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Either from fear or inability, or want of zeal, they took no pains to introduce Christianity into the seven Saxon kingdoms called the Heptarchy; and but for the efforts of a bishop animated with the spirit of Gregory, they must therefore have remained under the influence of that ferocious and idolatrous superstition, which led them to destroy many of the Christian churches and monasteries, and to entertain a contempt for the religion of those whom they had conquered.
12. The mission to Britain was an event on which Gregory had deliberated before his consecration. Walking one day in the forum, he saw some remarkable youths, exposed as captives for sale. He was struck by their appearance. Their fine clear skins, the beauty of their flaxen or golden hair, and their ingenuous countenances, excited a lively interest in their favour. He asked from what country they came, and was informed that they were natives of the island of Britain, where the people were still Pagans. “Alas!” said Gregory, sighing deeply, “ that the prince of darkness should possess countenances so luminous, and that so fair a front should carry minds destitute of true religion." When informed that they belonged to the English tribe, or nation called Angli, “ Truly," said he, “they are like angels, and ought to be made co-heritors with the angels in heaven.” Then demanding from what province they were brought, the answer was, “ From Deira, now called Northumberland.” With the same humour hé observed, that this might also be said rightly, for they ought to be delivered “de Dei ira," or from the wrath of God. Their king he was also told was called Alla, to which he replied, still playfully dwelling upon the word, “ Alleluia ought to be sung in his dominions.” But this apparent trifling was not so in reality. A deep purpose was implanted in the soul of Gregory, which ended in serious endeavours. The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons became a favourite object with him, and he set out from Rome to go as a missionary among them; but he was so much beloved by the Roman citizens, that their outeries compelled Pelagius, the bishop of the city, to send after him. After Gregory's election to that office, he dispatched forty missionaries from one of the monasteries he had founded at Rome, and placed Augustine at their head. Having had but little experience in
this work, they turned back before they reached the end of their journey, and would have given up their design, but for the earnestness with which Gregory again exhorted them in his own powerful manner, not to be discouraged by the dangers or difficulties before them. He recommended them also to Etherius, bishop of Arles, and secured them such assistance in France, as greatly contributed to their receiving a hospitable welcome in Britain.
13. Ethelbert, one of the most wise and powerful of the Saxon princes, had now a queen, the daughter of Charibert, King of Paris. She was already a Christian, and had stipulated for the profession of her religion, as one of the conditions of her marrying a heathen prince. It was thus that the way was opened for the introduction of Christianity, by the exertions of Gregory, and the band of missionaries whom he had commissioned. The message of these ministers of mercy was well received. A habitation was assigned them, at first in the Isle of Thanet, and afterwards in Canterbury. Here they officiated in the church, which had been repaired for the queen Bertha's use, and after a short time Ethelbert became a sincere convert to the faith of Christ. Under his protection and patronage, Augustine and his coadjutors extended their labours into the neighbouring kingdoms with much success; and it being intimated to Gregory that more missionaries were wanting for the work, he sent an additional number. Augustine was consecrated in France, Archbishop of the English nation (A.D. 601), and died about ten years after (A.D. 610). He was made a metropolitan bishop, and was ordered to constitute another bishop at York (A. D. 601), like himself having a number of bishops under his government. Thus Christianity was by degrees introduced and firmly established among the Anglo-Saxons. Idolatry was destroyed, and by the advice of Gregory, the idol temples, instead of being overthrown, were converted into churches, where the true God was worshipped, though not without some leaven of that superstition which characterized the church of Rome even at this period (A.D. 600).
14. An important step in this triumph of the Christian religion over a nation of bigoted idolators, was the conversion of Edwin, King of Deira. This happy event was brought about by the ministry of Paulinus, one of the last missionaries
whom Gregory had sent to the assistance of Augustine, and who was raised to the office of bishop, in the hope that he would become the apostle of the Northumbrians: a hope that was not disappointed. His zealous and judicious efforts to influence the King, who was for some time averse to change his religion, were seconded by the good offices of his queen, Edilburga, who, like Bertha, was a Christian before her marriage, and had also made it a condition that she should still enjoy the exercise of her religion. Edwin, however, was a prince of strong mind, and he did not embrace Christianity without first assembling his chiefs in counsel. On this very memorable occasion one of those present made the following significant speech :-“0 King, the present life
O of man, when considered in relation to that which is to come, may be likened to a sparrow flying through the hall, wherein you and your chiefs and servants are seated at supper, in winter time; the hearth blazing in the centre, and the viands smoking, while without is the storm and rain, or snow. The bird flies through, entering at one door, and passing out at the other; he feels not the weather during the little minute that he is within ; but after that minute he returns again to winter, as from winter he came, and is seen
Such is the life of man; and of what follows it, or of what has gone before it, we are altogether ignorant ; therefore, if this new doctrine should bring anything more certain, it well deserves to be followed.” The rest of the assembly signified their assent to a change of faith, and it was then proposed that Paulinus should fully explain to them the nature of the new religion which they were called upon to receive.
