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CONVERSION OF THE ANGLO-SAXONS.
That Gregory, who was afterwards raised to the Popedom, and
missionary himself; but the people, by whom he was greatly admired, rose almost in insurrection because of his departure, and by their outcries compelled the Pope to send after him, and recall him ;' and when, upon the death of Pelagius, he was elected to the papacy, he took the first opportunity of beginning the good work on which he was intent. Accordingly he despatched thither forty missionaries from a monastery which he had founded at Rome. When they had proceeded as far as the city of Aix in Provence, the reports which they heard concerning the barbarous kingdoms of the Heptarchy intimidated them so much, that they halted, and deputed Augustine, who was their chief, to return to the Pope, and represent to him the danger of the attempt, and the little probability of succeeding among a ferocious people whose language they did not understand. But Gregory, in reply, enjoined them to proceed : forasmuch, he said, as it is better not to begin a good work, than to withdraw from it.” He recommended them also to the French bishops, and to the protection of Theodorick and Theodebert, who were then reigning in France; and he sent an agent into that country to redeem Anglo-Saxon youths from slavery, and place them in monasteries, where they might be carefully educated, and thereby trained to assist in the conversion of their countrymen.
The attempt, which had been represented as so formidable to the missionaries, was in reality free from danger, and political circumstances prepared the way for its success. In the dismem bered parts of the great Roman empire, the northern conquerors were no sooner settled in possession of their dominions, than
1 There is an anecdote relating to this recall, which is worthy of notice, as confirming Gregory's character for a punster, and thereby authenticating that string of puns which must always be remembered in the Ecclesiastical History of England. I give it in the words of his anonymous but contemporary biographer. Sed antequam missi eum adissent, trium dierum jam confecto itinere, dum idem vir Domini B. Gregorius, ut iter agentibus moris est, circa sextam horam in prato quodam sociis quibusdam quiescentibus, aliis autem illi assistentibus vel necessariis rebus occupatis, sederat et legerat; venit ad eum locusta, et dans saltum, pagine quam percurrebat insedit ; cernensque eam beatus vir Domini Gregorius tam mansuetè loco quo assederat permanere, cæpit, collætans sodalibus, ipsius nomen reciprocans quasi interpretari; Locusta, inquam, hæc dici potest, quasi loco sta. et subjungens, sciatis, inquit, non progressius nos iter coeptum licere protendere : verumtamen surgite, et jumenta sternite, ut quantum licuerit, quò tendimus properemus. Cum autem hinc mutuò confabularentur, et secum quærerent; pervenerunt missi apostolici equis sudantibus ; statimque illi cum magnů celeritate epistolam, quam detulerant, porrererunt; quâ perlecta, Ita est, inquit, socii, ut prædixeram : Romam e celerius remcabimus.-ACTA SANCTORUM, Mart, t. iii. 133, 134.
? Beda, 1. i. c. 23.
they adopted the religion of the inhabitants, as they did the other customs which were preferable to their own. This change had taken place in France : at that time there was no rivalry or hostility of feeling between France and Britain ; each had war enough at home to employ all its restless and turbulent strength; and neighbourhood, therefore, had led to an amicable intercourse, useful to both countries, but most so to Britain, which had preserved less from the wreck of its Roman civilization. Ethelbert, King of Kent, or Oiscinga,' as the kings of that province were called, from Oisc, the son of Hengist, whom they regarded as the founder of their dynasty, had married Bertha, (otherwise named Aldeberga,) daughter of Charibert, King of Paris. Her father is reproached for voluptuousness : if that reproach be deserved, which there seems reason to doubt, even his vices would in such an age be favourable to the milder habits of life ; but it is certain that he was of a gentle and generous nature, the liberal patron of arts and literature, and distinguished for his proficiency in Latin. Queen Bertha, therefore, when removed to Kent, might sigh for the refinements of her father's court, and wish that they could be introduced at her husband's. The clergy were in that age the only persons by whom improvements could be brought about; the churches and monasteries were the schools of the ornamental arts, as well as of all the learning that existed ; and if the Queen had had no other desire than that of refining the manners of her husband, and softening the barbarity of his subjects, that alone would have induced her joyfully to welcome the missionaries on their arrival, and give them all the encouragement and assistance which it was in her power to bestow. But there was also the sense of duty to influence her. It had been stipulated upon her marriage, that she should be allowed the free and public exercise of her religion. She had brought over with her from France a household establishment of clerks, with a prelate, by name Liudhard, at their head; and a church without the walls of Canterbury, built in the time of the Romans, dedicated to a certain St. Martin, and since the Saxon conquest fallen to decay, had been repaired and fitted up for her use.? When, therefore, Augustine and his companions landed in the 1 Beda, 1. ii. c. 5.
