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British Church - Rome - Anglo-Saxons #1

How Rome prevailed over Culdee Church

                 From the book "Celt, Druid
                         and Culdee"


                      Isabel Hill Elder


THE Anglo-Saxon invasion, which resulted in the most important
and complete of all the tribal settlements in Britain, took pace
between A.D.446 and 501.
In these incursions the Jutes and Angles were the first to
arrive, and the Angles being numerically the strongest
constituent, gave their name in this country to the entire group.
which on the Continent were known as Saxons.
Curiously enough a belief persists that the Anglo-Saxons on their
first arrival in this country were entirely pagan and that their
conception of the Deity was expressed in the worship of numerous
gods of their own imaginative creation. The exponents of this
belief urge, in support of it, that memorials of these gods still
exist, as, for instance, in the names of the days of the week;
they cite Odin in connection with Wednesday as an outstanding
example. Belief supported on such ground does not hold a position
that is uncontestable. Grimm says: 'Among old Saxon and all
Teutonic nations Odin signifies Divinity'; Peterson likewise:
'Odin's name bears allusion to mind and thought and breathing; it
is the quickening, creating Power; it denotes the all-pervading
spiritual Godhead.'(1) Odin was, therefore, the Scandinavian name
for the Infinite Being.(2)

Confusion on this point arose in the minds of historians, owing
perhaps to the fact that Sigge, son of Fridulph, a pontiff prince
of Azoff in the Crimea, 72 B.C., took the name of Odin when he
assumed the leadership of the early Saxons, spiritually as well
as temporally, and led them with magnetic instinct from Asgard to
north-western Europe.(3) As the Gigla-Saga says, 'Sometimes a
chief's name referred to the Gos he especially worshipped.'(4)

Snorre, in his 'heimskringla' or 'Home Chronicles', tells how
Odin was a heroic prince in the Black Sea region, with twelve
peers and a great people straitened for room and how he led them
across Europe. Odin and his peers became heroes to the
descendants of these early saxons and as such passed into legend
and song,(5)

The modem Germans claim a share in the legends and traditions
that have accumulated around the name of Odin; that illustrious
individual, however, belonged exclusively to the Sakian (Saxon)
race, and was in no way connected ethnically with the Germans.(6)

With the anglo-Saxons as with the Britons, the king was the last
resort of justice and the source of all honour and mercy; he was
to be prayed for and revered of all men of their own will without
command, and was the special protector of all churches, of widows
and of foreigners.(7)
The Anglo-Saxon invasion had the effect of gradually pushing the
Celts to the west of England and south-west Scotland. when this
occurred and the Archbishop of Caerleon-on-Usk, London and York,
saw all the churches in their jurisdiction lying level with the
ground, they fled with all the clergy that remained after so
great a destruction, to the coverts of the woods in Wales, and to
Cornwall.(8) From this fact it is easily discernible how it came
to pass that the Culdee or British Church has been associated to
so great an extent with Wales and Southern Scotland.

It has been said of the British Church that it made no effort to
convert the Saxons to Christianity. In connection several facts
stand out very clearly: Druidic religion had not yet died out in
Britain and the Saxons found sufficient similarity between their
own form of worship and that of ancient Britain to permit them to
unite under the ministrations of a Druidic hierarchy,(9) deriving
their religion, it may be concluded, from the same patriarchal
source as the Druids.

The Druidic law of tithing was observed by the Anglo-Saxons, as
by the Britons; the laws of Edward the Confessor speak of them as
claimed by Augustine and conceded by the king, Ethelbert.

The Saxons looked with suspicion on efforts to convert them to
Christianity by those whom they were endeavouring to subjugate,
and who, though worshippers of the Infinite Being, were still
non-Christian when, in 597, the Augustinian mission sent by Pope
Gregory to introduce the Latin form of Christianity, reached
these shores.

