Division and reconciliation

The Gregorian mission to the English made a huge difference to the position of the British Church. The latter had been successful in maintaining a Christian tradition across the violent centuries following the end of direct central Roman authority in Britain. Although the British Church was later condemnedby Bede because it had failed to preach to the English, its role in the conversion of the Irish demonstrates that it was not a church unconcerned with the salvation of neighboring peoples; and there is reason to believe that, even for the English, Bede's verdict was unduly harsh.10 That the British Church was not, as is often claimed, cut off from continental Christianity is apparent from the history of Brittany - Brittany was certainly not cut off either from Britain or from the rest of Gaul.11 It is easy to forget that, even in Burgundy, when Columbanus sought the aid of a neighboring abbot in the early days of his foundations, that abbot bore a British name, Carantocus;12 and even Gregory of Tours, who had little good to say about the Bretons, once thought that he had found for his city of Tours a truly saintly ascetic in the shape of Winnoch, a Breton.13 In the seventh century, the Breton King Iudicail refused to eat with King Dagobert, but he was quite prepared to enjoy the hospitality of a great monastic patron, Dado, whose morals were more to his taste than were those of the Frankish

8 Sharpe, "Martyrs and Local Saints," 145.

9 Annales Cambriae, s.a. 601; Chronicle of Ireland, s.a. 589.

10 Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature, 75-86.

11 Chedeville and Guillotel, La Bretagne, 113-51.

12 Jonas, VitaS. Columbani, chap. 7, 165.

13 Gregory of Tours, Libri historiarum X, V.21, VIII.34.

king.14 In Ireland, a major role for the British Church in the conversion period was entirely consistent with a continuing remembrance of the role of Rome itself in the first beginnings of Irish Christianity.15

Rome, however, came to establish its principal British bridgehead in Canterbury, a former Romano-British civitas capital in the far southeast of the island, now laid out as a new reflection of Rome in the northwest.16 Moreover, although Gregory was concerned with the conversion of the English, he prescribed two metropolitan bishoprics for the whole of Britain, including the Britons; both metropolitan bishops were to have sees in eastern England. Those he picked, London and York, were probably chosen because of their role in Roman Britain; yet, when Canterbury replaced London, that only accentuated the eastward tilt of Gregory's new framework for a Christian Britain. It was also important for the position of the British Church in the new order that communication between England and Rome went via Francia: it is apparent from the letter of Laurence, archbishop of Canterbury, to the Irish Church that Canterbury's opinions of its neighboring churches were strongly influenced by Frankish opinion - and, moreover, by a party in the Frankish Church hostile to Columbanus, a party which saw a connection between Columbanus and the Britons. British as well as Irish monks within Columbanus's communities were to be expelled from Burgundy in 610, while Franks and others could remain.17 In this way, the uncomfortable relations between the Church of Gaul and the Britons of Armorica were transferred to Britain and soured relations between the new English Church and its British neighbor. As the Church of Brittany stood to the Church of Gaul, until the Carolingian conquest in the reign of Louis the Pious, so, until the twelfth century, the British Church stood to the new Gregorian order established among the English.

Relations between the first Gregorian missionary bishop of Canterbury, Augustine, and the Britons reveal differences in organization between the British and English Churches, and also the Church of Gaul.18 The Council of Nicaea partly assumed, partly promulgated a rule that each city should have its bishop, and each province its synod of bishops, presided over by a metropolitan bishop. In northern Gaul the civitates, and thus the territories attached to each episcopal see, were large. In Roman Britain civitates were also large. In accordance with this rule, there should, therefore, have been

14 Fredegar, Chronica, IV.78.

15 Columbanus, Epistola, V.3 (see Opera, 38-39).

16 Brooks, "Canterbury, Rome."

17 Bede, HE, II.4; Jonas, VitaS. Columbani, 1.20, 196.

18 Stancliffe, "British Church."

few bishops in Britain because there were few civitates. But in the British Church there appear to have been many more bishops than one would, on this basis, expect. When Augustine of Canterbury made his first approach to the British Church, it took the form of a meeting with representatives from "the neighboring British kingdom," arranged through the influence of King ^thelberht of Kent on what was, in Bede's day, the border between the Hwicce and the West Saxons.19 From this single kingdom came a plurality of "bishops and teachers." Aldhelm's letter to Geraint, king of Dumnonia, probably to be dated to the 670s, was addressed also to the bishops of Geraint's kingdom; moreover it also mentioned the bishops, in the plural, of Dyfed.20 Yet both Dumnonia and Dyfed were former Romano-British civitates, and both should, therefore, have had a single bishop. If we assume that the church of fourth-century Britain was evolving a structure following the ruling at the Council of Nicaea, we must also posit a change to a different structure in the post-Roman period. And, since this multiplicity of bishops was also characteristic of the early Irish Church, it is probably safe to assume that the change came in the fifth century, with the completion ofthe conversion of Roman Britain and thus much greater numbers of Christians requiring the pastoral care of bishops.

