The South is very proud of the strength of Christianity amongst her people. In some ways this is justified: When looking at the vibrancy of Christianity in other sections of the [u.] S., what one sees in Dixie looks pretty good. But if she were to look at the life of her Orthodox forebears in Western Europe and Africa, it would not look so good. What follows are some word-sharings from Fr Andrew Phillips’s booklet Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church (3rd ed., http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/pdf/Orthodox_Christianity_and_the_Old_English_Church.pdf, downloaded 18 Sept. 2016) that Southrons who really want vibrant Christianity in their land ought to take to heart as they consider what modern, after-Schism forms of Christianity have wrought, in Dixie and elsewhere.
In the year 747 at the Synod of Clovesho, under the chairmanship of the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, Cuthbert, it was recommended that the Feasts of St Gregory the Great (12 March) and St Augustine of Canterbury (26 May) be celebrated as national festivals throughout the seven kingdoms of early England, as befitted the Apostles of the English.
In England the Church was everything. She had given a literature, an art, an architecture, knowledge and learning and she was ready to give national unity. The zeal and faith of the Two Confessors and Apostles of England was making the land into an island of holiness, whose chief export was the saintsxxxvii, because that was its natural wealth. England realized herself as the Guardian of Sacred Tradition, the keeper of a sacred trust which it had received directly from the successor of St Peter. The history of Old England is the history of its Church and the history of its Church is the history of its saints.
They were the ones who had one foot in heaven, the other on earth, the ones by whom Church life and National life were so closely intertwined, this was a Church which was incarnate and yet remained the Church. The disputes of Church and State were for later, much later, and those only the State, by definition, could win; for if the Church were to win them, then it would no longer be the Church, but a Church-State; on the other hand, if the State were to win those disputes, the Church would fall totally into erastianism, becoming a State-Church, whose very doctrines would be decided by the State and without the spiritual reserves of monasticism to keep its integrity.
In such a brief essay we scarcely have space to record the litany of the names of the English holy ones or to recount their exploits, or the stories of those divine events which saved the Old English Kingdom from spiritual and physical disintegration in the centuries before the Norman Invasion. . . .
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In the Old English period we can count over 300 individual saints known to us, not including the hundreds of nameless martyrs. We have mentioned but few, and then only in passing. And yet not many know their names or their exploits and their lives. They represent a forgotten England, lying on the other side of the Middle Ages – they are our forgotten heritage, an Unknown England because for some nine hundred years spirits have turned elsewhere and this inheritance of the Holy Ghost has been cast aside by so many, and the Living Godxliii turned into an idea, a mere concept.
The Hallowing of England is the fruit of the Conquest of England by Gregory and Augustine, a half-millennium which hallowed towns and hamlets up and down the land between one Conquest and another. This is our unknown, ignored heritage, our spiritual heritage, our spiritual roots, covered over by centuries of secularism in all its forms. England of the Old English with all its faults was also a land of hallowed bishops and holy kings, of martyr-priests and confessors, of noble princes and princesses, saintly abbesses and humble cowherds, meek hermits and lowly monks, righteous families and silent nuns, faithful queens and gentle abbots, who hallowed it from North to South and East to West. This is the spiritual history and the spiritual geography of England, created by the end of the first millennium and which we, at the end of the second, have yet to rediscover.
When we examine the Church at the end of the Old English Age, less than 500 years after the landing of Augustine, after its beginning, we cannot but express wonder at the devotion of the Old English, at the fruit borne of the garden of Kent. For a population of over 1.5 millionxliv, there must have been at least 10,000 churches and chapels, a proportion of 1:150. True, many of them were very small, often founded by guilds of craftsmen, who built these chapels as neighbourhood churches, but even so in modern terms this would equal some 400,000 churches. At the Norman Conquest there were 35 monasteries and nine convents, numbering some 1,000 religiousxlv, a proportion of 1:1,500.
