THE CHURCH AMONG THE BARBARIANS
FROM GREGORY I. TO GREGORY VII.
a.d. 590 to 1049.
CONVERSION OF THE NORTHERN AND WESTERN BARBARIANS
§ 6. Character of Mediaeval Missions.
The conversion of the new and savage races which enter the theatre of history at the threshold of the middle ages, was the great work of the Christian church from the sixth to the tenth century. Already in the second or third century, Christianity was carried to the Gauls, the Britons and the Germans on the borders of the Rhine. But these were sporadic efforts with transient results. The work did not begin in earnest till the sixth century, and then it went vigorously forward to the tenth and twelfth, though with many checks and temporary relapses caused by civil wars and foreign invasions.
The Christianization of the Kelts, Teutons, and Slavonians was at the same time a process of civilization, and differed in this respect entirely from the conversion of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the preceding age. Christian missionaries laid the foundation for the alphabet, literature, agriculture, laws, and arts of the nations of Northern and Western Europe, as they now do among the heathen nations in Asia and Africa. "The science of language," says a competent judge,6 "owes more than its first impulse to Christianity. The pioneers of our science were those very apostles who were commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; and their true successors, the missionaries of the whole Christian church." The same may be said of every branch of knowledge and art of peace. The missionaries, in aiming at piety and the salvation of souls, incidentally promoted mental culture and temporal prosperity. The feeling of brotherhood inspired by Christianity broke down the partition walls between race and race, and created a brotherhood of nations.
The mediaeval Christianization was a wholesale conversion, or a conversion of nations under the command of their leaders. It was carried on not only by missionaries and by spiritual means, but also by political influence, alliances of heathen princes with Christian wives, and in some cases (as the baptism of the Saxons under Charlemagne) by military force. It was a conversion not to the primary Christianity of inspired apostles, as laid down in the New Testament, but to the secondary Christianity of ecclesiastical tradition, as taught by the fathers, monks and popes. It was a baptism by water, rather than by fire and the Holy Spirit. The preceding instruction amounted to little or nothing; even the baptismal formula, mechanically recited in Latin, was scarcely understood. The rude barbarians, owing to the weakness of their heathen religion, readily submitted to the new religion; but some tribes yielded only to the sword of the conqueror.
This superficial, wholesale conversion to a nominal Christianity must be regarded in the light of a national infant-baptism. It furnished the basis for a long process of Christian education. The barbarians were children in knowledge, and had to be treated like children. Christianity, assumed the form of a new law leading them, as a schoolmaster, to the manhood of Christ.
The missionaries of the middle ages were nearly all monks. They were generally men of limited education and narrow views, but devoted zeal and heroic self-denial. Accustomed to primitive simplicity of life, detached from all earthly ties, trained to all sorts of privations, ready for any amount of labor, and commanding attention and veneration by their unusual habits, their celibacy, fastings and constant devotions, they were upon the whole the best pioneers of Christianity and civilization among the savage races of Northern and Western Europe. The lives of these missionaries are surrounded by their biographers with such a halo of legends and miracles, that it is almost impossible to sift fact from fiction. Many of these miracles no doubt were products of fancy or fraud; but it would be rash to deny them all.
The same reason which made miracles necessary in the first introduction of Christianity, may have demanded them among barbarians before they were capable of appreciating the higher moral evidences.
I. THE CONVERSION OF ENGLAND, IRELAND, AND SCOTLAND.
§ 7. Literature.
Gildas (Abbot of Bangor in Wales, the oldest British historian, in the sixth cent.): De excidio Britanniae conquestus, etc. A picture of the evils of Britain at the time. Best ed. by Joseph Stevenson, Lond., 1838. (English Historical Society’s publications.)
Nennius (Abbot of Bangor about 620): Eulogium Britanniae, sive Historia Britonum. Ed. Stevenson, 1838.
The Works of Gildas and Nennius transl. from the Latin by J. A. Giles, London, 1841.
