Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church VII

Stigand, Archbishop of
Canterbury, 1052-1070
When I lived in Rome I regularly, as in every day, passed the Hospital of Santo Spirito in Sassia—a still active hospital (though trust me, you don’t want to end up there) that dates in its origins all the way back to the early eighth century.  It was established by King Ine of Mercia, a Saxon kingdom in what is today the English Midlands.  Ine abdicated in 726 and made a pilgrimage to Rome where he spent his final years.  He established the hospital—originally a hospice for English pilgrims—between Old Saint Peter’s on the Vatican and the Tiber.  The area was called Sassia—Saxony—for the number of English Saxons who lived there.  That tells us something—that there was a residential colony of English living around the Basilica of the Apostle Peter.  The English have always had a love for spending time in Italy, of course—and who, given the English climate, can blame them?  But they were not just living in Italy or even in Rome proper, but at the gates of the Petrine Basilica.  Today Saint Peter’s is, while not exactly the center of Rome, very much the pivot point of the city.  But in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Vatican was quite removed from the remainder of the city which not only lay across the Tiber but was concentrated a bit downriver, more where the Forum, the Palatine, the Circus Maximus, and what is today the “Ghetto” are.    The English settlement at the Vatican demonstrates the pious attachment of the English to Saint Peter. 
It was also among the Anglo-Saxon peoples that, several centuries later, the annual tribute of a penny per hearth began to be paid to Saint Peter and became known as Peter’s Pence.  This too demonstrates the ties of the English to the See of Peter.  Nevertheless, we should be careful of thinking that papal jurisdiction in its contemporary form was somehow exercised over the English Church.    When Augustine died, his place as Archbishop of Canterbury was taken by another monk who had come with him from Rome—Saint Laurence.  Indeed the next three Archbishops of Canterbury—Saints Mellitus, Justus, and Honorius were all part of that mission sent by Pope Gregory.  This should not be surprising as the monastic community they established at Canterbury elected the new Archbishop; Archbishops were not appointed from Rome.  Nevertheless, once elected, each new Archbishop sent his request to the Pope for the pallium—the woolen scarf adorned with five crosses that is a sign that the new Archbishop was in Communion with the Pope.  It was only in 655—fifty years after Pope Gregory had sent Augustine’s mission to Kent—that a native Englishman, Deusdedit, succeeded to the See of Canterbury.  (His original name was the somewhat more Saxon Frithuwine (variants Frithona or Frithonas.)    He was succeeded by another Saxon, Wighard, who though elected died unconsecrated.  Wighard had decided to go to Rome personally to request the pallium but died there.  His death in Rome provided Pope Vitalian with the opportunity to name a new Archbishop and send him back to England and the Pope chose the Greek Theodore of Tarsus.  When Theodore died, the monks of Canterbury reclaimed their right of election and chose Berhtwald as the new Archbishop.  After that the succession remained Anglo Saxon until William the Conqueror deposed Archbishop Stigand shortly after the Norman Conquest.  The nomination of Italian and French Archbishops would forge closer and more dependent ties between the See of Rome and the See of Canterbury. 
In this Anglo Saxon period then we can view the relationship between Rome and Canterbury as a suffragen See in communion with its Patriarch.  The jurisdiction of the Pope over the English Church was a primacy of honor strengthened by the devotion of the English People to the Apostle Peter rather than the direct jurisdiction that is exercised today by the See of Rome over the Catholic Church in England.  Archbishops of both Canterbury and York periodically convoked synods or convocations of the Churches in their ecclesiastical provinces and either directly or through these convocations made the necessary administrative decisions for the English Church.  But this was no different than how the Church was administered throughout most of Europe.  Poor communication networks made close supervision by a centralized papacy next to impossible.  Furthermore, the popes of the late ninth and tenth centuries, the popes of the so called pornacracy (see entries for June 18, August 5, 2011 and February 14, 2013), had little interest beyond their attempts to control Rome itself and, in any case, had little nor no moral credibility even in Rome, much less beyond.   It would be going far beyond the truth to say that the Ecclesia Anglicana was independent of papal authority in the Anglo Saxon period.  Indeed I would not even ascribe to the Anglo-Saxon centuries the autonomy that it enjoyed in the days of British Christianity of the second through sixth centuries.  But it certainly was a self-governing Church until the time of the Norman Conquest—and to some extent, even afterward as we shall see in later entries.

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