The Meaning of Grace

Reflection this morning: Noah found grace in the sight of God [Genesis 6:8 (KJV-meaning favor)] is where I began; but then, discussions of a Biblical doctrine of Grace often narrow the meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word translated as "grace" into some special sense, and then endeavor to force this special sense on all the Biblical passages, which is what I started to do this morning (or rather I searched for a passage that would cover all meanings). However, while a rigid definition is hardly possible, a single conception still lies behind its varied uses. All a Christian has or is, is centered exclusively in God and Christ. All depends utterly on God through Christ, and the inner working of the Holy Ghost. "The kingdom of heaven is reserved for those who become as little children, for those who look to their Father in loving confidence for every benefit, whether it be for the pardon so freely given, or for the strength that comes from Him who works in them both to will and to do."

"How the word grace was admitted so frequently into our [Anglican] Liturgy, into the writings of our Divines — and in the English language was used to denote the influence of God’s Spirit, may be easily accounted for from the nature of language. The word grace is formed from the Latin gratia, in which language, after the Romans became Christians, it was used among other significations, to denote the ordinary inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Our Saxon ancestors [essentially] were converted to Christianity by a Roman monk, and furnished by him with a Latin Liturgy, in which the word gratia occurs very often. The Saxons before their conversion had words in their language to express favor or good will in general, and these they could apply to God as well as to man; but as they had no notion of that particular species of God’s good will, by which he affords to man the assistance of his Holy Spirit, so they had no [vocabulary] for it, until they adopted a word, the word grace, into their language." from

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (KJV)

New 02/18/2014

Like the work of art to the left, the history of Christianity in England is a complex multi-layered subject. It begins in legend from Cornwall and Glastonbury (Somersetshire), enriched with Arthur's pursuits. "Augustine wrote to the Pope to say he'd discovered a church in Glastonbury built by followers of Jesus. But Saint Gildas (a 6th-Century British cleric) said it was built by Jesus himself. It's a very very ancient church which went back perhaps to AD37."

Christianity arrived in what someday would be called England contemporaneous with the Roman arrival in the First Century AD. It survived on the edges, as it did elsewhere in the Empire until the Fourth Century AD. Constantine came to Britain with his father, the emperor Constantius, in 305AD. Constantius died in July the following year in Eboracum (York). The system of succession at the time demanded that another holding the title of "Cæsar" should become emperor, but the soldiers in York immediately proclaimed Constantine their leader. This proved to be a pivotal moment in history for Constantine the Great and Christianity. He soon left York in defense of his title and never returned. In 314, a year after Constantine’s edict on religious tolerance, Eboracum received its first Bishop. He along with the Bishop’s of Londinium (London) and Lindum (Lincoln), he attended the Christian Council the same year at Arles, presided over by Constantine. As the Empire in the West declined and the dark ages began to descend, the control of the Rome-based church waned as communications were severed. In Britain the pagan influence returned as tribes from other lands invaded and took over (Angles, Saxons and Jutes). The total process took nearly two hundred years, ending in 571 AD, the date of the Anglo-Saxon victory securing the eventual defeat of the British "Celtic" tribes. Some of the Celts even left the Isles, migrating to what is now called Breton (Bretagne) in France, an area rich in Christian heritage.

Rome abandoned Britain (by withdrawing its troops) at the beginning of the 5th Century AD. At nearly the same time, a teenage Roman named Patricius living in England, was sold into slavery after being captured by Irish raiders. He spent some years in Éire (Ireland) before he could escape. When he left, he went to France for his ecclesiastic education. He now had a vision to go back to Ireland and bring the Good News and Living Waters. Appointed Bishop of Ireland even before he had a flock, he returned. What some find interesting about this dream calling Patrick to his lifelong mission, is that it is not a command from God, but is a plea from the native Irish. It is also significant, O'Donoughue says, that the voices in the dream do not ask for preaching or baptism, but only that Patrick, as one specially endowed, should come back and share their lives, come and walk once more with them. In other words, Patrick never was directed to bring civilization or salvation to heathens, but only to walk in the Way (Jeremiah 6:16). He was invited to live among them as a witness for Christ.

Thus on a far outpost of civilization, Patricius would help establish a Church in Ireland, which preserved Western (Greek-Roman) culture during its most bleak years on the European continent, when the West might have been lost to the Saracen. The Celtic Church would accompany the roaming groups of Irish (called Scotti or Scots) on their eastern conquests of areas in the lands north of Hadrian's Wall, which had never seen Roman conquest, whose populations (Picts) had remained pagan. Indeed, many would argue, that the Celtic Church kept Christianity alive in England. Saint Patrick died in 461AD.

