The abbot of the most distinguished British monastery, at Bangor, Neynoch1 by name, whose opinion in ecclesiastical affairs had the most weight with his countrymen, when urged by Augustin to submit in all things to the ordinances of the Roman Church, gave him the following remarkable answer:1 “We are all ready to listen to the church of God, to the pope at Rome, and to every pious Christian, that so we may show to each, according to his station, perfect love, and uphold him by word and deed. We know not, that any other obedience can be required of us towards himSe footnote 1 & 2
whomyou call the pope or the father of fathers.”
of Christianity in Wales. He stamped his personality upon the life of the Welsh nation, and he gave direction to the first desperate encounter between an able leader of the Celtic Church and the agents of the Papacy
weapons of aggression directed against the Celtic Church after the arrival of the Papacy. Welsh believers exemplified the bravery of others who laid down their lives for their faith. The Celtic people were renowned for their courage, and they almost exhausted the conquering forces of the Roman Empire when army after army melted away before the native tribes of the Welsh mountains.4The Welsh, a part of the great Celtic branch of the human family,5 were originally pagan in their religion. Some practiced polytheism, while others followed druidism. The schools of the druids are famous in history for their scholarship and literary training.
THE ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIANITY
Christianity early entered the British Isles. Even in the days of the apostles the message may have reached them, for Mosheim writes,
“Whether anySee footnote 6
apostle,or any companion of an apostle, ever visited Britain, cannot be determined; yet the balance of probability rather inclines toward the affirmative.”
Origen about A.D. 225 spoke concerning Britain as follows: “When did Britain previous to the coming of the Christ agree to the worship of one God? When the Moors? when the whole world? Now, however, through the church all men call upon the God of Israel.”7During the four hundred years that Britain was under the Roman Empire, the followers of the gospel there knew nothing of the ecclesiastical domination and pompous ritual of Rome. The truth was practiced in apostolic simplicity. The British were first evangelized, not by Rome, but by their brethren in Asia Minor who had continued in primitive Christianity.8 Columbanus, who was of the same faith as Dinooth, declared that his church had received nought but the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles.9 Therefore, as shall later be seen in his conflict with papal leaders, we must conclude that early British Christianity was apostolic and not papal.
The invasions of the Goths and the sack of Rome brought a crisis to the Celtic Church in England and Wales. The defense policy of the empire was forced to a radical change. The order was given at once for the imperial legions to abandon Britain, as they were needed on the Continent nearer home. The frontier of the empire contracted, leaving the British to their fate. At once the fierce Picts from Scotland and the Saxons from Scandinavia swept down upon the island. And, when about 449 the surge of invasion of the Anglo-Saxons began, the hatred of the foreigners against the Britons spent its fury on the British Church. Ultimately, paganism was dominant from the English Channel to the border of Scotland — Wales alone being able to stand its ground. Step by step the Anglo-Saxons conquered and settled England. It took them almost two hundred years to do what the Romans did in a few years. Never was there more noble, sacrificing, and persistent resistance to despoilers. The overrunning of Italy and Spain was a migrating movement, but England was won only inch by inch and foot by foot. The defenders were farmers and herdsmen as well as fighters, but the pagan invaders took their lands. Christian churches were demolished or replaced by heathen temples. During these conflicts in England, however, Celtic Christianity was expanding and growing stronger in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. While the pagan Anglo-Saxons were pressing the Celtic Church back to Wales, a revolution had taken place in France which would ultimately affect Christianity throughout Great Britain. The pagan Franks, coveting the rich lands in southern France possessed by the Christian Visigoths, underwent a political conversion to Rome, strongly supported by the bishop of Rome and the Roman emperor. The Franks conquered the Visigoths in 508. This made their new faith dominant in France, and foreshadowed a similar advance into England. Before the revolution in Gaul was fully consummated, the conquering Anglo-Saxons in England had coalesced into a number of strong confederacies. Finally, there emerged a number of kingdoms, usually under the number of seven, spoken of as the Heptarchy. Of these, the kingdom of Kent was the first to engage attention because of its early strong lead and of its relationship with the church at Rome.