*Beda Venerabilis (d. 734): Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum; in the sixth vol. of Migne’s ed. of Bedae Opera Omnia, also often separately published and translated into English. Best ed. by Stevenson, Lond., 1838; and by Giles, Lond., 1849. It is the only reliable church-history of the Anglo-Saxon period.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, from the time of Caesar to 1154. A work of several successive hands, ed. by Gibson with an Engl. translation, 1823, and by Giles, 1849 (in one vol. with Bede’s Eccles. History).
See the Six Old English Chronicles, in Bohn’s Antiquarian Library (1848); and Church Historians of England trans. by Jos. Stevenson, Lond. 1852–’56, 6 vols.
Sir. Henry Spelman (d. 1641): Concilia, decreta, leges, constitutiones in re ecclesiarum orbis Britannici, etc. Lond., 1639–’64, 2 vols. fol. (Vol. I. reaches to the Norman conquest; vol. ii. to Henry VIII).
David Wilkins (d. 1745): Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae (from 446 to 1717), Lond., 1737, 4 vols. fol. (Vol. I. from 446 to 1265).
*Arthur West Haddan and William Stubbs: Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland: edited after Spelman and Wilkins. Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1869 to ’78. So far 3 vols. To be continued down to the Reformation.
The Penitentials of the Irish and Anglo-Saxon Churches are collected and edited by F. Kunstmann (Die Lat. Poenitentialbücher der Angelsachsen, 1844); Wasserschleben (Die Bussordnungen der abendländ. Kirche, 1851); Schmitz (Die Bussbücher u. d. Bussdisciplin d. Kirche, 1883).
II. Historical Works.
(a) The Christianization of England.
*J. Ussher. (d. 1655): Britannicarum Eccles. Antiquitates. Dublin, 1639; London, 1687; Works ed. by Elrington, 1847, Vols. V. and VI.
E. Stillingfleet (d. 1699): Origenes Britannicae; or, the Antiqu. of the British Churches. London, 1710; Oxford, 1842; 2 vols.
J. Lingard (R.C., d. 1851): The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church. London, 1806, new ed., 1845.
Karl Schrödl (R.C.): Das erste Jahrhundert der englischen Kirche. Passau & Wien, 1840.
Edward Churton (Rector of Crayke, Durham): The Early English Church. London, 1841 (new ed. unchanged, 1878).
James Yeowell: Chronicles of the Ancient British Church anterior to the Saxon era. London, 1846.
Francis Thackeray (Episcop.): Researches into the Eccles. and Political State of Ancient Britain under the Roman Emperors. London, 1843, 2 vols.
*Count De Montalembert (R.C., d. 1870): The Monks of the West. Edinburgh and London, 1861–’79, 7 vols. (Authorized transl. from the French). The third vol. treats of the British Isles.
Reinhold Pauli: Bilder aus Alt-England. Gotha, 1860.
W F. Hook: Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London, 2nd ed., 1861 sqq.
G. F. Maclear. (D. D., Head-master of King’s College School): Conversion of the West. The English. London, 1878. By the same: The Kelts, 1878. (Popular.)
William Bright (Dr. and Prof, of Eccles. Hist., Oxford): Chapters on Early English Church History Oxford, 1878 (460 pages).
John Pryce: History of the Ancient British Church. Oxford, 1878.
Edward L. Cutts: Turning Points of English Church-History. London, 1878.
Dugald MacColl: Early British Church. The Arthurian Legends. In "The Catholic Presbyterian," London and New York, for 1880, No. 3, pp. 176 sqq.
(b) The Christianization of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.
Dr. Lanigan (R.C.): Ecclesiastical History of Ireland. Dublin, 1829.
William G. Todd (Episc., Trinity Coll., Dublin): The Church of St. Patrick: An Historical Inquiry into the Independence of the Ancient Church of Ireland. London, 1844. By the same: A History of the Ancient Church of Ireland. London, 1845. By the same: Book of Hymns of the Ancient Church of Ireland. Dublin, 1855.
Ferdinand Walter: Das alte Wales. Bonn, 1859.
John Cunningham (Presbyterian): The Church History of Scotland from the Commencement of the Christian Era to the Present Day. Edinburgh, 1859, 2 vols. (Vol. I., chs. 1–6).
C. Innes: Sketches of Early Scotch History, and Social Progress. Edinb., 1861. (Refers to the history of local churches, the university and home-life in the mediaeval period.)
