Well Done Patrick, Queen Bertha and Augustine, For Keeping Going
by David Cross
Christianity first came to the British Isles during the Roman occupation, within just a few generations of the resurrection of Jesus. In the 5th century AD, a man named Patrick, living in a Christian family, found himself enslaved in Ireland, taken there from England by foreign slave-traders. After finally escaping, he had a clear but very difficult instruction from the Lord to go back to Ireland and share the good news of Jesus, not least among the Druids. As a result of his obedience, Ireland became something of a beacon of spiritual light, spreading into Scotland, England and Western Europe, through the Celtic Christianity of Columba and others.
By the early part of the 5th century, Roman occupation was in serious decline and it was not long before pagan Anglo-Saxons invaded England and established themselves in the east of the country, pushing many Britons, including those carrying their faith in Jesus, further and further west. By the end of the 6th century, Ethelbert, a pagan king, was ruling in the region of Kent, but, significantly, he was married to a devout Christian Frankish woman called Bertha.
It was to this predominantly pagan part of Britain that Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory the Great, along with forty monks and interpreters, in 595 AD. On their way through France, Augustine lost courage in pursuing the venture and returned to Rome to ask to be released from the mission. It is recorded that Gregory responded to Augustine with these words:
“My dearly beloved son, it would have been better not to have undertaken a noble task than to turn back deliberately from what you have begun; so it is right that you should carry out with all diligence this good work which you have begun with the help of the Lord. Therefore, do not let the toilsome journey nor the tongues of evil speakers deter you”.
Augustine resumed his journey and it wasn’t long after his arrival in Kent that King Ethelbert was baptised, with the encouragement of his faithful wife. Patrick, Augustine and Queen Bertha were no doubt very ordinary and fallible human beings, just like us, frequently overwhelmed by the task ahead, but they kept going. Although there were to be disagreements between the new Christian community in the South East and the Celtic Christians in the north and west, God clearly used the obedience of these individuals to play a very important part in the early history of Christianity in the British Isles.
Prayer: Dear Father, You clearly use imperfect people, who’re willing to walk in obedience to Jesus Christ, to change the course of history. Show each one of us our small part in Your divine plan, particularly in this year ahead, and give us the courage to walk in true obedience. Amen.
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