THE SECOND BOOK
17. THE CHURCH IN BRITAIN BEFORE THE COMING OF THE SAXONS
By these persecutions hitherto in the book before precedent thou mayst understand, (Christian reader,) how the fury of Satan and rage of men have done what they could to extinguish the name and religion of Christ; for what thing did lack that either death could do, or torments could work, or the gates of hell could devise, all was to the uttermost attempted. And yet all the fury and malice of Satan, all the wisdom of the world and strength of men, doing, devising, practising what they could, notwithstanding the religion of Christ (as thou seest) hath had the upper hand; which thing I wish thee greatly (gentle reader) wisely to note and diligently to ponder in considering these former histories. And because thou canst not consider them, nor profit by them, unless thou do first read and peruse them; let me crave, therefore, this much at thine hands, to turn and read over the said histories of those persecutions above described, especially above all the other histories of this present volume, for thine especial edification, which I trust thou shalt find not unworthy the reading.
Now because the tying up of Satan giveth to the church some rest, and to me some leisure to address myself to the handling of other stories, I mind therefore (Christ willing) in this present book, leaving awhile the tractation of these general affairs pertaining to the universal church, to prosecute such domestical histories as more nearly concern this our country of England and Scotland done here at home, beginning first with King Lucius, with whom the faith first began here in this realm, as the sentence of some writers doth hold. And forsomuch as here may rise, yea, and doth rise, a great controversy in these our popish days, concerning the first origin and planting of the faith in this our realm, it shall not be greatly out of our purpose somewhat to stay and say of this question; Whether the church of England first received the faith from Rome or not? The which although I grant so to be, yet, being so granted, it little availeth the purpose of them which would so have it. For be it that England first received the Christian faith and religion from Rome, both in the time of Eleutherius their bishop, one hundred and eighty years after Christ; and also in the time of Augustine, whom Gregory sent hither six hundred years after Christ; yet their purpose followeth not thereby, that we must therefore fetch our religion from thence still, as from the chief well-head and fountain of all godliness. And yet, as they are not able to prove the second, so neither have I any cause to grant the first; that is, that our Christian faith was first derived from Rome, which I may prove by six or seven good conjectural reasons. Whereof the first I take of the testimony of Gildas, our countryman, who in his history affirmeth plainly, that Britain received the gospel in the time of Tiberius the emperor, under whom Christ suffered. And saith, moreover, that Joseph of Arimathea, after dispersion of the Jews, was sent of Philip the apostle from France to Britain, about the year of our Lord 63, and here remained in this land all his time; and so with his fellows laid the first foundation of Christian faith among the British people, whereupon other preachers and teachers coming afterward, confirmed the same and increased it.
The second reason is out of Tertullian, who living near about, or rather somewhat before, the time of this Eleutherius, in his book Contra Judæos, manifestly importeth the same, where the said Tertullian, testifying how the gospel was dispersed abroad by the sound of the apostles; and there reckoning up the Medes, Persians, Parthians, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, Jewry, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Egypt, Pamphulia, with many more, at length cometh to the coast of the Moorians, and all the borders of Spain, with divers nations of France; and there amongst all other reciteth also the parts of Britain, which the Romans could never attain to, and reporteth the same now to be subject to Christ: as also reckoneth up the places of Sarmatia, of the Danes, the Germans, the Scythians, with many other provinces and isles to him unknown; in all which places (saith he) reigneth the name of Christ, which now beginneth to be common. This hath Tertullian. Note here how, among other divers believing nations, he mentioneth also the wildest places of Britain to be of the same number; and these in his time were christened, who was in the same Eleutherius's time, as is above said. Then was not Pope Eleutherius the first which sent the Christian faith into this realm, but the gospel was here received before hi time, either by Joseph of Arimathea, as some chronicles record, or by some of the apostles, or of their scholars, which had been here preaching Christ before Eleutherius wrote to Lucius.
My third probation I deduct out of Origen, whose words be these, Britanniam in Christianam consentire religionem. Whereby it appeareth that the faith of Christ was scattered here in England before the days of Eleutherius.
For my fourth probation I take the testimony of Beda, where he affirmeth that in his time, and almost a thousand years after Christ, here in Britain Easter was kept after the manner of the east church, in the full of the moon, what day in the week soever it fell on, and not on the Sunday, as we do now. Whereby it is to be collected that the first preachers in this land have come out from the east part of the world, where it was so used, rather than from Rome.
Fifthly, I may allege the words of Nicephorus, where he saith that Simon Zelotes did spread the gospel of Christ to the west ocean, and brought the same unto the isles of Britain.
Sixthly, may be here added also the words of Petrus Cluniacensis, who, writing to Bernard, affirmeth that the Scots in his time did celebrate their Easter, not after the Roman manner, but after the Greeks, &c. And as the said Britons were not under the Roman order in the time of this abbot of Cluniack, so neither were they nor would be under the Roman legate in the time of Gregory, nor would admit any primacy of the bishop of Rome to be above them.
