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The spread of Christianity into Britain
     

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 The spread of Christianity into Britain

      Lundy, Isle of Avalon         Historical Stuff

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The Taw estuary was a centre for the early Celtic saints, as we might expect from its position in relation to Wales and Ireland, whence so many of them came". . .

" The coast of North Devon consists almost entirely of towering hog-backed cliffs with few and dangerous landing-places, except the break in the cliff-wall afforded by the Taw-Torridge estuary and a few miles of level beaches on either side of it. This topography made the bay a natural point of entry for the missionary saints."  -  Hoskins

The spread of Christianity into britain from the west never properly explained

'The church of Avalon in Britain no other hands than those of the disciples of the Lord themselves built'-Publius Discipulus.

'The mother church of the British isles is the Church in insula Avallonia.'-Usher.

 

Spread & Dev of Christianity

"The next noticeable point is that while the lives of the Celtic saints and the Celtic records contain many allusions to saints and missions associated with Damnonia, they are entirely silent about the saints and bishops who are associated with Exeter and the district east of it, and, on the other hand, the traditions and legends associated with Exeter and Glastonbury show no knowledge of such people as St. Petrock, St. Brannock, St. Nectan and other famous Devonshire missionaries who came from South Wales. How are we to explain this? The answer seems obvious to me, and it is this: that Christianity in Devon had it's origins in two distinct sources who knew little of each other, who did not even speak the same language; each has its own traditions and saints, each has its separate line of bishops" --- 'Christianity in Devon Before AD 909, J. R. Chanter. 

The dividing line between the established and enduring Christianity of the Celtic church and the spreading missions of the roman church from the south, coincides with the western frontier road of Roman Britain.

The route of the earliest Christian missions from Jerusalem followed the path of Phoenician colonization / the tin trade, as described by Didorus Siculus. 

Initially from the cities and the towns along the Phoenician / Syrian coast to Antioch (1). Then all the main Phoenician settlements Cyprus (2), Crete (3), Sicily (4), Cyrenia (5), Massilia ( Marseilles) (7), Sardinia (6), Spain (8) and ultimately Southwest Britain (9).

'..before St. Paul had fully set out upon his later labours all the main Phoenician colonies and trading ports appear to have possessed their nucleus of Christians.

'At Tyre, at Antioch, and Tarsus, in Cyprus and Crete, at Cyrene and in Sicily, all over the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, we see the Phoenician colonies, where the Jews and Phoenicians and their descendants had been working together for centuries, singled out as the initial outposts of Christian effort. And without any recognition of this association, we find in tradition, that at all the more distant Phoenician trading ports or colonies - at Marseilles, in Sardinia, in Spain and in Cornwall - traces may be found of Hebrew missionary effort long antecedent to anything which bears the stamp of actual history.

The male dominated Zeus pantheon superseded the earlier Mother Goddess religions for the Classical world, it in its turn was superseded by and merged with Early Christianity to become Christianity as we know it. Pagan Celtic beliefs were of the Mother Goddess and were not merged with the classical pantheon until after the times of the Romans. [The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD]. Christianity derived from a blending of Early Christian teachings and the existing religious beliefs of the people concerned. In the Mediterranean world this was the Classical Pantheon. Many words have been devoted to a study of how Constantine [314- ?] merged the worship of Sol Invictus with Christianity to establish Roman Christianity as the state religion of the Empire. Celtic Christianity derived from a blending of Early Christian teachings and pagan Celtic beliefs including that of the mother goddess. Many of the most strident differences between Celtic Christianity and European Christianity can be demonstrated to stem from these differing roots. These differences surely demonstrates that Christianity reached the Celtic regions directly, not through the filter of the Roman Empire, or indeed the Classical world, at a very early period.

