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BRITAIN LEFT TO ITSELF.
the foreign settlers, the Roman colonists, in the towns, were left without an army, without imperial taxes, without any central government. They differed among themselves in traditions, faith, language, and ancestry. Yet for the majority among them, who had at least the habit of Roman culture, union of some sort was a necessity, if they wished to preserve all upon which the happiness and self-respect of society are founded from the lust and riot of barbarian conquerors.
THE EARLY BRITISH CHURCH.
DOUBTFUL HISTORY OF THE EARLY BRITISH
CHURCH.-REASONS FOR AND
AGAINST ITS EXISTENCE.-CHRISTIANITY NOT ROMAN IN ITS ORIGIN.
DURING the third and fourth centuries, the most momentous change of opinion that the world has ever witnessed, had matured a silent growth in the empire. The Christian religion, at first professed chiefly by the poor, had penetrated1 the middle classes of society. Africa, Greece, Asia, and, in a lower degree, Gaul, were the chief seats of the movement which threatened and finally overcame the gods of Rome and the different local faiths, rather from the intensity of belief which animated the converts, than from their numbers, position, or intelligence. It is natural to suppose that the church, which triumphed under Constantine, was already organised and powerful in the island which his father had reconquered, and from which Constantine himself started on the expedition which replaced the eagles by the labarum. Yet the early history of Rome is not more pregnant with mystery and fable than are the antiquities of the British church. The silence of contemporary history reduces all inquiry to the level of conjecture; and while a school is still found to believe in a primitive
Thus Tertullian Ad Uxorem, lib. ii., p. 171. "Sordent talibus (i.e. divitibus matronis) ecclesiæ." And Cyprian speaks of the wealth of the Christians as a snare, and as a reason for charity. Cypriani Opera: De Lapsis; De Opere et Eleemosynis.
FIRST CONVERTS TO CHRISTIANITY.
church of pure doctrine and apostolic ancestry, more than one experienced antiquary denies that there was any church at all.1
The extreme views, positive and negative, may briefly be stated thus. Traditions of great antiquity ascribe the preaching of the Gospel to St. Paul or one of his disciples, or to St. Joseph of Arimathæa. That British doctrine would be derived from the East is in itself probable, as the track of commerce from the English ports pointed through Marseilles to Syria. In the seventh century the British church differed from the Roman as to the day on which Easter fell, and defended its practice by the authority of St. John and of Anatolius.3 While the evidence thus far points to an early origin, a number of concurrent facts seems to prove the existence of Christian converts under the emperors. The wife of Plautius, sometime præfect in Britain, was tried about A.D. 61, before the family tribunal, on a charge of "deadly superstition," and the terms employed have been thought to recal the language of early heathen writers against the Christians.* The Pudens and
Claudia whom St. Paul mentions (2 Tim. iv., 21) have been identified with Pudens, a young Roman officer, who found shelter after shipwreck at the court of King Cogidubnus at Chichester, and Claudia, the king's daughter, who married her father's guest. A Welsh tradition, current in the seventh century, speaks of a native prince, Lucius, who sent envoys to Rome about A.D. 156, "beseeching Pope Eleutherius to issue a mandate that he might be made a Christian."6 The names
1 Wright's Celt, Roman, and Saxon, chap. 9. Quoted approvingly, Quart. Rev., vol. xcvii.
2 For St. Paul's mission, Venantius Fortunatus seems to be the best authority (A.D. 580). Vita S. Martini, lib. iii., carm. v., 1. 24. Aristobulus, his disciple, is given in the Menology, die xvi. Martii. The legend about St. Joseph Usher thinks not older than the Norman Conquest.-Eccles. Brit. Antiq., cap. 2. Bede, H. E., lib. iii., cap. 25.
Tacitus, Annal., xiii., 32.
5 Quart. Rev., vol. cxvii. But Mr. Hallam has demolished this conjectural romance.—Archæologia, vol. xxxiii.
Bede, H.E., lib. i., c. 4. Mr. Hallam thinks it may be true that Llewfer Mawr, Welsh subject of Rome, built the first British church at Llandaff at some unknown date.-Archæologia, vol. xxxiii.
