Sunday, April 7, 2013

Back to Anglican History: Foundations IV

The installation of Justin Welby as the
105 Archbishop of Canterbury, March
21, 1213
I was happily working away on the history of the Anglican Church/ Communion when Pope Benedict dropped the bombshell of his resignation—the first papal resignation in more than five centuries—and of course immediately switched topics.  I still have a lot I want to write on the subject of papal transitions and issues concerning Pope Francis, but I also want to refocus on the subject of the Anglican Communion and its history as I believe that is important for us as a case study about papal authority.  It will be particularly important for us to note the schism that developed between the Papacy and the Church of England in the third decade of the sixteenth century and to see that schism in its context.  I think the subsequent development from schism to genuine Protestantism of the English Church will also be interesting as will be the recovery of a Catholic identity in the nineteenth century.  
But let me first recap our story.  You can go back to the entries of February 8, 9, and 10th for the details of the story, but we had barely begun.  To summarize, Christianity came to Britain with the Romans no later than the second century of the Christian era and probably even at the end of the first.  The Roman towns and settlements undoubtedly had small Christian settlements.  Three British bishops were present at the Council of Arles in 314.  The British Church was also represented at the Councils of Sardica (modern day Sofia in Bulgaria) in 347 and the Council of Rimini in 359.  Christianity was well established in England by the accession of Constantine to the Imperial title in 312—and indeed, Constantine had strong ties to Britain—his father, Constantius had served in the military administration there as one of the imperial tetrarchs, or co-emperors and died at Eboracum, modern York.  When the Empire began to implode at the beginning of the fifth century, however, Rome began bringing its legions home to defend the capital and the withdrawal of Roman troops left Britain vulnerable to invasion.   Romans were  no sooner off scene than Germanic peoples, Angles, Saxons and Jutes, began to migrate and settle, pushing the native British Population further and further back into the west.  As the these Germanic settlers were not Christians but pagans, the mass of the Christian population was relocated to what is today Wales in the west and Cornwall in the south-west.   Nevertheless, small Christian communities endured in what had been the Roman towns.
The invaders themselves gradually were Christianized—in great part through the efforts of Irish monk missionaries who started schools and centers of learning in the Scotland and the various Saxon kingdoms.  Faith had come to Ireland not from Patrick and Rome as is commonly thought, but with monastic settlements that seem to have come from Egypt and Syria.  The Irish Church had some very distinct characteristics that differentiated it from the western style Catholicism associated with the Roman Church. 
The Irish and English Churches of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries were in no way subject to Papal or Roman authority.  Rome, at the time, made no claims to any sort of universal jurisdiction.   Let me repeat what I had written in one of those earlier blogs
Of course the English Church—that is the Anglican Church for Ecclesia Anglicana means simply that, the English Church—was in communion with the Roman Church but it was in no way absorbed into it. While it held the Roman Church and its Bishop (the Pope) in honor, it had its own distinct rites and ceremonies, it chose its own bishops, it held its own synods and councils and it formulated its own canons. At the time of Bede, it was its own Church in full and free communion with universal Christendom represented by the five great Patriarchial Sees of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. As a Western Church it had its strongest ties to the See of Rome, the Western Patriarchate but like the other Churches maintained its autonomy.
That relationship will begin to change with the coming of missionaries from Rome under the monk-bishop Augustine of Canterbury.  That is for our next blog. 

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