Keith Hunt - How the Gospel came to Britain #5 - Page Five   Restitution of All Things

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How the Gospel came to Briatin #5

Some clear historical records


                             by

                       Brian Williams
                      of Britain (1970)



THE EARLY CHURCH IN BRITAIN

     PERHAPS this is a good point to sum up what we have learned
so far. We have shown that the Twelve Apostles were commissioned
to preach the gospel of the Kingdom,1 to the lost sheep of the
house of Israel,2 and we have seen that their commission took
them "unto the uttermost part of the earth",3 to the British
Isles. We have seen that Paul himself with a similar commission 
"to bear [Christ's] name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the
children of Israel",4 also came "to the utmost bounds of the 
West".5 We have shown that even before these arrived in Britain,
Joseph of Arimathaea had been sent here by the Apostle Philip,
and that twice within the first quarter century after the
Resurrection the faith of Christ had received Royal patronage in
these islands. We have shown also that while there was a true
company of God's people in Rome to whom Paul wrote,6 there was
also in that city a counterfeit church which has come down to us
today as the Roman Catholic Church.

          Some years ago the B.B.C. in a schools' broadcast
stated that St.Augustine was the first person to introduce
Christianity to Britain in A.D.597. Augustine was sent to Britain
by Pope Gregory I, and so it has become a matter of general
belief that Britain was always Roman Catholic until the time of
the Reformation. However, NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE
TRUTH.

     Britain was the FIRST of all peoples NATIONALLY to embrace
the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. The national conversion of
Britain to Christianity may perhaps be attributed to King Lucius.
      We do NOT suggest that the PURE faith was widely maintained
in the centuries that followed. Jesus said, "Fear not, little
flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the
kingdom",7 and Paul warned that "after my departing shall
grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock".8 
It has always been the REMNANT within the 'Church' which has
sought to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once
delivered unto the saints"9 
     Nevertheless, Britain had become a Christian nation LONG
before Augustine reached these shores, and in fact, long before
there was a 'pope' in Rome. (The bishops of Rome were never
styled 'popes ' until the sixth century).

     When Augustine landed on these shores he was met by
bishops of the British Church who told him:

"Be it known and declared that we all, individually and
collectively, are in all humility prepared to defer to the Church
of God, and to the Bishop of Rome, and to every sincere and godly
Christian, so far as to love every one according to his degree,
in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and in deed in
becoming the children of God. But as for any other obedience, we
know of none that he, whom you term Pope, or Bishop of Bishops,
can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay
to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our
obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Caerleon,
who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of
salvation" (Spelman, Concilia, pp.108-9).

     We may well ask, if Augustine introduced Christianity to
these islands, who were these bishops by whom he was met? The
fact is, the gospel had been preached in this land for
five-and-a-half centuries already. There was a flourishing Church
in Britain; indeed hundreds if not thousands of British
Christians were martyred during the Diocletian persecution when
the Roman Emperor determined to exterminate Christianity. Today,
the City of St.Albans is named after the best-known martyr of
that period. 
     Gildas (516-570), the noted historian, tells us:

"There were martyred in Britain, Stephen and Argulius, both
Bishops of London; Socrates, Bishop of York; Amphibalus, Bishop
of Llandaff; Nicholas, Bishop of Penrhyn; Melior, Bishop of
Carlisle; St.Alban; Julius and Aaron, priests of Caerleon; and
889 communicants in different grades of society" (De Excidio
Britanniae, Sec.10, p.10).

     So there was a British Church at that time, but it was not
Roman Catholic! 
     The word 'catholic' means simply universal. The Church in
this land was 'catholic' in-as-much as it embraced the universal
faith of the gospel. That faith has its origin in the New
Testament Scriptures and not in Rome. The Church in Britain could
also claim to be 'apostolic', i.e. it was founded by the original
Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. It can, in fact lay far more
claim to being truly apostolic than can the Roman Catholic Church
which, as we explained, was not founded by Peter but by an
imposter masquerading as the apostle of Christ.

