|Arms of the See|
showing the pallium
The greater number of the Popes of the fifth through the mid-ninth centuries were very anxious to spread the gospel to lands that had yet to be evangelized. Missionaries went out from Rome into what is now Ireland, France, Germany, and Switzerland. From there a second generation of missionaries would spread to Scotland, northern Britain, what are today the Netherlands, Austria, and Scandinavia. The Thessalonian brothers, Cyril and Methodius, represent a joint effort of the Sees of Constantinople and Rome to spread the gospel into the Slavic lands that are today The Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Hungary. Missionaries would eventually bring the faith as practiced by Rome to Poland and Prussia. These missionary efforts originating from Rome would weave the western Church into a patriarchate led by the Bishop of Rome, even as the Eastern Slavs would follow Constantinople, the Syriac and Palestinian peoples, Antioch, and the Egyptian and Ethiopian peoples Alexandria. Along with a fifth Patriarchate designed from the honors due its antiquity and place in the scriptures, Jerusalem, these five patriarchal sees would comprise the pentarchy.
The Irish Church, though it eventually fell under the sway of the Roman Patriarchate, seems to have had its origins in a more oriental Christianity. Despite the stories of Saint Patrick, the faith seems to have been originally brought to Ireland by monks, perhaps from Egypt, going to the finis terrae (the end of the earth). Ireland was, after all, the westernmost part of the then known world. Patrick seems to have belonged to a second or even third generation of missionary effort sent to secure this Irish Church in the orbit of Roman influence. One cannot say that he was particularly successful. The Irish Church had some very distinctly different customs than the Roman Church when it came to the date for Easter and styles of monastic life. Its isolation from the Roman world—remember Ireland had never been part of the old Empire—confirmed it in its idiosyncrasies. Consequently the Christianity brought to Scotland and northern Britain by Irish missionary monks in the fifth and sixth centuries stamped the British Church with customs that differed from Rome.
But while Northern Britain took its Christianity from sources other than Rome, the Roman See was about missionary work and while the Irish worked in northern Britain, it was to Rome that King Aethelbert turned for missionaries to bring the Christian faith to his subjects in the southern kingdom of Kent. Aethelbert was married to Bertha, the daughter of King Charibert, the Merovingian King of the Franks. The Franks practiced Roman Christianity and so it was only to be expected that Aethelbert and his Frankish Queen would turn to Rome for missionaries. Pope Gregory I sent forty monks from his own abbey of Saint Andrew on the Aventine under the leadership of their prior, Augustine, to help in the Christianization of the Kentish people. Arriving at the capital, Canterbury (Kent-burgh) in 597 the missionaries had considerable success because of the royal patronage. In 601 Pope Gregory sent the pallium—the sign of an Archbishop’s dignity—to Augustine and the palium even today comprises part of the armorial bearings of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 603 Augustine summoned the bishops from the north of Britain to meet him. The bishops were used to their autonomy and reluctant to give up the unique rites and practices of the Church which they had learned from the Irish Missionaries. They were ambivalent about the meeting and the devised a strategy. If when they entered the meeting, Augustine rose to meet them as a brother they would submit to his authority. If he remained seated like a Lord with his subjects, they would reject his authority. Augustine, unfortunately, remained seated and his authority went unacknowledged in the North of England for some decades more. And it was not only Augustine’s authority that went unacknowledged, but the authority of the Pope who sent him. The English Church, while technically in communion with the Church of Rome, insisted on its independence. The Kentish Church and its daughter sees of Winchester and Rochester acknowledged the Roman primacy but it would take time of the Ecclesia Anglicana to surrender its independence. The process of the Ecclesia Anglicana coming under the Roman umbrella would take some centuries.