(Died 604)

Augustine (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo) was the prior of a monastery in Rome when chosen by Gregory the Great, who was Pope at the time, to lead a mission to England. The Christian faith had already been introduced in the 3rd or 4th century, but the gradual collapse of Roman rule and the invasion of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes meant it fell into abeyance in parts of the country, while others became associated with Celtic Christianity.

Augustine arrived in Kent in AD 597 and found a base at Canterbury. From here he undertook the evangelization of England. The King of Kent was converted along with many of his subjects. Although Augustine then died a few years later, in 604, the foundation he had built became the basis for the next 1,500 year of Christianity in the United Kingdom.

The (eventually Roman) Catholic faith that Augustine brought to the British Isles was different to the Celtic expression that held on in parts. Celtic Christians celebrated Easter on a different date and had various different worship practices. With the advancement of Augustine’s more universal brand of Christianity, there was something of an inevitable point of decision. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, Celtic and Catholic Christians came together to discuss their differences. The King of North Umbria ruled that the people of his kingdom would follow Roman traditions rather than the Celtic version of the faith and from then on, the Roman church had the upper hand in what eventually became the UK.

Over the next few hundred years all was relatively stable from a religious point of view. But the stability came to an end in the mid-16th century when the Reformation reached British shores. The Reformation in England and Scotland took different forms, with each nation creating a national Church, but England retained many of the features of Catholic Christianity that Augustine had first introduced a millennium before – bishops being the most obvious.

Crucially, though, it was the centralizing, universal character of the Roman Church which was also carried over into the Anglican faith. Rome was replaced by Canterbury, the seat of the first English archbishop – Augustine himself.

Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Walton, A. (2017, May 26). How St Augustine of Canterbury changed the world forever. Christian Today.