Moreover, in earlier times before the Viking attacks, we know that even more lived the monastic life. In the time of Bede there were six hundred monks at Wearmouth alone and at Wimborne in the mid-eighth century there were hundreds of nuns. At the Conquest Norwich had a population of some 5,000; so far archaeologists have discovered the sites of forty-nine churchesxlvi. In Norfolk at about the same time 1,300 parishes are recordedxlvii. The Domesday Book records for Suffolk a population estimated to be 20,000 and 345 churches (though many churches were not recorded, the Conqueror did not find them economically interesting)xlviii. At Bury St Edmunds there were thirty priests, deacons and clerks for 342 homes, a proportion of 1:11xlix.
Moreover as we shall see later, these churches, mostly wooden, contained within them a wealth without comparison in Western Europe, with the sole possible exception of Rome.
If we marvel at the piety of the Old English, both in the quantity and the quality of their works of art, we must also look at their devotion to Christ through the saintsl. If we look at church dedications we find above all a great love for the Mother of God and Virgin Mary and then St Peter. This was followed by devotion to the Holy Angels (we recall the words of St Gregory – that the Angles might become Angels), then St Andrew the Apostle (we recall the monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome), after St John the Baptist, St Nicholas and then the other Holy Apostles. Of that host of homegrown saints the most loved was Cuthbert, that fusion of Saxon and Celtic spirituality. There followed Oswald, Edmund, Swithun, Wilfrid and Chad. The most loved female saints were Hilda, Edith and Audrey. The Apostles of the English were also very popular and dozens and dozens of churches were dedicated to them, which, in both cases is remarkable, for St Gregory never set foot in England and Augustine spent only seven years hereli.
It is a strange fact that the eleventh century, the last of the Old English Church, was the century when the veneration of St Augustine flourished the most. Several stories of miracles worked by the saint have come down to us from this time. One miracle occurred in the year 1030. King Canute, like so many kings and nobles before him, was returning to England from a pilgrimage to Rome. Crossing the Channel, his ship encountered a violent storm and he and the ship were saved only by asking for the prayers of the first Archbishop of the English and Canute’s vow to give alms to the shrine of the saint in his monastery. During the abbacy of Abbot Wulfric (1047–59) at St Augustine’s in Canterbury, a great number of wonders were recorded, wonders which somehow conclude the whole Old English Age, concluding it as it began, with the miracles of a saint of Godlii.
The landing of Augustine was the beginning of a peaceful and bloodless invasion: the invasion by the Word of God of the hearts and minds of all the inhabitants of England of goodwill. We do not wish to pretend that this age was idyllic or faultless as so many Puritan historians of a political turn of mind have tried to claim. Indeed we must admit that there was ‘a falling away towards the end’, especially from the time of the fateful martyrdom of King Edward. However that tendency seems to have been repeated all over Western Europe at about that time, though to imagine that the Old English Church just before the Conquest was totally decadent would, as we have seen above, be quite false. Moreover, it is difficult not to look back at the Old English Church and Kingdom without love and regret. This was the childhood of England, when our forbears first heard of Paradise and were first granted a foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom. This is our spiritual heritageliii.
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The landing of William of Normandy, as we know, was neither peaceful nor bloodless – unlike the landing of Abbot Augustine. The Conquest of Duke William was not, as Augustine’s, blessed by the old-style Roman Papacy of St Gregory the Great. This was a Conquest blessed by an altogether new Papacy, presaged, it is true, by that of Nicholas I in the ninth century, but nonetheless new. This was a reformed Germanic Papacy with temporal claims. The Pope was no longer to be the ‘Vicar of St Peter’, but ‘the Vicar of Christ’. It was a Papacy which had already cut itself off from the other four theologically more sophisticated Patriarchates of the Christian Commonwealth, which had formed the Church for one thousand yearslv. It was a Papacy, we are tempted to say a papism, which, isolated and estranged from the rest of the Christian world, was destined to fall into the temptation of becoming a temporal power.