The British Church was not unaware of the errors of Rome, for we
have Columbanus, a saint (whom the Roman Church has calmly
annexed, as they have St.Patrick, St.Columba and other saints of
the primitive Church), writing to Pope Boniface IV 'Your Chair, O
Pope, is defiled with heresy. Deadly errors have crept into it;
it harbours horrors and impieties. Catholic? The true Catholicism
you have lost. The orthodox and the true Catholics are they who
have always zealously persevered in the true faith.'

The civil power of Rome being dead, the ecclesiastical power
began to rise on its ruins; and there may have been a connection
between the two processes. The loss of one sphere of power may
have helped to impel an ambitious people, accustomed to universal
dominion, to seek after another sphere of power. The  ambition of
Pope Gregory became that also of the priest an delegate
Augustine, to see the world  brought under the sway of the
fast-developing kingdom of Papal Rome, and when, in one day,
Augustine baptized 10,000 Saxons the news of these 'conversions'
created great joy in Rome.

The immediate success achieved by Augustine in Kent so impressed
Pope Gregory that he dispatched more missionaries and with them
Church ornaments and vestments. Among these was the famous
'pallium'. This cloak, of ancient origin, the Roman emperors had
been accustomed to present to anyone whom they wished to mark
with special honour. When the Popes began to assume imperial
authority and to covet all the worldly splendour of the Caesars,
they adopted the practice of bestowing the 'pallium' on those
whom they wished to elevate.

The arrival of the 'pallium' in England for Augustine, was a
significant event. By favour of the Saxon king, Ethelbert, the
Roman Church was set up at Canterbury; it became the chief seat
of episcopal authority and was the origin of the Church known
today as the Church of England. 
It will be observed that the origin of the British Church and
that of the Church of England are quite distinct, with an
interval of 560 years, and that the theory that Britain owes her
Christianity to Augustine is without foundation in fact.

The majority of the Saxons converted to Christianity in 597 soon
gave evidence that their hearts were unchanged; they quickly fell
away to their old religion. By 635 the Latin Church in Kent had
become reduced to inactivity through continual hostilities
between the Britons and Saxons, to be revived thirty years later
when Roman teaching and practices were imposed on the British
Church of Northumbria and to spread rapidly over the whole

There was already at Canterbury the British church built by St.
Martin (traditionally the brother of St. Patrick's mother,
Conessa), who founded also various churches in Scotland, i.e.
Kilmartin, and later that of Tours with which he has been
historically associated. In passing it should be noted the
British Church founded the churches of Gaul. The Archbishops of
Treves were, according to the 'Tungrensian Chronicles,' always
supplied from Britain and, coming nearer Rome itself, St. Cadval,
a British missionary, founded in A.D.170 the Church at Tarentum,
after whom the Church at Tarento is still named.

The year 597, memorable alike for the death of St. Columba and
the arrival of Augustine, has other outstanding claims to notice.
When Augustine came he found in the province of the Angles seven
bishoprics and an archbishopric, all filled with most devout
prelates, and a great number of abbeys."(10)
The testimony of many writers that the intrusion of an emissary  
of the Pope was resented and resisted by the British Church, is
supported by facts of history.

At a council held shortly after Augustine's arrival he was told
that they 'knew no other Master than Christ', that 'they liked
not his new-fangled customs', and that they refused
subjection.(11) Augustine angrily replied, 'If we may not preach
the way of life to you, you shall at the hands of your enemies,
undergo their vengeance.' At the second conference with Augustine
the British Church was represented by seven of her prelates, and
although Baronius had the assurance to pronounce these bishops
guilty of schism, he allows their governments to have been
regular, and their faith orthodox. Both Augustine and his
successors, by making the submission of the Britons to their
authority, as metropolitans, the primary article of communion,
leave it beyond doubt that they were fully satisfied with the
purity of their doctrine, if not with the canonical succession of
their bishops.

The British Christians scorned the idea that identity in certain
tenets and practices with Papal Rome constituted even the shadow
of title, on the part of Papal Rome, to their allegiance. It is
then no matter for surprise that on their first meeting with     
the delegate from Rome they should proclaim with one voice, 'We
have nothing to do with Rome; we know nothing of the Bishop of
Rome in his new character of the Pope; we are the British Church,
the Archbishop of which is accountable to God alone, having no
superior on earth.'

