later near Chester, where some 1200, British Clergy were slaughtered when praying for a Celtic victory. Only for the victorius Saxons themselves to suffer extinction at the battle of Orchard Bangor. (An unedifying tale.)
We hear much about the success of the Roman Mission, yet not so much of the aftermath, it was not a success at all, neither was it the provenance of our Church. Within a few years of Augustine's death, a conflict ensued between Pagan and Christian, in which the latter suffered a great loss, with Augustine's Mission being reduced to one bishop all the others having fled to Gaul, whilst the converts returned to paganism. Of course the British Church suffered as well, but it was of greater depth and numbers and was able to recover with help from both the Church in Ireland and in Wales, the whole being directed from Lindisfarne by Scottish Clergy with both Saxon and British help.