Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

The Introduction of Christianity into Great Britain

This article, reprinted for the first time from a very early Anglo-Israel journal, provides documented evidence that Britain received the gospel very early in the first century -- direct from the early disciples of the Messiah. The knowledge of this heritage has been all but forgotten in the modern push to acknowledge Britain's supposed debt to St. Augustine and Roman Catholicism.

By J. Thompson

An inquiry as to the time when Christianity was introduced into this country cannot fail to be of interest to everyone, while a correct knowledge of the facts will tend to throw light upon, if not settle, several disputed questions. It is only too commonly supposed that Augustine and the monks sent by Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century to convert the Saxons were the first to establish Christianity successfully in this country. But it must be remembered that the Saxons were only comparatively recent comers; they had conquered and displaced the earlier inhabitants, who before they arrived were already civilized, and Christianized, as all authentic history testifies. These older Britons had, for a century and a half previous to the arrival of Augustine, been more or less in conflict with the heathen Saxons, and, worsted by them, had retired to the Western and wilder part of the island. When Augustine had succeeded in converting Ethelbert, King of the Saxons, he sought to extend throughout the whole country the authority of his master, the Pope of Rome, and called together a council, or synod, of the Saxon and British bishops, but the latter refused submission to the Pope, or to conform to the Romish rites, especially in respect to the time of celebrating Easter.

Thus it is evident that though Christianity at the time of Augustine's landing in Kent was under a cloud of heathenism, it was not entirely banished from the country; but the refusal of the British clergy to submit to Augustine, as the representative of Rome, drew down upon them the wrath of that sainted monk, who, seeing that they would not join him in preaching to the heathen Saxons, menaced them with the force of their enemies' swords, and "which accordingly came to pass," quaintly writes Fuller; "for not long after, Ethelfrid, the pagan king of Northumberland, conquered Chester, invaded Wales, and called the Britons to battle." Among the latter was a regiment of monks, and Ethelfrid, being told that these monks prayed against him, fell fiercely upon, and put twelve hundred of them to the sword, fifty only escaping. (Fuller: Church History of Great BritainBook IL, Cent. VII. chap. 9.)

The dispute in reference to the time of celebrating Easter was of older date than the era of Augustine. The Asiatic Churches observed Easter on the 14th day of March, on whatever day of the week it happened, as being the day on which the Jews kept their Passover; so that the festival would mostly be held on other days of the week than the first. The controversy between the Eastern and Western Churches in this matter commenced in the time of Anicetus, Bishop of Rome, in the reign of Antoninus Pius, and was revived in the episcopate of Victor, towards the end of the second century. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in a letter (A.D.195) sharply rebuked Victor, who desired to excommunicate all the Asiatic Churches, because they would not observe Easter at the same time as Rome. (Moshem's, Eccless. Hist. Cent. ll, ii, chap. 4., . IX-XI; also see Eusebius' Eccless. Hist. V. chap. 23-24) The fact that the British Christians observed Easter at the same time as the Asiatic Churches before the arrival of Augustine, is, as far as it goes, proof presumptive in favour of their assertion that they received their Christianity at first direct from the East, and not through any western Church, such as Rome, whose practice was different.

Some writers say that Eleutherius, Bishop of Rome, in A.D.178 sent Damianus and Fugatius into England at the request of King Lucius, and that by them Lucius was converted to Christianity and baptized. But this is contradicted by the plain words of Eleutherius himself in answer to the letter of King Lucius. It is evident that Lucius had learnt the elements of Christianity before he sent to Eleutherius for further instruction; for such is the express meaning of the words, "Ye have received of late, through God's mercy, in the realm of Brittainny (sic), the law and faith of Christ; ye have with you, within the realm, both parts of Scripture." (See the whole letter in Foxe: Acts and Mon. 1, p.118, edition of 1684.) It would also appear from these last words, that the Old and New Testaments were at so early a date as this known in Great Britain. The natural inference is that the ancient Britons, before the middle of the second century, were first taught by the Eastern, rather than the Roman Church, and at most were confirmed in their faith by Eleutherius sending Fugatius and Damianus to preach the simple word of the Gospel, and not by the processions and ritual of the later Papal Church of Rome.