Another difference is indicated by Bede's account of Augustine's dealings with the Britons and confirmed by the organization of the Irish Church. Abbots and doctores attended synods, alongside bishops, apparently as full members. In contemporary Gaul, as elsewhere in the church, synods were conceived as meetings of bishops; if other clergy attended they did so in a subordinate role. Decisions of a synod were, in Gaul, made on episcopal authority; but in the British and Irish Churches they might rest as much on the authority of ecclesiastical scholars as on that of bishops.21 Again, this is likely to have been a development of the fifth century, since it was as characteristic of the Irish as of the British Church.

This shared authority attributed to scholars is probably connected with another feature. As we have seen already, British Latin, on its way to Romance, was in decline from the fifth to the seventh century; the dominant language was now the native British Celtic. Moreover, before the Gregorian mission the center of gravity of the church in the British Isles as a whole had been shifting westward, because of English settlements in the east and the conversion of

20 Aldhelm, Letter IV, Aldhelmi opera omnia, 481, 484 or in English translation, Prose Works, 155, 158.

21 Canones Hibernenses, III and VI in Irish Penitentials, 166-68,174, are ascribed to synods of sapientes.

the Irish in the west. It was shifting away from those parts of Britain which, in the fourth century, had been most Romanized and thus, one may assume, most prone to use Latin as a first language. The linguistic and cultural position of the British Church - increasingly - and of the Irish Church from the start was the polar opposite of the situation of the Gallic Church, apart from the northeast of Francia. As the Gallo-Romans abandoned Gaulish and came to regard themselves quite simply as Romans, speaking Latin, the language of Rome, they made the position of the Church apparently much easier: both priests and their congregations shared the one language, and that language was the language of their liturgy and their Bible. True, it was a regional dialect of Late Latin, well-removed from the standard language taught by Donatus and other grammarians; but, even so, the liturgical and intellectual life of the Gallic Church did not rest upon an education in a foreign language. In Britain it increasingly did, and in Ireland it did from the start. Schools in which one might learn Latin and subsequently all the intellectual equipment that a priest or bishop needed were an essential part of the British and Irish Churches.22

One should not suppose that such schools provided a free education. Admittedly, Bede expressly says that they did so for the English who went to Ireland for their education in the seventh century;23 but that was a special situation, the outcome of an Irish mission to the English. What is more likely, to judge by the situation implied by Gildas and revealed in the richer Irish sources of the seventh and early eighth centuries, was that education and high status were closely linked. As it had been appropriate for an aristocrat in the Late Roman Empire to have a refined literary education, so, in the British and Irish Churches, learning in the Latin-based culture of the western church conferred a qualification for high rank. This must have been more than merely an unconscious outcome of cultural change, since it involved a major change to the organization of the church: leading scholars were now admitted as full members of synods.

The British and Irish churches, therefore, had much in common - unsurprisingly so, since the British Church had played the major role in the conversion of the Irish. In some ways, also, the British and Irish churches were diverging from their Gallic neighbor. That does not justify any talk of "a Celtic Church" or even of "the Celtic churches" or "Celtic Christianity."24 First, "Celt" and

22 Charles-Edwards, "Language and Society," 715-26, and "Context and Uses of Literacy," 64-68.

24 Hughes, "Celtic Church"; W Davies, "Myth of the Celtic Church"; Meek, Questfor Celtic Christianity.

"Celtic" were not part of their conceptual world. Secondly, the fact (unrecognized at the time) that the Britons and the Irish spoke related languages had a merely accidental relationship with any shared characteristics in their Christianity. The Britons did not play a major role in the conversion of the Irish because they spoke related languages, but because the two peoples were neighbors who had become yet more closely involved with each other after the Irish had settled extensively along the western coasts of Britain.

In 664 the Synod of Whitby ended the authority of Iona over the church in Northumbria and, via Northumbria, in much of southern England. Subsequent bishops among the Northumbrians were English and owed no allegiance to Iona. Moreover, the Synod ofWhitby was only one episode in a long-running controversy in which the prestige of Iona was also threatened in Ireland and among the Picts. From 664 to 716, when Iona adopted the Roman Easter, the dominant opinion in England and in southern Ireland was that Iona and those churches which agreed with it, were heretical and schismatic.25 Eventually, in the work of Bede, another opinion was to triumph, namely that Columba and his successors were wrong but orthodox.26 Modern scholars have sometimes found it difficult to appreciate that one reason why Bede made much of the paschal controversy was that he proposed to rescue the reputation of Aidan and Columba from the harsh condemnations of such men as Theodore, archbishop of Britain, and Wilfrid, bishop of York, condemnations already foreshadowed in a letter sent c. 632 by Cummian to Seegeene, the abbot ofIona who sent Aidan and Finan to Northumbria.27 From then until c. 685 the Irish Church was split into two camps, the "Romans," Romani, and the "Hibernians," Hibernenses. As the titles show, there was more to the controversy than a dispute over how astronomy and exegesis should be used to determine the Christian calendar. The Irish Romans wished to align themselves with the papacy and with the Universal Church: so much is evident from the arguments used by Cummian.28 The Hibernians upheld the traditions they had received from the sixth-century founders of the great Irish monastic churches, such as Columba.29 A tradition in which the status of a church was bound up with the status of its founder was bound to find major change difficult.

