It is the 26th of May 2023 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Well- yesterday, the 25th, was the day on which the Venerable Bede died- if you listened, great! If you didn’t, that’s ok too- I have been guilty of bad puns lately, yesterday was especially so.
Well, it may have been that Bede died on this, the 26th of May- but the problem was in English church history there might be only one figure bigger i- the man about whom Bede wrote- the so-called “Apostle to the English”: Augustine of Canterbury.
You can call him AuGUSTine or AugustEEN- just make sure it’s “of Canterbury,” the guy who came after the Augustine of Hippo, who was a church father, wrote the Confessions and other important books. Also, let me tap the sign and remind you that when it comes to pronunciation, it is a matter of custom. If someone asks, in France, how to get to Lyons (lions), we might tell them that the custom is Lyons (Lee-own), but when dealing with ancient languages and words from other languages, possibly Anglicized, it does little to correct people.
So- Augustine, the Apostle to the English, was born in the 500s sometime- perhaps in Rome- at least he made his way to the Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew in Rome. He was chosen by Pope Gregory I, AKA “the Great,” to lead a mission to the barbarians in the British Isles. The Celts had already been Christianized but not the Angles, Saxons, and the like. The story is told that Gregory had been long fascinated with the Germanic peoples of Britain after seeing a young slave boy at the market with a beaming face. It is said he remarked- they are not “Angles” but “Angels.” But it was likely the presence of Queen Bertha amongst the Anglo-Saxons that led Gregory to send Augustine. She was the daughter of Charibert I, King of Paris. And she was a Christian. She married King Æthelberht of Kent, and while he wasn’t a Christian, he allowed her to practice her faith- and she likely did in an old church left behind by the fleeing Roman Christians in the region.
So, despite reservations about “fierce barbarians” and some fellow missionaries who wanted to pull out of the trip, a group of 40 missionaries made their way to Kent, where they met with the king. The king allowed the missionaries to preach, and by that Christmas, there was a mass baptism event. According to letters from Gregory which Bede preserved, the pope encouraged the missionaries to not simply abolish pagan practices but rather to Christianize them. Repurpose their holy sites for their own. This would become a common practice amongst Christian missionaries with the success of Augustine but also the popularity of Bede, who would tell the story in his landmark work on the history of the English people.
By Pentecost of the following year, the king himself was baptized. The Christianization of the British Isles was underway. Augustine himself would attempt to bridge the faith between the Anglo-Saxons, Britons to the West, and especially the Celts. While he was unsuccessful, it was in the time of Bede at the Synod of Whitby that the English church took on Roman customs. Augustine would make his way back to the continent, where he would be consecrated as a bishop, and Gregory sent a pallium to him. This is a “y” shaped garment worn around the neck over the chasuble (it comes from old Roman traditions)- it recognized his authority in England. He would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury- he would be an important step in the history of the English church and the Roman church that would remain until the events of the English Reformation and the reign of Henry VIII. After the break from Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury held the highest position in the English church.
It is also significant that Augustine would have been from the Benedictine tradition as that would become the first dominant monastic tradition in England- unlike Eastern traditions, the Benedictines would emphasize communal living, a concern for the world (unlike those traditions that emphasized personal penance and suffering). These monasteries, in the manner of the Celts, would become the centers for Christian authority but without the tensions that often existed with metropolitan leaders in Europe, and this was likely because the first Archbishop was also a monk.
We don’t know when he was born, so we don’t know how old he was, but we know Augustine of Canterbury died on the 26th of May in 604 (or 605).
And a note: this weekend is a mega mailbag edition, so listen up. Perhaps your question will get answered.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary from Romans 8:
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of May 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Augustine’s include Of Hippo, of Canterbury, one-time University of Texas point guard D.J. Augustin, and Augustine Chacon, the Mexican Robin Hood also called “El Peludo” or, the hairy one. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who is also called “El Peludo”, one of these days I’m cutting it all off. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.