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AUGUSTINE


82


AUGUSTINE


nished by one or two scattered remarks in St. Greg- ory's letters (Epp., VI) and from the circumstances which attended the emergence of the kingdom of the Jutes to a position of prominence in the Britain of this period, we may safely assume that it had taken place fully twenty years before the plan of sending Augustine and liis companions suggested itself to the pope.

The pope was obliged to complain of the lack of episcopal zeal among .Ethelberht's Christian neigh- bours. Whether we are to understand the phrase ex vicinis (Greg., Epp., VI) as referring to Gaulish prel- ates or to the Celtic bishops of northern and western Britain, the fact remains that neither Bertha's piety, nor Luidhard's preaching, nor ^Ethelberht's tolera- tion, nor the supposedly robust faith of British or (Jaulish neighbouring peoples was found adequate to so obWous an opportunity until a Roman pontiff, distracted ^^-ith the cares of a world supposed to be hastening to its eclipse, first exhorted forty Benedic- tines of Italian blood to the enterprise. The itinerary seems to have been speedily, if vaguely, prepared; the little company set out upon their long journey in the month of June, .596. They were armed with letters to the bishops and Christian princes of the countries through which they were likely to pass, and they were further instructed to pro\'ide themselves with Prank- ish interpreters before setting foot in Britain itself. Discouragement, liowever, appears early to have overtaken tliem on their way. Tales of the imcouth islanders to whom they were going chilled their enthu- .siasm, and some of their number actually proposed that they should draw back. Augustine so far com- promised with the waverers that he agreed to return in person to Pope Gregory and lay before him plainly the difficulties which they might be compelled to encounter. The band of missionaries waited for him in the neighbourhood of Aix-en-Provence. Pope Gregory, however, raised the drooping spirits of Augustine and sent him back \\ithout delay to his faint-hearted brethren, armed \\ith more precise, and as it appeared, more convincing authority.

Augustine was named abbot of the missionaries (Bede, H. E., I, xxiii) and was furnished with fresh letters in which the pope made kindly acknowledg- ment of the aid thus far offered by Protasius, Bishop of ALx-en-Provence, by Stephen, Abbot of L^rins, and by a wealthy lay official of patrician rank called Arigius [Greg., Epp., VI (indie, xiv) num. 52 sqq.; sc. 3, 4, 5 of the Benedictine series]. Augustine must have reached Aix on his return journey some time in August; for Gregory's message of encouragement to the party bears the date of July the twenty-third, .596. Whatever may have been the real source of the passing discouragement no more delays are recorded. The missionaries pushed on through Gaul, passing up through the valley of the Rhone to Aries on their way to Vienne and .\utun, and thence northward, by one of several alternative routes which it is impossible . now to fi.x with accuracy, until they came to Paris. Here, in all probability, they passed the winter months; and here, too, as is not unlikely, considering the relations that existed between the family of the reigning house and that of Kent, they secured the ,ser\ices of the local presbyters suggested as inter- preters in the pope's letters to Theodoric and Theode- bert and to Brunichilda, Queen of the Franks.

In the spring of the following year they were ready to embark. The name of the port at which they took ship has not been recorded. Boulogne was at that time a place of some mercantile importance; and it is not improbable that they directed their steps thither to find a suitable vessel in which they could complete the last and not least hazardous portion of their journey. All that we know for certain is that they landed somewhere on the Isle of Thanet (Bede, H. E., 1, xxv) and that they waited there in obedience to


King ^^thelberht's orders until arrangements could be made for a formal inter\'iew. The king replied to their messengers that he would come in person from Canterbury, which was less than a dozen miles away. It is not easy to decide at this date between the four rival spots, eacli of which has claimed the distinction of being the place upon which St. Augustine and his companions first set foot. The Boarded Ciroin, Sto- nar, Ebbsfleet, and Richborough — the last named, if the present course of the Stour has not altered in thir- teen hundred years, then forming part of the mainland — each has its defenders. The curious in such matters may consult the special literature on the subject cited at the close of this article. The promised inter- view between the king and the missionaries took place mthin a few days. It was held in the open air, sub divo, says Bede (H. E. , I, xxv), on a level spot, proba- bly under a spreading oak in deference to the king's dread of Augustine's possible incantations. His fear, however, was dispelled by Uie native grace of manner and the kindly personality of his chief guest who ad- dressed him through an interpreter. The message told "how the compassionate Jesus had redeemed a world of sin by His own agony and opened the King- dom of Heaven to all who would believe" (^Ifric, ap. Haddan and Stubbs, III, ii). The king's answer, while gracious in its friendliness, was curiously pro- phetic of the religious after-temper of his race. " Your words and promises are very fair" he is said to have replied, "but as they are new to us and of uncertain import, I cannot assent to them and give up what I have long held in common with the whole English nation. But since you have come as strangers from so great a distance, and, as I take it, are anxious to have us also share in what you conceive to be both excellent and true, we wiU not interfere with you, but receive you, rather, in kindly hospitality and take care to pro\-ide what may be necessary for your sup- port. Moreover, we make no objection to your win- ning as manv converts as you can to your creed '. (Bede, H. E", I, xxv.)

The king more than made good his words. He in- vited the missionaries to take up their abode in the royal capital of Canterbury, tlien a barbarous and half-ruined metropolis, built by the Kentish folk upon the site of the old Roman military town of Durover- nmn. In spite of the squalid character of the city, the monks miist have made an impressive picture as they drew near the abode "over against the King's Street facing the north", a detail preserved in William Thome's (c. 1397) " Chronicle of the Abbots of St. Augustine's Canterbury," p. 1759, assigned them for a dwelling. The striking circumstances of their ap- proach seem to have Ungered long in popular remem- brance; for Bede, WTiting fully a century and a third after the event, is at pains to describe how they came in characteristic Roman fashion {more suo) bearing "the holy cross together with a picture of the Sover- eign King, Our Lord Jesus Christ and chanting in unison this litany", as they advanced: "We beseech thee, O Lord, in the fulness of thy pity that Thine anger and Thy wrath be turned away from this city and from Thy holy house, because we have sinned: Alleluia!" It was an anthem out of one of the many "Rogation" litanies tlien beginningto be famil- iar in the churches of Gaul and possibly not un- known also at Rome. (JIartene, "De antiquis Ec- clesia? ritibus", 1764, III. 189; Bede, "H. E.", II. xx; Joannes Diac, "De Vita Gregorii", II, 17 in Migne, P. L., LXXV; Duchesne's ed., "Liber Pon- tificalis", II, 12.) The building set apart for their use must have been fairly large to afford shelter to a community numbering fully forty. It stood in the Stable Gate, not far from the ruins of an old heathen temple; and the tradition in Thorn's day was that the parish church of St. Alphage approximately marked the site (Chr. Aug. Abb., 1759). Here Augus-