Augustine

, or by contraction Austin (St.), usually styled the Apostle of the English, and the first archbishop of Canterbury, was originally a monk in the convent of St. Andrew at Rome, and was educated under St. Gregory, afterwards pope Gregory I. who undertook the conversion of the island of Britain. His inducement to this, in the life of St. Gregory, written by John Diaconus, introduces us to a string of puns, which we must refer to the manners and taste of the times, without surely impeaching the seriousness of Gregory, who in his present situation, as well as when pope, had no other visible motive for his zea], than the propagation of Christianity. Walking in the forum at Rome, he haprfened to see some very handsome youths exposed to sale, and being informed that they were of the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants of that island were Pagans, he regretted that such handsome youths should be destitute of true knowledge, and again asked the name of the nation. “Angli” was the answer on which he observed, “In truth they have angelic countenances, and it is a pity they should not be coheirs with angels in heaven.” When informed that they came from the province of Deira (Northumberland), he observed, “It is well, de mz, snatched from the wrath of God, and called to the mercy of Christ and when, in answer to another interrogatory, he was told that the name of their king was Ella, he said,” Alleluia, should be sung to God in those regions." More seriously impressed with a sense of his duty on this occasion, he requested pope Benedict to send some persons to our island on a mission, and offered to be one of the number. He was himself, however, too much a favourite with the Roman citizens to be suffered to depart, and it was not until he became pope, that he was enabled effectually to pursue his purpose. After his consecration in the year 595, he directed a presbyter, whom he had sent into France, to instruct some young Saxons, of seventeen or eighteen years of age, in Christianity, to act as missionaries and in the year 597, he sent about forty monks, including perhaps some of these new converts, with Augustine at their head. Having proceeded a little way on their journey, they began to dread the attempt of committing themselves to a savage and infidel nation, whose language they did not understand. In this dilemma, doubtful whether to return or proceed, they agreed to send back Augustine to Gregory, to represent their fears, and intreat that | he would release them from their engagement. Gregory, however/ in answer, advised them to proceed, in confidence of divine aid, undaunted by the fatigue of the journey, or any other temporary obstructions, adding, that it would have been better not to have begun so good a work, than to recede from it afterwards. He also took every means for their accommodation, recommending them to the attention of Etherius, bishop of Aries, and providing for them such assistance in France, that at length they arrived safely in Britain.

Before proceeding to their success here, it is necessary to advert to some circumstances highly in their favour. Christianity, although not extended over the kingdom, was not at this period unknown in Britain, notwithstanding it had been much persecuted by the Saxons. They were at this time, however, disposed to look upon their Christian brethren with a more favourable eye, and the marriage of Ethelbert, king of Kent, in the year 570, with Birtha, or Bertha, daughter of Cherebert, king of France, a Christian princess of great virtue and merit, contributed not a little to abate the prejudices of that prince and his subjects against her religion, for the free exercise of which she had stipulated in her marriage contract. She was also allowed the use of a small church without the walls of Canterbury, where Luidhart, a French bishop, who came over in her retinue, with other clergymen, publicly performed all the rites of Christian worship, and by these means Christianity had some, although probably a very confined influence.

It is easy to suppose that a queen, thus sincere in her principles, would be very earnest in persuading her husband to give Augustine and his followers a hospitable reception, and Ethelbert accordingly assigned Augustine an habitation in the isle of Thanet. By means of French interpreters, whom the missionaries brought with them, they informed the king that they were come from Rome, and brought with them the best tidings in the world eternal life to those who received them, and the endless enjoyment of life hereafter. After some days, Ethelbert paid them a visit but being afraid of enchantments, things which, true or false, were then objects of terror, chose to receive them in the open air. The missionaries met him, singing litanies for their own salvation, and that of those for vvhojse sake they came thither; and then, by the king’s direction, unfolded the nature of their mission, and of the religion they | wished to preach. The substance of the king’s answer was, that he could not, without further consideration, abandon the religion of his forefathers, but as they had come so far on a friendly errand, he assigned them a place of residence in Canterbury, and allowed them to use their best endeavours to convert his subjects. The place assigned them was in the parish of St. Alphage, on the north side of the High or King’s street, where, in Thorn’s time, the archbishop’s palace stood, now called Stable-gate. Accordingly they entered the city, singing in concert a short litany, recorded by Becle, in these words “We pray thee, O Lord, in all thy merc^, that thine anger and thy fury may be removed from this city, and from thy holy house, for we have sinned. Alleluia.

In this city they employed example and precept in the introduction of their doctrines. They prayed, lasted, watched, preached, wherever they had opportunity, and received only bare necessaries in return. They practised also what they taught, and showed a firmness and zeal, even, to death, if it should be necessary, which produced considerable effect on the people and at length the king himself was converted, and gave the missionaries his license to preach every where, and to build or repair churches. The king, however, declared that no compulsion should be used in making converts, although he could not avoid expressing greater partiality to those who embraced Christianity.

