Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury (May 26)   Leave a comment

Augustine of Canterbury

First Archbishop of Canterbury; died circa 605

He helped build up the English Church, to which I am an heir.



From the New Zealand Anglicans:

There were Christians in Britain when it was part of the Roman Empire, and this laid the foundations for an English church. Plagued by both external pressures and internal dissension, the Roman Empire effectively lost control of Britain by the end of the fourth century. The Saxon invasions of the fifth century submerged the earlier Celtic culture. The Celtic church was more and more confined to the west of Britain. They found missionary work among the invading Saxons extremely difficult and they became increasingly isolated. It is Augustine therefore who is known as “the apostle of the English” for his missionary work among the Anglo-Saxons. He became the first archbishop of Canterbury in 597.

It was Pope Gregory the Great who conceived the idea of a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, having seen, according to Bede, some fair-skinned slave boys in the market-place, and on discovering that they were Angles remarked on their angelic faces. In 596 Gregory sent a team of monks from his own monastery in Rome under the leadership of their abbot, Augustine. They nearly turned back, daunted by the prospect of living in what must have appeared a barbarous and dangerous outpost. However, they eventually landed in Britain in 597. Kent provided the obvious place to establish the mission as it was the part of Britain most influenced by the continent of Europe. The local king, Ethelbert, whose wife Bertha was a Christian, tolerated their mission and allowed them to establish themselves at Canterbury, using the old Roman Church of St Martin. The historian Bede notes:

Here they first assembled to sing the psalms, to pray, to say Mass, to preach, and to baptise, until the king’s own conversion to the Faith gave them greater freedom to preach and to build and restore churches everywhere.

Ethelbert accepted Christianity and was baptised, as were a great many of his subjects. Augustine could now go to Arles, where he was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. So successful had Augustine been that in 598 he sent to Rome for more monks.

Augustine continued to seek the advice of Gregory on even quite small matters. It was Gregory who gave him the following famous counsel over the variety of religious practices in England:

If you have found customs, whether in the Church of Rome or of Gaul or any other that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the Faith, whatever you have been able to learn with profit from the various Churches. For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.

Gregory empowered Augustine to appoint another archbishop in York and to ordain a dozen bishops in southern Britain. Augustine did not carry this through. Gregory also appointed Augustine archbishop of all the bishops in Britain, meaning the successors of Celtic bishops from Roman times. Augustine made efforts to contact these bishops and establish his primatial authority over them, but understandably, as he represented the newer Anglo-Saxon culture, they regarded him with great suspicion, and attempts at ecclesiastical unity in Britain at that time came to nothing.

By the time of Augustine’s death in 604 or 605, the Anglo-Saxon church was well established in eastern and southern Britain.

For Liturgical Use

Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great with a team of monks in 596 to establish a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. They eventually had a Christian centre in Canterbury, and in 597 Augustine was consecrated as the first archbishop of Canterbury. The conversion of King Ethelbert assured the success of the mission among the Anglo-Saxons, though efforts by Augustine to establish his primacy over the older Celtic church in Britain were unsuccessful. Augustine died in 604 or 605.


O Lord our God, by your Son Jesus Christ you called your apostles and sent them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations; We bless your holy Name for your servant Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose labors in propagating your Church among the English people we commemorate today; and we pray that all whom you call and send may do your will, and bide your time, and see your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tobit 13:1, 10-11

Psalm 66:1-8

2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

Luke 5:1-11


Posted October 5, 2009 by neatnik2009 in May, Saints of the 500s, Saints of the 600s

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