Read LECTURE II of The Christian Church in These Islands before the Coming of Augustine, free online book, by George Forrest Browne, on

Early mentions of Christianity in Britain--King Lucius--Origin and spread of Christianity in Gaul--British Bishops at Councils--Pelagianism--British Bishops of London--Fastidius.

We are to consider this evening the Christian Church in Britain, from the earliest times at which we have any definite notice of it, to the time of its expulsion from what had become England. It may be well to take notice first of one or two statements of early writers about the existence of Christianity here, at dates precisely known.

Tertullian, writing in or about the year 208, at a time when a revolt against Severus in the north of this island gave special point to his remark, thus describes the wide spread of the Gospel. “In all parts of Spain, among the various nations of Gaul, in districts of Britain inaccessible to the Romans but subdued to Christ, in all these the kingdom and name of Christ are venerated.” Origen, in 239, speaking of polytheism, asks, “When, before the coming of Christ, did the land of Britain hold the belief in the one God?” And again: “The power of the Saviour is felt even among those who are divided from our world, in Britain.” At the same time Origen gives us a timely warning against taking his remarks to mean anything like the complete Christianisation of the island; he tells us that among the Britons, and six other nations whom he names, “very many have not yet heard the word of the Gospel.”

The Greek historian Sozomen speaks of Constantine living in Gaul and Britain, and there, as, he says, was universally admitted, becoming a Christian. Both Eusebius, writing about 320, and Sozomen, about 443, tell of an experiment made in the palace by Constantine’s father Constantius, when he governed Gaul and Britain, which shews the spread of the gospel and the high places it had by that time reached. It has this special interest for Britain, that York was one of the two cities at one of which it must have taken place, Treves being the other; for those were the two capitals and seats of government of the whole province of the Gauls, the one for the continental the other for the insular department of the province. A persecution of the Christians was ordered by his three colleagues in the empire, about the year 303. Constantius, though not himself a Christian, did not allow much severity in his own government; a contemporary writer, Lactantius, declares that from east to west three savage beasts raged; everywhere but in the Gauls, that is, Gaul and Britain. The experiment was this. He told the officers of his court, who are spoken of as if all were Christians, though he himself was not, that those of them who would sacrifice to demons should remain with him and enjoy their honours: those who would not, should be banished from his presence. He gave them time to think the matter over. They came to him again, each with his mind made up; and some said they would sacrifice, and some said they would not. When all had declared their intention, he told those who would sacrifice, that if they were ready to be false to their God, he did not see how he could trust them to be true to him. To the others he said that such worthy servants of their God would be faithful to their king too. The story reminds us of the sturdy old pagan king of Mercia, Penda, who said he was quite willing that the Lindisfarne missionaries should convert his people to Christianity, if they could; but he gave full warning that he would not have people calling themselves Christians and not living up to their high profession.

This story of Constantius, the father of Constantine, which I prefer to place at York, the favourite residence of Constantius, introduces us of course to the one well-known result of the persecution, so far as Britain was concerned, the death of Alban at Verulam, about 305. When you go to St. Albans, you see the local truth of the traditional details. Standing on the narrow bridge across the little stream, you realise the blocking of the bridge by the crowd of spectators nearly 1,600 years ago: and you can see Alban, in his eagerness to win his martyr’s crown, pushing his way through the shallow water, rather than be delayed by the crowd on the bridge. There is an interesting coincidence, in connection with the story of St. Alban, which I have not seen noticed. The Gauls of Galatia, as we have seen, were of kin to the Britons; and while the Britons were being almost entirely saved from harm by Constantius, their Galatian cousins were passing through a very fiery trial. The persecution of Diocletian raged furiously in Galatia. As St. Alban is, I believe, the earliest example of a name attached to a Christian site in this island, so the earliest existing church in Ancyra, the capital of Gaulish Galatia, owes its name to St. Clement, the martyr bishop of Ancyra, St. Alban’s contemporary in martyrdom.

It is unnecessary to say more on the evidence of Christianity in our island at least from 200 onwards. But, as I have said before, there is an entire dearth of information as to any special introduction of the new faith. It came. It grew. How it came; who planted it; who watered it; all is blank.

You are, of course, familiar with the story that Lucius, a British king, requested Eleutherus, or Eleutherius, Bishop of Rome 171 to 185, to send some one to teach his people Christianity, of which he had himself some knowledge. The documents which profess to be the letters connected with this request are unskilful forgeries. A note is appended to the name of Eleutherus in the Catalogue of Roman Pontiffs to the effect that “he received a letter from Lucius, a British king, requesting that he might be made a Christian.” But this is a later addition, for it does not exist in the earlier catalogue, which was itself written nearly 200 years after the supposed event. It is an addition of the kind of which we have, alas! so many examples at Rome and elsewhere, but especially and above all at Rome: a statement inserted in later times for the sake of magnifying the claims to ecclesiastical authority, and affording evidence, in an uncritical age, of their recognition by former generations. The credit of this fallacious insertion has rather unkindly, but perhaps not unjustly, been assigned to Prosper of Aquitaine, of whom we shall hear again. It is quite in his style.

