Augustine of Canterbury

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Augustine of Canterbury was born in Italy in the sixth century but died at Canterbury in England around 605. Augustine was what they called a prior from the Roman monastery of St. Andrew. He was sent by Gregory the Great of Rome with some 30 monks to preach an official gospel of the Roman Church. He studied under Felix, bishop of Messana in Sicily, and there was some danger in this mission because Gregory the Great was not recognized by every Christian as the head of the Church. In fact, many Christians not only mistrusted the Roman Church, they considered it far from the teachings of Christ. Real Christians would not call for the persecution of any nonbeliever as Ambrose did.

Christianity and the gospel of Christ had already been preached in Britain and Northern Ireland. Irish Monasteries had been sending missionaries as far away as Iceland and the Americas two hundred years before. After being ordained a Roman bishop somewhere in Gaul, Augustine arrived in England and began to preach his gospel at Thanet in Kent with the permission of King Æthelberht and has been accredited as the founder of the metropolitan see of Canterbury.

He was instructed by the Vatican to bring more missionaries and provided a pallium[1] for Augustine. He was to consecrate twelve suffragan bishops[2] for his own metropolitan area and was to set up one in the north with twelve more bishops.

He established the episcopal sees[3] of London and Rochester with Roman monks Mellitus and Justus as bishops. Like the golden seat of Constantine, his "cathedral,"[4] Canterbury, became the primatial see[5] of England.

Gregory gave him further instructions to set up a second metropolitan center at York with its own twelve suffragan bishops. Although some of this took place after Augustine died, it was how the Roman Church organized itself in England.

The little success that did come about at the beginning was because of Augustine's close relationship with King Æthelberht, which gave the archbishop time to establish himself. This close alliance with wealthy rulers allowed the new doctrines brought from Rome to creep into the thinking of the people[6] and the policies of rich and powerful rulers.

A life story of Augustine, written around 1090 by Goscelin[7], was much different than the account of the Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine monk at the monastery in the Kingdom of Northumbria of the Angles.[8] Goscelin's account has little historical content, but was filled with miracles and imagined speeches. As centuries went on, the miracles grew more fanciful.

Augustine was clearly under the authority of Gregory's papacy and often wrote for permission to travel and direction on many other issues including how to organize the church, the punishment for church robbers, guidance on who was allowed to marry whom, and the consecration of bishops.

Since this new Church was becoming more political than religious, Augustine was often looking for directives as to the relations between the churches of Britain and Gaul. Gone was the day of Paul when there was "no difference between the Jew and the Greek".[9] The church was never to be tied to the land through alliances and allegiance[10] but to the hearts of the people through love and service.[11] This church was not so interested in righteousness as in the power and the profit of the papacy.

Gregory saw fair-haired Saxon slaves from Britain in the Roman slave market and supposedly desired to convert their people. But, on a far more practical level, he understood the monetary value in the acquisition of new provinces and establishing the primacy of the papacy through alliances with wealthy property owners who sought more property and power.

The papacy's strong alliance with the Franks was an opportunity to win favor and foothold in Kent and England. King Æthelberht's wife was Frankish but he desired more lucrative trade with the Franks and a favorable union with the papacy would secure better access to markets.

Libellus responsionum[12] shows that there was more conflict between Augustine and the native Christians than there was concern about paganism. They were not just a different style of Christianity. There were critical fundamental differences.

Gregory had decreed that these Christians should submit to Augustine and that their bishops should obey him.[13] They not only viewed Augustine with suspicion but saw this in direct conflict with Christ's commands and policies.[14]

There were deep differences between Augustine's view of the "church" and the British church. Just a few were things like tonsure[15], the observance of Easter, and practical and deep-rooted differences in approach to asceticism, missionary approach, and how the church itself was organized. The separation of Church and state and the servant nature of the Church was changing under the new gospel of the Papacy and its ruling bishops.


This was a top-down structure that was not in accord with the teachings of Christ and what he commanded concerning exercising authority. Nor was it what the early Church was doing when it organized the people in Tens as Christ commanded. Nor was Augustine calling on the people to look out among themselves for men they trust to be appointed over matters like Peter said.[16]

This difference needs to be understood. There is a great cover-up by that Church and its daughters but the true story of Lady Godiva tells where the Church went wrong as well as any other.

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Footnotes

  1. a woolen vestment conferred by the Pope on an archbishop, consisting of a narrow circular band placed around the shoulders with a short lappet hanging from front and back (symbolizing his metropolitan jurisdiction)
  2. A suffragan bishop is a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan bishop or diocesan bishop and, consequently, the role is not normally jurisdictional. Suffragan bishops may be charged by a metropolitan to oversee a suffragan diocese. They may be assigned to an area which does not have a cathedral of its own.
  3. An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Phrases concerning actions occurring within or outside an episcopal see are indicative of the geographical significance of the term, making it synonymous with diocese.
  4. cathedral (n.) 1580s, "church of a bishop," from phrase cathedral church (c. 1300), partially translating Late Latin ecclesia cathedralis "church of a bishop's seat," from Latin cathedra "an easy chair".
  5. In the Western Church, a Primate is an Archbishop—or, rarely, a suffragan or exempt bishop—of a specific (mostly Metropolitan) episcopal see (called a primatial see) who has precedence over the bishoprics of one or more ecclesiastical provinces of a particular historical, political or cultural area.
  6. 2 Timothy 3:6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
  7. Goscelin of Canterbury was a Benedictine hagiographical writer from Fleming who became a monk of St Bertin's at Saint-Omer before being sent to England.
  8. The single most important scholar of antiquity for the period between the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 and the coronation of Charlemagne in 800.
  9. Romans 10:12 ¶ For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
    Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
    Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
    Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
  10. Matthew 24:23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.
    Matthew 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
    Matthew 24:26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
    Mark 13:21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
  11. Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
    her shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
  12. The Libellus responsionum (Latin for "little book of answers") is a papal letter (also known as a papal rescript or decretal) written in 601 by Pope Gregory I to Augustine of Canterbury in response to several of Augustine's questions regarding the nascent church in Anglo-Saxon England.
  13. Stenton Anglo-Saxon England pp. 110–111
  14. Luke 22:25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so ...
  15. Tonsure is the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The term originates from the Latin word tōnsūra and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972.
  16. Acts 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.