May 28, 2018: ST. AUGUSTINE (OF CANTERBURY)
May 28, 2018: ST. AUGUSTINE (OF CANTERBURY), BISHOP AND CONFESSOR
Augustine enters England, having with him his forty Brethren. He bears the Standard of Christ. He is the Leader, and brings the pledges of Peace.
The trophy of the Cross glitters in the air; the word of salvation is spread through the land. Yea, the king himself, though a barbarian, receives the Faith with a ready heart.
The nation casts aside its savage ways; it is baptised in the river's stream, and is born to its New Life, on the very Day that the Sun of Justice rose upon our earth.
O God, who didst appoint blessed Bishop Augustine the first preacher of the gospel to the English nation: grant, we beseech thee, that we may be assisted by his prayers in heaven, whose merits we honour on earth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
About A.D. 604
The work begun by Pope St. Eleutherius (about four hundred years ago) had been almost entirely destroyed by the invasion of the Saxons and Angli; so that a new Mission, a new preaching of the Gospel, had become a necessity. It was Rome that again supplied the want. St. Gregory the Great was the originator of the great design. Had it been permitted him, he would have taken upon himself the fatigues of this Apostolate to [England]. He was deeply impressed with the idea that he was to be the spiritual Father of those poor Islanders, some of whom he had seen exposed in the market-place of Rome, that they might be sold as slaves. Not being allowed to undertake the work himself, he looked around him for men whom he might send as Apostles to [England]. He found them in the Benedictine Monastery, where he himself had spent several years of his life. There started from Rome forty Monks, with Augustine at their head, and they entered England under the Standard of the Cross.
Thus the new race, that then peopled the Island, received the Faith, as the Britains had previously done, from the hands of a Pope (St. Eleutherius); and Monks were their teachers in the science of salvation. The word of Augustine and his companions fructified in this privileged soil. It, of course, took him some time before he could provide the whole nation with instruction; but neither Rome, nor the Benedictines, abandoned the work thus begun. The few remnants, that were still left of the ancient British Christianity, joined the new converts; and England merited to be called, for long ages, the “Island of Saints.”
The history of St. Augustine's Apostolate in England is of a thrilling interest. The landing of the Roman Missioners, and their marching through the Country, to the chant of the Litany; the willing and almost kind welcome given them by king Ethelbert; the influence exercised by his queen Bertha, (who was French and Catholic,) in the establishment of the Faith among the Saxons; the baptism of ten thousand Neophytes, on Christmas Day, and in the bed of a river; the foundation of the metropolitan See of Canterbury, one of the most illustrious Churches of Christendom by the holiness and noble doings of its Archbishops;—yes, all these admirable episodes of England's conversion are eloquent proofs of God's predilection of [England]. Augustine's peaceful and gentle character, together with his love of contemplation amidst his arduous Missionary labours, gives an additional charm to this magnificent page of the Church's history. But, who can help feeling sad at the thought, that a Country, favoured, as [England] has been, with such graces, should have apostatised from the Faith? have repaid with hatred that Rome, which made her Christian? and have persecuted, with unheard-of cruelties, the Benedictine Order, to which she owed so much of her glory?
We subjoin the following Lessons on the Life of our Apostle, taken from an Office approved of by the Holy See.
Augustine was a Monk of the Monastery of Saint Andrew, in Rome, where also he discharged the office of Prior, with much piety and prudence. He was taken from that Monastery, by St. Gregory the Great; and sent by him, with about forty Monks of the same Monastery, into Britain. Thus would Gregory carry out, by his disciples, the conversion of that Country to Christ,—a project which he at first resolved to effect himself. They had not advanced far on their journey, when they got frightened at the difficulty of such an enterprise; but Gregory encouraged them by Letters, which he sent to Augustine, whom he appointed as their Abbot, and gave him letters of introduction to the kings of the Franks, and to the Bishops of Gaul. Whereupon, Augustine and his Monks pursued their journey with haste. He visited the Tomb of St. Martin, at Tours. Having reached the town of Pontde-Cé, not far from Angers, he was badly treated by its inhabitants, and was compelled to spend the night in the open air. Having struck the ground with his staff, a fountain miraculously sprang up; and, on that spot, a Church was afterwards built, and called after his name.
Having procured interpreters from the Franks, he proceeded to England, and landed at the Isle of Thanet. He entered the Country, carrying, as a Standard, a silver Cross, and a painting representing our Saviour. Thus did he present himself before Ethelbert, the king of Kent, who readily provided the heralds of the Gospel with a dwelling in the city of Canterbury, and gave them leave to preach in his kingdom. There was, close at hand, an Oratory which had been built in honour of St. Martin, when the Romans had possession of Britain. It was in this Oratory that his queen Bertha, (who was a Christian, as being of the nation of the Franks,) was wont to pray. Augustine, therefore, entered into Canterbury with solemn religious ceremony, amidst the chanting of psalms and litanies. He took up his abode, for some time, near to the said Oratory; and there, together with his Monks, led an apostolic life. Such manner of living, conjointly with the heavenly doctrine that was preached and confirmed by many miracles, so reconciled the Islanders, that many of them were induced to embrace the Christian Faith. The king himself was also converted, and Augustine baptised him and a very great number of his people. On one Christmas Day, he baptised upwards of ten thousand English, in a river at York; and it is related, that those among them, who were suffering any malady, received bodily health, as well as their spiritual regeneration.
Meanwhile, the man of God Augustine, received a command from Gregory to go and receive Episcopal ordination in Gaul, at the hands of Virgilius, the Bishop of Aries. On his return, he established his See at Canterbury, in the Church of our Saviour, which he had built, and he kept there some of the Monks to be his fellow-labourers. He also built in the suburbs the Monastery of Saint Peter, which was afterwards called “Saint Augustine's.” When Gregory heard of the conversion of the Angli, which was told to him by the two Monks Laurence and Peter, whom Augustine had sent to Rome,—he wrote letters of congratulation to Augustine. He gave him power to arrange all that concerned the Church in England, and to wear the Pallium. In the same letters, he admonished him to be on his guard against priding himself on the miracles, which God enabled him to work for the salvation of souls, but which pride would turn to the injury of him that worked them.
Having thus put in order the affairs of the Church in England, Augustine held a Council with the Bishops and Doctors of the ancient Britons, who had long been at variance with the Roman Church in the keeping of Easter, and other rites. And in order to refute, by miracles, these men, whom the Apostolic See had often authoritatively admonished, but to no purpose, Augustine, in proof of the truth of his assertions, restored sight to a blind man, in their presence. But, on their refusing to yield even after witnessing the miracle, Augustine, with prophetic warning, told them of the punishment that awaited them. At length, after having laboured so long for Christ, and appointed Laurence as his successor, he took his departure for heaven, on the seventh of the Calends of June (May 26th,) and was buried in the Monastery of Saint Peter, which became the burying place of the Archbishops of Canterbury, and of several Kings. The Churches of England honoured him with great devotion. They decreed that, each year, his Feast should be kept as a day of rest, and that his Name should be inserted in the Litany, immediately after that of St. Gregory, together with whom Augustine has ever been honoured by the English as their Apostle, and as the propagator of the Benedictine Order in their Country.
O Blessed Trinity, that art ever pouring the dew of grace upon thy Vine! grant that the ancient Faith may rise again and nourish in England!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Augustine of Canterbury, pray for us.