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During Edwin's reign Oswald and his brothers had found protection in Scotland, where Christianity was flourishing, the island of Hy, or Iona, which appears to have been the chief seat of the Druidical superstition in those parts, being then famous for its monastery of Icolmkill, in which many of the arts, and all the learning of that age, were cultivated. The three brothers became Christians during their exile. Oswald was the only sincere convert; he erected the Cross for his standard before the battle in which Cadwallon was slain; and, after the victory, sending for a monk from Icolmkill, he re-established the religion which his brethren had suppressed, and gave him the isle of Lindisfarn for his episcopal seat. By his influence, also, Cynegils, the King of Wessex, was induced to receive baptism, and set up the new religion in his dominions. Oswald fell in battle against Penda, and his brother Oswy succeeded to the throne. Penda's son Peada visited the new king, became enamoured of his daughter Alchfleda, and embraced Christianity that he might obtain her for his wife. Through this marriage it was introduced among the Mercians during Penda's life, with his connivance, and established there after his death. By Oswy's interference it was restored in Essex, where it had been supplanted by the old idolatry. Sussex was now the only unconverted kingdom; there it was introduced through the influence of Mercia; and thus, in the course of eighty-two years from the arrival of Augustine and his fellow-missionaries in Kent, Christianity became the religion of all the Anglo-Saxon states.
CAUSES WHICH PROMOTED TAE SUCCESS OF CHRISTIANITY AMONG
In regarding the triumph of Christianity among the AngloSaxons, a natural inquiry rises why it should have been so easily established, and with so little struggle, seeing that its introduction into heathen countries has in later centuries been found so exceedingly difficult, as at one time to be generally considered hopeless, and almost impossible without a miracle. This striking difference is to be explained by the very different circumstances under which all recent attempts had been undertaken, and the different character of the false faiths against which they were directed
The Paganism of our Saxon ancestors was not rooted in their history, nor intimately connected with their institutions and manners; it had no hold upon the reason, the imagination, or the feelings of the people. It appealed to no records or inspired founders : in its forms it was poor and unimpressive; there was nothing useful or consolatory in its tenets; and whatever strength it derived from local superstitions was lost by transplantation ; for the conquerors, when they settled in Britain, were cut off from those sacred places in their native land which they had regarded with hereditary reverence. Such a religion, without pomp and without pretensions, had nothing which could be opposed to Christianity. On the other hand, the Christian missionaries came with the loftiest claims, and with no mean display of worldly dignity. They appeared not as unprotected, humble, and indigent adventurers, whose sole reliance was upon the compassion of those whom they offered to instruct; but as members of that body by which arts and learning were exclusively possessed,... a body enjoying the highest consideration and the highest influence throughout all the Christian kingdoms; they came as accredited messengers from the head of that body, and
from that city, which, though no longer the seat of empire, was still the heart of the European world; for wheresoever the Christian religion had extended itself in the west, Rome was already a more sacred name than it had ever been in the height
of its power.
The missionaries therefore appeared with a character of superiority, their claim to which was not to be disputed. They spake as men having authority. They appealed to their books for the history of the faith which they taught; and for the truth of its great doctrines they appealed to that inward evidence which the heart of man bears in the sense of its own frailties, and infirmities, and wants. They offered an universal instead of a local religion ; a clear and coherent system instead of a mass of unconnected fancies; an assured and unquestionable faith for vague and unsettled notions, which had neither foundation nor support. The errors and fables with which Romish Christianity was debased, in no degree impeded its effect: gross as they were,
it is even probable that they rendered it more acceptable to a rude and ignorant people,... a people standing as much in need of rites and ceremonies, of tangible forms, and a visible dispensation, as the Jews themselves when the law was promulgated. The missionaries also possessed in themselves a strength beyond what they derived from their cause, and from the adventitious circumstances that favoured them. They were the prime spirits of the age, trained in the most perfect school of discipline, steady in purpose, politic in contrivance, little scrupulous concerning the measures which they employed, because they were persuaded that any measures were justifiable if they conduced to bring about the good end which was their aim. This principle led to abominable consequences among their successors, but they themselves had no sinister views; they were men of the loftiest minds, and ennobled by the highest and holiest motives; their sole object in life was to increase the number of the blessed, and extend the kingdom of their Saviour, by communicating to their fellow-creatures the appointed means of salvation ; and elevated as they were above all worldly hopes and fears, they were ready to lay down their lives in the performance of this duty, sure by that sacrifice of obtaining crowns in heaven and altars upon earth, as their reward.
