Friday 9 November 2012

The New Archbishop of Canterbury, and St Justus

I've been reading with great interest about the newly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury.  Quite apart from the national importance of the position, I retain the special parochial (or, I suppose, the diocesan equivalent) pride of a true-born Maid of Kent in 'our' archbishop, and a curiosity about anything that involves my beloved Canterbury.  But it will not surprise regular readers of this blog to learn that whenever an Archbishop of Canterbury is in the news, my mind turns to stories of his medieval predecessors; this is therefore a topical post which also manages to be about 1400 years behind the times.  Just a warning...

Fortunately, it hasn't taken as long to replace Rowan Williams as it took to replace Anselm (five years and four days - after some bribery and much partisan wrangling about what nationality the archbishop should be), and we now know the 105th Archbishop will be Justin Welby.  An entertaining BBC article yesterday reflected on the new archbishop's first name, lamenting the name's decline from its original dignity, and expressing the hope that this appointment may herald better things for the race of Justins.  It pointed out some precedent for the name at Canterbury:

The former oil industry worker joins his near-namesake Justus, who held the role in the early 7th Century, when the Church's missionary work in the north of England was still in its early stages.

Early stages indeed - Justus was only the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury, and at the time he became archbishop in 624 less than thirty years had passed since St Augustine's arrival in Kent.  According to Bede, Justus came to England with the second group of missionaries sent by Gregory the Great.  They arrived in 601, bringing with them books (including one which still survives!) and other things Augustine had requested for his new missionary church.  Justus was quickly made bishop of the new diocese of Rochester - as I wrote back in January, Rochester, though ancient, usually has the title 'second oldest' for everything related to English Christian history, being the second see founded after Augustine's arrival (in 604, along with London).  The cathedral there is a descendant of the church built for Justus by King Ethelbert.

With Ethelbert's support, the Christian mission flourished; but on his death in 616 things became more difficult.  As Bede tells it:

After the death of Ethelbert, the accession of his son Eadbald proved very prejudicial to the new church; for he not only refused to embrace the faith of Christ, but was also defiled with such a sort of fornication, as the apostle testifies, was not heard of, even among the Gentiles; for he kept [that is, married] his father's wife. By both which crimes he gave occasion to those to return to their former uncleanness, who, under his father, had, either for favour, or through fear of the king, submitted to the laws of faith and chastity. Nor did the perfidious king escape without Divine punishment and correction; for he was troubled with frequent fits of madness, and possessed by an evil spirit.
This confusion was increased by the death of Sabert, king of the East-Saxons, who departing to the heavenly kingdom, left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his temporal crown. They immediately began to profess idolatry, which, during their father's reign, they had seemed a little to abandon, and they granted free liberty to the people under their government to serve idols. And when they saw the bishop, whilst celebrating mass in the church, give the eucharist to the people, they, puffed up with barbarous folly, were wont, as it is reported, to say to him, "Why do you not give us also that white bread, which you used to give to our father Saba (for so they used to call him), and which you still continue to give to the people in the church?" To whom he answered, "If you will be washed in that [water] of salvation, in which your father was washed, you may also partake of the holy bread of which he partook; but if you despise the [water] of life, you may not receive the bread of life."  They replied, "We will not enter into that [water], because we do not know that we stand in need of it, and yet we will eat of that bread."
And being often earnestly admonished by him, that the same could not be done, nor any one admitted to partake of the sacred oblation without the holy cleansing, at last, they said in anger, "If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that is which we require, you shall not stay in our province." And accordingly they obliged him and his followers to depart from their kingdom. Being forced from thence, he came into Kent, to advise with his fellow bishops, Laurentius and Justus, what was to be done in that case; and it was unanimously agreed, that it was better for them all to return to their own country, where they might serve God in freedom, than to continue without any advantage among those barbarians, who had revolted from the faith. Mellitus and Justus accordingly went away first, and withdrew into France, designing there to await the event of things. But the kings, who had driven from them the preacher of the truth, did not continue long unpunished in their heathenish worship. For marching out to battle against the nation of the Gewissie, they were all slain with their army. However, the people, having been once turned to wickedness, though the authors of it were destroyed, would not be corrected, nor return to the unity of faith and charity which is in Christ.