25 Cummian, DecontroversiaPaschali, 94, lines 294-96; Theodore, Penitential, II.ix.1-3,323-24 or in trans. McNeill and Gamer, 206-207; Stephen, Vita S. Wilfridi, chaps. 5, 47 or trans. Colgrave, 12, 98.

26 Bede, HE, III.17; Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert, i.5 or in trans. Colgrave, 68-71.

27 Cummian, De controversiaPaschali, 56-97.

28 Ibid., especially lines 86-149, 277-85.

The achievement of Adomnan, abbot of Iona from 679 to 704 or 705, was to transcend the paschal controversy by his scholarship and diplomacy. His Life of Columba, written between 697 and his death, celebrated a saint whose reputation was to be independent of the issue of Easter.30 Although Adomnan's conversion to the Roman Easter, in the course of a diplomatic mission to Northumbria, failed to carry the community of Iona, it did bring over many churches in the northern half of Ireland as well as the Britons of what is now southern Scotland.31 His success in securing the promulgation of "The Law of Adomnan" in 697 showed how a legal innovation could be made to embrace the whole of Ireland and also the Picts.32 The Law of Adomnan is preserved in Old Irish and is thus aligned with native Irish law, whereas normal early Irish canon law was in Latin. The two major law-books, the Senchas Mar and the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, one for native Irish law, the other for canon law, date from the generation after Adomnan; but the texts from which they were compiled were in active production during his lifetime.33 Both legal traditions were common to the whole island and were constituents of a culture rather than instruments of a state (there was no single Irish state, although the kings of Tara enjoyed an island-wide primacy). Alongside these forms of law was a third, the rechtge or cain, of which the normal form was promulgated by a king in conjunction with an assembly of his people. The authority of an edict of this kind was naturally confined to a particular kingdom within Ireland.

The Law of Adomnan was such a cain but was promulgated at a major assembly at the monastery of Birr, close to the frontier between Munster and Mide (Meath) and thus between the southern and northern halves of the island. It embraced rulers or their representatives from all provinces of the island and most kingdoms of any significance. The old text (preserved in a later edition, prefaced by hagiographical material about Adomnan himself) includes a list of guarantors, of which the clerical half is headed by the bishop of Armagh and the lay half by Adomnan's cousin, Loingsech mac Oengusso, king of Tara. The intention of the Law was to secure immunity from violence for non-combatants - clerics, women, and children. Once a boy had reached the age at which he took arms, he was no longer a non-combatant, whether or not he had actively participated in conflict. The mechanism by which this immunity was to be safeguarded was, for a period of years, to increase the

30 Adomnan, Vita Sancti Columbae, I. 3 (Columba simply prophesies the divisions caused by the controversy).

32 CainAdamndin or trans. Ni Dhonnchadha, "Law of Adomnan."

33 Kelly, Guide to Early Irish Law, 242-46.

normal compensation for killing and, from this increased sum, to give a share to all authorities, whether king or ordinary lord or church, who enforced the Law. The intent was to mobilize all social power, not just that of the king. The mechanism was temporary but the effect was to be permanent; and since the mechanism was temporary the Law of Adomnan could be re-promulgated, as it was thirty years later, in 727.

The Law of Adomnan bridged several gaps: as a mechanism it was an offshoot from ordinary edicts promulgated by king and people for a single kingdom, and yet this Law embraced all Ireland. The assembly which promulgated it was not the normal "gathering" of a people, óenach, but a mixture of royal meeting on the frontier, rigddl, and synod. Normal native Irish law was in Irish because it was ancient tradition, senchas, for the Irish; and yet this Law of Adomnan, although it was in Irish, also extended to the Picts. Whereas native Irish law presented the relationship between the church and the laity as a contract, in which the church had obligations as well as privileges, the Cóllectió Canonum Hibernensis avoided such a contractual approach and was more concerned to limit the obligations of individual churches; the Law of Adomnan, however, embraced lay and clerical authority, and likewise lay and clerical non-combatant, on an equal footing.

An approach, which was ready to employ the devices of Irish culture in an enterprise which went beyond the island of Ireland and beyond, also, the Irish people, is exemplified in the art found within what we may call the domain and former domain of Iona. The art of the insular Gospel Books - such as the Book of Durrow; the Lindisfarne, Durham, Echternach, and Lichfield Gospels; and the Book of Kells - employed a range of devices some of which were of Irish origin, others came from Pictland, and yet others from English territory. It was an art by which the British Isles as a whole might revere "the Good News" of Christ's human birth, passion, resurrection, and ascension.

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