Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26 - Augustine of Canterbury, Monastic, Missionary, Archbishop


Gregory wasn't surprised--even as his peers and colleagues were awestruck--that pope Gregory had selected him to become a missionary. Sure, he was a monk and prior of the abbey where Gregory was abbot but this didn't seem enough to qualify him to cross the waters and land in non-Christian Britain approximately 200 years after Rome had pulled the legions out of the countryside and ceded the territory to the non-Christian Anglo-Saxons. Sure, Augustine was very well educated but this didn't inspire enough bravery in his companions as they traveled to the coast to board their ships and sail for Kent. So, they had begged him to return to Rome and ask Gregory for permission to return from their mission before it ever started. He went because of the overwhelming outcry from among his fellow monks and companions but he knew what Gregory would say--how Gregory would quickly deny the request, remind him of his calling, and insist that it was time to take the Gospel back to southern England. So, when Augustine returned to his group of fellow missionaries and monks he was unsurprised by the news he carried with him from Gregory and wondered if they might not abandon him and the cause for a life of quiet desperation within the secure embrace of the Roman empire. But, with Gregory's fiery insistence and warm encouragement they rallied and joined Augustine on the ships that would take them far from comfort and deep within the grip of the non-Christian world.

They landed in Kent in 597--nearly 45 of them including Augustine and his second-in-command Laurence--and went to visit king Æthelberht and his wife Bertha. Bertha was a Christian princess from Frankish lands and had a bishop with her who served as her spiritual advisor. It was largely because of her insistence that the non-Christian Æthelberht had been open to accepting Christians in his lands. Of course, it helped that there was a history of Christianity in the land and the Irish Christians had proven their credibility for some time. Augustine and his colleagues began preaching with Æthelberht's blessing and proclaiming a Gospel of love for enemies and forgiveness for all and withing a few years saw Æthelberht converted with thousands of other native people. Æthelberht allowed the construction of a monastery in Canterbury and even supported a mass baptism in 601 that included converts numbering in the thousands. The derelict Christian traditions of southern England were revived under Augustine's leadership and soon he found himself with the title, duties, and obligations of a bishop.

After Augustine and his companions had established a monastery and revitalized the Church in England, there were many more missionaries sent in 601.Augustine's foothold allowed for the triumphant return of Gospel grace and life to English villages and people. Gregory sent along the vestments and sacred articles that symbolized the status of archbishop when these new missionaries came to England to follow the will of God under Augustine's careful and prayerful guidance. As archbishop he was asked by Gregory to ordain twelve bishops to expand the ministry of the Church in England and to begin the process of setting up a second archepiscopal see in York. It was the design of Gregory and Augustine to have two archbishops in England with twelve bishops serving under each archbishop. Augustine spent the rest of his life overseeing the missionary efforts of the Church in England and training and supporting the ministers who joined with him in this arduous but glorious task. Augustine had followed the lead of Gregory and reached out to his people's enemies in love to offer forgiveness and grace. Because of actions like these, the Church found a foothold and a fortress in the hearts and souls of the non-Christian Anglo-Saxons. After appointing Laurence as his successor, Augustine died in the year 604 on the 26th day of May. The good work God had started in England continued even as Augustine finally rested from his labors.

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