'From Syria and Egypt, Nazarean tradition began to difuse itself even further afield. **** Ships from Alexandria sailed daily for the Atlantic coast of Europe. **** It is hardly surprising, therefore, that substantial vestiges of Nazarean thought found their way to this coast. By the time that Pauline Christianity, moving overland from Rome, arrived, they had already consolidated themselves.'  from 'The Messianic Legacy'

'Nazarean tradition...continued its migration northwards...until between the mid-fifth and the mid- seventh centuries it found its fullest European expression in the Celtic Church of Ireland.....the orientation of the Celtic Church was voluntary and deliberate... Rome..had little means of implementing her decrees or ensuring their enforcement. Ireland remained free to absorb ideas which came to her, like her trade,from almost every quarter of the known world. Commerce with Ireland was entirely by sea; and this maritime traffic derived not only from England and Gaul, but also from Spain and North Africa, as well as the Eastern Med.' from 'The Messianic Legacy'

'It is not known when Christianity first established itself in Ireland - or for that matter, anywhere else in the British Isles. According to the sixth-century chronicler Gildas, there were 'Christians' in England during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, who died in AD 37. This cannot be verified and seems somewhat early but, given the constant maritime traffic, not altogether impossible. In any case, one or another form of 'Christianity' must have reached Britain within a few years of the time specified by Gildas. from 'The Messianic Legacy'

' By AD 200, the church historian Tertillian makes it clear that there is some kind of well established Christian community in Britain - not only in Romanised England but also in regions 'unapproachable to the Romans' ... almost certainly it means Wales... (between 314 & 350) it was also being alleged that some of the original apostles had travelled to Britain. ' In the wake of recent arch. discoveries, there is now little doubt that Celtic Christianity, as it evolved between Patrick's time and the Synod of Whitby in the mid-seventh C., owed little to Rome.For the most part it circumvented Rome, drawing its primary impetus and orientation from Egypt, Syria and the Med. world.' from 'The Messianic Legacy'

**** a comparative study of these differences would surely throw light on pre-Christian Celtic beliefs.****

**** The similarities between the community at Qumram [?] [Dead Sea Scrolls] and Celtic monasticism, which is supposed to have been inspired by the Egyptian desert monks, but possibly appeared simultaneously.

****Roman Gaul and Roman Britain provide many examples of the assimilation of native deities into the Roman pantheon.

 'Gildas -c. AD 520 - 560- states expressly that Christianity was introduced the last year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar-'We know that Christ, the True Son, afforded his light to our island in the last year of Tiberius Caesaris.' 

'The Crucifixion took place in the seventeenth year of Tiberius. The last year of Tiberius would be his twenty-second. Consequently if we follow Gildas, Christianity was introduced into Britain five years after the crucifixion, that is ad 38.

'This synchronises with the first persecution of the church by Saul of Tarsus, and its general dispersion. 'THEY WERE ALL SCATTERED ABROAD EXCEPT THE APOSTLES' (Acts viii.1). If all, then Joseph of Arimathea among them.

"Meanwhile Christianity had reached Britain and was growing there..... there can be no doubt that there was a Church in Roman Britain.Christianity did not reach Britain from Iona toward the end of the sixth C. nor when Augustine reached Canterbury from Rome in 597. Christianity had reached Britain long before, perhaps as long as four centuries before. ....fragment of pottery with a Christian cryptogram from Manchester-end of second century." from 'Life and Writings of St.Patrick.'

"Much of Britain was Christian before Augustine came [597]. There had long been bishops in Britain, bishops of the celtic church who refused to accept the rule of Rome when Augustine met them on the banks of the Severn. Christianity had reached Britain about the year 200."  Hoskins

"there is a certain royal island of large extent, surrounded by water, abounding in all the beauties of nature and necessities of life. In it the first Neophites of Catholic Law, God beforehand acquainting them, found a Church constructed by no human art, BUT BY THE HAND OF CHRIST HIMSELF, for the salvation of his people. The Almighty has made it manifest by many miracles and mysterious visitations that he continues to watch over it as sacred to Himself, and to Mary, the Mother of God."   -   a letter written by St. Augustine to Pope Gregory

"St.Augustine arrived 597 AD believing the whole island to be pagan.....in the western parts into which the Britons had been driven there existed a powerful British Church with its own Bishops."