Thomas McLauchan (Presbyt.): The Early Scottish Church: the Ecclesiastical History of Scotland from the First to the Twelfth Century. Edinburgh, 1865.
*DR. J. H. A. Ebrard: Die iroschottische Missionskirche des 6, 7 und 8 ten Jahrh., und ihre Verbreitung auf dem Festland. Gütersloh, 1873.
Comp. Ebrard’s articles Die culdeische Kirche des 6, 7 und 8ten Jahrh., in Niedner’s "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theologie" for 1862 and 1863.
Ebrard and McLauchan are the ablest advocates of the anti-Romish and alleged semi-Protestant character of the old Keltic church of Ireland and Scotland; but they present it in a more favorable light than the facts warrant.
*Dr. W. D. Killen (Presbyt.): The Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the Earliest Period to the Present Times. London, 1875, 2 vols.
*Alex. Penrose Forbes (Bishop of Brechin, d. 1875): Kalendars of Scottish Saints. With Personal Notices of those of Alba, Laudonia and Stratchclyde. Edinburgh (Edmonston & Douglas), 1872. By the same: Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern. Compiled in the twelfth century. Ed. from the best MSS. Edinburgh, 1874.
*William Reeves (Canon of Armagh): Life of St. Columba, Founder of Hy. Written by Adamnan, ninth Abbot of that monastery. Edinburgh, 1874.
*William F. Skene: Keltic Scotland. Edinburgh, 2 vols., 1876, 1877.
*F. E. Warren (Fellow of St. John’s Coll., Oxford): The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church. Oxford 1881 (291 pp.).
F. Loofs: Antiquae Britonum Scotorumque ecclesiae moves, ratio credendi, vivendi, etc. Lips., 1882.
Comp. also the relevant sections in the Histories Of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by Hume, (Ch. I-III.), Lingard (Ch. I. VIII.), Lappenberg (Vol. I.), Green (Vol. I.), Hill Burton (Hist. of Scotland, Vol. I.); Milman’s Latin Christianity (Book IV., Ch. 3–5); Maclear’s Apostles of Mediaeval Europe (Lond. 1869), Thomas Smith’s Mediaeval Missions (Edinb. 1880).
§ 8. The Britons.
Literature: The works of Bede, Gildas, Nennius, Ussher, Bright, Pryce, quoted in § 7.
Britain made its first appearance in secular history half a century before the Christian era, when Julius Caesar, the conqueror of Gaul, sailed with a Roman army from Calais across the channel, and added the British island to the dominion of the eternal city, though it was not fully subdued till the reign of Claudius (a.d. 41–54). It figures in ecclesiastical history from the conversion of the Britons in the second century. Its missionary history is divided into two periods, the Keltic and the Anglo-Saxon, both catholic in doctrine, as far as developed at that time, slightly differing in discipline, yet bitterly hostile under the influence of the antagonism of race, which was ultimately overcome in England and Scotland but is still burning in Ireland, the proper home of the Kelts. The Norman conquest made both races better Romanists than they were before.
The oldest inhabitants of Britain, like the Irish, the Scots, and the Gauls, were of Keltic origin, half naked and painted barbarians, quarrelsome, rapacious, revengeful, torn by intestine factions, which facilitated their conquest. They had adopted, under different appellations, the gods of the Greeks and Romans, and worshipped a multitude of local deities, the genii of the woods, rivers, and mountains; they paid special homage to the oak, the king of the forest. They offered the fruits of the earth, the spoils of the enemy, and, in the hour of danger, human lives. Their priests, called druids,7dwelt in huts or caverns, amid the silence and gloom of the forest, were in possession of all education and spiritual power, professed to know the secrets of nature, medicine and astrology, and practised the arts of divination. They taught, as the three principles of wisdom: "obedience to the laws of God, concern for the good of man, and fortitude under the accidents of life." They also taught the immortality of the soul and the fiction of metempsychosis. One class of the druids, who delivered their instructions in verse, were distinguished by the title of bards, who as poets and musicians accompanied the chieftain to the battle-field, and enlivened the feasts of peace by the sound of the harp. There are still remains of druidical temples—the most remarkable at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and at Stennis in the Orkney Islands—that is, circles of huge stones standing in some cases twenty feet above the earth, and near them large mounds supposed to be ancient burial-places; for men desire to be buried near a place of worship.