It is natural to say, and many of us no doubt have said it, that there is no improbability in the statement that such an application was made. I used to think so, but each further investigation makes the improbability seem more real. Neither if we look to the Church of Rome, at the time, nor if we look to the state of Gaul, shall we find encouragement for a story, which in itself it would be very pleasant to believe of our British predecessors. It might be thought not unlikely that some Christian, escaping from the terrible persécutions just then enacted at Lyons and Vienne, had fled northwards through lands all pagan, and had reached pagan Britain. But if that were so, he would scarcely tell Lucius to send to Rome. There were Christians in Southern Gaul: send to them. The man’s allegiance to a centre would be to Asia Minor, not to Rome. The Bishops of Rome, too, were not particularly strong men in early times, nor men of much distinction. The really great men were in the East; were in Africa; anywhere but Rome. The secular world was still ruled from the pagan city of Rome; but ecclesiastical Rome was not in a large way as yet: it did not as yet live up to its natural position. Rome was marked out by its supreme secular position to be the centre of the Western Church; and it had, besides, the great ecclesiastical claim of its origin. It was the most ancient of the Churches of the West. It alone could stand the test, stated so convincingly by Tertullian, of Apostolical foundation; for it, and it alone in the West, had a letter that could be read in its churches from the Apostle who founded it. Rome, as Tertullian says, had a letter written by its founder, equal in this supreme respect, as he puts it, to Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus. It had also the exceptional happiness, as Tertullian justly describes it, of being the scene of the martyrdom of its founder, St. Paul; and of that other great Apostle who found a grave there, St. Peter; to which Tertullian adds the miracle of St. John at the Latin gate. The force of the claim which its secular position gave to it was fully and justly recognised by the Second General Council, in terms which are a permanent stumbling-block to the mediaeval claims of Rome. The Fathers, assembled in 381, declared that the see of Constantinople should rank next in precedence to the see of Rome, on the ground that Constantinople, now the seat of empire, was ‘new Rome;’ taking ecclesiastical rank from its secular position, as Rome itself had done. In the early times of which we are now speaking, we do not find even the germ of the mediaeval theory of Roman supremacy; and the men who filled the office of Bishop of Rome were not men of mark enough to work any approach to such a theory, or to fix upon them the eyes of a far-off barbarian chief. It was either this Eleutherus, or his successor Victor, who was all but taken in to recognise Montanism, as indeed Zosimus was taken in, 250 years later, by the superior subtlety of our countryman, the Briton Pelagius. Eleutherus, or Victor, was only saved from this grave mistake by the advice of an Oriental heretic.

But apart from all such considerations, which I mention historically and not polemically, I see no reason why Britons should go so far afield if they wished to learn of Christ. With Gaul so close at hand, its people so near of kin, its government so identical with theirs, the Britons would hear of Christianity, would learn Christianity, from and through Gaul, and would look to Gaul, not Italy. But if we look to the state of Gaul in the time to which this British king is assigned, we shall see that it was in the very highest degree improbable that he should aim at making his people Christians. It was a time of terrible trial, with everything to be lost by becoming Christian. What sort of Christian hero was this, in the year 175 or 180, who desired to lead his nation to a change in their religion, that they might court the barbarous tortures inflicted by their kinsfolk on all of the Christian name at this exact conjuncture?

The new faith was planted in the south of Gaul comparatively early, but it spread northwards very slowly. The first congregations, those of Lyons and Vienne, were formed by Christians from Asia Minor, where some of them had known Polycarp, who was a pupil of St. John. Soon after the foundation of this infant Church, the great persecution of its members took place, about the year 175, when Eleutherus was bishop of Rome. The details of the persecution are so well known, through the letter which the survivors wrote not to Rome, but to their parent Church and personal friends in Asia and Phrygia, a letter preserved to us by the Greek historian Eusebius, that I think they have given a wrong impression as to the extent of the Christian Church in Gaul towards the end of the second century. The Christians at Lyons and Vienne were a small and isolated flock, not however isolated as foreigners speaking a strange tongue, for Irenaeus, who was one of them, mentions his daily use of the Gallic language. They seem to have been almost the only Christians known in Gaul. The ignorance of the practices of Christianity was so great among the Gauls, that they were accused of crimes such as they did not believe any man committed, banquets of Thyestes, incests of Oedipus. That was in the year 175. Lyons was a wonderful water-centre. An examination of a good map will surprise even those who know France fairly well. North, south, east, and west, there were water-ways. Even Eusebius, writing far away in the East, remarked on this; and you know how tantalisingly silent early historians are as a rule about such things. And yet Christianity spread exceedingly slowly. Gregory of Tours, whose inclination would not be to make little of the early Church in Gaul, seeing that he was a Gallo-Roman of lofty lineage, and not a newfangled Frank, quotes with complete assent the statement that a great missionary effort had to be made in Gaul about the year 250 to spread Christianity; and that so late as that, missionary bishops had to be sent neither he nor his authority says by whom to seven cities and districts, in most of which, we should otherwise have supposed, Christianity in its full form had for many years existed. These were Tours, Arles, Narbonne, Toulouse, Paris, Auvergne, and Limoges. With the exception of Paris, that does not carry us very far towards Britain, even in the middle of the third century. There is not any evidence, and without evidence it would be unreasonable to imagine so improbable a thing, that far-away Britain was in advance of Gaul by decades of Christian years. Gregory of Tours, however, was not completely informed. We may probably accept, as having some historical foundation, the story that some of those who escaped from the persecution at Lyons did push up northwards and teach Christianity at Autun, Dijon, and Langres. The last-named town was well up on one of the routes to Britain. It was the death-place of Abbot Ceolfrid on his journey towards Rome in 716.