'Gildas, AD 516-70,:-'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.' -Tiberius died in AD 37. The crucifixion around 30 AD

'The constant current of European tradition affirmed Britain to have been the first country in Europe which received the Gospel, and the British church to be the most ancient of the Churches. The universality of this view is readily demonstrated.' from 'St. Paul in Britain.

1) Polydore Vergil in the reign of Henry VII, and after him Cardinal Pole (1555 AD) both rigid Roman Catholics, affirmed in Parliament, the latter in his address to Phillip and Mary, that 'Britain was the first of all countries to receive the Christian faith.' 'The glory of Britain', remarks Genebrard, 'consists not only in this, that she was the first country which in a national capacity publicly professed herself Christian, but that she made this confession when the Roman empire itself was pagan and a cruel persecutor of Christianity.'

2) This priority of antiquity was only once questioned and that on political grounds, by the ambassadors of France and Spain, at the Council of Pisa AD 1417. The Council affirmed it. The ambassadors appealed to the Council of Constance, AD 1419, which confirmed the decision of that of Pisa, which was a third time confirmed by the Council of Sena, and then acquiesced in. This decision laid down that the churches of France and Spain were bound to give way in the points of antiquity and precedence to the church of Britain, which was founded by Joseph of Arimathea 'IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE PASSION OF CHRIST.'---'STATIM POST PASSIONEM CHRISTI'."

"We may therefore accept as the general opinion of Christendom, the priority in point of antiquity over all others of the British church. The opinion is well expressed by Sabellius:- 'Christianity was privately confessed elsewhere, but the first nation that proclaimed it as their religion and called itself Christian, after the name of Christ, was Britain.' ( Sabell. Enno.,lib.vii.c.5.) 'Robert Parsons, the Jesuit, in his 'Three Conversions of England,' admits, in common with the great majority of Roman Catholic writers, that Christianity came into Britain direct from Jerusalem. 'It seems nearer the truth that the British Church was originally planted by Grecian teachers, such as came from the East, and not by the Romans,' -Vol.i,p.15. The Eastern usages of the British church would alone attest the fact."

"We possess abundant proofs that Britain was studded with Christian churches before the end of the second century, and whatever direction our investigations take, we find authorities unanimous in the statement that the church of Joseph in Avalon, or Glastonbury, was the first and oldest of these churches, many affirming it to be the oldest or senior Christian church in the whole world."  Morgan, Rev.R.W.------St.Paul in Britain------Covenant Publishing Co.--- orig.-1860

"If early traditions are to be believed, at least two churches in Britain were founded within a few decades of the crucifixion, during the lifetime of men who had known Christ or his apostles." from 'Arthur,Roman Britain's last Champion'

 

The difference between the early church and Pauline Christianity

"The great British church which Augustine found AD 596 established in Britain and Ireland, was essentially Eastern, proclaiming by every usage in which she differed from Rome her direct and independent birth from Jerusalem and the apostles themselves in the first throes of Christianity .... Rome found here a church older than itself..."

Blackstone, voliv.p.105 'The ancient British Church, by whomsoever planted, was a stranger to the Bishop of Rome and all his pretended authorities.'

Bacon, 'Government of Britain.' - 'The Britons told Augustine they would not be subject to him, nor let him pervert the ancient laws of their church.'

Capellus-Hist.of the Apostles- 'I scarcely know of one author, from the times of the fathers downwards, who does not maintain that St. Paul, after his liberation, preached in every country in western Europe, Britain included.'

Bishop Burgess - Independence of the British Church- 'Of St. Paul's journey to Britain, we have as satisfactory proof as any historical question can demand.'

also Baronius, the Centuriators of Magdeburg, Alford or Griffith, next to Baronius the most erudite of the Roman Catholic historians; Archbishops Parker and Usher, Stillingfleet, Camden, Gibson, Cave, Nelson, Allix &c.

Moncaeus Atrebas, the learned Gallican divine - IN SYNTAGMA, p.38. - 'The cradle of the ancient British Church was a royal one, herein being distinguished from all other churches: for it proceeded from the daughter of the British king, Caractacus, Claudia Rufina, a royal virgin, the same who was afterwards the wife of Aulus Rufus Pudens, the Roman senator, and the mother of a family of saints and martyrs.'