The Britons told Augustine they would not be subject to him, nor
allow him to pervert the ancient laws of their Church. This was
their resolution and they were as good as their word, for they
maintained the liberty of their Church for five hundred years
after his time, and were the last of all the Churches of Europe
to give up their power to Rome.(12) This fact cannot be set aside
in an unprejudiced study of British Church history: Rome found
here a Church older than herself, ramifications of which struck
into the very heart of the continent of Europe. The farther we go
back into British history, the clearer shines forth in all our
laws the fact that the British Crown, Church and people were
entirely independent of all foreign authority.(13)

All our great legal writers concur on this point. 'The ancient
British Church', writes Sir William Blackstone, 'by whomsoever
planted was a stranger to the bishop of Rome and all his
pretended authorities.'(14)

The Christians of Britain could never understand why the Church
of Rome, because she professed certain truths, should arrogate
spiritual despotism over all who held the same. When Augustine
demanded of Dionoth, Abbot of Bangor Iscoed or Bangor-on-Dee,
that he acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome the reply
of the Briton was a memorable one: 'We desire to love all-men,
but he whom you call "Pope" is not entitled to style himself
the "father of fathers" and the only submission we can render him
is that which we owe to every Christian.'(15)

Cadvan, Prince of wales, A.D.610, expresses himself thus to Abbot
of Banjor: 'All men may hold the same truth, yet no man can
hereby be drawn into slavery to another. If the Cymry believed
all that Rome believes, that would be as strong a reason for Rome
obeying us, as for us to obey Rome. It suffices for us that we
obey the Truth. If other men obey the Truth, are they therefore
to become subject to us? Then were the Truth of Christ made
slavery and not freedom.' (16), 

Wilfrid, a clever young priest, who had been brought up in the
school of Iona, but had afterwards travelled to Rome and had
become fascinated by her customs and grandeur, threatened, in his
long-drawn suit with the See of Canterbury, in 670, to appeal to
Rome. The threat was received with laughter as a thing never
before heard of in England.(17)

The British church recognized the Scriptures alone for its rule
of faith,(18) was subject to no other Church on earth, and firmly
resisted the unwarranted intrusion of a Pope.
For almost two centuries Britain had been free from the 
domination of Imperial Rome; this fact enabled the supporters of
the British Church at this time to quote the second canon of the
Council of Constantinople, held in A.D.381, which ordained that
the Churches that are without the Roman Empire should be governed
by their ancient customs.(19) But the canon was not held
sufficient by Augustine and his successors to justify the British
Church in its contention.

Though the doctrinal controversies which divided British and
Roman Churches may seem unimportant to us, they plainly show our
original ecclesiastical independence, and the stubborn resistance
of our Church fathers to papal pretensions to supremacy.(20)
Beyond all question, to the national Church of Britain belongs
that pre-eminence which the old British Triads claimed for it of
being 'primary in respect to Christianity'.

The most famous of the British monasteries at the coming of
Augustine was the monastery of Bangor-on-Dee, Wales. Bishop
Dionoth presided over a flourishing body of Christians (numbering
some thousands) whose headquarters were at this monastery.(21)
The youths there educated were trained in Christian doctrine and
sent forth as missionaries and teachers. Bangor, like Iona, was
renowned for its zeal in propagating Christianity abroad. The
refusal of its bishop, Dionoth, to acknowledge the authority of
the Pope was the first of a long series of denials of the 
authority of the Pope in Britain.(22)

At the Synod of Chester held in 601, there were present, besides
Augustine and some of his followers, seven British bishops and
many men of great learning from the monastery of Bangor-on-Dee.
Augustine, at this Synod, suffered a second defeat; the general
assembly spoke out against the encroachments of Rome. 'The
Britons', they exclaimed, 'cannot submit either to the
haughtiness of the Romans, or the tyranny of the Saxons.'(23)

Augustine did not live to take vengeance on these early
protestors; it was left to his successor to lead the Saxons
against them, and in the massacre of Bangor, A.D.613, twelve
hundred Christians perished.(24)