And then a miracle happened:

Laurentius [Augustine's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury], being about to follow Mellitus and Justus, and to quit Britain, ordered his bed to be laid the night before in the church of the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, which has been often mentioned before; wherein having laid himself to take some rest, after he had poured out many prayers and tears to God for the state of the church, be fell asleep; in the dead of night, the blessed prince of the apostles appeared to him, and scourging him a long time with apostolical severity, asked of him, "Why he would forsake the flock which he had committed to him? or to what shepherds he would commit Christ's sheep that were in the midst of wolves? Have you," said he, "forgotten my example, who, for the sake of those little ones, whom Christ recommended to me in token of his affection, underwent at the hands of infidels and enemies of Christ, bonds, stripes, imprisonment, afflictions, and lastly, the death of the cross, that I might at last be crowned with him?"
Laurentius, the servant of Christ, being excited by these words and stripes, the very next morning repaired to the king, and taking off his garment, showed the scars of the stripes which he had received. The king, astonished, asked, "Who had presumed to give such stripes to so great a man?" And was much frightened when he heard that the bishop had suffered so much at the hands of the apostle of Christ for his salvation. Then abjuring the worship of idols, and renouncing his unlawful marriage, he embraced the faith of Christ, and being baptized, promoted the affairs of the church to the utmost of his power.
He also sent over into France, and recalled Mellitus and Justus, and commanded them freely to return to govern their churches, which they accordingly did, one year after their departure.

That was in 617, and things went rather better after this point; on Laurentius' death Mellitus became Archbishop of Canterbury (that's the third, if you're keeping track) and on his death, Justus (fourth).  Justin Welby might take comfort from the thought that no matter how tricky his difficult job will get over the next few years, he probably won't have to flee into exile at any point...

Bede loses interest in Justus shortly after his consecration, since the conversion of Northumbria, a process which began when Justus consecrated Paulinus as Bishop of York, is of much more immediate concern to him; he starts telling stories about the flight of a sparrow and stops talking about what was happening down in Canterbury at the same time.  So we don't know much about what Justus actually did as archbishop, but we do know that he was buried at the monastery of St Augustine's, and there (with the other missionaries sent by Gregory) was commemorated as a saint.

I wrote about St Augustine's and its saints a little while ago; these tablets mark the places where Justus and his companions were buried, in the days before the abbey was in ruins:

In the Middle Ages St Augustine's was very proud of its name-saint and his companions.  In 1091, when the abbey was about to be rebuilt, the bodies of the saints had to be moved to allow this; St Augustine's decided to make the translation of the relics an occasion of great celebration, and it caused the monk Goscelin, in giving an account of this important event, to write at length about the Augustinian saints (and about St Mildred of Thanet, as I've mentioned before).  St Augustine's had been through some very troubled times after the Norman Conquest, and this was an opportunity for the abbey to heal some of its wounds by looking back to its origins.

Goscelin was an eye-witness to the opening of the tombs, a process which took place over a whole week of splendid liturgical celebrations.  He describes how it began on 6th September and lasted until the 13th; on Monday 15th September, the workmen came in to clear the foundations for the building of the new abbey (that gives you a nice sense of how the ceremonial and the practical needs of the community met on this occasion!).  The body of Justus, together with his two immediate successors Honorius and Deusdedit, was due to be moved on the Friday, but it took longer than expected to break into the tombs, and they didn't manage it until Saturday morning.  When the tombs were opened, there was a miraculously sweet smell - the odour of sanctity.  Goscelin indulges in a pious Latin pun: if you want to know, he says, 'quis sit Justus' (if this man is just/is really Justus), this scent is your evidence of both.  Very nice, Goscelin; this makes me think that he and Gerard Manley 'the just man justices' Hopkins are probably having punning fun somewhere in the heavenly Wilton.

Here's a gorgeous picture of a page in the manuscript which tells about the events of 1091.

St Justus of Canterbury's feast-day is 10 November, which makes today an auspicious day for the announcement of his near-namesake and successor.  It's probably a coincidence, but it's a rather wonderful one.  I like the sound of Justin Welby, partly because he achieves the remarkable feat of having a Twitter account that makes him appear to be a decent human being (a not inconsiderable achievement).  And his tendency to nod off at the General Synod puts him in good saintly company, with Anselm and Wulfstan of Worcester:

If he was ever forced to go to the shire court, he started by pronouncing a curse on evil judges and a blessing on upright ones. Then he would sit down, and if some religious matter was under consideration he would concentrate hard; but if it was secular, as more often happened, he would grow bored and go off to sleep. But if anyone thought fit to speak against him, he soon found out that Wulfstan was no dullard when it came to replying.

Not a bad precedent!

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