Sir Henry Spelman's CONCILIA, fol.,p.1. - '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.'

Soames' ANGLO-SAXON CHURCH - Introd.,p.29 - 'Britain in the reign of Constantine had become the seat of a flourishing and extensive Church.'

Soames' Bampton Lectures,pp.112-257. - 'Our forefathers, as you will bear in mind, were not generally converted, as many would fain represent, by Roman missionaries. The heralds of salvation who planted Christianity in most parts of England (?) were trained in British schools of theology, and were firmly attached to those national usages which had descended to them from the most venerable antiquity.'

'p.105 f. 'Sixty years after the landing of Augustine, that is, 660 AD>, when all the Heptarchy, except Sussex, had been converted, Wini, Bishop of Winchester, was the only bishop of the Romish communion in Britain, and he had purchased his first bishopric of London from Wulfhere, King of Mercia: all the rest were British.

Robert Parsons the Jesuit's Three Conversions of England, vol.1.p.26. - 'The Christian religion began in Britain within fifty years of Christ's ascension.'

Polydore Vergil,lib.ii. - 'Britain, partly through Joseph of Arimathea, partly through Fugatus and Damianus, was of all kingdoms the first that received the Gospel.'

Cardwell's ( Camden Prof.) Ancient History, p.18, 1837. - We can have no doubt that Christianity had taken root and flourished in Britain in the middle of the second century.'

Alford's Regia Fides, vol.i.p.19. - 'It is perfectly certain, that before St. Paul had come to Rome Aristobulus was absent in Britain, and it is confessed by all that Claudia was a British lady.'

Bede, lib.i.c.4. - 'The faith which was adopted by the nation of the Britons in the year of our Lord 165, was preserved inviolate, and in the enjoyment of peace, to the time of the Emperor Diocletian.'

p106.' In the year 596 we have the Augustine mission landing in Kent, followed by three conferences with the bishops of the British church. In AD 600, Venatius Fortunatus, in his Christian Hymns, speaks of Britain as having been evangelised by St. Paul. - 'TRANSIT ET OCEANUM VEL QUA FACIT INSULA PORTUM. QUASQUE BRITANNUS HABET TERRAS ATQUE ULTIMA THULE.'

Gildas, DE EXCIDIO BRITANNIAE, p.25. - AD 542 - 'We certainly know that Christ, the True Sun, afforded his light, the knowledge of His precepts, to our island in the last year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.'

AD 408 - Augustine of Hippo asks, 'How many churches are there not erected in the British isles which lie in the ocean.' - Opera, fol.,Paris Edit.,p.676.

Arnobius -Ad Psalm cxivii. - 'So swiftly runs the word of God that though in several thousand years God was not known, except among the Jews, now, within the space of a few years, His word is concealed neither from the Indians in the East, nor from the Britons in the West.

Theodoretus, De Civ.Graec. Off., lib.ix. - AD 435 - 'Paul, liberated from his first captivity at Rome, preached the Gospel to the Britons and others in the West.' ..... his commentary on 2 Timothy iv.16: 'When Paul was sent by Festus on his appeal to Rome, he travelled, after being acquitted, into Spain, and thence extended his excursions into other countries, and to the islands surrounded by the sea.'

Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople - AD 402 -'The British Isles, which are beyond the sea, and which lie in the ocean, have received the virtue of the Word. Churches are there founded and altars erected. Though thou shouldst go to the ocean, to the British Isles, there thou shouldst hear all men everywhere discoursing matters out of the scriptures, with another voice, indeed, but not another faith, with a different tongue but the same judgement.' -Chrysostomi, Orat.

St. Jerome In Isaiam, c.liv.; also Epistol.,xiii. ad Paulinum. - AD 320 - 'From India to Britain all nations resound with the death and resurrection of Christ.'

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, De Demonstratione Evangelii, lib.iii. - AD 320 - ' The apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles.'

Sozomen, Eclles.Hist.,lib.c.v.- 'It is well known the great Constantine received his Christian education in Britain.'