If we look to the traditional dates of the establishment of bishoprics in the parts of Gaul which face the Britannic isles, we shall find that even tradition does not assign to them any very early origin. Beginning with the archdiocese of Rouen, and bearing in mind that it is not the way of ecclesiastical traditions to err on the side of lateness, the first dated bishops in the several diocèses are as follows. The third bishop of Rouen, or, as some count, the second, was at Arles in 314. The third bishop of Bayeux dates 458-65. The second bishop of Avranches, 511. The second bishop of Évreux, 450-90. The fifth bishop of Seez, 500. The first bishop of Lisieux whose name is recorded, 538. The first bishop of Coutances, about 475. As three British bishops were at Arles in 314, when only one of these seven bishoprics was in existence, the antiquity and completeness of our island Church compares very favourably with that of the archdiocese of Rouen. Passing to the archdiocese of Cambray, the first bishop of Cambray died in 540; the first bishop of Tournay is dated 297; the other bishoprics are late. In the archdiocese of Rheims, the two first bishops of Rheims, paired together, are assigned to 290; the two first bishops of Soissons were the same pair as those of Rheims; the first bishop of Laon was at Orleans in 549; Beauvais, 250; Chalons about 280; the second bishop of Amiens, 346; the ninth of Senlis, 511; the second of Boulogne, 552. Here, again, our three bishops at Arles in 314 compare favourably with this great archdiocese, which was in the most accessible part of Gaul for the insular Britons.

Unless we are prepared to believe that our island was Christianised by some influence apart from Gaul, and reaching us through some route other than that of Gaul and I do not see any evidence for anything of the kind we must, I think, take it that our position was that of younger sister to the Church in Gaul. All the indications point in that direction. It is most cruel that the British history has all been blotted out, by the severity of the English conquest and the barbarity of the bordering tribes. In Gaul, the history was not blotted out by the successful invasion of the Franks. Gregory of Tours died in the year 594, of which we have said so much. He was a Gallo-Roman, one of the race overrun by the Franks; and yet he writes the history of the Franks, putting on record an immense amount of information about the earlier Gaulish times not very trustworthy, it is true. But for the sack of London by the East Saxons, of which I shall have to speak later, we might have had a history that would solve all our doubts, from a Brito-Roman Bishop of London, exactly contemporary with Gregory of Tours. Failing all such record, we must read the signs for ourselves, and they point in the direction I have described. They make us a younger sister, not very much younger, of the Church of Gaul a Church founded from Ephesus Oriental in its origin, not Western. I may, perhaps, have time to indicate in my concluding lecture some points which shew the non-Western connection of the British Church.

The probability is that from Tertullian’s time onwards the faith spread and grew here quietly. The Christian Church certainly took to itself an outward form. Bishops were appointed in central places. By the year 314 that is, in one century of growth it appears that we had in Britain a Christian Church as fully equipped as any corresponding area of the Continent at that time was. What is the evidence for this?

At the Council of Arles, A. D 314, three British bishops were present. Two of them are described as of the province of Britain; the third is not so described. All are included among the bishops of the Galliae, that is, of the province of the Roman Empire so called. Three may not sound a large number, but as a question of proportion it is in fact large. Thirty-two or thirty-three bishops, in all, signed the decrees of the Council. Of these, seven were from Italy and the islands, ten from Africa, eleven from what we call France, three from Britain, and two from elsewhere. The large number of bishops from Africa will surprise no one who knows the prominence of the African Church in the early times, the large number of its bishoprics, the area which it covered. It was the birthplace and home of Latin Christianity, while the Roman Church was still practically a Greek Church. In Africa, not in Italy, the Latin version of the Scriptures was first made.

The principal French bishoprics represented at Arles were Marseilles, Vienne, Lyons, Bordeaux, Treves, Rheims, and Rouen. In such company it is quite sufficient for us to find York and London, and a see which is understood to be Caerleon; the three bishops thus representing the whole of the island except Caledonia, and occupying what may well have been regarded as the three metropolitical sees, north, south, and west. This coincided fairly well with the re-arrangement of the Roman province of Britain shortly before this time. I venture to suggest that the dates I gave just now, of the foundation of bishoprics in Belgic Gaul, appear to shew some considerable advance in the years about 280, and that from 260 to 280 may have seen the commencement of British episcopacy.

The records of the signatures at the Council of Nicaea in 325 are, as is well known, not in such a state as to enable us to say that British bishops were present. But considering their presence at Arles, the first of the Councils, and the interest of Constantine in Britain and his intimate local knowledge of its circumstances; considering, too, the very wide sweep of his invitations to the Council; it is practically certain that we were represented there. At the Council of Sardica, in 347, only the names of the bishops are given, not their sees. But fortunately the names of the bishops are grouped in provinces. The province of the Gauls that is, Gaul and Britain had thirty-three bishops present. I think that any one who has studied the dates of the foundation of the French bishoprics will allow that to make up thirty-three bishops in 347, several British bishops must have been included. At the Council of Rimini, in 359, there were so many British bishops present that three were singled out from the rest of their countrymen as being so poor that they accepted the Emperor’s bounty for their daily support, declining a collection made for their expenses among their brother bishops. The others, who could do without the Imperial allowance, refused it as unbecoming.

