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The Anglo-Saxon Church - John Mark - 10-10-2007

I would be interested to find out if within the native Church of the British Isles prior to the middle ages there were significant changes in the way of worship and Christian life following after some major events in global Church history:

Council of Chalcedon - when did the effects of this council begin to be felt in Britain if at all and was there a change in "Orthodoxy"?

Arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury in 597AD - was Britain significantly less Orthodox after this point?

1066 and the Norman invasion - How long did Orthodoxy last before being replaced by Catholicism?

On a separate issue is there a list of British saints before 451AD?

In Christ,


The Anglo-Saxon Church - John Charmley - 10-10-2007

Dear John Mark,

You ask:
Quote:Council of Chalcedon - when did the effects of this council begin to be felt in Britain if at all and was there a change in "Orthodoxy"?

Arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury in 597AD - was Britain significantly less Orthodox after this point?

1066 and the Norman invasion - How long did Orthodoxy last before being replaced by Catholicism?

I'm unsure whether this conceptualisation will help you, since to see 'Catholicism' and 'Orthodoxy' as somehow separate at this period is to read back into the contemporary record distinctions that would have made little sense to contemporaries.

Bede makes pretty clear the differences made by St. Augustine's arrival, and there is a kind if romanticism (to which I, myself, am terribly prone) which sees the 'Celtic' Christians of the old Roman dispensation as somehow more 'authentic' and 'Orthodox' than the new Roman dispensation which came with St. Augustine; of course, both were Roman dispensations, and the second one is part of the answer to your questions: Augustine brought the English Church 'up to date' with the doctrinal and Christological developments which had taken place since 410 A.D.. To see this as somehow more 'Catholic' may be to miss some essential points - tempting though it is.

England was always pretty close to Rome, and to see the Conquest as replacing Orthodoxy with Catholicism is again, I suspect, to fall for what might be called a myth that is 'wrong but romantic' in preference to the 'right but repulsive' reality, which is that Harold II was as loyal a Christian as William the [censored], but the latter managed to convince Rome that he had a better claim to the throne than Harold (he certainly had no worse a claim). The posthumous attempt to see Harold as a champion of Orthodoxy, based on the fact that one of his daughters married a Grand Duke of Kiev, is a pretty piece of myth-making, to which, again, I am rather attracted, but most serious historians would not subscribe to it. The English Church was already using the filioque clause in the creed in Bede's time - did that make Bede a Catholic?

Bede would have been shocked at the question. His history is a triumphant account of how Catholic Orthodoxy came to dominate these islands - he would have been baffled at the distinction we would seek to draw between those two words; and perhaps he would not have been wrong?

I don't know of a comprehensive list of pre Chalcedon British saints, and like you, would be interested to hear of one.

In Christ,


- John Mark - 11-10-2007

Dear John,

I suppose what I am really struggling to get my (Catholic) head around is the notion of a much more fluid concept of terms to describe Christians in Britain.

My question with regards to pre-Chalcedonian saints does link in somewhat as well given that there are a huge number of saints in the Calendar in the Fellowship Book who are at least to my investigation thus far not Orthodox in the sense that we might understand it today e.g. St Alphege of Canterbury or St Augustine.

I think I need to reappraise my way of looking at this topic and realise that Orthodoxy has always existed but is called by many different names?
For example is it possible that the liturgy in use in so called "Catholic" Britain post-1066 could in fact be very much more Orthodox than I give it credit for?

With regards to Harold and William I found this rather interesting web site about the flag in use in Saxon England. The history section of the site includes this quote from William:
Quote:The Death Bed Confessions of William the [censored] of Normandy as recorded by Orderic Vitalis:

"I have persecuted the English beyond all reason. Whether gentle or simple I have cruelly oppressed them; many I unjustly disinherited; innumerable multitudes perished through me by famine or the sword.... I fell upon the English of the Northern shire like a ravening lion. Commanded their houses and corn, with all their implements and chattels to be burnt without distinction, and great herds of cattle and beasts of burden to be butchered wherever they were found. In this way I took revenge upon multitudes of both sexes by subjecting them to the calamity of a cruel famine, and so became the barbarous murderer of many thousands, both young and old of that fine race of people. Having gained the throne of that kingdom by so many crimes, I dare not leave it to anyone but God......"