For the seventh argument, moreover, I may make my probation by the plain words of Eleutherius; by whose epistle, written to King Lucius, we may understand that Lucius had received the faith of Christ in this land before the king sent to Eleutherius for the Roman laws; for so the express words of the letter do manifestly purport, as hereafter followeth to he seen. By all which conjectures it may stand probably to be thought, that the Britons were taught first by the Grecians of the east church, rather than by the Romans.
Peradventure Eleutherius might help something, either to convert the king, or else to increase the faith then newly sprung among the people; but that he precisely was the first, that cannot be proved. But grant he were, as indeed the most part of our English stories confess, neither will I greatly stick with them therein; yet what have they got thereby when they have cast all their gain? In few words, to conclude this matter, if so be that the Christian faith and religion was first derived from Rome to this our nation by Eleutherius, then let them but grant to us the same faith and religion which then was taught at Rome, and from thence derived hither by the said Eleutherius, and we will desire no more; for then neither was any universal pope above all churches and councils, which came not in before Boniface's time, which was four hundred years after; neither any name or use of the mass, the parts whereof how and by whom they were compiled hereafter in this book following appeareth to be seen. Neither any sacrifice propitiatory for the scouring of purgatory was then offered upon hallowed altars, but only the communion frequented at Christian tables, where oblations and gifts were offered as well of the people as of the priests to God, because they should appear neither empty nor unkind before the Lord, as we may understand by the time of Cyprian. Neither was then any transubstantiation heard of, which was not brought in before a thousand years after. Neither were then any images of saints departed set up in churches; yea, a great number of the saints worshipped in this our time were not as yet born, nor the churches wherein they were worshipped were yet set up, but came in long after, especially in the time of Irenæus. Priests' marriage was then as lawful (and no less received) as now; neither was it condemned before the days of Hildebrand, almost a thousand years after that. Their service was then in the vulgar tongue, as witnesseth Hierom; the sacrament ministered in both kinds, as well to lay men as to priests, the witness whereof is Cyprian. Yea, and temporal men which would not then communicate at Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas,
were not then counted for Catholics, the pope's own distinction can testify. In funerals, priests then flocked not together, selling trentals and diriges for sweeping of purgatory; but only a funeral concion was used, with psalms of praises and songs of their worthy deeds, and alleluia sounding on high, which did shake the gilded ceilings of the temple, as witnesseth Nazianzen, Ambrose, with Hierom, &c.
In the supper of the Lord and at baptism no such ceremonies were used as now of late have been intruded; insomuch that, as in this story is showed hereafter, both Augustine and Paulinus baptized then in rivers, not in hallowed fonts, as witnesseth Fabianus. The portues of Sarum, of York, of Bangor, with matins and even-song of the day; again, neither the orders and religions of monks and friars were yet dreamed of, to the space almost of a thousand years after, &c. So that, as I said, if the
papists would needs derive the faith and religion of this realm from Rome, then let them set us and leave us there where they had us; that is, let them suffer us to stand content with that faith and religion which then was taught and brought from Rome by Eleutherius, (as now we differ nothing from the same,) and we will desire no better. And if they will not, then let the wise reader judge where the fault is, in us or them, which neither themselves will persist in the antiquity of the Romish religion, which they so much boast of, neither will they permit us so to do.
And thus much by the way to satisfy the foresaid objection, whereby we may have now a more ready passage into the order and course of the history. Being therefore granted unto them which they so earnestly stick upon, that the Christian faith and religion of this realm was brought from Rome, first by Eleutherius, then afterward by Augustine: thus write the chronicles of that matter.
Now, to proceed in order of the story, briefly to touch the state of the foresaid land of Britain between the time of King Lucius and the entering of the Saxons, who were the kings thereof, and in what order they succeeded, or rather invaded, one after another, this catalogue here under written will specify.
KINGS OF BRITAIN FROM THE TIME OF LUCIUS TILL THE COMING OF THE SAXONS.
Lucius, a Briton.
Severus, a Roman.
Bassianus, a Roman by the father.
Cerausius, a Briton.
Alectus, a Roman.
Asclepiodotus, a Briton.
Coilus, a Briton.
Constantius, a Roman.
Constantinus, a Briton by the mother, named Helena, who being the daughter of Coilus, and married to Constantius, father of Constantinus, is said to make the walls first of London, also of Colchester, much about the year of our Lord 305, and born in Britain.
Octavius, a Gewissian.
Maximianus, a Roman born, but his mother a Briton.
Gratianus, a Roman.
Constantius, a Briton by the mother.
Constans, a Roman by the father.
Vortigernus, a Gewissian or Briton.
Vortimerus, a Briton.