In the year 358 or 359, in preparation for this Council of Rimini, a treatise of great importance was addressed to the bishops of the British provinces, among others. This was the treatise of Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, on the Synods of the Catholic Faith and against the Arians. He wrote at a very anxious time, when he was himself in exile for the faith, and when he earnestly desired that his orthodox colleagues should take a broad view, so as not to keep out of their communion any who could properly be included. He addressed his treatise to the bishops of Germany, Gaul, and the British provinces. He wrote as to men thoroughly familiar with the very subtle heresy that was dividing the world, men who were thoroughly sound on the point in dispute, but inclined perhaps to be rather unflinching on a point on which he desired to make some concession concession in terms, not in substance. He specially urged them not to press as vital one single phrase, not to reject as fatal another. For, as he pointed out, each phrase could be used with a sound meaning, either could be used unsoundly. Again, he reminded them of the difficulty inherent in attempts to express exactly in one language a difficult technical phrase from another. Hilary, as the first person in Gaul to write ecclesiastical and religious treatises in Latin, instead of the then more familiar Greek, felt this difficulty keenly; as our own Bede did when he tried to put Caedmon’s Creation song into Latin. And he warned them against misconceiving the views of others; pointing out that while they suspected the Oriental bishops of doubting the coequality of the Son of God with the Father, the Oriental bishops suspected them of doubting the distinction between the Father and the Son. Hilary had been, before his conversion to Christianity, a highly-trained and cultured official of his Gallo-Roman city, and he wrote this treatise with force and insight on very difficult subjects. It was a compliment to the bishops of any church that such a document should be addressed to them. We learn in the sequel that Hilary’s views of comprehension prevailed; but we have no means of determining what was the share of the British in this result. I need probably not go further in the records of British connection with ecclesiastical events on the continent.

It may have seemed to you rather barren, this talk of Councils. But it is in reality far from being barren talk. It shews us the representatives of the British Church in the full swim of ecclesiastical affairs; summoned as a matter of course to the greatest councils; addressed as a matter of course by the greatest writer of their quarter of the world; taking their share in the settlement of the most subtle and vital points of Christian faith and practice. At Arles, they dealt with the question, so practical after Diocletian’s recent persecution, how men were to be re-admitted to the Church, who in time of persecution had fallen away. They decided, further, one of the gravest questions they could have had to decide, whether baptism in the name of the blessed Trinity was valid baptism, even though a schismatic had administered the rite. Their decision was against re-baptism in such cases, a fact of which I may have time to remind you when I speak of some of the practices of the British Church; admission by the laying on of hands was to suffice. They also determined that Easter must be kept everywhere on one and the same day, again a fact which reappears very prominently in their later history. At Nicaea, they dealt with the greatest question that ever stirred the Church of Christ, the question of the coequal deity, the oneness of nature, of the Son with the Father; and they laid down a rule for observing Easter, from which their descendants 350 years later accused the Roman Church of having departed. At Sardica they asserted the innocence of St. Athanasius; and gave authority to Julius, Bishop of Rome, to receive appeals from a province, if a bishop was dissatisfied with a decision of his synod. Their descendants were too busy with the inroads of barbarians and the subtleties of heretics, to pay much heed to the amusing exposure by the African Church of the Popes Zosimus, Boniface, and Celestine, 417-432, for quoting this Sardican Canon as a Canon of Nicaea, with “Julius” altered to “Sylvester” to make the name fit the forged date. The difference between calling it a Nicene Canon and calling it Sardican may seem little more than a question of a right name and a wrong. But its effect was tremendous. It added the greater part of the known world to the sphere of influence of the Bishop of Rome. For the Sardican Canons were passed by the Western bishops, after the Easterns had left Sardica, and could bind at most only the West. The Canons of Nicaea were binding on the whole of the Christian world. The sarcastic comments of the African Church, in their letter to Celestine, at the close of the controversy, should have had more effect in checking such proceedings than it had. At Rimini the British upheld the coequal deity of the Son; and when the Arian Emperor compelled the signature of a heterodox creed, the bishops of the provinces of Gaul gathered themselves together on their way home, and re-asserted their Catholic belief. Time after time, from Constantine onwards, the unswerving orthodoxy of the British was the subject of special and favourable comment. They were, as I began by saying, in the full swim of ecclesiastical affairs; and they held a position of recognised importance with dignity and effect.

Nor was the journeying of British Christians limited to attending Councils. A historian writing in 420, of the time before 410, says that from East and West people were flocking on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, from Persia and from Britain. And Theodoret, writing of the years about 423, says that many went to the Holy Land from the extreme West, Spaniards, and Britons, and the Galatae who dwelled between them.

We now come to a time when two natives of these islands played a large part one of them, a very large part, in the origin the principal part in the great theological controversy of the Western Church, a controversy which touched the East too, but less pointedly. Pelagius and Coelestius enunciated the views on the nature of man, and the operation of the grace of God, which were combated with vehemence by two of the leading men of the West, Augustine and Jerome. From that day to this the controversy has never died out. When the first beginnings of the theory of transubstantiation were heard, this Pelagian controversy divided those who opposed the new idea. Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, in their turn, differed on this point, as Pelagius and Augustine did. The Franciscans and the Dominicans took respectively the views of those two great schoolmen. The Jesuits and the Jansenists of Louis XV’s time shewed a like cleavage. Wherever you find Calvinistic views held and combated, there you have in fact the controversy which was started by our countrymen. Calvin declared that every man is predestined to life or to death, from before the foundation of the world. Pelagius maintained the freedom of will and action of every man; his power by nature to turn and come to God; his natural independence, so to speak.