The king of Kent at this time (A.D. 560-616) was Ethelbert, who had married Bertha, the daughter of the Roman Catholic king of the Franks. Immediately a powerful advantage was given to the Papacy, since this zealous princess had the support not only of the strong nations of Gaul and Italy, but also of the Eastern Empire, whose emperor was in alliance with the Papacy. Bertha consented to this marriage only on condition that she should be accompanied to England by her chaplain.
AUGUSTINE IN GREAT BRITAIN
When Augustine and his monks landed on the island (A.D. 597), political conditions favored his coming. The Papacy had sought for more
than two hundred years to pierce the apostolic Christianity which prevailed throughout Great Britain. By misrepresentation and by the sword it had persecuted the evangelical dissenters in northern Italy. It also hated the similar organization in Great Britain. Now, at last, it had found an ally. The previous stubborn resistance of the Celtic Britons to the Germanic Anglo-Saxon invaders had permeated the latter with rage toward their victims. The religious hatred embosomed in the Papacy was now joined to the racial hatred of the Anglo-Saxons. On landing, Augustine went to Canterbury, the metropolis of Kent. He and his companions drew near, “furnished with divine, not with magic virtue, bearing a silver cross for their banner, and the image of our Lord andSavior painted on a board; and singing the litany.”10 It was a severe affliction upon the Christianity introduced among the Anglo-Saxons to make them believe that the ineffable Eternal could be represented by an image on a board, and to teach them license with God’s commandment against images while proclaiming obedience to Christ, for had not the prophet declared of God: “To whom then will ye liken Me?” (Isaiah40:25.)These newcomers were given permission to teach openly, to repair and tore open the churches which the pagan Anglo-Saxons had destroyed. How political and therefore how superficial Augustine’s wholesale baptism often thousand Kentish subjects was, became apparent when shortly after the death of the king the kingdom lapsed into paganism,11 Due probably to the influence of Augustine, a revision of the old laws had been made in
which an ordinary penalty was prescribed for offenses against ordinary citizens, a ninefold penalty for an offense against the king, but an elevenfold penalty for an offense against the bishop and a twelvefold penalty for an offense against a church building. Then followed more strategic marriages. Probably the greatest line of success achieved by Augustine was the marriage of the Roman Catholic princess Aethelberg, daughter of Ethelbert, to the pagan king, Edwin, ruler of Northumbria, and later the marriage of the Roman Catholic princessEanfled, granddaughter of King Ethelbert to the Northumbrian king, Oswy,grandson of Edwin, who had embraced the British faith under the influence of his saintly father, King Oswald, a student of Columba’s celebrated training school at Iona. These three, Bertha, Aethelberg, and Eanfled, represented Rome’s policy of marrying Catholic princesses to the ruler of the country whose faith was to be overthrown. Of these three, Eanfled had the most influence, as is related later, when she turned away the heart of her husband, King Oswy of Northumbria, from following the Celtic Church after he, for ten years as king, had walked in the footsteps of his noble father.
KING ARTHUR AND EARLY WELSH HEROES
One name around which romance has built a voluminous literature is that of King Arthur, the Welsh hero. This George Washington of his country must have fought many fierce battles to throw back the Anglo-Saxons
But every British name is effaced by the illustrious name of ARTHUR, the hereditary prince of the Silures, in South Wales, and the elective king or general of the nation. According to the most rational account, he defeated, in twelve successive battles, the Angles of the north and the Saxons of the west; but the declining age of the hero was embittered by popular ingratitude and domestic misfortunes.See footnote 12
The splendid growth of the Celtic Church during the period which elapsed between the time of King Arthur and the landing of
“A Rome-free British Irish church and mission in the British Islands already existed. He invested Augustine with jurisdiction overSee footnote 13
allthebishops of the British Church.”
