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Century VII, Chapter I

CENTURY VII.

CHAP. I.

The English Church.

THE diversity of circumstances in different ages of the church constantly admonishes an historian, who loves method and perspicuity, to vary the arrangement of his materials. No abstract rules, but the circumstances of each period should direct him in this matter. In the century before us, barren and unpromising as it is for the most part, Great Britain shone with distinguished lustre. As she was a world within herself, her ecclesiastical affairs were little connected with those of the continent. Hence the propriety of reviewing them by themselves. In this subject I shall closely follow the venerable Bede, whose narration extends to the year 731. Though much of his history be fabulous and superstitious, it is still of the greatest value, because it is the only light which we have concerning the progress of the gospel in our own country for several generations: and some rays of truth, piety, and good sense now and then break out in the historian amidst the clouds of legendary romance.

After the death of Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, Laurentius, whom he had ordained, succeeded to that see. He trodt* in the steps of his predecessor, and laboured to promote the best interests of the English by frequent preaching of the word and by a diligent and useful example. ! doubt not the sincerity of this prelate; though seduced by the charms of a nominal unity, he laboured, as the first missionary Augustine had done, to bring the British churches to a

* Bede, b.ii. c. 4.

conformity with the church of Rome. He was actuated by the same subtle spirit of selfish ambition, of which even the best men in all ages have not been void; it operates imperceptibly, through the native energy of indwelling sin. The papist, the national churchman, and the sectary, are each liable to its influence, though in truly regenerate spirits there is likewise a diviner principle; and sordid views of secular gain are intirely excluded. In this manner I would appreciate the characters of the Romish missionaries in England. Their disinterested labours, just views of christian doctrine, and holy and unblemished lives ought to have exempted them from the intemperate censures of writers, who seem to think an indiscriminate aversion to the church of Rome to be one of the principal excellencies of a protestant historian.*

Laurentius, in conjunction with Mellitus, bishop of London, and Justus, bishop of Rochester, endeavoured to reduce the " Scots, who inhabited Ireland"f to a conformity with the English church. The three prelates wrote to them with this view, and declared themselves to be sent by the Roman see to propagate the gospel among the pagan nations. Laurentius complained of the bigotry of a certain Irish bishop, who, coming to Canterbury, refused to eat at the same table, or even in the same house with him. The archbishop could not prevail either with the Britons or with the Irish to enter into his views. " Even the present times, says our author, declare how little success he had." At the period in which Bede "concludes his history, the greatest part of the British churches remained still distinguished from the English. The bishops of Rome continued to superintend the latter; and while Ethelbert lived, the gospel flourished. This prince died

• I advert, particularly to Bower's Lives of the Popes, and to Warner's Ecclesiastical History of our own country Their laborious collection of facts deserves commendation. I avail myself of all the helps, which ofier, for the supply of materials.—But, I mean to extol the church of Christ, wherever I can find her, nor does a Roman dress, when she appeal s in it, convey any prejudice to my mind.

t Bede's own words, which demonstrate that the Irish were anciently called Scots

after a reign of 56 years, twenty-one" years after he

had embraced christianity, and was buried by the side of his deceased queen Bertha. Among other benefits which the English derived from him, there was a code of laws formed after the example of the Romans,* which was still extant in Bede's time, and was particularly calculated to protect the persons and property of the church.

His son and successor Eadbald not only despised christianity, but also lived in incest with his father's wife. Whence all, who had embraced the gospel through motives purely secular, were induced to relapse into idolatry. Sabereth, king of the East Savons, who had followed the example of Etheibert who was his uncle, being deceased, his three sons became joint heirs of his kingdom. Immediately they resumed the idolatry, which they had intermitted a little in their father's lifetime, and encouraged their subjects to do the same. These princes observing the bishop of London to distribute the bread of the eucharist in the church, asked why he did not give them the bread, which he had usually given to their father, and which he distributed at that time to the people. " If you will be washed, replied Mellitus, in the same laver of regeneration in which your father was, you may partake of the same sacred bread: but, if ye despise the laver of life, ye cannot partake of the bread of life." We will not, said they, enter into that fountain; we do not know that we need it, yet we choose to eat of that bread. In vain did the upright pastor seriously and diligently admonish them, that it was not possible for airy person remaining uncleansed from sin to partake of the communion: in a rage they declared, " if you will not gratify us in so small a matter, yeu shall not remain in our province." They thereupon ordered him to be gone with his associates.