During this success, Augustine went to France, and was there, by the archhishop of Aries, consecrated archbishop of the English nation, thinking that this new dignity would give additional influence to his exhortations. When he returned into Britain, he sent Laurentius the presbyter, and Peter the monk, to acquaint Gregory with what had been done, and to consult him upon several points of doctrine and discipline. Some of these points savour, undoubtedly, of the superstitious scruples of the monastic, austerity, but others lead to some information respecting the early constitution of the church. To his inquiries concerning the maintenance of the clergy, Gregory answered, that the donations made to the church were, by the custom of the Roman see, divided into four portions one for the bishop and his family to support hospitality, a second to the clergy, a third to the poor, and a fourth to the reparation of churches. As the pastors were all monks, they were to live in common, but such as chose to marry were | to be maintained by the monastery. With respect to diversities of customs and liturgies, Gregory’s answer was truly liberal, implying that Augustine was not bound to follow the precedent of Rome, but might select whatever parts or rules appeared the most eligible and best adapted to promote the piety of the infant church of England, and compose them into a system for its use. Gregory also, at Augustine’s request, sent over more missionaries, and directed him to constitute a bishop at York, who might have other subordinate bishops yet in such a manner, that Augustine of Canterbury should be metropolitan of all England. He sent over also a valuable present of books, vestments, sacred utensils, and holy relics. He advised Augustine not to destroy the heathen temples, but only to remove the images of their gods, to wash the walls with holy water, to erect altars, deposit relics in them, and so gradually convert them into Christian churches not only to save the expence of building new ones, but that the people might be more easily prevailed upon to frequent those places of worship to which they had been accustomed. He directs him further, to accommodate the ceremonies of the Christian worship, as much as possible, to those of the heathen, that the people might not be too much startled at the change and in particular, he advises him to allow the Christian converts, on certain festivals, to kill and eat a great number of oxen, to the glory of God, as they had formerly done to the honour of the devil. It is quite unnecessary, in our times, to offer any remark on this mixture of pious zeal with worldly policy.

The next great event of Augustine’s life was his attempt to establish uniformity of discipline and customs in the island, and as a necessary step to gain over the British (Welch) bishops to his opinion. These Britons, from the first time of planting Christianity in the island, had constantly followed the rules and customs left them by their first masters. But the church of Rome had made certain alterations in the manner of celebrating divine service? to which it pretended all other churches ought to conform, The churches of the West, as being the nearest to Rome, were the most easily gained and almost all of them, excepting those of France and Milan, conformed at last to the Roman ritual. But Britain still continued, as kwere, a world apart. Since the embassy of Lucius to pope Eleutherius, the Britons bad very little communication with the | bishops of Rome. They acknowledged them only as bishops of a particular diocese, or, at most, as heads of a patriarchate, on which they did not think the British church ought to be any way dependent. They were so far from receiving orders from the pope, that they were even strangers to his pretensions. But Augustine, full of zeal for the interests of the see of Rome, made an attempt to bring them to acknowledge the superiority of the pope over all other churches. For this purpose he invited the Welch bishops to a conference, and began to admonish them to enter into Christian peace and concord, that they might join with him in converting the Pagans but this proved fruitless, as they would hearken to no prayers or exhortations, and Augustine, therefore, had recourse to a miracle. A blind man. was introduced to be healed, and was healed by Augustine’s prayers, when those of the ancient Britons failed. They were obliged, therefore, to confess that Augustine was sent of God, but pleaded the obstinacy of their people as a reason for their non-compliance. A second synod was appointed, attended by seven British bishops, and many of their learned men, belonging to the ancient monastery of Bangor, of which Dinoth was at that time abbot. Before these came to the synod, they asked the advice of a person of reputed sanctity, whether they should give up their own traditions on the authority of Augustine or not. “Let humility,” said he, “be the test; and if you find, when you come to the synod, that he rises up to you at your approach, obey him if not, let him be despised by you.” On such precarious evidence was a matter to rest which they thought so important. It happened that Augustine continued sitting on their arrival, which might easily have been the case without any intentional insult but it answered the purpose of the Britons, already averse to join him, and they would now hearken to no terms of reconciliation. Augustine proposed that they should agree with him only in three things, leaving other points of difference undetermined namely, to observe Easter at the same time with the rest of the Christian world to administer baptism after the Roman manner; and to join with him in preaching the gospel to the English but all this they rejected, and refused to acknowledge his authority. This provoked Augustine to tell them, that if they would not have peace with brethren, they should have war with enemies and it hap, pened afterwards, that in an invasion of the Pagan Saxons. | of the North, the Bangorian monks were cruelly murdered; but this was lon^ after the death of Augustine, who, nevertheless, has been accused by some writers of exciting the animosity which ended in that massacre. For this there seems no solid foundation. Augustine betrayed an improper warmth, and was not free from ambition but in all his history we can find no instance of a sanguinary spirit, or any inclination to propagate Christianity by any other weapons than those he had at first employed. The Britons undoubtedly had a right to their independence, and Augustine is not to be praised for endeavouring to destroy what had so long existed, and over which he had no legal controul.

Augustine died in the year 604, at Canterbury, and was buried in the church-yard of the monastery that was called after his name, the cathedral not being then finished but after the consecration of that church, his body was taken tip, and deposited in the north porch, where it lay, till, in 1091, it was removed and placed in the church by Wido, abbot of Canterbury. The miracles ascribed by popish writers to Augustine may now be read as other legendary tales, as monuments of weakness and superstition, nor do such writers gain any credit to their cause, by asserting that to be true, which they know to be contrary to the economy of providence and nature, and the appearance of which, for the purposes of conversion, could not be produced without implicating the parties in a charge of wilful delusion. 1

1

Biog. Brit.—Cave.—Dupin.—Bede Hist. Eccles.—Wharton’s Angia Sacra. —Godwin, de Presulibus.—Thorn'.s Chronicon apud Decem Scriptores.— Henry’s Hist, of Great Britain.—Milner’s Eccl. History.