CHURCH OF THE FOURTH CENTURY.
of three martyrs who suffered a century later under Diocletian have been preserved, and a nameless number are said to have fallen besides. Under Constantine and Constantius, British bishops are said to have attended the councils of Arles and Rimini. A little later the famous heretic, Pelagius, was a native of the British isles. The facts that the ancient seats of government are also the seats of the earliest dioceses, that a basilica, remembered to have been Christian, was still standing when Augustine's mission arrived, that the wife of Maximus was a devotee, and that Constans, the son of the tyrant Constantine, was taken by his father out of a convent, are all presumptions that a regularly-organised church existed. To this may be added the language of the Fathers. Tertullian, writing under Severus, boasts that regions of Britain which the Roman soldier could not penetrate, had been subdued by the Gospel. St. Jerome, in the decline of the empire, declares that the barbarous natives of Britain were united in orthodox practice with the church of Rome. But even if these were mere rhetorical flourishes, there is still the great argument from probability. Is it likely that the belief of the neighbouring province, the accredited faith of the court, would not penetrate among the merchants who travelled in the empire, or the officials who looked homewards for promotion?
These arguments are met by others of equal plausibility. The traditions of St. Joseph, of St. Paul, and of Aristobulus, whom St. Paul is said to have sent, are mutually contradictory, while no one of them is supported by historical evidence. Jerome's language, if it be taken at all, shows that in the
1 Usher, Eccl. Brit. Antiq., cap. 7. De persecutione et passis in ea Albano et aliis innumeris.
2 Probably of Wales. De Noris, Hist. Pelag., lib. i., c. 3, who cites Augustine, Prosper, and Bede.
3 London, York, and Caerleon-on-Usk, if the name given to the latter, Colonia Londinensium, in the report of the council of Arles, ought not to be given up as hopelessly corrupt, rather than transferred to the third capital city.
• Erat autem prope ipsam civitatem ad orientem ecclesia in honorem sanct, Martini antiquitus jacta dum adhuc Romani Britanniam incolerent.-Bede, H. E., lib. i., cap. 26.
IMPROBABILITY OF EARLY TRADITIONS.
beginning of the fifth century the British church was Roman in its ritual, and not Oriental. The stories of Plautius's wife, and of Pudens and Claudia, prove at most that two or three persons connected with Britain, and resident in Rome during the first century, were Christian; while the tradition of Lucius comes on uncertain authority, and if true, proves only that no missionaries had penetrated into the island in the time of Antoninus Pius. The stories of the Diocletian persecution are disfigured with improbable miracles, and were probably pious novels, intended to edify believers, not to form the materials of history. Our records of the early councils are very uncertain; the list of prelates attending the council of Arles has confessedly been tampered with; and, with every allowance for a long and difficult journey, it seems strange that a church which could send three representatives to Arles should have no special delegate at Nice. On the other hand, three of the British bishops who were present at Rimini, were so poor that their expenses had to be defrayed from the public purse; probably, therefore, they were mere missionaries, whose converts were too few or too poor to support them. Pelagius, though Welsh by birth, spent all his life away from his native country;5 it is natural to conclude that he was Christianized in some country more civilized than his own. These arguments merely impugn the credibility of our early ecclesiastical notices. But the doubt was suggested by facts of a more positive kind. The Roman remains in England abound with altars and religious inscriptions to Roman and foreign deities; Mithras and Mogontis, the
This is positively asserted by Eusebius.-Vita Constant., lib. iii., cap. 19. Still its origin may have been Eastern, as Achaia and Cilicia followed the Roman custom. Aldhelm intimates that Sulpicius Severus introduced the peculiar British method of determining Easter in the 5th century.-Ald., Epist. ad Geruntium. So, too, a MS., quoted by Usher, Eccl. Brit. Antiq., cap. xi., p. 342, says that Germanus and Lupus brought in the ordinem cursus Gallorum.
2 A fountain sprang out of the ground to supply the saint with water, &c. -Bede, lib. i., cap. vii.
3 So say the Benedictine Editors of the Councils, vol. ii.
4 Sulpicius Severus, lib. ii., c. 55.
5 In Rome and Palestine, where he is said to have learned his doctrine from Rufinus.-De Noris, Hist. Pelag., lib. i., cap. 3.