Thus excellently qualified for their undertaking, and with these great advantages, the missionaries began their work; not rashly and unadvisedly, but upon a well-concerted system. They addressed themselves to the Kings of the Heptarchy, and when the King was converted, the conversion of the chiefs and of the people followed, as a matter of course. Everything favoured them in this attempt. The Princes who accepted the new faith were thereby qualified to contract matrimonial alliances with the Kings of France, then divided into many kingdoms; an asylum for themselves or their families was thus obtained, in case of those reverses which in such a stage of society are so frequent; and they plainly felt themselves advanced in dignity by professing a religion which at that time distinguished the civilized from the barbarous parts of Europe. If they desired to improve their subjects, to meliorate the state of their kingdoms, and to embellish their courts and capitals, it was by means of the Christian clergy alone that these good ends could be effected. The chiefs perceived their interest in promoting a faith which inculcated upon their dependents the duties of obedience and fidelity; and it could not but be acceptable to the inferior classes, because, while it taught them to expect equal and retributive justice beyond the grave, it required from their lords the practice of humanity and beneficence among the works by aid of which they were to obtain a place in heaven. It is probable, indeed, that the servile part of the population may have been favourably inclined to Christianity, and in some degree prepared for it; for slavery prevailed in the island when the North-men invaded it, and in a conquest, as in a purchase, the slaves would be transferred with the soil to which they were attached. But the conquerors cared too little about their own idolatry, to interfere with the worship of their slaves. It is likely, therefore, that these persons remembered the religion of their forefathers with some degree of reverential respect; perhaps some of its forms may have been preserved among them, and in consequence, an inclination to assist the Britons in the efforts which, from time to time, were made for recovering their country. It is, therefore, not unlikely, that the Anglo-Saxons perceived some political advantage in a change which bound the labouring part of the people to their lords by a religious tie, and broke the bond be
tween them and their enemies. The Heathen priests seem not, in any instance, to have opposed a determined resistance. Probably the rank and influence which they possessed was inconsiderable ; and they nowhere acted as a body. The Jutes, and the Angles, and the Saxons, may have cared little for each other's gods, or have regarded them as inimical; and each may have beheld with satisfaction the overthrow of rival, or of hostile, altars.
The change was beneficial in every way. Hitherto there had been no other field of enterprise than what was offered by war : the Church now opened to aspiring minds a surer way to a higher, and more enviable, and more lasting distinction. The finest and noblest of the human faculties had hitherto lain dormant: they were quickened and developed now, and spirits which would else have been extinguished in inaction, and have passed away from the earth unconscious of their own strength, shone forth in their proper sphere. Whatever knowledge and whatever arts had survived the decay and fall of the Roman empire, were transplanted hither, with the religion to which they owed their preservation. The inhabitants of Britain were no longer divided from the whole world ; they became a part of Christendom. The intellectual intercommunion of nations, such as it was, became in consequence greater at that time than it is now; and it is probable that more English, in proportion to the population of the country, went into Italy in those ages for the purposes of devotion, than have ever in any subsequent age been led thither by curiosity, and fashion, and the desire of improvement.
The Anglo-Saxons were indebted to the missionaries probably for the use of letters, certainly for their first written laws. These were promulgated by Ethelbert, the first Christian King, with the consent of his nobles, and, differing in this respect from the laws of all other Gothic nations, in the vernacular tongue. In the continental kingdoms the laws were given in Latin, because it was the language of the great body of the population, and continued to be that of the law ; here the Saxon was preferred, upon the same clear principle, that the laws, which all were bound to obey, ought to be intelligible to all. Latin, however, was made the language of religion; there had been the same
1 Beda, 1. ii. c. 5.