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§ 11. Antagonism of the Saxon and British Clergy.

Bede, II. 2; Haddan and Stubbs, III. 38–41.

Augustin, with the aid of king Ethelbert, arranged (in 602 or 603) a conference with the British bishops, at a place in Sussex near the banks of the Severn under an oak, called “Augustin’s Oak.”3434    On the time and place of the two conferences see the notes in Haddan and Stubbs, III. 40 and 41. He admonished them to conform to the Roman ceremonial in the observance of Easter Sunday, and the mode of administering baptism, and to unite with their Saxon brethren in converting the Gentiles. Augustin had neither wisdom nor charity enough to sacrifice even the most trifling ceremonies on the altar of peace. He was a pedantic and contracted churchman. He met the Britons, who represented at all events an older and native Christianity, with the haughty spirit of Rome, which is willing to compromise with heathen customs, but demands absolute submission from all other forms of Christianity, and hates independence as the worst of heresies.

The Britons preferred their own traditions. After much useless contention, Augustin proposed, and the Britons reluctantly accepted, an appeal to the miraculous interposition of God. A blind man of the Saxon race was brought forward and restored to sight by his prayer. The Britons still refused to give up their ancient customs without the consent of their people, and demanded a second and larger synod.

At the second Conference, seven bishops of the Britons, with a number of learned men from the Convent of Bangor, appeared, and were advised by a venerated hermit to submit the Saxon archbishop to the moral test of meekness and humility as required by Christ from his followers. If Augustin, at the meeting, shall rise before them, they should hear him submissively; but if he shall not rise, they should despise him as a proud man. As they drew near, the Roman dignitary remained seated in his chair. He demanded of them three things, viz. compliance with the Roman observance of the time of Easter, the Roman form of baptism, and aid in efforts to convert the English nation; and then he would readily tolerate their other peculiarities. They refused, reasoning among themselves, if he will not rise up before us now, how much more will he despise us when we shall be subject to his authority? Augustin indignantly rebuked them and threatened the divine vengeance by the arms of the Saxons. “All which,” adds Bede, “through the dispensation of the divine judgment, fell out exactly as he had predicted.” For, a few years afterwards (613), Ethelfrith the Wild, the pagan King of Northumbria, attacked the Britons at Chester, and destroyed not only their army, but slaughtered several hundred3535    Bede mentions twelve hundred, but the Saxon chronicle (a. d.607) only two hundred. priests and monks, who accompanied the soldiers to aid them with their prayers. The massacre was followed by the destruction of the flourishing monastery of Bangor, where more than two thousand monks lived by the labor of their hands.

This is a sad picture of the fierce animosity of the two races and rival forms of Christianity. Unhappily, it continues to the present day, but with a remarkable difference: the Keltic Irish who, like the Britons, once represented a more independent type of Catholicism, have, since the Norman conquest, and still more since the Reformation, become intense Romanists; while the English, once the dutiful subjects of Rome, have broken with that foreign power altogether, and have vainly endeavored to force Protestantism upon the conquered race. The Irish problem will not be solved until the double curse of national and religious antagonism is removed.

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