The fact that Pope Gregory commissioned Augustine to be archbishop over British bishops as well as over the Roman Catholics proves that the pontiff planned the extinction of the Celtic Church. Augustine influenced King Ethelbert of Kent to summon the Celtic teachers from the nearest provinces of the Britons to Augustine’s Oak, a place probably located on the banks of the Severn. The summons was sent to the famous Celtic training school at Bangor in Wales. Bede relates that the large enrollment of ministerial students at this college necessitated
church. Augustine requested them to abandon their method of keeping Easter, to preserve Catholic unity, and to undertake in common the preaching of the gospel to the pagans. A long disputation followed. It was clearly evident to those pastors, whose church had an origin independent of the Papacy and had never had any connection with Rome, that the unity demanded of them meant the loss of their identity. They refused to be swayed by the exhortations and rebukes of Augustine and his companions. They gave
SECOND CONFERENCE ON CHURCH DOCTRINES
To this second meeting came seven bishops, as Bede calls them, and many learned men of the Britons. Before these delegates left for this conference they visited one of their ancient men noted for his sanctity and wisdom to ask his advice. He counseled them to let Augustine and his party arrive at the place of meeting first. If, when the Britons arrived, Augustine arose and received them with the meekness and humility of Christ, they were tolook upon him as heaven’s messenger. If, however, he displayed haughtiness and arrogance, it was a sign that they were to refuse to fellowship with him or accept his authority. When they did arrive at the place of meeting, Augustine was already there and, retaining his seat, did not deign to rise. Whereupon, the Britons charged him with pride, answering all his arguments. Augustine commanded them to keep Easter according to the Church of Rome, to give up their evangelical unity, and to become Romanists. The Britons fully and determinedly rejected Augustine’s claims to the superior authority of his church and the supremacy of the pope who sent him. They declared that“they would do none of these things, nor receive him as their archbishop.”17 Consequently, Augustine predicted their ruin, saying that“if you will not join with us in unity, you shall from your enemies suffer the vengeance of death.”18James Ussher writes of this interview: “The Welsh Chroniclers further relate that Dinooth the abbot of Bangor produced divers arguments at that time to show that they owed him no subjection.” From the same authority we further learn that the Welsh made answer to Rome’s monks that they adhered to what their holy fathers held before them, who were the friends of God and the followers of the apostles, and therefore they ought not to substitute for them any new dogmatists.19Soon after this contest between Dinooth and Augustine the Welsh clergy lived to see the terrible slaughter of their young ministerial candidates in the war waged upon the Britons and the British Church in Wales. Aethelfrith, king of Northumbria, raised a great army to war against them. As he prepared to attack, he noticed a special company of about twelve hundred young men engaged in prayer. These were from the famous training college of Bangor, Wales. Though these young men were opposed to bearing arms, they were wont to pray for the soldiers of their own nation who were fighting for national existence. Upon learning who these twelve hundred were, Aethelfrith shouted that their prayers showed on what side they stood, even if they did not bear arms, and that he would slay them first. By his wicked command practically all of them were exterminated. So great was the slaughter that the papal historian Bedethinks he sees in this a fulfillment of Augustine’s malediction. Ussher has recorded some of the poems of the leading Welsh bard, Taliessin, poet laureate we may say, who wrote:
Woe unto him who doth not keep From Romish wolves his holy sheep.
All must admire the spirit of the Welsh church leaders. Their lot was hard enough with the fierce Anglo-Saxon armies constantly harassing them. Added to that were the demands of the papal emissaries and of the organization backed by the king of France and the Roman emperor. The gulf between the two types of believers was deep and wide. This same Pope Gregory who sent Augustine to Britain had issued a bull declaring that the decrees of the first four general councils of the church were of equal inspiration with the gospels. This was an unacceptable man-made enlargement of the Scriptures. The Celtic Church rejected it and clung to the Bible and the Bible only. In the second
against a section of the city of Rome itself because the Christian believers there rested and worshiped on the Sabbath.23 When the facts reveal that at this time, the seventh century, there were still more Christian churches throughout the world sanctifying the seventh day, the day which God sanctified in the fourth commandment of the Decalogue rather than Sunday, we can fully understand the apostolic churches that refused to worship on another day.