Mellitus, thus expelled, came into Kent to consult with Laurentius and Justus. The three bishops agreed

to leave the country, that they might serve God with freedom elsewhere, rather than remain among enemies without fruit. Mellitus and Justus retired first into France, waiting the issue. The three princes not long after were slain in battle, but their subjects remained still incorrigible.

Laurentius, intending to follow the two bishops, employed himself in prayer in the church during the silent hours of the night, with much agony and many tears, entreating God to look upon the state of the English church, which, after such promising beginnings, seemed now on the eve of a total dissolution. Next morning he paid a visit to the king, who struck at last with horror for his crimes, and relenting, when he appeared in imminent danger of losing his christian instructors for ever, forbade his departure, reformed his own life and manners, was baptized, and from that time became a zealous supporter of the faith.*

Eadbald was determined to show the sincerity of his zeal. He recalled Mellitus and Justus from Fiance, after a year's exile. Justus was reinstated in Rochester; but Mellitus could not recover his see. The Londoners preferred idolatry, and Eadbald had not the same power, which his father had possessed in that city, to oblige them to receive him. So far, however, as his influence extended, he exerted it for the cause of Christ, and, from the time of his conversion, adorned the gospel and propagated it among his people.

Laurentius being deceased, Mellitus was appointed

* Bede, C. 6.

I was unwilling to introduce into the narrative the story of St. Peter's whipping of Laurentius that night in the church and reproving of him for his cowardice; whence he was said to have been indured to wait upon Eadbald next morning who was struck, it seems, with remorse at the sight of the stripes which the bishop had received. Stories of this sort were innumerable in those times T he steady perseverance of Eadbald, and the intire change both of his private and public conduct demonstrate the reality of his conversion. He most probably retained an internal reverence for the religion in which he had been instructed in his childhood, against which his grand objection seems to have been the love of a ilissolute life. The Lord honoured the prayers of Laurentius with success, and recovered the English church, at the last extremity. The substance of the narrativt remains intire, abstracted from the legend which disgraces it.

the third archbishop of Canterbury, while Justus still presided at Rochester. These two bishops governed the English church with much care and labour.* Mellitus, after having given the most undoubted proofs of genuine piety, and presided over the diocese of Canterbury five years, died in the year 624, and was succeeded by Justus.

England was still governed by the Saxon Heptarchy. Seven kingdoms, often at war with one another, and also with the old native Britons, exhibited in our island scenes of the most unpleasant nature. Nor is any portion of our history in a secular view less interesting. Nevertheless in this dull period it pleased God to show the power of his grace among our ancestors. Hitherto Kent almost alone had been illuminated. But the gospel was now introduced into the north, where reigned Edwin, king of the Northumbrians. And a woman was once more honoured as the instrument of salvation to a king her husband, and to many of his subjects. Edwin had sent to Eadbald to desire his sister Ethelburg or Tatef in marriage. The Kentish prince with that christian sincerity, which had ever distinguished him since his conversion, answered, that it was not lawful to marry his sister to an infidel. Edwin replied, that he would certainly grant free liberty of conscience to the princess and to her attendants, adding that he himself would receive the same religion, if it appeared more worthy of God. Upon this Eadbald consented, and sent his sister into Northumberland,! attended by Paulinus, who was consecrated bishop of the north of England by Justus in the year 625. The reason of sending him was, that by daily exhortations and administration of the communion he might guard the young princess and her attendants from the infection of idolatry. But Providence had a higher and more extensive aim, and in

• Bede, c. 7. f Bede,c

% This term meant in those times all that part of England, which lies to the north of the Humber.

fused into the heart of Paulinus* a strong desire to propagate the gospel in these regions. He laboured much both to preserve Ethelburg and her attendants in christian simplicity, and to draw over some of the pagans to the faith. But though he preached a long time, " still (it is Bede's quotation) the god of this world blinded the minds of unbelievers." After some time Edwin was very near being murdered by an assassin whom the king of the West Saxons sent against him, and the same night his queen was delivered of a daughter. While the king was thanking his gods for the birth of a daughter, Paulinus began to give thanks to the Lord Christ. Edwin told him, that he himself would worship Christ and renounce all his gods, if he would give him victory over the king of the West Saxons, who had attempted to murder him, and, for the present, he gave the young infant to Paulinus to be baptized. She was the first Northumbrian who was admitted into the visible church by the ordinance of baptism; and twelve of the king's family were baptized on that occasion. Edwin collecting his forces vanquished the West Saxons, and killed or reduced into subjection all who had conspired against him. Returning victorious, he determined no longer to serve idols. He was, however, in no hurry to be baptized, but resolved to examine seriously the grounds and reasons of christianity. He attended Paulinus's instructions, held conferences with prudent and knowing persons, and was himself observed, frequently to commune with his own heart, in silence, and anxiously to inquire what was true religion. All who use his methods will not fail to know the truth.

