ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, († c. 613)
from
A History of Preaching
by
F. R. Webber

About the year 585 A.D., a monk [Gregory] of the monastery of St. Andrew, in Rome, saw some young men offered for sale in the slave market. Noticing their fair complexions, he inquired as to their nationality, and was told that they were Angles. This incident is said to have stirred within him a desire to go to England as a missionary. He secured permission from the pope to go, and actually started on his journey, but was recalled because of a public protest from the people. Gregory became abbot of his monastery, and in 590 was made pope. Still mindful of England, he sent several missionary preachers, led by a man named Augustine. These men landed at Thanet, at that time an island just off the coast of Kent, but today, due to shifting sands, a part of the mainland.

In 597 A.D., when Augustine reached England, the king of Kent was Ethelbert. Although a pagan himself, yet he had married a Christian wife named Bercta, or Bertha, a daughter of Charibert, one of the Frankish kings. Bertha had brought with her a chaplain named Luidhard; and on a hill just east of Canterbury they found an old church that was said to have been a place of Christian worship in the days of Roman occupation.

Upon landing, Augustine sent two of his companions to the King, seeking permission to preach within his domain. The king promised to visit the missionaries, but on condition that their meeting be in the open air, for he feared magic. When the King and his attendants visited Augustine, a church service was arranged, which the king attended willingly enough. Augustine preached to the King and his retinue, setting forth the principles of Christianity. At the conclusion of the service the King arose and said:

Fair indeed are your words and promises, but as they are new to us and of uncertain import, I cannot assent to them so far as to forsake that which I have so long held in common with the whole English nation. But because you have come as strangers from afar into my kingdom, and are desirous to impart to us those things which you believe to be true and most beneficial, we will not do you any harm, but rather receive you in kindly hospitality, and take care to supply you with necessary sustenance. Nor do we forbid you to preach, and win over as many as you can to the faith of your religion.

From the Isle of Thanet, where this first service was held, Augustine and his companions went to Canterbury, a dozen miles to the west, where Queen Bertha received them with joy. They were given permission to use the church on the eastern edge of the town, and among the first converts was the King himself.

It is said that Augustine was made archbishop in the year 601. In 603 he consecrated Christ Church, somewhere near the site of the present Canterbury cathedral. Not far away he built a monastery, ruins of which exist to this day. Whether or not St. Martin's, in the eastern part of Canterbury contains portions of the ancient church in which Augustine preached, has long been a source of controversy. It has been rebuilt and enlarged from time to time, but parts of it contain Roman bricks and pieces of Caen stone, mixed with Kentish ragstone.

Augustine of Canterbury is said to have been a man of great size and strength. Although no authentic sermons are known to exist, he is said to have been a most effective preacher. With his coming the Church of Rome gained a foothold in the South of England. As time went on, strife arose between the Roman Church in the South and the non-conforming Celtic Church in the North of England, which led to the Council of Whitby in 664 A.D., and the withdrawal of the Celtic Church from the field.


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