     Then today the Church of England is also described as 
'protestant,' i.e. it is opposed to the claims of the Pope and
protests against them. However, protestantism is no mere nega-
tive belief but a positive assertion that the Scriptures contain
all that is requisite for salvation, that "by grace are ye saved
through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
not of works, lest any man should boast ".10

     Unhappily, we are living in days of deepening apostasy so
that many of these distinctions have been deliberately ignored,
and the very truths for which men gave their lives are being
compromised and treated with contempt.

     We mentioned the Diocletian persecution in which so many
died, but the Church has always thrived in persecution: the blood
of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church. Within ten
years the British Church was sufficiently flourishing as to send
three bishops, Eborius of York, Restitutus of London, and
Adelfius of Caerleon, to the Council of Arles, convened in A.D.
314 by the Emperor Constantine. British bishops were also present
at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (when the Nicene Creed was
formulated), at the Council of Sardica in 347, and the Council of
Ariminium in 359.

     Now notice the testimony of the greatest Church historians
of early days.

     Tertullian(155-222) informs us:

"The extremities of Spain, the various parts of Gaul,the regions
of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have
received the religion of Christ" (Tertullian Def. Fidei, p.179).

     Eusebius (265-340), the Church's first great historian,
says: 

"The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the
Britannic Isles" (De Demonstratione Evangelii, Lib.111).

     Chrysostom (347-407), who was the Patriarch of
Constantinople, tell us:

"Though thou shouldest go to the ocean to the British Isles,
there thou shouldest hear all men everywhere discoursing matters
out of the Scriptures with another voice, but not another faith,
with a different tongue but the same judgment" (Chrysostomi Orat.
O Theos Xristos).

     Gildas (516-570), whom we have already quoted, writes:

"Christ, the True Sun, afforded His light, the knowledge of His
precepts, to our island during the height of [or, the last year
of] the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (De Excidio Britanniae, Sec. 8,
p.25).

     Tiberius Caesar died in A.D.37, and, as we have shown in
Chapter Two ... in this year that Joseph of Arimathaea came to
Britain.

     Theodoret; writing in A.D.435 Says:

"Paul, liberated from his first captivity at Rome, preached the
Gospel to the Britons and others in the West. Our fishermen and
publicans not only persuaded the Romans and their tributaries to
acknowledge the Crucified and His laws, but the Britons also and
the Cymry" (De Civ. Graec. Off., lib. ix).

     Bede (670-735) in his "Eclesiastical History of the English
Nation," tells us:

"The Britons preserved the faith which they had received,
uncorrupted and entire, in peace and tranquility until the time
of the Emperor Diocletian" (J.M.Dent Everyman's Edn., p.9).

     Bede was, of course, a Roman Catholic, and he has given us a
most telling account of the faith of the Church in Britain at the
coming of Augustine:

"For they did not keep EASTER Sunday at the proper time, but from
the FOURTEENTH to the TWENTIETH moon; which computation is
contained in a revolution of eighty-four years. Besides, they did
several other things which were against the unity of the Church .
... After a long disputation, they did not comply with the
entreaties, exhortations, or rebukes of Augustine and his
companions, but preferred their own traditions before all the
churches in the world ... They could not depart from their
ancient customs without the consent and leave of their people"
(J.M.Dent, Everyman's Edn., pp,65-66).

     This testimony is most important, since it shows us
again that the Church had been in existence in Britain long the
coming of Augustine in 597, and also because it reveals the
British Churches' refusal to accept the rule of Rome. The Church
of this nation would from its earliest days have observed the
Passover on the fourteenth day of the month, in common with
Eastern Church. The Roman Catholic 'Easter' which was later
introduced had its origin in paganism.