Edwin was doubtless in good earnest, and at length held a consultation with his intimate friends and counsellors. " What is," says he, " this hitherto unheard of doctrine, this new worship?" Coifi, the chief of the priests, answered, " See you, O king, what this is, which is lately preached to us? I declare most frankly

* He was one of the monks whom Gregory had sent into England, and possessed much of the pious and zealous spirit of that renowned prelate.

what I have found to be true, that the religion we have hitherto followed is of no value. If the gods could do any thing, they would more particularly distinguish me with their favours, who have served them so diligently. If the new doctrine be really better, let us embrace it." Another of the nobles, observed, that he had taken notice of a swallow, which had rapidly flown through the king's house, entering by one door and going out at the other. This happened, he said, when the king was sitting at supper in the hall: a fire burning in the midst, and the room being heated, a tempest of rain or snow raged without: the poor swallowfelt indeed a temporary warmth, and then escaped out of the room. " Such," says he, " is the life of man; but what goes before, or conies after, is buried in profound darkness. Our ignorance then, upon such principles as hitherto we have embraced, is confessed; but if this new doctrine really teach us any thing more certain, it will deserve to be followed." These and similar* reflections were made by the king's counsellors. Coifi expressed also a desire to hear Paulinus preach, which, by the king's order, was complied with. The chief priest, having heard the sermon, exclaimed, " I knew formerly, that what we worshipped was nothing; because the more studiously I sought for truth, the less I found it. Now I openly declare, that in this preaching appears the truth, which is able to afford us life, salvation, and eternal bliss. I advise that we instantly destroy the temples and altars, which we have served in vain." The king feeling the conviction with no less strength, openly confessed the faith of Christ, and asked Coifi, who should be the first man that should profane the idolatrous places. " I ought to do it," replied the priest, " I, who worshipped them in folly, will give an example to others in destroying them, by the wisdom given me from the true God. He immediately went to the temple and profaned it, rejoicing in the knowledge of the Most High, and ordered his companions to burn the build

ing with its inclosures. The place was still shown in our author's time, not far from York to the east of the Derwent.

In the eleventh year of Edwin's reign, this prince with all his nobles and very many of the commonalty was baptized, 180 years after the arrival of the Saxons in Britain, and in the year of Christ §27. This was performed at York in a wooden oratory, in which Edwin had been first proposed as a catechumen for baptism. By the advice of Paulinus he afterwards began to build on the same spot a church of stone, which however he did not live to finish, but it was completed by Oswald his successor. Paulinus, first bishop of York, continued for six years, till the death of Edwin, to preach the gospel; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.* Edwin's children were afterwards baptized, and so strong was the desire of his subjects for christianity, that Paulinus coming with the king and queen to a royal villa, called Adregin, spent there thirty-six days in teaching and baptizing, from morning till night. At another time he baptized, in the river Swale, f which flows near Catterick, a number of persons who resorted thither. Many of these conversions may be supposed to have been the result of mere complaisance to the court. But there is every reason to believe, that there was a real effusion of the Spirit at this time. And, in this age, when men profess much to think for themselves, it will not be easy to find a person in high life attending wjth so cool and reasonable a spirit to the nature and evidences of true religion, as Edwin and his nobles did at a time which we call extremely barbarous. They thought impartially, and they had the indispensable qualification of being serious in their researches.

Edwin induced also Carpwald, king of the East Angles, to embrace the gospel. Redwald, the father of

• They are Bede's words; the scriptural reader knows whence he borrowed them. Id. 14. C. f Saulva, qui vicuro juxta Cataractam prseterfluit

this prince, had been baptized in Kent, but had been seduced by his wife into idolatry. Carpwald was succeeded by his brother Sibert, a man of singular zeal and piety, whose labours for the spiritual benelit of his subjects were much assisted by Felix, a BurguIndian christian. This person had received a commission from Honorius, the successor of Justus at Canterbury, to preach among the East Angles, which he did witli great success, and lived and died bishop of Dummock.*

The zealous Paulinus preached also in Lincolnshire, the first province south of the Humber,f where the governor of LincolnJ with his house was converted to God. Bede informs us that a friend of his heard an old person make this declaration, " I was baptized, together with a multitude of others, in the river Chanta§ by Paulinus, in the presence of Edwin." Wonderful things are told us of the perfect peace, order, and justice which prevailed during the reign of the wise and pious king of Northumberland.