This was a subtle temptation. On the surface it appeared to be the only way of avoiding becoming a Church dependent on the evolving States of Western Europe, the only way of ensuring its freedom and independence; it reality it meant becoming a Church State, turning itself into a State of its own free will. Its external freedom, politically and economically was thus ensured, but at the cost of its internal freedom, spiritually and doctrinally: the Head of the Church was no longer Christ, but His new Vicar and authority was his and not the Holy Spirit’s. Thus in the eleventh century the Papacy with its Germanic popes, allied itself with the all-powerful feudal, military aristocracies of Europe. Of these the most powerful was that of the Normans – the alliance here would be the most effective in helping the new Papacy to achieve its aim.
Scholars of many backgrounds recognise the transformation which took place in the eleventh century, and which was also to destroy the Old English Church, violently and tragically. Indeed a case has been made against the notion that Hastings was lost because of English military inferiority. It may well be that when the English realized that the Normans carried a papal banner with a Papal blessing, they were so demoralized that they gave up the struggle: the English loyalty to the Old Rome of St Gregory the Great was so great that they were completely disorientated on seeing that the enemy had the blessing of Romelvi. What they did not know was that Gregory’s Rome was no more – thus their dilemma, thus the Norman victory at Hastings.
Of the transformation of the Papacy and its consequences, scholars have written the following: ‘A revolution took place in world history in 1058 … this Papal revolution was to lead to the Reformation.’ (Tellenbach)lvii. ‘Between the end of the eleventh century and the end of the twelfth, everything changes in the West.’ (Congar). ‘Early medieval culture and Byzantine were so closely akin … From the early twelfth century the West is different from all else.’ (Dawson)lviii. The English scholar Southern describes in great detail the transformation of the West between 972 and 1204, showing how the eleventh century was the turning point in Western history. In English history this turning point is concentrated in the Norman Conquest.
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The record of the losses of Old English art and architecture is heart-rending. Today we have little more than fragments of Old English architecture. Of course much was built of wood and could not have lasted, but nevertheless the story of the Norman destruction of Old English church buildings is too much like barbarian vandalism to be excused. When they came to demolish the Cathedral in Worcester in 1086, the saintly Bishop Wulfstan remarked: ‘The men of old may not have had stately edifices, but they were themselves a sacrifice to God, whereas now they pile up stones, but forget the soul’lxiv. It is more distressing to read of the destruction of the European treasurehouse of church art which Old England was. If the churches were razed, leaving us with a pitiful idea of what the former architecture was really like, then, what can we say of Old English Art?
‘Nowhere in Europe, even in Byzantium itself, was there a more advanced conception of manuscript illustration and decoration than in Britain. Nowhere, even in Persia, were finer textiles embroidered; nowhere was finer sculpture in stone executed nowhere were finer ivories carved ... they are all quite easy to distinguish as English. They stand out, moreover, by virtue of their quality.’ So speaks the art historian, Talbot-Ricelxv. Indeed the English were renowned for the quality of their embroidery and we know of a school of embroidery at Ely, though doubtless there were many others. The Winchester School of manuscript illumination was widely known and represented the spiritual and artistic flowering of the tenth century English Renaissance.
The destruction of nearly all of this heritage makes lugubrious reading. ‘In the spring of the year (1070), the King had all the monasteries in England plunderedlxvi’. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there are unending lists of gold crucifixes, vestments of woven gold, silver and gold sacred vessels and censers, chalices and patens, shrines and altars with their embroidered hangings, silver and gilt ewers of Byzantine work, Gospel-books adorned with precious stones, gold reliquaries and the holy relics contained within, silks and precious hangings, ornaments which in the words of William of Poitiers, ‘Byzantium would hold very dear.’ In the twelfth century he wrote: ‘A Greek or Arab visitor would have been carried away by delight’ at the sight of the treasures melted down or sent to France by William. From one church alone he stole treasures worth £6,000, a colossal sum in modern termslxvii.