Melancthon, Epistola, p.189. - 'Helen was unquestionably a British princess.'

Polydore Vergil -Historia Brit.,p.381 -"Constantine, born in Britain, of a British mother, proclaimed Emperor in Britain beyond doubt, made his native soil a participator in his glory.'

 

later differences between celtic and papal christianity

'Britons,' declares Bede, 'are contrary to the whole Roman world, and enemies to the Roman customs, not only in their mass, but in their tonsure.' The Britons refused to recognise Augustine, or to acquiesce in one of his demands. 'We cannot,' said the British bishops, 'depart from our ancient customs without the consent and leave of our people.' Laurentius, the successor of Augustine, speaks more bitterly of the antagonism of the Scottish church;- 'We have found the Scottish bishops worse even than the British. Dagon, who lately came here, being a bishop of the Scots, refused so much as to eat at the same table, or sleep one night under the same roof with us.' (Laurentii Epistle. ad Papam; Bede, Eccles. Hist.ii.c.4.)

One demand of Augustine was that the British church should recognise him as Archbishop. 'AT ILLI,' says Bede, lib.ii.p.112. 'NIHIL HORUM SE FACTUROS NEQUE ILLUM PRO ARCHIEPISCOPO HABITUROS ESSE RESPONDEBANT.' Bede himself have felt some astonishment at this demand from an emissary whose only religious establishment in Britain was a solitary church among the pagans of Kent. 'The Britons,' he writes, lib.i.c.4, 'preserved the faith which they had received under King Lucius uncorrupted and entire in peace and tranquillity, until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.' Nicholas Trivet says, 'Abbot Dinothus, of Bangor, treated Augustine with contempt.'

The protest of the British church, signed on its behalf by the Archbishop of St. David's, six bishops, and the Abbot of Bangor, who conducted the conference with Augustine at Augustine's oak, AD 607;--- '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 the Pope, or Bishop of Bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay 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.' (Hengwrt MSS.; Humphrey Llwyd; Sebright MSS.; Cottonian Library (British Museum), Cleopatra, E.i.I.).

It is certain that the primitive British, Irish, Scot and Gallic churches formed one church, one communion, and that on the assumption of the Papacy, AD 606, by Rome, this great Celtic church, which had previously been in full communion with primitive Rome, refused in the most peremptory terms to acknowledge her novel pretensions. It is of course, this British church, and not the Roman Church introduced by Augustine AD 596, into Kent among the pagan Saxons, of which such priority must be understood. That such a church existed on a national scale, and was thoroughly antagonistic to the Roman church in its new form and usurpations in the person of Augustine, is so notorious...

**** 'The Celtic Church appears to have been Nazarean, in a purer, less diluted way than any other comparable institution of its time. **** '

By Roman standards, the Celtic Church was undoubtedly heretical.

'In the cult of saints, as in some other matters, Celtic tradition had developed somewhat differently than anywhere else in the west....in these areas saint had come to mean hardly more than pious church founder or learned ecclesiastic.' Oxford Dict of Saints.

 

Celtic Church adhelm's letter

An account of the clash between the long established Celtic church and the advancing trans -European christianity is preserved in a letter written, on the evidence of Bede, in 704 AD. The letter is addressed to King Geraint or Gerontius of Dumnonia from Adheln. Adhelm claims that the British rejected the circular tonsure and that his was the tonsure of St. Peter, theirs the tonsure of Simon Magus. Their second offence was that they kept Easter on a wrong calculation, and that they carried to an extreme pitch their scorn for all who differed from them;-

'What a wide departure it is for the catholic faith and from gospel tradition that the priests on the other side of the Severn Sea, priding themselves on the nicety of their private and personal living, shrink in abhorrence from communion with us. So much so that they will not codescend to join us in divine service in church nor to take their meals with us side by side in friendly fellowship at table. They offer us no friendly salutation, no kiss of holy brotherhood is given according to apostolic precept. If any of us visit them for the purpose of taking up our abode with them we are not admitted to the society of the guild before we have passed forty days in penance.'

 

related pages

Gildas
 
St. Patrick
 
Joseph of Arimathea

 

 

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