William of Malmesbury, A.D.1143, describes the ruins of Bangor
Abbey in his day as those of a city - the most extensive he had
seen in the kingdom.(25) Two other foundations in Britain
retained their superiority over all others of a later date, under
every change of ruler till the Reformation - St. Albans and

The next, interference of papal Rome with British  customs took
place in A.D.664, the excuse for this attempt being the correct
date for the observance of Easter. 
King Oswy of Northumbria, with his brother Okwald, was converted
by missionaries from  Iona while in exile for seventeen years in
Scotland, during  the reign of the rival king, Edwin. Oswy
adhered,  naturally, to the usages of the Culdee Church, having 
been taught by the Scots. His queen, daughter of Ethelbert, King
of Kent, had been brought up to observe the Latin way of
reckoning, and each year the strange anomaly occurred of the king
and his followers, observing one day and the queen observing
another day for the Easter festival.
The queen's chaplain, Romanus, and Wilfrid, tutor to the princes,
were priests of the Roman Church, and urged the acknowledgment of
the Roman calculation for Easter as being correct. At last the
king resolved that the whole question would be debated May
and settled once and for all at the Synod of Whitby.(26)

Bishop Colman (Culdee Church of Northumbria) pleaded the British
cause as having been derived from his forefathers and originating
in the teaching of St. John. Wilfrid, a cleverer man, was on the
papal side and ridiculed British custom as compared with that of
the Apostle 'to whom Christ had given the keys of heaven'. The
king, eager to learn the truth, inquired further into this
statement. Colman, simpleminded and honest, admitted that these
words applied to St.Peter. The king then asked Wilfrid whether
Christ had really given the keys of authority to Peter. Wilfrid
answered in the affirmative, whereupon the king decided in favour
of the papal party. Colman resigned his bishopric, and with many
of his clergy went back to Iona, from which monastery he had come
to Northumbria, and where the ancient British Easter continued to
be observed for many years.

From the day of the historic Synod of Whitby the province ruled
to observe Easter the Latin way; the British Church, though
proven to be the oldest national Church in the world, as
confirmed by the Councils of Arles, Basle, Pisa, Constance and
Sienna, was more and more coerced into conforming to papal
customs and claims. For a time there were in Britain two Churches
- the old British and the new Roman.

At the Council of Hertford, A.D.673, only nine years after the
Synod of Whitby, presided over by Archbishop Theodore, the
British Church was condemned as non-Catholic.(27)

Wilfrid, at an assembly at Nesterfield, near Ripon, A.D.705,
declared, 'Was not I the first after the death of those great men
sent by St.Gregory, to root out the poisonous seeds sown by
Scottish missionaries? Was it not I who converted and brought the
whole nation of the Northumbrians to the true Easter and an

In A.D.705 Adelm wrote to the Britons as being outside the
'Catholic' Church. 'The precepts of your bishops', he says, 'are
not in accord with Catholic faith.(29) . . . We adjure you not to
persevere in your arrogant contempt of the decrees of St.Peter
and the traditions of the Roman Church by a proud and tyrannical
attachment to the statutes of your ancestors.'(30)

The British Church, now openly declared heretical by Rome,
struggled on for a time as a separate Church, and was known,
particularly from this time, by the original title, 'The Culdee
Church', as distinct from the Roman, and its ecclesiastics
referred to by the Latin intruders as the 'British clergy'.
Adamnan, the first of the Ionian Culdees to swerve from the
faith, strained every nerve to reduce the monks of Iona to Roman
Catholic obedience. Bede says that Adamnan in A.D.679 visited the
churches of Northumbria and Ireland and brought almost all of
them that were not under the domination of Hii (Iona) to the
'Catholic' unity.

The resistance of the premier monastery (Iona), the abbot of
which was viewed as the primate of all the Hibernian bishops,
prevailed for a time to retain their liberties. By the eleventh
century, however, the Iona Church had become thoroughly Romanized
and had sunk into comparative unimportance.



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