In A.D. 603, Celtic Christians of the British Isles had a vexing problem. Augustine, a Christian missionary, had recently arrived on their shores from Rome and not only condemned some of their Christian practices but demanded they submit to his authority.
In their perplexity, seven British bishops and other learned men consulted a "wise and prudent hermit." Should they abandon their own traditions and submit to the missionary?
"If he is a man of God, follow him," the hermit answered. "If Augustine is meek and lowly in heart, it shows that he bears the yoke of Christ himself, and offers it to you."
The bishops inquired further, "How can we know even this?"
"If he rises courteously as you approach, rest assured that he is the servant of Christ and do as he asks. But if he ignores you and does not rise, then, since you are in the majority, do not comply with his demands."
When the bishops and Augustine met again, Augustine did not rise; the meeting was a failure. The Celtic bishops refused to recognize Augustine as their archbishop, and Augustine prophesied the deaths of the Celtic bishops.
This was definitely a low point in the history of cross-cultural communication, and it illustrates a gap that existed between the Celtic and Roman churches.
The missionary, later known as Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with the more famous Augustine of Hippo) had been sent by Pope Gregory I in 596 to convert the pagan Angle and Saxon invaders of Britain. Augustine was prepared for pagans but not for other Christians.
Two centuries earlier, while Goths and Visigoths sacked the continent, Angles and Saxons overran Britain and nearly wiped out the Celtic church in what is now England. Christians were slaughtered, enslaved, or driven to ...