And as much as I don't like to get into 'what if?' history the concept of still being ruled by a Saxon monarch is quite intriguing to contemplate! Smile

Thank you for your reply,

In Christ,


Anglo-Saxon Church - John Charmley - 11-10-2007

Dear John Mark,

Quote:I suppose what I am really struggling to get my (Catholic) head around is the notion of a much more fluid concept of terms to describe Christians in Britain.

Indeed; but this points up one of the problems with applying our contemporary usages to the past. When Bede writes about the triumph of the Catholic Church he is quite clearly referring to Chalcedonian Orthodoxy - which is both Catholic and Orthodox; that is it is believed everywhere by everyone and is right belief. Now, naturally, the non-Chalcedonians might have something to say here by way of qualification on the first part of that sentence - although it might not be quite what some folk think, in so far as we might want to say that since our Christology was always Cyrilline, we do not dissent from Orthodoxy at all - we were simply pilloried and persecuted for our refusal to agree to a definition which itself ended up needing to be qualified (but that's one for another thread!).

Be that as it may, the words Orthodox and Catholic apply to the whole Church; only later do these become terms of use which implicitly define one's own Church as THE Church. They may be appropriated in a polemical way to trace one's own favoured lineage back to Apostolic times, and those who do this may deny they are doing so; but this convinces only those in their own Church and is ultimately a self-referential act which, whether it means to or not, excludes the claims of others. It is what human beings have always done with the Christian Faith, but at least until 451 and its aftermath, without dividing the Church; after that, according to taste, either one part of the division remained THE Church and the other fell into heresy, or there was an actual division in which, in a way we are unwilling to explore, the Church was broken but not divided.

It is not only entirely probable that the liturgy in use in post 1066 England was more 'Orthodox' than you may have supposed, it is also the case that the liturgy (the same one remember) used pre-1066 was more 'Catholic' than the Romantic story may have it. Although we use 1054 as a dividing point, Sir Stephen Runciman's The Great Schism has the usual great common sense of a great historian, and shows how the process was lengthy, incremental, and neither new in 1054 nor complete in 1055.

To see Harold II as Orthodox and William I as Catholic is to import into the past distinctions which they would not have understood and which distort what is being described.

Harold was a cosmopolitan figure, able to deal with the Normans, Danes and anyone else he was required to be in contact with; Edward the Confessor's court was full of Normans, many of whom came over with him when he returned from exile. To see the Anglo-Saxons as somehow apart from the Continent is to subscribe to a myth of English exceptionalism which played well to a Victorian English audience, but which most historians would now want to modify, if not abandon.

What is certainly true, and you pick it up well with the Orderic quotation, is the violence and rapacity of William's conquest; it was ruthless, and the most extreme example I can think of from that period of the extirpation and expropriation of one ruling elite by another; however, since the ancestors of the Saxons had done something not dissimilar to the Britons, one may wish to qualify one's sympathy!

A Saxon Godwinsson dynasty would certainly have avoided the experience of being a Norman colony, as it would the experience of being part of a trans-Channel 'empire' where English resources were used to fuel the ambitions of Norman and Angevin war-lords. That, in turn, would probably have led to a less harshly defined class system here; it might also have led to a situation where Scotland, Wales and Ireland were not subjected to the ravages of the Normans.

This, of course, reveals my sympathies, I fear, since it might equally have led to England being rent by a long series of raids which a less competent king than Harold would have struggled to deal with - in fact a return to the days of Ethelred the Unready. But since my bias towards Harold is so clear, I discount that one!

(I ought, in a spirit of full disclosure, to reveal that I have never backed a winning cause: one of my colleagues once enumerated my preferences thus: 'What you'd really like would be a return to a monarchical form of government, with a powerful Church, no democracy, rule by the aristocracy presiding over a merry peasantry, and the abolition of the motor-car; you are anti every form of progress known to modern liberalism!') I thought this last jibe a trifle unfair, since I am a firm supporter of the abolition of the slave trade and I firmly approve of the penny post!

In Christ,