The first introduction of Christianity into Britain is involved in obscurity. The legendary history ascribes it at least to ten different agencies, namely, 1) Bran, a British prince, and his son Caradog, who is said to have become acquainted with St. Paul in Rome, a.d. 51 to 58, and to have introduced the gospel into his native country on his return. 2) St. Paul. 3) St. Peter. 4) St. Simon Zelotes. 5) St. Philip. 6) St. James the Great. 7) St. John. 8) Aristobulus (Rom. xvi. 10). 9) Joseph of Arimathaea, who figures largely in the post-Norman legends of Glastonbury Abbey, and is said to have brought the holy Graal—the vessel or platter of the Lord’s Supper—containing the blood of Christ, to England. 10) Missionaries of Pope Eleutherus from Rome to King Lucius of Britain.8
But these legends cannot be traced beyond the sixth century, and are therefore destitute of all historic value. A visit of St. Paul to Britain between a.d. 63 and 67 is indeed in itself not impossible (on the assumption of a second Roman captivity), and has been advocated even by such scholars as Ussher and Stillingfleet, but is intrinsically improbable, and destitute of all evidence.9
The conversion of King Lucius in the second century through correspondence with the Roman bishop Eleutherus (176 to 190), is related by Bede, in connection with several errors, and is a legend rather than an established fact.0 Irenaeus of Lyons, who enumerates all the churches one by one, knows of none in Britain. Yet the connection of Britain with Rome and with Gaul must have brought it early into contact with Christianity. About a.d. 208 Tertullian exultingly declared "that places in Britain not yet visited by Romans were subject to Christ." 11 St. Alban, probably a Roman soldier, died as the British proto-martyr in the Diocletian persecution (303), and left the impress of his name on English history. 12 Constantine, the first Christian emperor, was born in Britain, and his mother, St. Helena, was probably a native of the country. In the Council of Arles, a.d. 314, which condemned the Donatists, we meet with three British bishops, Eborius of York (Eboracum), Restitutus of London (Londinum), and Adelfius of Lincoln (Colonia Londinensium), or Caerleon in Wales, besides a presbyter and deacon. 13 In the Arian controversy the British churches sided with Athanasius and the Nicene Creed, though hesitating about the term homoousios. 14 A notorious heretic, Pelagius (Morgan), was from the same island; his abler, though less influential associate, Celestius, was probably an Irishman; but their doctrines were condemned (429), and the Catholic faith reëstablished with the assistance of two Gallic bishops. 15
Monumental remains of the British church during the Roman period are recorded or still exist at Canterbury (St. Martin’s), Caerleon, Bangor, Glastonbury, Dover, Richborough (Kent), Reculver, Lyminge, Brixworth, and other places.6
The Roman dominion in Britain ceased about a.d. 410; the troops were withdrawn, and the country left to govern itself. The result was a partial relapse into barbarism and a demoralization of the church. The intercourse with the Continent was cut off, and the barbarians of the North pressed heavily upon the Britons. For a century and a half we hear nothing of the British churches till the silence is broken by the querulous voice of Gildas, who informs us of the degeneracy of the clergy, the decay of religion, the introduction and suppression of the Pelagian heresy, and the mission of Palladius to the Scots in Ireland. This long isolation accounts in part for the trifling differences and the bitter antagonism between the remnant of the old British church and the new church imported from Rome among the hated Anglo-Saxons.
The difference was not doctrinal, but ritualistic and disciplinary. The British as well as the Irish and Scotch Christians of the sixth and seventh centuries kept Easter on the very day of the full moon in March when it was Sunday, or on the next Sunday following. They adhered to the older cycle of eighty-four years in opposition to the later Dionysian cycle of ninety-five years, which came into use on the Continent since the middle of the sixth century.7 They shaved the fore-part of their head from ear to ear in the form of a crescent, allowing the hair to grow behind, in imitation of the aureola, instead of shaving, like the Romans, the crown of the head in a circular form, and leaving a circle of hair, which was to represent the Saviour’s crown of thorns. They had, moreover—and this was the most important and most irritating difference—become practically independent of Rome, and transacted their business in councils without referring to the pope, who began to be regarded on the Continent as the righteous ruler and judge of all Christendom.