By this table may appear a lamentable face of a commonwealth so miserably rent and divided into two sorts of people, differing not so much in country as in religion: for when the Romans reigned, they were governed by the infidels; when the Britons ruled, they were governed by Christians. Thus what quietness was or could be in the church in so unquiet and doubtful days may easily be considered.
Albeit notwithstanding all these foresaid heathen rulers of the Romans which here governed, yet (God be praised) we read of no persecution, during all these ten persecutions above mentioned, that touched the Christian Britons, before the last persecution only of Dioclesian and Maximianus Herculeus, which here then exercised much cruelty. This persecution, as it was the last among the Roman Christians, so it was the first of many and divers that followed after in this church and realm of England; whereof we will hereafter treat, (Christ willing,) as order of the matter shall leave us. In the mean time, this rage of Dioclesian, as it was universally through all the churches in the world fierce and vehement, so in this realm of Britain also, it was so sore that, as all our English chronicles do testify and record, all Christianity almost in the whole land was destroyed, churches were subverted, all books of the Scriptures burned, many of the faithful, both men and women, were slain. Among whom the first and chiefest was Albanus, then Julius, Aaron, and Amphibalus, of whom sufficiently hath been said before. What were the others, or how many they were that suffered beside, stories make no rehearsal. And thus much thereof.
Now as concerning the government of these above-named kings of Britain, although I have little or nothing to note which greatly appertaineth to the matter of this ecclesiastical history, yet this is not to be passed over. First, how in the order of these kings cometh Constantine, the great and worthy emperor, who was not only a Briton born by his mother Helena, being King Coilus's daughter, but also by the help of the Britons' army, (under the power of God,) which the said Constantine took with him out of Britain to Rome, obtained with great victory peace and tranquillity to the whole universal church of Christ, having three legions with him out of this realm of chosen and able soldiers, whereby the strength of the land was not a little impaired and endangered, as afterwards in this story followeth.
After him likewise Maximian, following his steps, took with him also (as stories record) all the power and strength which was left, and whatsoever he could make of able and fighting men, to subdue France; besides the garrisons which he had out with him before, sending for more to the number of a hundred thousand soldiers at once to be sent to him out of Britain into France. At which time also Conanus his partner, being then in France, sent over for virgins from Britain to the number of eleven thousand; who, with Ursula, the prince Dionet's daughter, being shipped over, many perished in the sea, some were taken of the infidels marching upon the borders; with whom, because they would not be polluted, all were destroyed, being miserably dispersed, (some one way, some an other,) so that none escaped.
Thus poor Britain, being left naked and destitute on every side, as a maimed body without might or strength, was left open to its enemies, not able to succour itself without help of foreign friends; to whom they were then constrained to fly, especially to the Romans, to whom the Britons sent this word or message: Ætio ter consuli gemitus Britannorum. Repellunt nos barbari ad mare: repellit nos mare ad barbaros. Hinc oriuntur duo sunerum genera, quia aut jugulamur, aut submergimur. But the Romans then began to forsake them, whereby they were in nearer danger to be oppressed by Gwanus and Melga, had not Gwetelinus, the archbishop of London, made over to Lesser Britain, and, obtaining there help, had brought Constantine the king's brother to rescue his country against the infidels. This Constantine was brother to Aldroenus, king of Little Britain, and father to Constance, Aurelius Ambrosius, and Uter, who after reigned kings in Britain.
Thus by the means of the good archbishop and Constantine the state of the religion and realm of Britain was in some mean quiet and safety, during the time of the said Constantine, and of the good archbishop. But as the realm of Britain almost from the beginning was never without civil war, at length came wicked Vortigern, who, cruelly causing Constance his prince to be murdered, ambitiously invaded the crown; who then, fearing the other two brethren of Constans, which were Aurelius and Uter, being then in Little Britain, did send over for the aid of the Saxons, being then infidels; and not only that, but also married with an infidel, the daughter of Hengist, called Rowen. Whereupon the said Vortigern, not long after, by the said Hengist and the Saxons, was with like treachery dispossessed of his kingdom, and the people of Britain driven out of their country, after that the Saxons had slain of their chief nobles and barons at one meeting (joining together subtlety with cruelty) to the number of two hundred seventy and one; some stories say four hundred and sixty. This wicked act of the Saxons was done at Almesbury, or at a place called Stonehenge. By the monument of which stones there hanging, it seemeth that the noble Britons there were buried.
This fabulous story of the Welchmen, of bringing these stones from Ireland by Merlin, I pass over. Some stories record that they were slain, being bid to a banquet. Others say that it was done at a talk or assembly, where the Saxons came with privy knives, contrary to promise made; with the which knives they, giving a privy watchword in their Saxon speech, Neme your sexes, slew the Britons unarmed. And thus far concerning the history of the Britons.