One of the two great opponents of Pelagius, Augustine of Hippo, says that Pelagius was a Briton. The name is Greek, and means “of the sea,” “belonging to the sea,” and hence his native name has been supposed to be Morgan, sea-born: that, however, is only a guess. The other writers who were his contemporaries call him a Briton. His second principal opponent, Jerome, says that he was by birth one of the Scots, neighbours of the Britons. This meant in those times, and for some centuries after, a native of Ireland, whether living in Ireland or settled in the northern parts of Britain, if any Scots were settled there so early as 370, which was about the date of his birth. It is, however, quite as likely that Jerome is speaking not of Pelagius, but of his companion Coelestius, whom all allow to have been an Irishman. Whichever he means, he is not civil, as he seldom was in controversy. He describes his opponent as “a huge fellow, stuffed to repletion with Scotch porridge,” a most disrespectful way of speaking of porridge. Pelagius was a layman, and a monk. About 400 he went to Rome, and he remained there till the shadow of Alaric’s siege began to fall upon the city. In those eight years he lived an exemplary life. He urged upon others the necessity of so living, and the uselessness of religious observance combined with laxity of life. It is easy to see how this admirable line of teaching might be diverted, by the pressure of controversion, into a declaration that all men could, if they pleased, so live; that it was a matter of will, not of grace, a man’s turning to God and living as a believer should live. This was quite different from the controversy between faith and works, which some have believed to exist between St. Paul and St. James. It was the controversy between the necessity of the grace of God for a man to live as he should, and the comparative subordination of grace to the sufficient power of the will of man. Pelagius held that if the will was not free, man was a mere puppet: if the will was not free, man was not responsible. From this position, which is one side of a great truth, he passed to the denial of the need for God’s grace, that is, he denied the other side of the same great truth; or he so defined grace as to make it a mere matter of suitable circumstances.

A great controversy on a great subject can scarcely stop short at its first limits. Other points rise, unexpected results follow. I venture to say that it is impossible to go on pressing one side of this great and lasting controversy on the freedom of the will, to the disregard of the other side, without arriving at results which shock the reverent common sense of the devout Christian.

It is clear, for example, that when Pelagius asserted the freedom of man’s will to turn to God, he denied the Catholic doctrine of original sin, and denying that, he denied so far the need for baptism. Indeed he taught directly, it was in fact the key of his position, that when man sinned he sinned after the example which Adam had set, not because he had received the taint of sin by his descent from Adam. When pressed on this question of the need of baptism, he allowed that there was the need, but he put it on a different basis from that which his opponents took. It was not necessary for salvation, he maintained; but for those who desired to reach the full Christian heaven, a state different from that of ordinary salvation, for them it was necessary. Entrance to that higher order of the heavenly life was not to be obtained without baptism. When pressed again, on the question of the need for the operation of the grace of God, he allowed that there was that need. But he explained that when he said God’s grace must be given in order that a man might turn to God, he meant that the man must be set in a position and under conditions and with surroundings which rendered it natural and likely that he should so turn. It seems clear, further, that the Pelagian view of the position and nature of man in respect to God is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Redemption wrought by Christ. That great sacrifice is rendered unnecessary, if the views of Pelagius are accepted. Men could, so to speak, turn to God and be saved without the Atonement. It is only fair to say that the extreme view on the opposite side seems to be equally inconsistent with this vital doctrine. If it be true that each man is predestined absolutely to life or to death, whether before the fall of Adam or as the immediate consequence of that fall, it would appear that not all the Atonement of Christ can add one single soul to them that shall be saved.

My object is to speak of Church History, not of doctrine. But this Pelagian question is the most important fact in the history of the British Church; and unless these few words were said to bring out the extreme gravity of the matter in dispute, the episode would not appear to fill the important place it does in fact fill.

With Pelagius himself we have but little to do. He spent his life far from his native shores; he propounded his views in Rome and Carthage and Palestine, not in London and York and Bangor. But the history of what happened to him and his views in those distant parts is so curious if one may say so, so comical and the evidence it affords of the importance of the controversy is so great, that I must say a little about it. We shall find in it, I think, an explanation of the course taken by the British Church.

At Rome Pelagius met Coelestius, a Scot that is, a native of Ireland and Coelestius became a devoted champion of his views, publishing them in a more definite form than Pelagius himself adopted. These views were condemned at a Council held at Carthage in 412. A Council at Jerusalem in 415 heard the explanations of Pelagius and did not condemn him. A Council at Lydda in the same year fully accepted his explanations, to the great wrath of Jerome. Carthage then took the matter up again, and requested that Pelagius should be summoned to return to Rome, and the whole matter be fully inquired into there, the controversy being one affecting the West and not the East. To enable the Bishop to form an opinion on the views of Pelagius, they sent him a copy of one of his books, with the worst passages marked. Innocent, the Bishop of Rome, gladly received this request, treating it as a request for his authoritative verdict, which it was not. He replied in three letters dated January 27, 417. He began each with a strong assertion of the supreme authority of his see, and many expressions of his satisfaction that the controversy had been referred to him for final decision. The Bishop was clearly not to the manner born. These were not the sayings of unconscious dignity, of unquestionable authority. He did protest too much. The book of Pelagius forwarded to him he pronounced unhesitatingly to be blasphemous and dangerous; and he gave his judgement that Pelagius, Coelestius, and all abettors of their views, ought to be excommunicated.

Nothing could be more clear. But, unfortunately for the consistency of official infallibility, Innocent died six weeks after writing these letters, and Zosimus succeeded him. Coelestius and Pelagius between them were too much for Zosimus. Coelestius came to Rome. He argued with Zosimus that the points in dispute lay outside the limits of necessary articles of faith, and declared his adherence to the Catholic faith in all points. Pelagius did not come, but he wrote to Zosimus. Zosimus declared the letter and creed of Pelagius to be thoroughly Catholic, and free from all ambiguity; and the Pelagians to be men of unimpeachable faith, who had been wrongly defamed. Augustine appears to imply that in his opinion Zosimus had allowed himself to be deceived by the specious and subtle admissions of the heretics.

