St. Augustine of Canterbury and Intersecting the Timeless

[Hood-doff to Fr. Hunwicke for the following quote from Dom Gregory Anglican-Patrimony Dix, which mentions tomorrow’s (27 May) saint, Augustine of Canterbury, monk and “Apostle to the English.” Another hood-doff to Brian McCord for sending the biography of St. Augustine of Canterbury, attached below, from today’s Matins readings.  And name-day blessings to Fr. Don Augustine Malins, Obl.S.B. 

As for this passage from Dix, I remember hearing it read in a homily years ago when I was a newly-confirmed Episcopalian. (It’s worth reading in its entirety!) It accomplished much in crystallizing in my understanding the universality—transcending time and space—of the liturgy.  It was no longer possible for me to understand liturgy as an action of the present congregation—only those present at this time and this place.  Though this “presentism” characterizes so many celebrations of the liturgy, unfortunately.  “Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgeware Road,” it is ours “to apprehend / The point of intersection of the timeless / With time, [for that] is an occupation for the saint” (T. S. Eliot, “Dry Salvages,” The Four Quartets).]

[The image is an icon of St. Augustine of Canterbury by Theophilia] 

Dom Gregory Dix (Shape of the Liturgy page 745) on the importance of using given liturgy: “[There is] a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever-changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they ‘do this’ yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In this twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara ‘did this’ with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas. This very morning I ‘did this’ with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed.

“Augustine, a monk of the Lateran monastery in Rome, was sent by Gregory the Great in 597 to England with about forty monks as his companions. They were invited by King Ethelbert to Canterbury, the chief city of the kingdom, and they built an oratory nearby. Through preaching the doctrine of heaven, Augustine brought many of the islanders and the king himself to the Christian faith, to the great joy of the king’s wife, Bertha, who was a Christian. By order of Pope Gregory, Augustine was ordained bishop and founded the see of Canterbury; by the same Pontiff he was granted the use of the pallium and the right to organize the hierarchy of England. At length, after suffering great hardships for Christ, having set Mellitus over the Church of London, Justus over that of Rochester, and Lawrence over his own Church, he made his journey to heaven on the 26th day of May. He was buried in the monastery of St. Peter, which then became the burial place of bishops of Canterbury and of several kings.”

He has traditionally been considered the “Apostle to the English” and a founder of the English Church.  St Bede records in his history of the English Church that the monks converted the locals by their preaching and example:

“…they began to emulate the life of the apostles and the primitive Church. They were constantly at prayer; they fasted and kept vigils; they preached the word of life to whomsoever they could….Before long a number of heathen, admiring the simplicity of their holy lives and the comfort of their heavenly message, believed and were baptized…”

St Augustine established schools and monasteries, and set about organising the missionary effort more broadly in England. His life was marked by miracles, and he was quickly acclaimed as a saint on his death. 

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