Why is Christianity declining in the UK

Points win for Rome

The British island was Christianized twice, the first time in Roman times. Returning to the pagan camp after the Romans withdrew, at the end of the 6th century papal missionaries ensured that England was not only Christianized, but also closely linked to the headquarters in Rome.

Christianity was able to gain a foothold in England very early on. The British province of the Roman Empire extended up to Hadrian's Wall between the mouth of the Tyne and the Solway Firth, which was built from 122 onwards, and that is why Christians will have found their way to the island and founded small churches from this time on. According to excavation finds, it can be assumed that the British Church was firmly anchored in the country around 400. However, with the withdrawal of the Roman soldiers by 410 and the invasion of pagan Angles, Jutes, Saxons and Frisians, Christianity fell behind. The 6/7 In any case, the seven kingdoms of Kent, Sussex, Essex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria, established in the 19th century, were pagan.

The first Christian king of England was Æthelberht of Kent (560–616). Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) had the bold idea of ​​restoring the old Roman ecclesiastical provinces of Britain and sent missionaries to England for this purpose. What may have moved him to this plan? According to a nicely invented legend, he is said to have met slaves while strolling through the Roman market, whose popular name Anguli he understood as angeli, angel. If, according to Gregory's conclusion, there is already a tribe there with such a pious name, the gospel must also be preached to the people. The assumption that Æthelberht's wife Bertha provided the decisive impetus has more to do with it. Because the Frankish king's daughter was a Christian, and part of the marriage contract was the assurance that she was allowed to practice her faith without restrictions. This is how the first small Christian community will have been built up in Kent. The Kentish king probably had the goal of establishing closer contacts with the Christian world on the continent in order to intensify trade. Be that as it may: Pope Gregory sent 40 Roman missionaries on the long journey to England under the direction of Prior Augustine (d. 604). According to the report of Beda Venera-bilis (672 / 73-735), whose church history of the English people, completed in 731, is the most important source for this time, they landed on the island of Thanet, which belongs to Kent, in the spring of 597 and let Æthelberht know that they were bringing "very good news that without a doubt promises to those who follow it eternal joys in heaven and the endless kingdom to come with the living and true God".

The king does not seem to have had any doubts about the good news, although he approached the matter with the utmost caution. Because, he replied: “It is true that the words and promises you make are beautiful; but because they are new and uncertain, I cannot give them my consent, giving up the things which I have served for so long with the whole people of the English ”. That was wise, because, like any pagan ruler, Æthelberht could not simply give up the traditional cult until he had convinced the more conservative lords of his followers of the benefits of a change of religion. At least he allowed the missionaries to preach the gospel. A start was made. Success soon ensued, and Augustine was able to cheerfully report to Pope Gregory that at Christmas 597 more than 10,000 fish had been baptized. Augustine was made bishop as a reward. Reinforcements were quickly sent from Rome to the island and the establishment of a diocese organization began. In spite of this, the establishment of the new faith developed only slowly, and evidently pagans and Christians lived in Kent for several years in a peaceful and peaceful way. In any case, considering the immobility of the people, thelberht, who had meanwhile been baptized, was of the opinion that “service for Christ must be voluntary, not forced”, as Bede narrates. You can't convert a whole people in the blink of an eye ...

Literature: Bede the Venerable, Church history of the English people. Translated by Günter Spitzbart. Darmstadt 1997.

Lutz E. von Padberg, Christianization in the Middle Ages. Stuttgart 2006

Prof. Dr. Lutz E. von Padberg

July 17, 2008

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