Zosimus did not rest satisfied with that. He wrote to the African bishops, vehemently upbraiding them with their readiness to condemn, and declaring that Pelagius and his followers had never really been estranged from Catholic truth. Far from accepting his decision or his rebukes, the Africans, who enjoyed a successful tussle with a Pope, sent a subdeacon with a long reply. Zosimus, in acknowledging their letter, wrote in extravagant terms of the dignity of his own position as the supreme judge of religious appeals, and, quaintly enough, hinted at the possibility of reconsidering his decision. The Africans did not wait. They met in synod, 214 bishops or more, and passed nine canons, anathematizing the Pelagian views. The Emperors Honorius and Theodosius banished Pelagius and Coelestius from Rome. What was Pope Zosimus to do, under these singularly trying circumstances? These men, thus banished from Rome, he had declared to be men of unimpeachable faith, wrongly defamed, never estranged from Catholic truth. He dealt with the matter in this way. He wrote a circular letter, declaring that the Popes inherit from St. Peter a divine authority equal to that of St. Peter, derived from the power which our Lord bestowed on him; so that no one can question the Pope’s decision. He then proceeded to censure, as contrary to the Catholic faith, the tenets of Pelagius and Coelestius, specially censuring some of Pelagius’s comments on St. Paul which had been laid before him since his former decision. He ordered all bishops, in the churches acknowledging his authority, to subscribe to the terms of his letter on pain of deprivation. In Italy itself, Rome’s own Italy, eighteen bishops protested against this change of front, and were deprived of their sees under the authority of the civil power.

Of course all men, however exalted their position, are liable to these sudden changes, whether pressed by external circumstances or impelled by inward conviction. And men who have themselves known what it is to be tried in any such way, on however humble a scale, are inclined rather to feel with them than sharply to condemn them; especially when, as in this case, their second thoughts are best. But if they are to be treated thus, with kindly judgement not unmixed with sympathy, they must not herald their change of view with statements that they have a divine authority, equal to that of St. Peter, and that no one can question their contradictory decisions.

To come nearer home after this long digression, which yet is not really a digression from the British point of view. The views of Pelagius had considerable success in Gaul, and gave a good deal of trouble there. In Britain their success was alarmingly great. The bishops and clergy were unable to make head against the wave of heresy. Whether there was anything, in the independence of the position claimed by Pelagius for man, which specially appealed to the nature of the Britons and their Celtic congeners; anything in the claim of each individual to be good enough in himself, if he pleases to be good enough; which harmonised with the opinion those races had dare I say have? of themselves; these are questions to which I cannot venture to give an answer. There the fact remains, that Pelagianism did appeal very strongly to the temperament of those who then dwelt in our land. And coupled with this is the fact, that, however orthodox the clergy and bishops might be, and however well versed in the great controversy in which in the previous century they had played their part, the subtleties of this new controversy, initiated as it was by one of their own or kindred race, springing up from their own nature and appealing to the nature of their people, were too much for them as indeed they had been for Pope Zosimus. Agricola was the name of the man who acted as the apostle of the Pelagians in the home regions, the son, we are told, of a bishop of Pelagian views.

What our predecessors may have lacked in subtlety, they more than made up in practical common sense. If they could not grapple with the heresy themselves, they sent for those who could. They applied to their nearest ecclesiastical neighbour, the Church of Gaul, to which no doubt they looked partly as their mother and partly as their elder sister. The account of their application and the response it met with comes to us from a life of Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, the person chiefly concerned, written by special request forty years after his death by an eminent person, and published on the request of the then Bishop of Auxerre. When the application reached the heads of the Gallican Church, a numerous synod was called together, and Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, were appointed to visit Britain. The manner of treating the heresy had been forced upon the attention of the Gallican prelates by their own experiences. At that very time semi-Pelagianism was rife in the south of Gaul, about Marseilles, and it continued in force there for a long time, another fellow-countryman of ours, Faustus the Briton, imbuing even the famous monastery of Lerins with this modified form of the heresy. To concert measures for dealing with the south of Gaul, Prosper of Aquitaine, a monk and probably a layman, afterwards secretary to Pope Leo the Great, went to Rome about two years after this to consult the Pope, and from Celestine he no doubt heard what he repeated or embellished twenty-five years later. He tells us that the Pope took pains to keep the “Roman island” Catholic, referring of course to the long occupation of Britain by the Roman troops, at this time abandoned. In another passage, whose genuineness has been questioned, Prosper says that Celestine sent Germanus in his own stead to Britain. Prosper was certainly in a position to receive from the best-informed source an account of what was done; but the Gallican Church appears to have known nothing of this sending of Germanus by Celestine. Prosper’s inclination to magnify the importance of the Popes has been referred to already; and we may take it as certain that if such an unparalleled step as going himself or sending some one in his stead, a forecast of Gregory’s action, had been attempted or taken by the Pope, we should have heard of it in the records of Gaul or in the life of Germanus. The successor of Germanus would have known of it. That Celestine had known at the time what was going on, and that he felt and probably expressed warm approval, we may regard as certain too. I must defer, to an opportunity in my third lecture, remarks which I wish to make on what may seem an ungenerous questioning of these assertions of benefits conferred by Rome.

In 429, then, the Gallican prelates came to Britain. They had a very rough crossing, and a story, rejected with scorn by quite modern writers, is told of a miracle wrought by Germanus. He stilled the storm by pouring oil upon the sea in the name of the Trinity. We now know that if they had oil on board, and knew how to use it, the stilling of the waves was done; without miracle, but with not the less earnest trust in the watchful care of God.

It was on this journey to Britain that Germanus and Lupus saw at Nanterre a little girl aged seven, and prophesied great things of her. Her name was Genofeva, and she became the famous Ste. Genevieve. In these days when people coquet with the principles of revolution and shut their eyes to its realities, it may be well to add that her coffin of silver and gold was sold in 1793, and her body burned on the Place de Greve, by public decree.

