« PoprzedniaDalej »
ART. I.-The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon
Church. By John LINGARD, D.Þ. 2 Vols. London, 1845. As the ancient heathen nations were anxious to trace their pedigrees to the gods, so modern Churches, however blessed with light and sanctity, are dissatisfied unless they have had apostles for their founders. As to these islands, after the most elaborate researches, we must come to the conclusion of our worthy ecclesiastical historian Fuller, and say, “We see the light of the Word shined here, but see not who kindled it.” Is it any great matter who ? Shall we think meanly of the gas that illumines our city, unless we know who and what was the first regularly appointed lamp-lighter ?
There is little doubt, however, that Christianity was introduced into Britain at a very early period. It was about the year 43, that the Romans obtained a permanent footing in the island. In the consequent influx of strangers, there were probably some disciples of Christ, that silently introduced the Gospel among the idolatrous inhabitants, who were far from being as uncivilized as they are generally represented. The island is described by Cæsar well peopled, full of houses built after the manner of the Gauls, abounding in cattle,” (De Bello Gallico, lib. v. cap. 12;) and by Diodorus, as “ very populous,” (lib. v. cap. 2,) though their notions of population were derived from Italy and Sicily. It had considerable trade. Seneca lent to some of its merchants £480,000 of our money upon good security, and at an exorbitant interest. The people had made remarkable progress in the mechanical arts. They possessed an established religion, with an intellectual and powerful priesthood; and they so severely tried the Roman power by their brave and persevering resistance,
VOL. VI. NO. XI.
that, to keep down their patriotism required an army of occupation, which was able more than once to dispose of the imperial crown to its generals :-such a country it is absurd to represent as occupied only by hordes of “painted savages.” Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius, exult in the well-known fact, that the British isles had received the light of salvation in the early part of the 3d century. After the conversion of Constantine, there is reason to believe that most of the heathen temples were hereas elsewhere—converted into Christian churches. And though the imperial dominion was far from being friendly to public or private virtue, yet it contributed materially to soften the manners of the people, and to abolish the Druidical worship.
The persecution raised by the emperors in the beginning of the 4th century, raged with destructive force in Britain. The account given of it by Gildas, our earliest ecclesiastical historian, shows that Christianity had already made considerable progress, and that it was based upon the Holy Scriptures, which, as its living oracles, excited the special enmity of the persecutors.
“ The churches,” says he, “ were overthrown; all the copies of the Holy Scriptures that could be found, were burned in the streets, and the chosen pastors of God's Church butchered, together with their innocent sheep; in order that not a vestige, if possible, might remain, in some provinces, of Christ's religion.” After lamenting many “disgraceful flights,” he adds—« The whole Church were crowding in a body to leave behind them the dark things of this world, and to make the best of their way to the happy mansions of heaven, as if to their proper homes.”
The elevation of Constantine in 313, put a stop to this persecution, before the British Churches were exterminated. We find their bishops afterwards representing them in the councils of Arles in 314, of Sardica in 347, and of Rimini in 359.
66 The orthodoxy of the Britons during the prevalence of Arianism is attested,” says Dr. Lingard, “ by its most zealous opponents; and if the heresy of Pelagius afterwards found an asylum in the island, it was not till it had been proscribed on the Continent, when some of his disciples, Britons, like himself, returning home, propagated his doctrines among their countrymen.”
They did so with considerable success, but their authority was destroyed by the preaching of Germanus, and of one or two other Gallic bishops, who were invited over for the purpose. This is the sum of nearly all that is known of the ancient British Churches during the subjection of the country to Rome ;--and from the moment the Emperor withdrew his forces, we are left in utter darkness. “ Continental writers seem to have forgotten the existence of a British Church; and it is not till after the
lapse of 100 years, that we meet with the work and epistle of Gildas De Eccidio Britanniæ." “ Gildas was a Briton. He wrote about the year 550, the darkest period of British history, and describes matters with which, being a contemporary, he must have been perfectly conversant. Unfortunately his object led him to declamation rather than narrative, to prove, or attempt to prove, that the evils which his countrymen suffered, were sent in punishment of the immorality of the people.” Of them and of the clergy he draws a most gloomy picture. The latter were unchaste, arrogant, luxurious, and defiled with simony, unable to correct their flocks, because themselves addicted to the same vices.
Dr. Lingard owns that there is “an appearance of bitterness in his zeal, a tone of exaggeration in his style which should put us on our guard." Yet he afterwards forgets his own caution, and fully adopts this exaggerated and onesided representation of the British Churches,-- which, like a great artist—as he undoubtedly is—he skilfully contrasts with a flattering and equally onesided picture of the new Anglo-Saxon Church, which he labours to exalt, on account of its Roman origin. Dr. Lingard is a very clear and forcible writer. The work before us displays sound judgment and great learning, and abounds in valuable information for the student of church history. But it must be read with caution, which is the more necessary as well as more difficult, because of the tone of candour which pervades it. The author's sympathies are not with the people. In reading his pages, we miss the ardour for popular rights and freedom which lends such a charm to the Norman Conquest by Augustin Thierry. Indeed, in writing the history of the Anglo-Saxon Church, it was hardly possible for him not to feel himself the advocate of Papal usurpation and supremacy, which can be best defended by vilifying the conquered Churches. His bias carries him so far as to make him assert that the enmity between the Britons and Saxons, which was certainly most intense, was wholly the fault of the former,—and that the proud conquerors had not the least unfriendly feeling towards the race which they had slaughtered, banished, or enslaved !