     Thus the evidence is irrefutable,  The Church in Britain
ante-dates the coming of Augustine by more than five-and-a-half
centuries. Moreover, it is only in comparatively recent times
that the great antiquity of the British Church seems to have been
lost sight of. The primacy of the Church in Britain was taken for
granted until the matter was raised by ambassadors of France and
Spain in 1409, and then at four successive Church Councils, Pisa
1409, Constance 1417, Sienna 1424 and Basle 1434, the French and
Spanish churches conceded that they must yield precedence to the
British.

     Archbishop Ussher(1581-1656) informs us that the basis of
the British claim was the burial of Joseph of Arimathaea at
Glastonbury, and the donation by Arviragus of the twelve hides of
land. Ussher, who is best remembered for his system of Bible
Chronology incorporated in the margin of many Bibles even today,
tells us:

"The Mother Church of the British Isles is the Church in Insula
Avalonia, called by the Saxons 'Glaston'".

Robert Parsons, the Jesuit, states in his "Three Conversions of
England":

"Christian religion began in Britain within fifty years of  
Christ's Ascension".

Polydore Virgil (1470-1555), Archbishop of Wells, who was from a
literary family, was steeped in English history, and had special
access to sources of the Glastonbury tradition, tells us:

"Britain, partly through Joseph of Arimathaea, partly through
Fugatus and Damianus [Fagan and Dyfan], was of all kingdoms the
first that received the Gospel".

Sir Henry Spelman in his 'Cancilia,' wrote:

"It is certain that Britain received the faith in the first age
from the first sowers of the Word. Of all the churches whose
origin I have investigated in Britain, the Church of Glastonbury
is the most ancient ... we have abundant evidence that this
Britain of ours received the faith and that from the disciples of
Christ Himself, soon after the Crucifixion of Christ".

Cardinal Pole said:

"The See Apostolic [Rome] from whence I come hath a special
respect to this realm above all others, and not without cause,
seeing that God Himself, as it were, by providence hath given to
this realm prerogative of nobility above all others, which to
make plain unto you, it is to be considered that this island
first of all islands received the light of Christ's religion".

     The occasion of this speech was the Assembly of the Lords
and Commons before Philip and Mary in Whitehall for the Act of
Reconciliation, the acceptance by the British Church of the Pope
of Rome. In a speech made the following day at Westminster Abbey,
Cardinal Pole said:

"Once again God hath given a token of His special favour to the
Realm, for as this nation in the time of the primitive Church was
the first to be called out of the darkness of heathenism, so now
they are the first to whom God has given grace to repent of their
schism".

     Having then established the fact that the Church in Britain
can lay claim to apostolic foundation, 11 and does not owe its
origin to Augustine, it will be profitable for us to say a few
words about the native Church in the earliest centuries.

     During the first three centuries of the Christian era there
were bands of Christians in various parts of Ireland. However, it
is to Patrick that the conversion of Ireland is usually
attributed.
     The centuries have obliterated every clue as to the
birthplace of Patrick, but it seems likely that he was born in
Western Britain, a Roman citizen of Christian parentage. The date
may have been 385. When he was about 16 years of age he and his
family were taken captive to Ireland by raiders who came in from
the sea. After seven years he escaped to Britain but later
returned as Bishop of Ireland in 432. Patrick now evangelised the
whole of Ireland, and from schools founded by him, missionaries
took the light of the gospel to every part of Europe. Patrick
died on 17th March, 461.

     It was from Ireland that Columba passed into Scotland.
Columba was born in Ireland on 7th December, 521. He was of
royal parentage, his father being a member of the reigning house
in Ireland, descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the king
who was reigning in Ireland at the time when Patrick had been
brought from Britain as a slave. His mother Eithne belonged to
the royal house of Leinster. Thus Columba might well have been
King of Ireland had not divine providence decreed otherwise.
     In circumstances which need not concern us here, Columba
left Ireland in May, 563, and came to Iona, the tiny island off
the Atlantic coast of Scotland. From here he converted almost the
whole of Scotland, and missionaries were sent forth into the
north of England and much of Europe. The number of churches which
Columba founded in Scotland alone is variously estimated at from
53 to more than 300. He died in 597, the very same year that
Augustine arrived in Britain.