When they got to work in Britain, they proceeded on a definite plan. Some sixty or seventy years before, Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers, dealing in Gaul with the great heresy which preceded this, had found it of great service to go about from place to place and collect in different parts small assemblies of the bishops, for free discussion and mutual explanation. He found that misunderstandings were in this way, better than in any other, got rid of, and differences of opinion were reduced to a minimum. Germanus and Lupus dealt with the people of Britain as their predecessor had dealt with the bishops of Gaul. They went all over, discussing the great question with the people whom they found. They preached in the churches, they addressed the people on the highroads, they sought for them in the fields, and followed them up bypaths. It is clear that the visitors from Gaul could speak to the people, both in town and in country, in their own tongue, or in a tongue well understood by them. No doubt the native speech of Gaul and that of Britain were still so closely akin that no serious difficulty was felt in this respect. They met with success so great that the leaders on the other side were forced to take action. They felt, so the biographer tells us, not that his is likely to be convincing evidence as to their feelings, that they must run the risk of defeat rather than seem by silence to give up the cause. They undertook to dispute with the Gallicans in public. The biographer is not an impartial chronicler. The Pelagians came to the disputation with many outward signs of pomp and wealth, richly dressed, and attended by a crowd of supporters. Why should the biographer thus indicate that the Pelagian heresy was specially rife among great and wealthy and popular people? Perhaps it may be the case, that, with imperfectly civilised people, a position of wealth and distinction tends to make men less humble in their view of the need of the grace of God. Besides the principals, we are told that immense numbers of people came to hear the dispute, bringing with them their wives and children; coming, in the important phrase of the biographer, to play the part of spectator and judge. That is the first note we have of the function of the laity in religious disputes in this land of ours. It is a pregnant hint. The disputants were now face to face. On one side divine authority, on the other human presumption; on one side faith, on the other perfidy; on one side Christ, on the other Pelagius. The description is Constantius’s, not mine. The bishops set the Pelagians to begin, and a weary business the Pelagians made of it. Then their turn came. They poured forth torrents of eloquence, apostolical and evangelical thunders. They quoted the scriptures. The opponents had nothing to say. The people, to whose arbitration it was put, scarce could keep their hands off them; the decision was given by acclamation, against the Pelagians.

Where did this take place? Certainly not far from Verulam, for Constantius goes on to say that the bishops hastened to the shrine of St. Alban, which at the request of Germanus was opened, that he might deposit there some relics which he had brought with him. He took away, in exchange, some earth from the actual spot of the martyrdom. Presumably the disputation took place somewhere near London, on the road to St. Albans; perhaps at Verulam itself.

The British Church was thus saved from enemies within; but enemies without soon had it by the throat. There were no Roman troops to guard the northern wall, to guard the Saxon shore. The Roman troops had gone, and with them the flower of the British youth. From north and east the barbarians poured in upon the Britons, pell mell. Gildas, crying bitter tears, and using bitter ink, in his Welsh monastery, tells us of the weakness and the follies of the British and their kings, of the cruelties of the barbarous folk. We see in his pages the smoke of burned churches, the blood of murdered Christians. Matthew of Westminster tells us that the churches that were burned had the happier fate. In thirty cases churches were saved and made into heathen temples, the altars polluted with pagan sacrifice. But the Saxons and Angles made way so slowly that it is certain they met with a much sturdier opposition than Gildas credits his countrymen with. Strive as they would, however, and did, the Britons gradually gave way. Thus, and thus only, can we fill the dreary void in British history, which we know as the first hundred and fifty years of the Making of England.

This brings us very near to the end of our period. Not of our subject; for in my concluding lecture I have to deal with sad scantness with the Christian Church in other parts of these islands, before and at the coming of Augustine.

In the twenty years immediately preceding the arrival of Augustine, the long line of British Bishops of London came to an end. It has been a subject of remark, and of moralising, that Theonus, the last bishop, lost heart and fled just when the chance was coming for which it is presumed that he had been waiting, the actual beginning of the conversion of the English. But remarks of this character are misplaced; they disregard or are ignorant of the political facts of the time. Theonus of London was a British bishop in a British city. London had not fallen. Most difficult of access in the then state of land and water, of marsh and mud, whether from north or south or east or west, it held out to the last. The earliest date that can be assigned to its fall is about the year 568, and a date so early as that is only given to account for Ethelbert’s being able to take his army from Kent to Wimbledon without interruption from London. But for that, and there may be other explanations of it, it is quite possible to put the taking of London by the East Saxons a few years later. But it is not necessary for our purpose. The date of the flight of Theonus has been said to be 586. It is probable that this is about the date of Ethelbert’s vigorous action northwards, by which he made himself over-lord of his East Saxon neighbours and of London their most recent conquest, which they appear not to have occupied for some years after its fall. The political and administrative changes, due to this expansion of the power of Kent, may well have made ruined London no longer a possible place of residence, and of work, for a Christian Briton so prominent in position and office as the Bishop of London must always have been. It seems probable that Matthew of Westminster was not far wrong when he wrote that in 586 Theonus took with him the relics of the saints, and such of the ordained clergy as had survived the perils, and retired to Wales. Others, he says, fled further, to the continental Britain. Thadioc of York, he adds, went at the same time. In some parts, as for instance about Glastonbury, the British Christians remained undisturbed by the English for sixty or seventy years longer.

