Friday, August 12, 2022

Early Christianity in Britannia (ca 50-664 AD)

Joseph of Arimathea

Matthew tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, and early disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for the body of Christ and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Medieval legend tells us that this same Joseph is among the earliest disciples to bring the Good News to Britannia. Certainly anonymous Christians bring it as they travel to the province. 

Latin Christianity in Britannia

Latin theologian Tertullian (writing ca 200 AD) and Greek theologian Origen (ca 185-ca 253) both write of Christians present in Britannia. A contemporary summary of the Council of Arles (314) records the presence there of three bishops from Britannia. When ruler Theodosius makes Christianity the Empire’s sole official religion (391), this ruling applies to the Roman province of Britannia as well. Patrick, a native of Britannia and Christian missionary to Hibernia (Ireland) in 432, has grandparents who are Christians.

Loss of eastern Britannia

Political developments in Britannia, however, affect the distribution and nature of Christians and churches there. In the latter part of the 300s, the political and military integrity of the province begins to seriously deteriorate. This allows opportunistic raiders from regions outside the Empire to profit. This integrity is wholly compromised with the complete withdrawal of Roman soldiers (410). Previously opportunistic raiders, like the Angles and Saxons, become permanent occupiers. They establish their control primarily over Britannia’s eastern seaboard and push native Britannic Christians increasingly west. These conquerors continue to practice their own version of Olympianity and Christianity suffers serious contraction in their region.

Celtic Christianity in western Britannia

The spiritual descendants of Patrick, native of Britannia and missionary to Hibernia, develop their own robust if austere version of Celtic Christianity. These monks and missionaries of Celtic Christianity eventually save Western Civilization centuries after the collapse of classical culture in the 400s. In the meantime, these dogged Celtic Christians provide support to the Britannic Christians pushed into the more rugged areas of western Britannia and northern Brittany in Gallia.

Latin Christianity redevelops in eastern Britannia

Gregory 1st (ca 540-604, r. >590), ruler of the Latin Christian Church, is the first to rely on Benedictines as missionaries. He sends Augustine, a Benedictine in Rome, to Britannia to convert the Olympian Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Bertha, queen of Kent, already participates in a Christian community in Canterbury. She settles Augustine there (597) as its first in a long line of archbishops.

Britannia becomes Latin Christian again

By the middle 600s, Christianity in Britannia is divided between Celtic Christians in the west and Latin Christians in the east. One question upon which they disagree is the date on which to celebrate Resurrection Day (“Easter”). The Venerable Bede (ca 672-735) writes that the king of Northumbria decided (664) in favor of the date passionately observed by his wife which also happened to be the one set by the pope. In this arbitrary way Latin Christianity wins out in Britannia.

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.