Tertullian, who lived about the end of the second century, in his book, Contra Judeos, implies the same by his testimony, that in his day it was commonly affirmed. that the Gospel story was dispersed abroad by the apostles among "the Medes, Persians, Parthians, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Egypt, Pamphylia, and many more countries;" at length mentioning the "coasts of the Nuorians (Morocco), and all the borders of Spain, with various nations of Gaul;" and also "parts of Britain, which Rome never could attain to, are now subject to Christ." This testimony of Tertullian, confirmed as it was by Origen, who flourished immediately after him, bears out the inference above drawn from the letter of Eleutherius, which referred to a period just immediately before Tertullian, that Christianity was early introduced into, and successfully established in Great Britain.

In his Church History (Book I. Cent. II. . 7), Fuller adduces the reasons which exist for suspecting the genuineness of the letter attributed to Eleutherius; and his conclusion is that the true answer of Eleutherius to Lucius was not extant when this was compiled, probably a thousand years after his death; but he does not doubt that tradition has therein preserved the outlines of the facts, and which are affirmed so clearly by Tertullian and Origen, in the age immediately succeeding.

Though the letter attributed to Eleutherius has been accepted as authentic and very valuable by some learned men, including Bishop Jewel, others such as Ussher and Spelman, have pronounced it to be a forgery of much more recent date. Its genuineness is challenged on the ground that it makes Lucius king of the whole of Britain, while he was only a subordinate British monarch, under the Roman Emperor, in his own limited dominions, which were, probably, the parts now called Surrey and Sussex. The texts of Scripture cited therein are from the translation of Jerome, who did not flourish until nearly two centuries after Eleutherius; and, further, this letter seems to have been unknown to (because unmentioned by) all our historians till about a thousand years after the death of Lucius. Who wrote it, or where it was first discovered, are still matters of uncertainty, and likely to remain so though we may accept it as embodying what was generally accepted at the time it was written as the traditional history of King Lucius, and his message to Pope Eleutherius.

Irenreus (A.D.178), who was brought up under Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, asserts that in his time the Church was spread throughout the world, and particularly specifies the Churches in Germany, Iberia (Spain), and among the Celts (i.e., in Gaul and Britain), in the East, in Egypt, and in Lybia. (Lib. i., c.1, 3)

But even more important is the testimony of Clemens Romanus (A.D. 96), the friend and fellow labourer of St. Paul. He says, "St. Paul preached in the East and West, leaving behind him an illustrious record of his faith, having taught the whole world righteousness, and having traveled even to the utmost bounds of the West." (Hist., book ii., ch. 40) This expression, "the utmost bounds of the west," is reasonably supposed to extend to the British Isles. And for the same purpose, Christ employed fishermen for the first preachers of the Gospel, as who, being acquainted with the water and mysteries of sailing, would with the more delight undertake long sea-voyages into foreign countries. (Church History, b. i., cent. i., chap. vi.)

The question, "which missionary brought the Gospel into this country at so early a date?" is one that cannot with certainty be answered: One tradition ascribes this honour to Simon Zelotes, whom Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre, in the time of Diocletian and Constantine the Great, says was both martyred and buried in Britain; and Necephorous, writing in the beginning of the ninth century, also asserts that "Simon Zelotes entered the Western ocean and preached the Gospel in the British isles" (See Yeowell's, Chronicles of the Ancient British Church, p.13)

How far these testimonies may be accepted as trustworthy must be determined by each of our readers for themselves; but seeing that they are of great antiquity, and that they are uncontradicted by any contemporary testimony, they will not lightly be set aside by the historical student.

The Welsh Triads, which are supposed to have been collected in the seventh century, tell us that Bran was the first of the Cymbry who accepted Christianity; that he had been seven years at Rome as a hostage for his son Caradog (Caractacus), who had been taken prisoner by the Romans; and that on his return from Rome to his native country, Bran was accompanied by four missionaries named, ilid, Cyndar, and his son, Mawan, men of Israel, and Arwystli Hen, a, man of Italy." Arwystli is Welsh for Austobulous. Cressy says that "St. Austobulous, a disciple of St. Paul at Rome (Rom. xvi.10), was sent as an apostle to the Britons, and was the first bishop of Britain; that he died at Glastonbury, A.D. 99, and that his commemoration, or saint's day, was kept in the Church on March 15th." (Avile's St. Paul in Britain, pp. 110-111)

 

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