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Thread: The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church

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    The Organisation of the Church in Anglo-Saxon England

    Church Organisation


    The Church was a structured organisation, with a system of grades or ranks and a geographical structure. The rank system is best understood if we consider the geography first.

    By the eleventh century, almost every estate had a church of stone or wood, built and endowed with land by the local thegn. The church was occupied by a priest, to see to the spiritual well-being of the people on the estate. At the church the people assembled to celebrate Mass, to give thanks to God for marriages and births, and to pray for the dead. The priest gave them advice in his sermon, and read them extracts from the Bible which they could think about and learn from. At least once a week there was a Saint's Day - the Saints were considered role models for the populace. The priest would hear confessions and give absolution for sins. When people were sick or dying the priest would offer help and comfort - and perhaps even medical assistance.

    These small, simple churches were an important part of society, but they did not exist in isolation. The priests had to be trained, and the alms and tithes paid to the church had to be collected and redistributed.

    The Church divided Britain into two provinces, the Province of Canterbury and the Province of York. Each province was divided in turn into dioceses, each based around one major town. There were sixteen dioceses in mainland Britain by 1035, each covering an area that roughly followed shire boundaries. Each diocese was then divided into parishes, with each parish containing just one church. It was at the level of the diocese that most of the Church administration was carried out.

    In Scotland the practices of the Roman Church were laid over the organisation of the Celtic Church. The monasteries and abbeys were the basis of church life. Few bishoprics existed; Whithorn, established by Ninian in the fifth century, had always followed the Roman tradition. The Northumbrian domination of Galloway in the eighth and ninth centuries brought the see under the control of York, but the viking incursions into Northumbria in the later ninth century disrupted the close association and the see declined to be re-founded in 1128. A similar fate befell the Anglian see of Abercorn, and whilst the see of St. Andrews continued - indeed by 906 the Bishop of St. Andrews was regarded as Bishop Alban [ of all Scotland ] - it was the monastic structure which governed the Church, headed by Iona. Iona, and its subordinate abbeys, accepted the Roman Church early in the eighth century, but the Scottish Church did not conform entirely. Some of its clergy married, and abbacies could be held by secular men - Crinan, Abbot of Dunkeld married a daughter of Malcolm II, and was the father of King Duncan. After the repeated sacking of Iona by Norsemen, Dunkeld had become the religious capital of Scotland. When Margaret (sister of Edward Atheling of the Saxon royal line) married Malcolm III, she found 'irregularities' in the Scottish practice, but she was unable to introduce diocesan episcopacy, and one of her sons became Abbot of Dunkeld. The diocesan system was finally introduced by David I in the first half of the twelfth century.

    With the basic geography of the Church set out it is possible to look at the ecclesiastical rank structure. There were two 'orders' of clergy: the Minor Orders and the Major Orders. The Minor Orders were the trainees of the Church and consisted of the doorkeepers, lectors, exorcists and acolytes. The Major Orders consisted of the deacons, priests and bishops.

    To simplify matters we can ignore the Minor Orders since many of them were villagers with no interest in becoming full time clergy. For example, the doorkeeper did most of the jobs we would now associate with the modern verger.

    The deacons were men in training for the priesthood. There were a number of jobs they could not do, such as hear confession or celebrate Mass, but they were able to assist at services and carry out many of the lesser functions around the church.

    The priests were men who had completed their training, who had a definite vocation for the ministry, and who had been 'ordained'. Once ordained, a priest could hear confessions, etc., and was given a parish church to work in. A priest was known by the title 'Father'. In most cases that was the pinnacle of the man's clerical career.

    Every diocese was run by a bishop, and his headquarters became the largest and most important church in the diocese. The bishop had a seat of office which, in latin, was called a 'cathedra', so his church became known as the cathedral church. The bishop had a body of priests to assist him in running the diocese, called canons. The most important of these was the archdeacon, who was the bishop's administrative assistant.

    At the highest level, in charge of the provinces, were the two archbishops, of Canterbury and York. They also had canons to assist them, however the archdeacons were replaced by 'suffragan' bishops, from the latin 'suffragator', meaning 'supporter'.

    There are more senior grades, such as cardinal, but these take us beyond Anglo-Saxon England.


    http://www.regia.org/church/church2.htm


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    The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church

    The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Church


    Christianity has a long history in Britain. There is evidence to suggest that it first came to these shores as early as the third century, long before the English arrived. The English were pagans, and the British churches were badly affected by the English invasions. There is no conclusive evidence to show that British Christianity survived in English areas, or that the invaders were affected by the British Christians. In retreat, the British clergy seem to have made no attempt to convert the invaders. Indeed, the hatred of the British clergy for the invading English pagans was such that they refused to associate with them in church, or even eat with them.

    The first determined attempt at the conversion of England came from Rome in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory I sent Augustine to Kent in 597. The monks who accompanied Augustine were unhappy about their mission and became discontented on the way. Eventually, they landed in Thanet, and there met Æthelbert, king of Kent. Æthelbert, though a pagan, was married to Bertha, the daughter of the Frankish king (a Christian). It may be that the king agreed to meet Augustine and his companions at his wife's insistence. Aethelbert was convinced that Augustine was an honest man, and though he would not give up his own beliefs, he allowed them to settle in Canterbury, his capital, and preach their religion. Within a few months, Æthelbert accepted Christianity, and Augustine and his companions were able to start restoring ancient churches, and building new ones.

    The establishment of Christianity elsewhere was less straightforward. In Northumbria, King Edwin accepted the new faith in 627 and Paulinus became Archbishop of York. Unfortunately, Edwin fell in battle against Cadwallon of Mercia in 632. Paulinus was forced to flee to Kent, leaving York without an archbishop for some time.

    Despite such setbacks the conversion of the English continued. In addition to missionaries from Kent the Celtic churches in Ireland began their own conversion programme, using Lindisfarne as a base. Soon, they too were having success amongst the English kingdoms in the north, even returning Northumbria to Christianity. The existence of both missions created problems. The Celtic church had been out of touch with Rome for centuries, and many of Rome's new theological ideas had passed them by. In particular, they used an older and different way of calculating the date on which Easter was to be held.

    Easter is a moveable feast, the date of which is determined by the phases of the moon. Leading up to Easter is Lent, a period of penance lasting forty days during which only one meal a day was allowed and flesh and fish were forbidden. Since the Celtic Church and the Roman Church had different dates for Easter, this led to the king of Northumbria and his court feasting because they used the old Irish date, while the queen was still in her Lenten fast in accordance with the new Roman date.

    There were other problems and something had to be done. At Whitby in 663 the two Churches met with Oswiu, king of Northumbria, and asked him to choose between them. Both sides put forward their case, bringing forward their best scholars. Oswiu chose Rome.

    The conversion of the English was now practically complete. All the kings had accepted Christianity, and their nobles were endowing land and buildings to the Church. The practices of the Roman Church dominated England and soon replaced the old Celtic practices in Ireland, Wales and elsewhere, though elements of the Celtic practices continued in remote areas of Scotland for some time.


    http://www.regia.org/church/church1.htm


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    The question I have always had, is how ancient Asatru transformed into the Church of England. Now, many have described how the Church of Rome was transformed from paganism, but not much investment has been made on the conversion of institutions in Germanic nations.

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