The sequel of this conference was a resolution on the part of all to forsake their former superstitions, and to embrace a religion “which brought life and immortality to light." The King was baptized on Easterday (A.D. 627), at a place called Godmunddingaham, a little east of York, now known as Godmundham. Multitudes speedily followed his example, and Paulinus is said to have been employed six and thirty days, from morning till evening, in baptizing those who flocked to him. Edwin's conversion was soon followed, not only throughout his own dominions, but beyond it. Amidst the various revolutions of war, Christianity still continued to prosper and diffuse itself; and all the kingdoms of the Heptarchy in the course of
about sixty years (A.D. 597-656) felt the beneficial influence of that religion which Gregory had first established among them, by the agency of Augustine and his fellow missionaries in Kent.
15. We have dwelt the longer on this event, as it is one in which English readers may be supposed to feel a livelier interest than in many of those remoter matters, which were connected with the life of so eminent a man as Gregory the Great. He has been called by venerable Bede Our Apostle, because, by his industry, he converted the English nation from the dominion of idolatry to the faith of Christ. He died, however, long before this work was finished, his pontificate continuing only thirteen years and six months (A.D. 604). Besides his active labours as one who was occupied in the government of the city of Rome, and of all the churches of the West, which were subject to his jurisdiction, he found time for the composition of a variety of religious works, attesting his zeal, piety, and general ability above most of the writers of his day. These consist of homilies, or expositions of nearly all the books of holy Scripture, and have been printed at Rome in six folio volumes (A.D. 1588).
16. Much of the Roman liturgy, which has been used in all the churches of Christendom through succeeding ages, owes its authorship, or its peculiar character, to this saint. The Church of England is indebted to him for her Litany; and almost all the collects in her prayer book, that are used on Sundays and on the principal festivals, are taken from a work called the Sacramentary of Gregory, which had been, however, composed in part by Pope Gelasius and others at an earlier period. He also gave more explicit declarations than his predecessors had done, respecting the distribution of parishes, the calendar of festivals, the order of processions, the service of the priests and deacons, the variety and change of sacerdotal garments. Until the last days of his life, he officiated in the most sacred offices of the public service of the church ; and he introduced a mode of musical reading, which has been called after him the Gregorian chant. The more ancient chant of St. Ambrose had been confined to four notes, but Gregory increased it to fifteen. Experience had perhaps shewn the effect of these solemn and significant rites, to soothe the distress, to mitigate the fierceness, and to dispel the gloomy enthusiasm, of barbarians; and he therefore too readily overlooked some of the dangers to which the church was now exposed, from other and more objectionable observances. This was made apparent by his conduct with regard to the images which now began to be placed in churches. Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, observing some of his people too ready to adore them, brake them in pieces, a zeal which displeased many, who withdrew therefore from his communion. Gregory rebuked him on this account, and expressed his wish, that he should rather conciliate the affections of his people, by allowing them to make use of images as historical memorials that might impress their minds with the great facts of Christianity; in short, that they should be used as books for illiterate people, who were, however, to be cautioned against paying them any adoration.
17. The last year of Gregory's life was rendered remarkable by a tragical event—the death of the Emperor Maurice, respecting which the conduct of the saint has been, though perhaps unjustly, condemned. This Emperor was one whose character was, in some respects, praiseworthy. He had great military virtues, and a strong sense of religion ; but avarice was one of the faults of his character. The Chagan, or king of the Avars, a Scythian nation on the banks of the Danube, offered to liberate several thousand captive soldiers who had been taken in a recent war, on condition of receiving a small ransom (A.D. 601). But for their rescue Maurice would not part with his money, and the barbarian, in his rage, massacred all his prisoners. Maurice, though covetous, was not inhuman; he was struck with horror at the news, and besought God that his punishment might be in this life, not in the next.
This prayer was answered, in the former part of it at least, and we may hope also in the latter. The soldiers, stung with rage, and excited also by a refusal to supply their own wants, rose in arms against the Emperor, and raised Phocas, a centurion, to the imperial throne. Maurice fled, but was seized and barbarously murdered by order of the usurping tyrant. Five of his sons were slain in his sight, before he himself received the fatal stroke. He bore the spectacle with silent resignation, saying only, as each of his children was butchered, “Righteous art thou, O Lord, and true are thy