There is much evidence that the Sabbath prevailed in Wales universally until A.D.See footnote 24
1115,when the first Roman bishop was seated at St. David’s. The old Welsh Sabbath keepingchurches did not even then altogether bow the knee to Rome, but fled to their hiding places where the ordinances of the gospel to this day have been administered in their primitive mode without being adulterated by the corrupt Church of Rome”
The Welsh and the papists led by Augustine disagreed. The Welsh Church continued
Conqueror landed in England with his Norman warriors and overthrew the Anglo-Saxon power. Here is a truly interesting parallel. When the Franks, still pagans, crossed the Rhine, to overthrow Gaul, the Papacy cooperated with the new pagan tribes, relying upon her great alliance with the Eastern emperor to so influence the invaders that, in ruining Gaul, they would also ruin the Celtic Church. And such came to pass as we present later in studying the widespread work in Europe of the Celtic missionaries from Ireland and Scotland. Likewise,William the Conqueror had the full assurance and the help of the pope, and the understanding that he would have this continued support, on condition that the Celtic Church must go.25It is sad to follow step by step the policy pursued to displace the Celtic
Church in Wales. One is thrilled by the spirit of independence and fidelity to apostolic truths which was shown by its members in the following centuries. Dinooth is a type of
STEPS IN SUBJECTION
In analyzing the different steps in securing this subjection, we might present them as follows: First, some of the Celtic
Although centuries have passed, the old religious characteristics of the people still remain. Ecclesiasticism which was forced upon them is no deeper than a thin veneer. The deadly struggle between these Celtic andRoman churches may be summed up in the words of J. W. Willis Bund:
See footnote 26
The issue was at once shifted from a fight between Christianity and paganism to a fight, a deadly fight, between the Latin and the Celtic Churches. In the north of
Englandthe Latin Church was victorious. She forced the Celtic missionaries to retire to Scotland or Ireland,and nominally brought England under the rule of Rome. But in Wales the result was different. Here the Latin Church was repulsed, if not defeated; here Celtic Christianity long maintained its position with its peculiar ideas and exceptional beliefs.”
FOOTNOTES / SOURCES:
1. Variously spelled Dinooth,
2 Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol.
3, p.17.3 Killen, The Old Catholic Church, p. 272.
4 Green, A Short History of the English People, vol. 1, pp. 28-30.
5 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 160.
6 Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, b. 1, cent. 2, pt. 1, ch. 1
7 Origen, In Ezechielem, Homilia 4, found in Migne, Patrologia Graeca
8 Yeates, East Indian Church History, p. 226 and note 1.
9 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Foundations of Europe, pp. 58, 59.
10 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, b. 1, ch. 25.
11 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 9.437
12 Gibbon, Decline
13 Ebrard, Bonifatius, der Zerstorer des Columbanischen Kitchentums
14 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, b. 2, ch. 2.
15 The writer, while traveling in Wales, saw ancient church buildings
16 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, b. 2, ch. 2.
17 Ibid., b. 2, ch. 2.
18 Killen, The Old Catholic Church, p. 276.
19 Ussher, Discourse on the Religion Anciently Professed by the Irish
20 Bower, The History of the Popes, vol. 1, pp. 416, 417.
21 Bund, The Celtic Church of Wales, p. 297.
22 Flick, The Rise of the Medieval Church, p. 237.
23.Epistles of Pope Gregory I, coll. 13, ep. 1, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d Series, vol. 13.
24 Lewis, Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, vol. 1, p. 29.
25 Stokes, Celtic Church in Ireland, p. 165.
26 Bund, The Celtic Church of Wales, p. 5