All this was pillaged; the Old English Church was raped and ravaged. The depths of blasphemy and sacrilege were reached when the Norman clergy began burning the relics of the Old English saints to see if they were authentic; their doubts sometimes seem to have been founded merely on the Norman inability to pronounce the Old English names. Such barbarian acts were not to be seen again until the sack of Christian Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Later we shall see the Old English connection even here. The accounts of the sack of Old English art are among the most shameful in Western history. After William and his descendants, then the fires of the Middle Ages, followed by the syphilitic frenzy of greed of Henry VIII and the outbursts of the Puritans, then the vandalism of the Victorians, it comes as no surprise when we realise that what we possess of a half-millennium of Old English Art and Architecture is nothing but a single crumb from a huge but ever lost royal banquet. It is an immensely sobering but nonetheless true fact that there is a part of human nature that delights in the destruction of everything beautiful, be it the creation of God or of man.
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. . . And there are those who have understood that this kingdom of the spirit is a true kingdom, that true civilization is not that of the cultivation of the mind, nor of the refinement of the emotions, but rather the civilization of a spiritually cultivated and refined heart.
This understanding came about through the last War when people realised that humanist culture is unreal without God and its death was inevitable because, having denied God, it also denied man. That war left the values of Europe shattered, for it made clear the separation between the branches and twigs of European culture and the roots and trunk of Christianity and since the branches and twigs were no longer being nourished from the roots and trunk, that humanist culture was left dying. In all this process, however, many for the first time understood that the roots and the trunk of the European tree were Christian and without the Old European values which lie at the base of that tree, all is lost. The Old Europe is that bright kingdom of the old saints, whose flashes and gleams we have so long lived by.
Europe is like a huge building, shaken and felled by an earthquake. But there underneath the layers of ruins and century-old deformations, there was revealed the shining bright image of Christ, almost forgotten, so forgotten that it took the world’s greatest War to reveal it. And even now when it has been revealed there are those who prefer to look on at the dust and the ruins of the fallen European building and strive by the power of money to rebuild it, instead of turning to that bright image and building on it afresh by the power of love.
It is our belief that the image has been revealed, not by chance, but by Providence, revealed to call us back to our senses, to the reality and the truth of things, that had long been hidden by the illusions of European humanism, which thought that it could live without God. This icon of Christ calls Europeans to abandon their pride and to return in meekness, before it is too late, before mankind has gone too far. This icon of Christ, lying at the roots of Europe, has been revealed in the nakedness of spiritual might, in the Saviour’s God-manhood, which inspired all that was best in the Old European culture. And unless we build on it, the best, Europe will build instead on the ruins of that old building, which was already spiritually ruined before the War began, and the new building will then undergo the same fate as the old one.
And at this very moment, when the English like the Prodigal are so far from the Father’s House, we ask the question how: How will the Prodigal return to his Father? How will the Thief repent? How will Adam come home? How will we dying be awakened? How will we uncover the words of life that we have buried in the tombs that our hearts have become? And in answer to the question how, there comes to mind that company who weep for a once holy land, those Angles who became Angels, those holy ones who haunt our land because we have forgotten, or worse despised them.
They call us back in mind and heart to the Father’s House, to our homecoming. They beckon us to return home to the childhood paradise of England, of the old religion, that bright kingdom of our churchly past. We hear their voices in our prayers, calling us back, leading us home to the reality beyond the things of men, to a home of homes, a land hallowed by the saints of old. They, known and unknown, scattered from their shrines, ask for what was formerly hallowed to be hallowed again. And at the head of that company stand the sons of the Father of Mankind, Gregory and Augustine, the Fathers of our Nation, whose children we all are.
And only a few years ago we, their children, celebrated the Church which began in Rome, lived in Canterbury and ended in Constantinople, for we celebrated the 1400th anniversary of the landing of St Augustine in England in 597. This was a Church which was at one and the same time national and patriotic, but which was so because She belonged to a Christian Commonwealth, whose profound, underlying unity was then visible. This was a Commonwealth, because of its common wealth, its common faith; and when the common wealth was taken away, then the Commonwealth fell apart first into monolithic totalitarianism and then into warring, secular nationalisms.
