The British Church for Two Thousand Years

At thousand year intervals events have occurred in these islands whose effects are impossible to remove even after millennia. The effects are malign and irremediable. Though the prophets of Israel indicate that Messiah will remediate cruelties as great as these when he appears.

Rome invaded Britain in 54 AD setting a colony here till 410 AD. The Roman Empire established a frontier across this island which was later consolidated to the wall by Hadrian. The presence of this Roman barrier affected the history of much of Britain and determined the history of the lands around it since. Rory Stewart MP in TV documentaries on this ‘Middle-land’ demonstrated the malign influence of this barrier on the economy and life of the north of England, and borders of Scotland, to this day.

(A strange feature to me of the Scotland devolution/separation question seems to be that Scotland is at least two countries; the Highlands and the Lowlands. And the Lowlands have much in common with the northern counties of England many of whose people look to Edinburgh and Scotland rather than England and London.)

Prior to the Roman colony the British king and leader of resistance to Rome, Caractacus, was taken to Rome for the emperor Claudius’s triumph*. The victims of a triumph were killed at the end of the parade in a public sacrifice. Caractacus was the only such victim spared in the history of Rome.

The reason for this unique clemency was a speech Caractacus made to the Senate. Caractacus had been betrayed to Rome. It remains true that a foreign power can gain hold of these islands only by the inhabitants being betrayed or yielding.

The legend of King Arthur, which is related around the world in folk-tales and stories, has some of its purchase upon the imagination from betrayal by a near, half-relative, Mordred. There is in this tale also longing for hope and freedom. A longing, nostalgia, for what might not have been lost had there not been betrayal.

In the tenth century the English, Saxon kingdom was an integrated society with mutual respect and cooperation between its strata. Education was promoted and was in English. The Scriptures were translated into English. Life was conducted in English.

The last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, a Franco-phone, was pro-Norman, and loathed for his duties here. He promoted Norman friends and contacts within his country, circle, and society. There are Norman houses today that date from before 1066. He betrayed his Saxon country to the Normans.

Duke William obtained from the Pope encouragement to take Britain and impose Roman church practice on a country that was largely free of continental religion. So different from Rome was England that it took till the mid-thirteenth century to extirpate married clergy from England. British priests had always married, long before Augustine came to Canterbury in 597.

A later king, Henry II, was provoked by the Pope to destroy the Celtic church in Ireland as William’s successors had suppressed the English church, imposing Roman prelates and practice on the Irish. The story is that of another country but the malign influence of that treachery remains with us today.

Edward the Confessor was canonized. Rome would not have had a grip on the British church without him. The effects of the Norman Conquest cannot be rooted out now but its blight remains. A recent report claimed descendants of the Normans control the power and wealth of this country still1. I derive the ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide that has pervaded social and political comment in England for the last thousand years from that Norman-French take over.

Had the Franco-phone Edward loved his England more than his Norman home, history – and freedom – would have been different. The Harrying of the North of England in 1069-70 partakes of both these events; the Roman and the Norman legacy.

The theme of separation or integration into a continental power is again here a thousand years later. Maybe the same issues are at stake? And the same long legacy.

Ref 1 http://neilcummins.com/Papers/Clark_Cummins_2013.pdf accessed 10.5.16

* A triumph was a costly, public spectacle which gained its leader, by huge expenditure, publicity and popularity. The invasion of Britain may have been purposed to allow the emperor Claudius to claim a triumph and so improve his popularity. Colossians 2:15 uses the metaphor of triumph to describe Christ’s parading the principalities and powers to their imminent destruction at Calvary.

Colin Slater