Attempts were made all this time by the bishops of Rome to induce the Irish to unite themselves to the English church, but in vain. John, the bishop of Rome, wrote letters also into Ireland against the pelagian heresy, which was reviving there.

Edwin, after having six years served the cause of Christ, was slain in a battle, which he fought with Carduella, a British prince, a christian by profession, and with Pcnda, king of the Saxon principality of Mercia, a professed pagan. It is remarkable that the British prince used his victory with savage barbarity; and our author complains that, to his times, the British christians looked on the English only as pagans. Paulinus after this mournful event retired with Edwin's queen into Kent, whence he had brought her. There being a vacancy at Rochester, he was by Eadbald, who still reigned in Kent, fixed in that see, which he held to his death. His deacon James, whom

' Now Dunwich in Suffolk. f Id. 16. e.

\ Lindocolina. 4 Now Trent.

he had left in Northumberland, preserved still some remains of Christianity in a province now overrun by pagans. Such are the vicissitudes of the church in this world: her perfect rest is above.

The situation of the north was, after this, deplorable. Cedwalla, a British king, tyrannized with the fiercest barbarity over the subjects of Edwin, till at length Oswald, his nephew, vanquished and slew Cedwalla, and established himself in the kingdom. He had, in his younger days, lived an exile in Ireland, and had there been baptized. Desirous of evangelizing his people he sent for a pastor out of Ireland, who, after he had made some fruitless attempts, returned into his own country, complaining of the intractable disposition of the Northumbrians. " It seems to me," said Aidan, a monk, who was present at his complaints, " that your austere manners and conduct toward them was unsuitable to their state of extreme ignorance. They should be treated like infants with milk, till they become capable of stronger meat." The consequence was, what probably Aidan little expected; he was himself deputed by an Irish council to enter on the mission.

The* character of this missionary would have done honour to the purest times. We may more confidently depend on the account given of him, because he belonged not to the Roman communion, to which Bede was superstitiously devoted, but was a schismatic in the observation of Easter, as all the christians in the British isles were, except the Saxons. To him Bede applies the expression that " he had a zeal for God, though not FULLyf according to knowledge." Oswald,

• Id. b. iii. c. 3, 4. 5.

f Non j)lene. Warner, by omitting the expression Fully, misrepresents our venerable historian, as if he had looked on Aidan as wrong in point of knowledge altogether. In another place he invidiously compares the laboriousness and simplicity of the Irish missionary with the pomp of the Roman pastors sent by Gregory. We have seen abundant proof of the integrity and diligence of the latter. The truth is, that though God is no respecter of persons, man is very apt to be so. Wherever he sends pastors fitted and commissioned by himself, genuine traces of their work appear, and leave salutary fruits behind them. The Irish saint Colomban,

whom early education had rather prejudiced in favour of the same schism, gave him an episcopal see in the isle of Lindisfarn.* But there was a great difficulty, which attended his ministry; Aidan spake English very imperfectly. Oswald himself, therefore, who thoroughly understood Irish, acted as his interpreter. The zeal of this monarch was indeed extraordinary, to induce him to take such pains. Encouraged by his protection, more Irish ministers came into the north of England, and churches were erected; the gospel was preached, and Northumberland recovered, by the zeal and piety of the new missionaries, the ground which it had lost by the expulsion of Paulinus. Even to the year 716f the principles of evangelical piety flourished in the Irish school among this people; at which time they were reduced to the Roman communion.

Aidan himself was a shining example of godliness. He laboured to convert infidels, and to strengthen the faithful. He gave to the poor whatever presents he received from the great, and employed himself with his associates in the scriptures continually. He strictly avoided every thing luxurious, and every appearance of secular avarice or ambition: he redeemed captives with the money which was given him by the rich: he instructed them afterwards; and fitted them for the ministry.

The king was not inferior to the prelate in his endeavors to promote godliness. Uncorrupt and humble, in the midst of prosperity, he showed himself the benefactor of the poor and needy, and cheerfully encouraged every attempt to spread the knowledge and practice of godliness among men.

In the mean time Byrinue was sent from Rome into

and after him Aidan, as well as the Roman missionaries of the Gregorian school, influenced by the same holy Spirit, left wholesome vestiges of their labours in the British isles, which extended even to distant ages. Had the former been protestants, properly speaking-, and the latter papists, the same estimate ought to have been formed, though such a distinction in regard to those ages is chimerical.

