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Augustine, Saint, of Canterbury

AUGUSTINE (AUSTIN), SAINT, OF CANTERBURY: The apostle to the English and first archbishop of Canterbury; d. at Canterbury May 26, 604 or 605. When first heard of he was præpositus (prior) of the monastery of St. Andrew, founded by Gregory the Great in Rome, and was sent by Gregory in 596 at the head of a mission of forty monks to preach to the Anglo-Saxons. They lost heart on the way and Augustine went back to Rome from Provence and asked that the mission be given up. The pope, however, commanded and encouraged them to proceed, and they landed on the Island of Thanet in the spring of 597. They found the way not unprepared as Bertha, daughter of Charibert of Paris and wife of Ethelbert, king of Kent, was a Christian and was allowed to worship God in her own way. Ethelbert permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his town of Canterbury and before the end of the year he was converted and Augustine was consecrated bishop at Arles. At Christmas 10,000 of the king’s subjects were baptized. Augustine sent a report of his success to Gregory with certain rather petty questions concerning his work, which do not indicate a great mind. In 601 Mellitus (q.v.) and others brought the pope’s replies, with the pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, books, and the like. Gregory directed the new archbishop to ordain as soon as possible twelve suffragan bishops and to send a bishop to York, who should also have twelve suffragans,—a plan which was not carried out, nor was the primatial see established at London as Gregory intended. More practicable were the pope’s mandates concerning heathen temples and usages; the former were to be consecrated to Christian service and the latter, so far as possible, to be transformed into dedication ceremonies or feasts of martyrs, since “he who would climb to a lofty height must go up by steps, not leaps” (letter of Gregory to Mellitus, in Bede, i, 30). Augustine reconsecrated and rebuilt an old church at Canterbury as his cathedral and founded a monastery in connection with it. He also restored a church and founded the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls. His attempts to effect a union with the old British Church in Wales failed. See Anglo-Saxons, Conversion of the; Celtic Church in Britain and Ireland.

Bibliography: The important sources are Bede, Hist. eccl., i, 23–ii, 3 and the letters of Gregory the Great (in Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, iii, 5–38). The thirteenth centenary of Augustine’s mission in 1897 called forth a number of publications, including an edition of the chapters of Bede, with introduction, by A. Snow, O. S. B., London, 1897, and The Mission of St. Augustine to England according to the Original Documents, ed. A. J. Mason, Cambridge, 1897, which gives everything of importance in Latin and English (cf. also Haddan and Stubbs, ut sup., iii, 3–60). Monographs of a more popular character were issued by G. F. Browne, Augustine and his Companions, London, 1895; E. L. Cutts, Augustine of Canterbury, ib. 1895; Brou, S. J., St. Augustin de Canterbury et ses compagnons, Paris, 1897, Eng. transl., London, 1897; F. A. Gasquet, The Mission of St. Augustine, ib. 1897; W. E. Collins, Beginnings of English Christianity: Coming of St. Augustine, ib. 1898 (brief but scholarly); mention may be made also of DNB, 1885, ii, 255–257; W. Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. i, London, 1860; E. Bassenge, Die Sendung Augustins zur Bekehrung der Angelsachsen, Leipsic, 1890; A. P. Stanley, Historical Memorials of Canterbury, pp. 19–55, London, 1883; G. F. Maclear, Apostles of Medieval Europe, pp. 87–98, London, 1888; W. Bright, Early English Church History, pp 40–109, Oxford. 1897. The life of Augustine is included in Cardinal Newman’s Lives of the English Saints, London, 1845.

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