From these facts some historians have inferred the Eastern or Greek origin of the old British church. But there is no evidence whatever of any such connection, unless it be perhaps through the medium of the neighboring church of Gaul, which was partly planted or moulded by Irenaeus of Lyons, a pupil of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, and which always maintained a sort of independence of Rome.
But in the points of dispute just mentioned, the Gallican church at that time agreed with Rome. Consequently, the peculiarities of the British Christians must be traced to their insular isolation and long separation from Rome. The Western church on the Continent passed through some changes in the development of the authority of the papal see, and in the mode of calculating Easter, until the computation was finally fixed through Dionysius Exiguus in 525. The British, unacquainted with these changes, adhered to the older independence and to the older customs. They continued to keep Easter from the 14th of the moon to the 20th. This difference involved a difference in all the moveable festivals, and created great confusion in England after the conversion of the Saxons to the Roman rite.
§ 9. The Anglo-Saxons.
I. The sources for the planting of Roman Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons are several Letters of Pope Gregory I. (Epp., Lib. VI. 7, 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59; IX. 11, 108; XI. 28, 29, 64, 65, 66, 76; in Migne’s ed. of Gregory’s Opera, Vol. III.; also in Haddan and Stubbs, III. 5 sqq.); the first and second books of Bede’s Eccles. Hist.; Goscelin’s Life of St. Augustin, written in the 11th century, and contained in the Acta Sanctorum of May 26th; and Thorne’s Chronicles of St. Augustine’s Abbey. See also Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, etc., the 3d vol., which comes down to a.d. 840.
II. Of modern lives of St. Augustin, we mention Montalembert, Monks of the West, Vol. III.; Dean Hook, Archbishops of Canterbury, Vol. I., and Dean Stanley, Memorials of Canterbury, 1st ed., 1855, 9th ed. 1880. Comp. Lit. in Sec. 7.
British Christianity was always a feeble plant, and suffered greatly, from the Anglo-Saxon conquest and the devastating wars which followed it. With the decline of the Roman power, the Britons, weakened by the vices of Roman civilization, and unable to resist the aggressions of the wild Picts and Scots from the North, called Hengist and Horsa, two brother-princes and reputed descendants of Wodan, the god of war, from Germany to their aid, a.d. 449. 18
From this time begins the emigration of Saxons, Angles or Anglians, Jutes, and Frisians to Britain. They gave to it a new nationality and a new language, the Anglo-Saxon, which forms the base and trunk of the present people and language of England (Angle-land). They belonged to the great Teutonic race, and came from the Western and Northern parts of Germany, from the districts North of the Elbe, the Weser, and the Eyder, especially from Holstein, Schleswig, and Jutland. They could never be subdued by the Romans, and the emperor Julian pronounced them the most formidable of all the nations that dwelt beyond the Rhine on the shores of the Western ocean. They were tall and handsome, with blue eyes and fair skin, strong and enduring, given to pillage by land, and piracy by sea, leaving the cultivation of the soil, with the care of their flocks, to women and slaves. They were the fiercest among the Germans. They sacrificed a tenth of their chief captives on the altars of their gods. They used the spear, the sword, and the battle-axe with terrible effect. "We have not," says Sidonius, bishop of Clermont,9"a more cruel and more dangerous enemy than the Saxons. They overcome all who have the courage to oppose them .... When they pursue, they infallibly overtake; when they are pursued, their escape is certain. They despise danger; they are inured to shipwreck; they are eager to purchase booty with the peril of their lives. Tempests, which to others are so dreadful, to them are subjects of joy. The storm is their protection when they are pressed by the enemy, and a cover for their operations when they meditate an attack." Like the Bedouins in the East, and the Indians of America, they were divided in tribes, each with a chieftain. In times of danger, they selected a supreme commander under the name of Konyng or King, but only for a period.