A year or two ago, when we set up the list of Bishops of London in the south aisle here, there was at first an inclination in some quarters to criticise the decision at which we arrived as to the bishops of the British period. But the explanations kindly given by those who approved our action soon put a stop to that. There is a list of Archbishops of London before Augustine’s time, beginning about the year 180 and ending with Theonus, whose date may be put about 580. In those four centuries, sixteen names are given, a number clearly insufficient for 400 years. The names are specially insufficient in the later part of the time, only four being given between 314 and 580. This is rather in favour of the four names being real; for it is evident that if people were inventing names, they might as well have invented twenty, while they were about it, instead of only four, for 260 years.

The traditions of York do not supply any long list of bishops, continuous or not. Eborius, at Arles in 314, is the first named. And there are only three others, each of whom has a date with Matthew of Westminster, Sampson 507, Piran 522, Thadioc 586. York probably fell as early as the date assigned to Sampson; who, by the way, was created Archbishop of York by the forgers of the twelfth century, to back up an ecclesiastical claim on the continent.

The decision at which we arrived in respect of the London list was to give one name only, that of Restitutus, putting a row of dots above him and below him, to shew that there were British bishops before him, probably very few, and British bishops after him, certainly many. Restitutus signed the decrees of the Council of Arles, as Bishop of London, in the year 314. That is sure ground; and in a list of bishops, set up officially in the Cathedral Church, nothing less solid than sure ground should be taken.

As to the British Bishops of London being styled archbishops, there is no evidence for it. Our famous Dean Ralph (A. D. 1181), no mean historian, left on record his view that there were three archbishoprics in Britain London, York, and Caerleon which last, he said, corresponded to St. David’s. Whether Gregory had some information that has since been lost, respecting the ecclesiastical arrangements which had existed here, we cannot say; but it is a curious coincidence, explicable perhaps by the mere importance of the two places, that he directed Augustine to make arrangements for a metropolitan at London, with twelve suffragans, and a metropolitan at York with twelve suffragans. The complete arrangements, as set out by Gregory when he sent an additional supply of missionaries to Augustine, of whom Mellitus was one, were as follows. Augustine was told to ordain in various places twelve bishops, to be subject to his control, so that London should for the future be a metropolitan see; and it appears that Gregory contemplated Augustine’s occupying as a matter of course the position of Bishop of London. He was to ordain and send to York a suitable bishop, who should in like manner ordain twelve bishops and become the metropolitan. The northern metropolitan was to be under Augustine’s jurisdiction; but after Augustine’s death he was to be independent of London, and for the future the metropolitan who was senior in consecration was to have precedence. This takes no account of the bishops existing in what we call Wales and Cornwall. Gregory specially declared that those bishops, then at least seven in number, were subject to Augustine. It is impossible that these seven were to be included among the twelve suffragans of London, for with Rochester and Canterbury that would leave only three bishops for the whole of the rest of the south of England. That the tradition of British times, and a part of the scheme actually laid down by Gregory, should be carried out in our time, would be I think an excellent thing. An Archbishop of London, with some half-dozen suffragans, with diocèses and diocesan rank, in districts of this great wilderness of houses, would be a solution of some very difficult problems.

There were two names in the traditional list which it was thought we might at least have included along with Restitutus. One was that of the last on the list, Theonus. But the evidence for him, though quite sufficient for ordinary purposes, was not of the highest order. The other was that of Fastidius, the last but two on the list. His date for he was a real and well-known man was much earlier than that position would indicate, for he was described, among illustrious men, by a writer who lived a full century before Theonus, the last on the list. This writer, Gennadius of Marseilles, informs us that Fastidius was a British bishop. One important manuscript has, in place of this, “Fastidius a Briton,” as if his being a bishop was not certain. In any case there is nothing to connect him with the bishopric of London, or with London, beyond the natural assignment to the most important position of a man not specially assigned by the earliest historian. His date is probably about 430 to 450.

This Fastidius is the only writer of the British Church, besides Pelagius if we can properly reckon him as one, whose work has come down to us. I do not know that the early British Christians produced any writers other than Fastidius and Pelagius. Had their records not been destroyed, it might well have been that many a manuscript work of British bishops would have remained till the middle ages and been now in print. Fastidius and Gildas are sufficient evidence of the literary tendencies of the British mind. Indeed, we may credit the Britons of the time of Gildas with having been laborious students, those, at least, who were settled in Wales. Their Celtic cousins had a passion for writing.

We find Gennadius of Marseilles testifying to the soundness of the doctrine of Fastidius, and its worthiness of God. But who shall testify to the soundness of Gennadius? He was a semi-Pelagian; and so it appears was Fastidius, for whose soundness he vouches. Fastidius distinctly quotes from Pelagius, though without mentioning him by name. He uses the phrase which is the keynote of Pelagianism, man sinned “after the example of Adam;” and he describes the manner in which saints should pray, in words which cannot be independent of Pelagius’s words on that subject.

Apart from their heretical tendency, the works or work of Fastidius may be taken as containing excellent teaching. He naturally presses most the practical side, the necessity of a good life. “Our Lord said,” he shrewdly reminds the reader, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; He did not say keep faith only. For if faith is all that is required, it is too much to say that the commandments must be kept. Far be it from me to suppose, that my Lord said too much on any point.” One interesting allusion to the state of the country in his time, the Christian settlements here and there in the midst of a heathen population, it may be the Romano-Briton among the unmixed Britons, occurs in a passage full of practical teaching: “It is the will of God that His people should be holy, and free from all stain of unrighteousness; so righteous, so merciful, so pure, so unspotted from the world, so single-hearted, that the heathen should find in them no fault, but should say in wonder, Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.”