Book 1, Chapter 5, 296 AD to 410 AD – Christianity in Britain – Continued
Various accounts are given as to the time when, and the persons by whom, the gospel was first introduced, some claiming St. Paul, others St. Peter, or Joseph of Arimathea, or the disciples of Polycarp, as the instruments by whom the gospel was first preached; and fixing different dates, from A.D. 43 downwards. A legend existed in the time of Bede, who wrote in the seventh century, that in the year 156, Lucius, king of the Britons, sent ambassadors to the pope Eleutherius, beseeching him to issue a mandate that he might be made a Christian, and afterwards he obtained the object of his pious petition, and the Britons preserved immaculate and sound, in peace and tranquillity, the faith which they had received, until the reign of the emperor Diocletian.
Modern writers have tried to account for the foregone conclusion adopted by them, of the introduction of Christianity into this country in primitive times, by conjecturing that, possibly, Christian soldiers may have been found among the legions sent to occupy the country, or, that some of the native chiefs and their adherents, visiting Rome during the administration of Agricola, may have there been brought into contact with professors of the new faith, and may have themselves been led to adopt it. Such reasoning, however, is purely hypothetical, and besides this, the earliest testimony is too fragmentary and dubious to be conclusive. That there were individual Christians in Britain, during the period of the Roman occupation, is not improbable, but the early British Church must be regarded as a pleasant poetic fiction like some other traditionary tales which have been commonly believed as historical facts.
The difficulties in the way of accepting the popular belief concerning this may be briefly stated. (1) The want of positive and authoritative testimony of contemporaneous writers. (2) Grave doubts which exist of the authenticity of a work ascribed to Gildas, a monk, on which all subsequent writers mainly rest for their information. (3) The extreme improbability that Constantius, one of the proprietors of Britain, after-wards emperor and father of Constantine the Great, would, from his known character, consent to carry out the persecuting edict of Diocletian. (4) The startling contradiction that there should have existed this early British church, and yet that in the year 597, St. Augustine had to be sent to instruct the Anglo-Saxons in Christianity, as if all knowledge and remembrance of it had died out of the land. (5) The utter absence of all traces of the Christian faith among the numberless memorials which have been found of Roman times in the country, and especially among the memorials of the dead.
Chapter 5, Christianity in Britain
Christianity in Britain
Chapter 5, Decline of the Roman Power
Chapter 5, The Romans Leave Britain
Categories: Book 1