We might wonder if we could not find again in our hearts and minds the spiritual heritage of our fathers, the ability to go beyond the Modern and Middle Ages, to go and heal the wound of the Norman Invasion that has never healed, and in so doing reconsecrate our land and go from spiritual rags to spiritual riches. It would be to find again the silver cross, the gift of Old Rome, to find again the icon of Christ, the gift of New Rome, the miraculous stone with the print of the Apostle and the 10,000 baptized, the gift of the little Rome at Canterbury. To find again our spiritual heritage which we have so meanly squandered down the ages, to go beyond the divisions which separated Rome and Canterbury from Constantinople, and so Canterbury from Rome, by the blood of martyrs.
The story of Christ begins with Old Jerusalem and ends with a New Jerusalem. As for this story, it begins with an Apostle from Old Rome and ends with his veneration in New Rome.
And as for the story of England, it begins with an Old Canterbury, but if that cross is held over our land again, if that icon is painted over our land again and if that print is printed on our land again, then it will end with a New Canterbury. And this will happen, if it please God, when the Christian Commonwealth of the first millennium is restored again, in its spiritual integrity, in its saints.
‘And in that day the Lord will extend His hand yet a second time to recover
the remnant which is left, of his people from the isles of the seas.’
(Isaiah 11, 11)
Glory to Thee, O God, Glory to Thee!
These closing parts put us in mind of some lines J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Silmarillion. His words are a very good picture of the longing of the South and all the apostate West for the Orthodox Church their forefathers lost 1,000 years ago:
Among the Exiles many believed that the summit of the Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, was not drowned for ever, but rose again above the waves, a lonely island lost in the great waters; for it had been a hallowed place, and even in the days of Sauron none had defiled it. And some there were of the seed of Ëarendil that afterwards sought for it, because it was said among loremasters that the farsighted men of old could see from the Meneltarma a glimmer of the Deathless Land. For even after the ruin the hearts of the Dúnedain were still set westwards; and though they knew indeed that the world was changed, they said: ‘Avallónë is vanished from the Earth and the Land of Aman is taken away, and in the world of this present darkness they cannot be found. Yet once they were, and therefore they still are, in true being and in the whole shape of the world as at first it was devised.’
For the Dúnedain held that even mortal Men, if so blessed, might look upon other times than those of their bodies’ life; and they longed ever to escape from the shadows of their exile and to see in some fashion the light that dies not; for the sorrow of the thought of death had pursued them over the deeps of the sea. Thus it was that great mariners among them would still search the empty seas, hoping to come upon the Isle of Meneltarma, and there to see a vision of things that were. But they found it not. And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’
Thus in after days, what by the voyages of ships, what by lore and star-craft, the kings of Men knew that the world was indeed made round, and yet the Eldar were permitted still to depart and to come to the Ancient West and to Avallónë, if they would. Therefore the loremasters of Men said that a Straight Road must still be, for those that were permitted to find it. And they taught that, while the new world fell away, the old road and the path of the memory of the West still went on, as it were a mighty bridge invisible that passed through the air of breath and of flight (which were bent now as the world was bent), and traversed Ilmen which flesh unaided cannot endure, until it came to Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, and maybe even beyond, to Valinor, where the Valar still dwell and watch the unfolding of the story of the world. And tales and rumours arose along the shores of the sea concerning mariners and men forlorn upon the water who, by some fate or grace or favour of the Valar, had entered in upon the Straight Way and seen the face of the world sink below them, and so had come to the lamplit quays of Avallónë, or verily to the last beaches on the margin of Aman, and there had looked upon the White Mountain, dreadful and beautiful, before they died (2nd ed., Christopher Tolkien, edr., New York, Ballantine Books, 1999, pgs 337-8).
The Straight Road to the Blessed Land of the Orthodox Church still is in the world and open to those of England, the South, and all of Western Europe, Northern Africa, etc. who realize they are exiles from this New Eden. With tears, let us beseech the Merciful God that we may look upon it once again, dreadful and beautiful, before we close our eyes in death.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð!
Anathema to the Union!