Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Early Christianity in Britain

Christianity came to Britain at least as early as 209, when a man named Alban was martyred in the town of Verulamium, now known as St Albans. The new religion made slow progress, though by 320 there were four bishops in Britain. We don’t know where they were based - though one was almost certainly in London - but the religion was one of townsfolk that had not yet reached rural areas such as Cornwall.

In 429 the church in Britain split from that on the continent. The secular government of Britain had left the Roman Empire 19 years earlier and that may have encouraged a more independent streak in the ecclesiastical authorities. The dispute erupted over the writings of the highly educated and much admired British monk Pelagius. As he grew older, Pelagius became more extreme. In 418 Pelagius was expelled from Rome by Pope Zosimus and his teachings condemned as heretical. Some of the finer points of Pelagianism can be obscure even to modern theologians, but the main thrust of his argument was clear enough. Pelagius argued that whether or not any particular human was to find salvation was a matter between that human and Christ. The human could help his cause through good works, charity and righteousness, but the final decision rested with God.

Of more practical importance, Pelagius stated that priests should teach their fellow humans about God’s grace and guide them along the right path, not to act as intermediaries between humans and God. Still less was the Church to be a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops with a bureaucracy and wealth of its own. This was in direct conflict with the developing doctrine of Papal supremacy developing in Rome. Zosimus and his followers claimed that humans could find salvation only through the intermediary of the Church headed by the Pope.

The split between Britain and Rome prompted Bishop Germanus of Auxerre to travel to Britain. He preached against the Pelagian views, championed in Britain by Bishop Agricola. Although he gained a good deal of support for maintaining links with Rome, Germanus failed to enforce orthodoxy. Next the Pope sent his own deacon, Palladius, to Britain. The official mission of Palladius was to convert the Irish, but he put most effort into an attempt to suppress Pelagianism. He failed, and died on his way back to Rome. His place as the head of the mission to the Irish was taken by the much more famous Patrick, a British Christian, who landed in Ireland in 432 and never left.

from MYSTERIOUS CORNWALL by Rupert Matthews.
Buy your copy HERE

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