* Now called Holy Island, four miles from Berwick.

t Id. c.4.

Britain, who, arriving among the West Saxons, and finding them all pagans, laboured to instruct them. Cynigilsus, their king, the father in law of Oswald, received baptism from him. The two princes gave to Byrinus the city of Dorcinca;* where he resided as bishop, and the gospel was propagated with success through this branch of the Heptarchy.

In Kent Eadbald died in the year 640,f and was succeeded by his son Easconbert, who reigned twentyfour years, was zealous in the support of godliness, and was the first Saxon king who totally destroyed all the idols in his dominions.

Oswald at length in the thirty-eighth year of his age, was slain in battle by the same Penda king of Mercia, who was mentioned before. A memorable instance of the unsearchable ways of providence! Two kings, whose equals in piety and virtue are not easily found in any age, both lose their lives in battle with the same enemy, a barbarian and a pagan! But they served not God for worldly, but for heavenly blessings.

Providence was however preparing the way for the propagation of the gospel through the whole Heptarchy. Young Penda, son of the tyrant of Mercia, desired in marriage the daughter of Oswy, brother and successor to Oswald. His reception of christianity was made the condition; and the young prince, we are told, on hearing the doctrines of the gospel preached, was induced to declare, that he would become a christian, even if Oswy's daughter were denied him. Two years before the death of old Penda, the son married the Northumbrian princess, and patronized christianity in that part of his father's dominions, which was committed to his government. But the latter renewed hostilities against Oswy, and at length was slain in battle.J Oswy now master of Mercia and Northumberland, applied himself to propagate christianity among his new subjects. Through his influence also

• t' ,- . .a. -fiA. ".iff- «4 H.iii-; Jjvih.i.

• Now Dorchester, near Oxford. t W. c. 8.

\ The battle was fought between Oswy and Penda, near Loyden, now Leeds, in Yorkshire, at Wuiwidfield, on the river Winyaed, now Aire.

the gospel was restored to the kingdom of the East Saxons; and London, which had rejected the ministry of Mellitus, again embraced the religion of Christ.

In this century, Kentigern, bishop of Glasgow in Scotland, being expelled from his see, founded a monastery and a bishopric on the banks of the river Elwy in North Wales. Archbishop Usher, quoting John of Tinmouth, says, there were in the abbey 965 monks, one of whom was named Asaph. Kentigern being called back to Glasgow, appointed Asaph abbot and bishop of Llan-Elwy. Of 'Asaph it is recorded, that he was a zealous preacher, and that he used to say, " they envy the salvation of souls, who withstand the preaching of the word." The see has since borne his name; and he seems to have had a spirit superior to the monastic superstition, in which he was educated.* Marianus Scotus, in his chronicle, says, in regard to this century, " Ireland was filled with saints. Their schools were renowned for ages."f

But it is time to bring the English church history of this century to a close. That there was a real effusion of the holy Spirit on England, so that numbers were turned from idols to the living God; that pastors, first of the Roman and afterwards of the British communion, laboured in the work with simplicity and success, has been evidenced. We have had also several instances of the completion of that prophecy, " kings shall be thy nursing fathers and queens thy nursing mothers. "J But the zeal and purity of the christian spirit seldom last much longer than thirty or forty years in any place. The native depravity of man gra-' dually quenches the Spirit of God, and the power of godliness is soon buried, or at least very faintly subsists in the rubbish of factious contentions and worldly lusts. This I find to have been the case in the latter part of the century in England. Wilfrid, bishop of York, a very suspicious character, in his exile laboured indeed among the Frisians, and is said to have been

the first missionary who taught that people. If he did any real good among them, it was the most useful part of his life; for in Britain he seems to have fomented turbulence and contention. He paved, however, the way for more upright missionaries, whose labours in Friezeland shall be mentioned hereafter. The craft of Satan too commonly succeeds in fomenting divisions, even among those, who with equal sincerity are engaged in the best of causes. While such men as Paulinus and Aidan lived, the diversity of sentiments produced no great mischief. Afterwards, as depravity increased, and the spirit of faith and love grew colder, very hurtful disputes arose, to the scandal of the gospel. The Roman church, however, acquired more and more influence, though it was very far from pervading the whole of the British isles at the end of the century. But nothing particularly pertinent to the design of this history occurs. Let it suffice us to say, that our ancestors saw in this century a blessed time, the fruits of which will abide for ever.