It is well known that Gregory gave Augustine authority over all the British Bishops. “ Your brotherhood," says he, will, moreover, have subject to you, not only the bishops whom you or the Bishop of York may ordain, but all the bishops of Britain, by authority of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, that, from your instruction, they may learn to believe correctly, from your example to live religiously,” &c.
After quoting this, Dr. Lingard adds :“ If the reader will bear in mind the description drawn about forty
years before by Gildas, of the depravity both of the clergy and people, he will readily divine the reason why the Pontiff thought of placing the British bishops under the superintendance of the missionary. Gregory was not the man to invade the just rights of others.”—(i. p. 67.)
Of this alleged“ depravity," we shall have something to say presently ; but let us first see how our historian casts his mantle of charity over the faults of the Anglo-Saxons :- After drawing a most glowing picture of their Church and State, he says :
“ To this picture, an ingenious adversary may oppose a very different description. He may collect the vices which have been stigmatized by the zeal of their preachers, and point to the crimes which disgraced the characters of some of their monarchs. But the impartial reader will acknowledge the impossibility of eradicating at once the fiercer passions of a whole nation; nor be surprised if he behold several of them relapse into their former manners, and on some occasions unite the actions of savages with the profession of Christians. To judge of the advantage which the Saxons derived from their conversion, he will fix his eyes on their virtues. They were the offspring of the Gospel ; their vices were the relics of Paganism.”—i. 48.
Granted,—but then the same rule should have been applied to the Britons. Why should the picture supplied by the “ zeal of preachers” be admitted in one case and rejected in the other ? If a comparison is to be instituted between the two Churches, let it be when both are in their palmy state, or when they are laid waste by ruthless invasion. For what the Picts and Scots did against the poor Britons after the Romans had first degraded and then abandoned them, was done by the Danes against the equally debased, demoralized, and helpless Saxons.
But, in fact, Dr. Lingard himself supplies us with the most ample proof that the charge of " depravity" against the British Churches is one of those wicked falsehoods by which, in those ages, Rome was accustomed to build
In order to understand this subject fully, it is necessary to consider the relative positions of the Britons and Saxons, when Augustine and his companions were sent from Rome to convert the latter :
« When the Emperor Honorius recalled the legions from the defence of the island, the natives, who had often experienced the desperate valour of the Saxons, solicited their assistance against their ancient enemies, the Picts or independent Britons beyond the wall, and the Scots, the most numerous and most powerful of the tribes inhabiting Ireland. Hengist, with a small band of mercenaries, accepted the proposal ; but the perfidious barbarian turned his sword against his employers, and the possession of Kent was the fruit of his treachery. The fortune of Hengist stimulated the ambition of other chieftains, who successively sought the shores of Britain ; and the natives, though they defended
themselves with a courage worthy of a more prosperous issue, were gradually compelled to retire to the mountains which covered the Western Coast. By this memorable revolution, the fairer portion of the island, from the wall of Antoninus to the British Channel, became unequally divided among eight independent chieftains. The other barbarous tribes that dismembered the Roman Empire exercised the right of victory with some degree of moderation; and, by incorporating the natives with themselves, insensibly learned to imitate their manners and to adopt their worship. But the natural ferocity of the Saxons had been sharpened by the stubborn resistance of the Britons. For a long time they spared neither the lives nor the habitations of their enemies ; submission was seldom able to disarm their fury, and the churches, towns, villages, and all the remains of Roman civilization were devou by the flames. But while they thus indulged their resentment, they dried up the most obvious sources of civil and religious improvement. With the race of the ancient inhabitants disappeared the refinements of society, and the knowledge of the Gospel : to the worship of the true God succeeded the impure rites of Woden ; and the ignorance and barbarism of the north of Germany were transplanted into the flourishing provinces of Britain.” -i. 18.
Mark the natural effect of such a conquest on the minds of the Christian Britons :
" In their estimation the Saxons were an accursed race, the children of robbers and murderers, possessing the fruit of their fathers' crimes, and therefore still lying under the maledictions pronounced by the British bishops against the invaders. With them, the Saxon was no better than a pagan bearing the name of a Christian. They refused to return his salutation, to join in prayer with him in the church, to sit with him at the same table, to abide with him under the same roof. The remnant of his meals, and the food over which he had made the sign of the cross, they threw to their dogs or swine ; the cip out of which he had drunk they scoured with sand, as if it had contracted defilement from his lips. If he came among them as a stranger, and solicited an asylum, he was subjected to a course of penance during forty days before he could be admitted to their fellowship.'-i. 61.
This state of feeling will account for the fact that the British missionaries did not, and would not, preach the gospel to the Saxons, whom they abandoned to the uncovenanted mercies of God. Hence there was reason in the demand made by Augustine in his first conference with them, that they should join him in his missionary work, which their unchristian resentment had hitherto prevented. Mr. Soames, and other church writers, who are anxious to trace the succession of their hierarchy to the Apostles without being beholden to Rome, assert that all the midland counties of England were converted “by prelates of native origin”—“ members of the national Church, and that