     Here we should explain that during the fifth and sixth
centuries, Britain had been invaded by pagan Jutes, Saxons and
Angles - all Israelite people nonetheless - with the result that
the native British Church had been driven into the West and
North. It was now the Celtic Church, the legacy of such as
Patrick and Columba, which was destined to rekindle the light of
Christ, and not the Augustinian mission which met with little
success outside of Kent.
     Oswald, King of Northumbria had become a Christian during a
period of exile on the island of Iona. Aidan was now sent from
Iona to aid Oswald in the conversion of his people, and estab-
lished himself on the island of Lindisfarne which now became a
wellspring of Christianity in the North. Aidan has been called
the apostle of the English.

     Thus it was the Celtic Church which was responsible for the
evangelisation of these islands, becoming the lantern of the
West, and sending forth missionaries all over Europe. During the
seventh century Iona was at the height of its fame.
     It was during this century however, that Roman influence,
first introduced by Augustine (who had died in 604) began to make
itself felt. As we have seen from the statements of Bede already
quoted, there was marked resentment on the part of the British
Church to the encroachment of Rome. In 664. a Synod was convoked
at Whitby, presided over by Oswy, King of Northumbria, for the
purpose of settling the date of Easter. This ended with the
defeat and resignation of Colman, Bishop of Northumbria. Roman
usage was accepted on three points, and the Church now moved
towards Rome, thus paving the way for that complete domination
which lasted until the middle of the sixteenth century.

     The native Church, both British and Celtic, which until this
time had been distinguished for its piety and evangelistic zeal,
now began to acquire centralised control, and a unified system of
Church Government was established under Theodore of Tarsus who
became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 667. But this
usurpation by Rome was long resented, and four centuries later we
find William, the Norman Conqueror of England, refusing to
acknowledge the claims of the Pope, "Fealty I have never willed
to do, nor will I do it now. I have never promised it, nor do I
find that my predecessors did it to yours".

     We have told but a little of the wonderful story of the
early Church in Britain. From its earliest days it has been bound
up with the origin, the growth and the development of the nation.
     The rival kingdoms existing in these Isles at the time of
Christ - were brought into spiritual and national unity. The
pagan Jutes, Saxons and Angles became peace-loving and civilised.
     And in the centuries which followed, it was the Church which
established schools where children might be taught, and hospitals
and alms-houses where the sick and aged might be cared for. It
covered the land with cathedrals and churches of unexampled
beauty. It translated the Scriptures which are able to make men 
"wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus".12
     It made the Bible an open book, and taught successive
generations the knowledge and love of God. Thus it was the Church
which became the strongest element in the formation of the
national character. The respect for authority, the concept of
service, the love of freedom - ideals which were to become
Britain's greatest contribution to the world - were fostered by
the Church.
     But this moulding of the national character, the preparation
of the British people for a role in which they were destined to
bless the world, could never have taken place unless the faith
which was planted here in Bible days had been preserved
continuously all down the centuries. This island home of ours can
truly claim that its Church was founded by the Apostles, that it
recognises the Scriptures as its sole rule of faith and doctrine,
and that it is subject to no other Church on earth. Moreover, it
has reason to believe that the Saviour of the world Himself
visited the place of its foundation. This shall be the subject of
our next Chapter.

1.Matthew 4:23      
2.Matthew 10:6     
3.Acts 1:8     
4 Acts 9:15         
5 1 Clement 3:14    
6.Romans 1:7   
7 Luke 12:32   
8.8.Acts 20:29 
9.Jude 3
10.Ephesians 2:8-9
11.Ephesians 2:20
12.2 Timothy 3:15
                       .................

TO BE CONTINUED

You will find more histories of the British or Culdee church on
this Website as recorded in the book "Celt, Druid, and Culdee" by
Elder - Keith Hunt

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