EfM Y3: Are We Anglican or Not?

So the topic of year 3 is supposed to be church history, right? Eighteen centuries of Christian history divided into three sections: Antiquity, Middle Ages and Reformation in 34 chapters. This has been a very frustrating year for me. The Middle Ages got only 8 chapters out of 34 and at least four of them, I would consider broad historical summaries. One thousand years (500-1500) in 8 chapters, about 25% of the material for well over half the time period. The Middle Ages is getting short shrift again as the period people want to forgot but this myopic view cuts out most of our traditions.

Out of 34 chapters there is not one chapter that focuses on England before the Reformation. There is not one chapter that discusses the origins and development of English Christianity. Apparently they believe that Roman Britain was completely converted mysteriously during the Roman era (NOT). Of course, the Anglo-Saxons were all pagan when they came to England so their conversion got an entire three paragraphs in chapter 15. Not only do French and Italian churches routinely get more attention, but much of what is written about England does not reflect modern scholarship. Not even Patrick gets more than about a paragraph! All of monasticism from John Cassian to Teresa of Avila in one chapter! And yet I have 12 nauseating chapters on the reformation to look forward to!

Year 3 needs to stress why the Anglican in Anglican Communican matters!

  • A chapter on the conversion of the four peoples of the British Isles: British, English, Picts and Irish/Scots.
  • A discussion of the influences in the church of England that made it unique. Its blend of Celtic/Irish and Roman tradition.
  • Stress English monastic movements and reform movements, such as the Benedictine Reform of the 10th century.
  • Discuss pivotal synods including the Synod of Whitby.
  • Effects of the Viking period on the English church. Among other things the Norse invasions caused a destruction and/or dissolution of monasteries that was a prelude to the Reformation. This is why Jarrow and other famous early monasteries lacked a continuous history and most books were destroyed.
  • The Norman purge of the veneration of many native saints and consequences that had on the development of literature on those that continued. This purge was a milder, non-destructive version of what when on at the Reformation. This was also a period for the refounding of some historic monasteries that disappeared during the Norse period. The Normans also caused some major liturgical changes in the English church as well.
  • Medieval English traditions that survive in Anglicanism today.

Historical figures from the Island of Britain in 400-800 AD, the Age of Conversion, that all Anglicans should know: (Most are on our calendar; all are on a calendar somewhere in the Communion!)

  • Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre: (d. c448) Made two trips to Britain in the 5th century to combat Pelagianism there. Recorded all we know about St Alban, Proto-martyr of Britain. Reputed to be a teacher of Patrick of Ireland, more likely that Patrick may have been trained at one of Germanus’ churches or monasteries. The Life of Germanus the Bishop, written within a few years of his death, is one of the few contemporary glimpses of the church in Britain in the fifth century and a fascinating life of a fifth century bishop to boot!
  • Patrick, Apostle of Ireland: (5th century) Romano-British missionary bishop to Ireland. Co-patron saint of Ireland. Patrick’s two genuine writings, the Confessio and the Letter to the Soldiers of Cororticus are two of the only writings to have survived from a fifth century Romano-Briton.
  • Gregory the Great (d. 601) and Augustine of Canterbury, Apostles to England: founders of the Roman mission to the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons themselves considered Gregory to be their apostle more than Augustine. The Life of Gregory the Great written at St Hild’s Whitby within a generation of her death was possibly the earliest saints life written in England and the first hagiography on Gregory anywhere. Bede was the first to elevate Gregory to the level of the four doctors of the church (Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and Gregory), though the term Doctor of the Church was not an offiical title for centuries later.
  • Bridget of Kildare: (d. 525) Abbess of Kildare (Ireland), popular saint of southern Ireland. Reputed to have been ordained a bishop and Kildare was the mother house for a very large monastic family. Co-Patron saint of Ireland with Patrick.
  • Columba of Iona, Apostle to the Picts (Scotland, d. 596): Patron saint of most Celtic Christians in Britain.
  • David of Wales: (d. c. 601) Bishop of Menevia, patron saint of Wales.
  • Samson of Dol: British bishop who immigrated to Dol in Brittany caring for Romano-British immigrants in Gaul. His is the earliest saints Life of the Romano-British church.
  • Ninian of Whithorn: Missionary in northern Britain. Also known as Uinniau, and modern scholarship equates him with St Finnian of Moville. If this is correct, then is mission field spanned from southern Scotland to Ulster, Ireland.  He was a major Roman British churchman in the era between Patrick and Columba. Friend of St Gildas.
  • Oswald, King of Northumbria: (d. 642) First native Anglo-Saxon saint, considered a martyr for dying in combat against a pagan king who sought dominance over Christian English kingdoms. Invited missionaries from Iona to England, patron of Aidan of Lindisfarne. Without Oswald, there may have never been any Irish influence in the English church.
  • Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle to Northern England: (d. 651) Aidan’s mission based at Lindisfarne evangelized over 50% of England and set the standards for the Celtic Church in England.
  • Paulinus of York: (d. 640s) First English bishop of York who started a mission in the kingdom of Deira (Yorkshire) and Lindsey (Lincolnshire).
  • Hild, Abbess of Whitby: (d. 680) A leader of the Lindisfarne faction in England and hostess of the synod of Whitby in 664. Her monastery at Whitby was the major educational monastery in northern England during her time. Five of her pupils became bishops and a sixth died between his election and consecration.
    • Caedmon: Monk of St Hild of Whitby who is recognized as the first Christian poet in the English language.
  • Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne: (d. 705) First major Anglo-Saxon author whose works have survived. A major theologian in his day.
  • Bede of Jarrow: (d. 735) A monk of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul of Wearmouth-Jarrow. He was a considered a major theologian whose influence is still felt today and a historian of Anglo-Saxon church history. He is the only native Englishman to be considered a Doctor of the Church.
  • Wilfrid of York: (d. 709) Powerful bishop of York ruling over an area larger than the current region of the Archbishop of York. He was responsible for enforcing Roman rites on the church after the Synod of Whitby.
  • Æthelthryth (Audrey) of Ely: (d. 679) Queen of Northumbria, Abbess of Ely. Most popular female Anglo-Saxon saint before the reformation. The pilgrim trail from London to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham intentionally snaked through Ely to visit St Audrey’s shrine. Patron saint of the diocese of Ely. She could be called the ‘Mary of the Angles/English’.
  • Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne: (d. 687) Although he was only bishop of Lindisfarne for three years, he became one of the most popular saints of all of England. Cuthbert was instrumental in bringing the celtic church in line with Roman rites without loosing the nature and spirit of Aidan’s Lindisfarne. Cuthbert was one of the three or four most popular saints in England at the time of the Reformation. His body is one of the few to survive the violence of the Reformation. He is buried in the floor of Durham Cathedral.
  • Theodore of Tarsus/Canterbury: (d. 690) A Greek who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to administer all of England. First archbishop after the Synod of Whitby united the English church in their acceptance of Rome. The see of Canterbury was vacant at the time of the synod; it took three years for Theodore to be chosen and arrive in England. He regularized and modernized the English church and moved the church from diocese based on kingdoms to diocese that more properly matched the number of people to be cared for.
  • Willibrord, Apostle to Frisia (Low Countries, d. 739): Northern English missionary to the Low Countries via Ireland, became the missionary Archbishop of Frisia. He is the patron saint of Anglican-Old Catholic Ecumenical Relationships. (see St Willibrord Society). Willibrord is uniquely ideal as an ecumenical saint: born in Northumbria, trained at St Wilfrid’s Ripon and later went to Ireland where he spent over a decade maturing before he left as a missionary to the Low Countries (Frisia). Missions to Frisia and Germany were particularly important to the Anglo-Saxons because they recognized them as their ethnic kinsmen who were in need of salvation. First major English missionary. Presumably an imporatant saint in the TEC diocese of Europe.
  • Boniface/Wynfrith of Wessex, Apostle to Germany (d. 754): Englishman who worked for some time under Willibrord and later became Archbishop of Germany. He was martyred in Germany.
  • Alcuin, a deacon of York (d. 804): Became Abbot of Tours in France and was a major reformer in the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne. He was instrumental in bringing the works of Bede to the continent and a major author and educator in his own rite.

Ironic that as it stands now, Alcuin gets quite a bit more space in the EfM materials than Bede. Bede is religated to being just a historian. Anyone who studies Anglo-Saxon Christianity knows that Bede was considered a major theologian throughout the Medieval period and even today. Boniface requested Bede’s theological works from the wilds of pagan Germany. Bede’s sermons were hugely popular. Cistercian Publications has  published Bede’s Homilies on the Gospels (2 vols) in modern translation. Some of his biblical commentaries were the first ever produced in the western church on their topic and are still leaned on by modern commentaries. The style of Bede’s commentaries is out of fashion today because he was a master of allegory, a popular method of exegesis in the early medieval period, but he still has significant influence on modern commentaries.  Liverpool University Press has published translations of many of Bede’s commentaries in the last decade. He is also the only native Englishman who is among the Doctors of the Church. (Anselm was an Italian who became Archbishop of Canterbury.)

[Addition 3/15/09] I can’t believe I forgot Adomnan!

  • Adomnan, Abbot of Iona (d. 704): Known best to most laity as the author of the Life of Columba, Adomnan is best known to church historians as the driving force behind Cain Adomnan (Law of Adomnan) enacted at the Synod of Birr in 697. It is the first law in Western Christendom to protect women, children and clergy from the violence of war and women from domestic violence. Adomnan was a fascinating abbot who ruled over a church that included most of Scotland and parts of Ireland.

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