2 Beda, 1. ii. c. 26.
Isle of Thanet, they were sure of the Queen's favour: they came also not as obscure men, unprotected and unaccredited; but with recommendations from the Kings of France, and as messengers from a potentate, whose spiritual authority was acknowledged and obeyed throughout that part of the world, to which the northern nations were accustomed to look as the seat of empire and superior civilization. They made their arrival known to Ethelbert, and requested an audience. The King of Kent, though not altogether ignorant of the nature of his Queen's religion, nor unfavourably disposed towards it, was yet afraid of that miraculous power which the Romish clergy were then believed to possess, and which they were not backward at claiming for themselves. For this reason he would not receive them within the walls of his royal city Canterbury, nor under a roof; but went into the island with his nobles, and took his seat to await them in the open air,' imagining that thus he should be secure from the influence of their spells or incantations. They approached in procession, bearing a silver crucifix, and a portrait of our Saviour upon a banner, adorned with gold, and chanting the litany. The King welcomed thern courteously, and ordered them to be seated : after which, Augustine stood up, and through an interpreter, whom he had brought from France, delivered the purport of his mission, in a brief, but well-ordered, and impressive discourse. He was come to the King, and to that kingdom, he said, for their eternal good, a messenger of good tidings; offering to their acceptance perpetual happiness, here and hereafter, if they would accept his words. The Creator and Redeemer had opened the kingdom of heaven to the human race: for God so loved the world that he had sent into it his only Son, as that Son himself testified, to become a man among the children of men, and suffer death upon the cross,
in atonement for their sins. That incarnate divinity had been made manifest by innumerable miracles. Christ had stilled the winds and waves, and walked upon the waters : He had healed diseases, and restored the dead to life : finally, He had risen from the dead himself, that we might rise again through him, and had ascended into heaven, that he might receive us there in his glory; and He would come again to judge both the quick and 1 Beda, 1. ii. c. 25.
? Acta SS. Mai. t. vi. p. 382.
the dead. “ Think not,” he proceeded, “O most excellent King, that we are superstitious, because we have come from Rome into thy dominions, for the sake of the salvation of thee and of thy people; we have done this, being constrained by great love : for that which we desire, above all the pomps and delights of this world, is to have our fellow-creatures partakers with ourselves in the kingdom of heaven, and to prevent those from perishing who are capable of being advanced to the fellowship of the Angels. The grace of Christ, and of his Spirit, hath infused this charitable desire into all his ministers; so that, regardless of their own concerns, they should burn for the salvation of all nations, and regarding them as children and brethren, labour to lead them into the ways of eternal peace. This they have done through fire and sword, and every kind of torments and of death; till, through their victorious endeavours, Rome and Greece, the Kings and Princes of the Earth, and the Islands, have rejoiced to acknowledge and worship the Lord God, who is the King of kings. And, at this day, no fear of difficulties, or pain, or death, would deter Gregory, who is now the Father of all Christendom, from coming himself to you, so greatly doth he thirst for your salvation, if it were lawful for him (which it is not) to forsake the care of so many souls committed to his charge. Therefore, he hath deputed us in his stead, that we
way of light, and open to you the gate of heaven; wherein, if ye do not refuse to renounce your idols and to enter through Christ, ye shall most assuredly live and reign for ever.”
The King replied prudently and not unfavourably. Their words and promises, he said, were fair; but what they proposed was new and doubtful, and therefore he could not assent to it, and forsake the belief in which all the English nations had for so long a time lived. Nevertheless, because they had come from such a distant country, for the sake of communicating to him what they thought true and excellent, he would not interfere with their purpose; on the contrary, he would receive them hospitably, and provide for their support.
Augustine and his companions were accordingly entertained in Canterbury, at the King's expense. They officiated in the church which had been repaired for Queen Bertha's use; and it