The Anglo-Saxons of Northern England and Scotland, influenced by the Celtic-Irish missions, became Christians independent of a strong influence of the Rome-based church. The Irish church had set up, for instance, religious centers at Iona off the Coast in the Irish Sea (563AD) and at Lindisfarne in Northumbria. This was only a beginning of a distinctive English-Catholic faith. The Roman church brought the Christian faith in systematic fashion to the southern portion of England beginning in 616AD. Its traditions would strongly affect what would become known as the Church in England. Venerable Bede was a Northumbrian monk of anglo-saxon heritage who wrote the history of the regional church and its faith, its legends and its traditions (731AD) in the context of the events of the time. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum

"For with the flow and ebb, its style

Varies from continent to isle;

Dry shood o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;

Twice every day the waves efface

Of staves and sandaled feet the trace."

from Marmion -- Canto II

February 18th is the Feast day for Saint Colman of Lindisfarne (605 - 675AD). He was a Bishop at Lindisfarne, Northumbria and a disciple of Saint Columba. Saint Colman was born in Connaught, Ireland. At the Synod of Whitby (664AD), Colman stood in defense of the Celtic (Irish) ecclesiastical practices. When King Oswy supported the introduction of the Roman rites, Colman refused to accept that decision and led a group of Irish and English monks to the Isle of Innishboffin, near Connaught. In time he moved the English monks to Mayo, and was praised by Blessed Alcuin and by the Venerable Bede for Saint Coleman's part in the building the English Church.

Beyond Bamburgh and the tidal estuary-like mud flats of Budle Bay, is Holy Island, still often known by its more ancient name of Lindisfarne. It is only accessible from the mainland at low tide by means of a causeway, which can be reached from the village of Beal. To the south of the more modern road-surface causeway, a series of stakes mark the old route across to the island called the Pilgrims Way which was used in ancient times by visitors to the great Christian centre of Lindisfarne. Again this could be crossed only at low tide, a situation reminiscent of Mont-Saint-Michel and perfectly described by Sir Walter Scott.

Coin of Eadbald of Kent about 620 AD We mentioned 616AD above as a key date. Indeed, when we mention that year we must also talk about February 24, 616. The Jute kingdom of Kent sat in the southeast corner of England. In 597AD a delegation of monks sent from Rome, arrived there with Augustine (d. 26 May 605 -- not Augustine of Hippo (28 August 430)) at the head. Æthlebert {Ethlebert or Eadbald -- the, great-grandson of Hengist, the first Saxon conqueror of Britain}, the king of Kent, was a pagan, but his wife Bertha, the Frankish princess of Paris, was Christian. This princess of Paris was the daughter of Charibert I, King of the Paris-Franks and Ingoberge. Gregory of Tours was a close acquaintance of Bertha's mother, Ingoberge. In his history of the Franks, he twice calls Æthelbert a man of Kent, meaning that Æthelbert had not succeeded as king at that time of their marriage. Charibert I was the grandson of Louis I (Chlodovech I, the Great King of the Franks) the first French Christian King and Ste. Chlotilde, a Princess of (greater) Burgundy.

Æthelbert listened to the invitation to convert given by Augustine's party. He decided to remain in the religion of his fathers, but gave the delegation a plot of ground to build a church. Their efforts converted some 10 thousand of his subjects within 4 years. King Æthelbert was baptized, built the cathedral of Saint Andrew in Rochester and the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (later the cathedral of Saint Augustine) at Canterbury. All this influenced the conversion of King Sabert of the East Saxons, in whose territory he built the church of Saint Paul, London. This king of Kent died on February 24 616; but because that is the Feast of Matthias the Apostle, Æthelbert's death is commemorated on the 25th of February.

Æthelberg, the daughter of Bertha and Æthlebert, and wife of Edwin ( or Æduini of Northumbria), founded and was abbess at Lyming. Æthelberg was instrumental in the conversion of her husband Edwin (April 12, 627) and the region, through the preaching of Paulinus. In Book 2 of Bede's work on the history of the Church in England, Chapter 20, we have a dramatic climax with the overthrow and death of Edwin at the battle of Hatfield (October 12, 632 A.D.); the devastation of Northumbria by the British king, Cædwalla, and Penda of Mercia; and the flight of Æthelberg and her daughter Ænflæd, taking with her Paulinus, to Kent to take refuge with her brother, Ædbald, the new King of Kent. If we have counted correctly, Ædbald is only 7 generations removed from Egbert, making all of them our relations, through the West family of early Virginia -- and it stretches back even beyond to inter alia Nero Claudius Germanicus Drusus of Rome, father of the Roman Emperor born August 1 in Lyon, in this line.

Paulinus' life ends with him leading the church at Rochester. Only James the Deacon remains heroically at his post in the north country to keep alive the smoldering embers of the faith. Ænflæd becomes the wife of Oswy and is found alive living with her daughter Ælfled, the abbess at Whitby, by 685AD.

February 25th is also the Feast Day of Ste. Walpurgis (ca. 710-779). Walpurgis (her name also can be spelled Walpurga or Walburga) was the daughter of Saint Boniface's sister (and herself the sister of Saint Winebald and Saint Willibald, Bishop of Eichstädt). In about 748 she was called by Saint Boniface to assist in the missionary effort in Germany. In 761 she became the abbess of the Benedictine convent in Heidenheim (near Eichstätt). She is entombed in Eichstädt in the Bavarian Church named in her honor. She was canonized by Pope Adrian II. Saint Walpurgis and her brothers were English, fruit of the spirit of Augustine and Æthlebert and others.