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 Issues | Christians in England | The British

Christians in England - The British

The British or Celtic race were passionately religious, but they were pagans. Vestiges of their practices have survived but by and large little is known of their religion or of the Druids.

Julius Caeser had led a raid about 55BC but this left no permanent results. However, in AD43 an army of 50,000 Romans arrived to conquer and brought their religion with them. Thus, alongside British paganism came the worship of the pantheon of Roman Gods. At some stage, possibly from the earliest days, there would have been Christians amongst these conquerors.

The progress of the gospel in Britain is largely unknown but by 208AD Tertullian was writing of a clearly well established Church in Britain, as did Origen in 239AD.

The British Church required that two Presbyters conduct services (though a Bishop could lead alone). These men had been ordained but they were ordinary working men, married in most instances, and wore no distinctive garments.

The final major persecution against Christians in the Roman Empire was that under the Emperor Diocletian beginning in AD303. Throughout the empire churches were demolished, the Scriptures burnt and Christians outlawed. One victim was the first known British martyr, Alban.

In AD313 Constantine was converted and the Edict of Milan ensured that Christians were free to worship without persecution.

British Bishops attended the Council of Arles AD314 and the Council of Rimini AD359. This ‘shows that all Western Christendom recognized the British Church as orthodox and duly organized’.

The Roman Empire was facing threats from the Goths and could no longer maintain its presence in Britain. Gradually the legions were withdrawn, the last leaving in AD407. Britain entered a period when it was still romanized but not ruled by the Romans.

The first British theologian of note was Pelagius, who died in AD420 and was described by Jerome as ‘a big fat dog from Albion, bloated with Scotch Porridge’. His heresy was condemned and is also named as such in the 39 Articles of Religion.

During the 5th century, Picts, Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Frisians all settled in Britain. Some were migrants, others would be conquerors, but some were first employed by the British to fight for them and later turned on their employees.

These Anglo-Saxons were pagans and as they slowly pushed the British back west so they destroyed churches and killed many Christians. The tide of conquest was held back when the British won the Battle of Badon (attributed by some to Arthur), but it could not last.


>> The Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons

See Also

When did the Church of England begin? Cross†Way article by David Phillips.

How England Became Christian Cross†Way article by David Streater.

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