Saint Cedd was a valiant English Christian missionary during the 7th century AD. He was born of a noble family in Northumbria in the year 620 and was the eldest of four sons. All four brothers, Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad were first sent to school at Lindisfarne Priory where they were taught by the Irish monks there. Later they went to Ireland to study more after which they were ordained priests and sent on missions to teach, baptise and organise the church in England.
So, this adventure began with learning about Cedd, of whose life I will write more about later. But as with all adventures one thing always leads to another. You see we know about Cedd mostly because of the great medieval historian, the Venerable Bede.
‘The Venerable Bede (c 672 – May 25, 735) was a monk at the monastery of Saint Peter at Wearmouth (today part of Sunderland), and of its daughter monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow. He is well known as an author and scholar, whose best known work is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which gained him the title The Father of English History.’
So Cedd led me to Bede and to his history which is readily available in Kindle and paperback formats and which has opened up so many other paths it is hard to choose which one to go down. I was intrigued as I read ‘Book 1’ and learned that the Scots originally came from Ireland to the west of Scotland and that the Picts occupied the east and that when the Romans and its legions finally left these shores the Britons were too weak to defend themselves against the Picts so they sought help from men living across the sea who were the Angles and Saxons. But these mercenaries liked England’s fertile land so much they decided to stay, pushing the Britons to the west into Wales and Cornwall. But as enlightening as this is, secular history is not the understanding I seek.
In 1965, when I was seventeen, two Mormon missionaries called at my parent’s home and taught me what they described as the ‘restored gospel’. Although I remain committed to that faith and the idea of a ‘restoration’ I accept it as a matter of belief rather than knowledge. And so this adventure, like past ones*, has a common theme: what happened to Christianity?
My most recent encounter before beginning this study was with the Greek Orthodox Church while living for eighteen months in Athens. Orthodoxy is generally ignored by those who hold to the belief of a restoration. If we compare Christianity to a tree with a trunk, according to Eusebius, the church began to separate into two branches during the first centuries and in two geographical directions, east and west. Whilst the Eastern Church has several branches ie Greek, Russian and Coptic, they have largely kept to the doctrine and traditions established by the first ecumenical councils held in the first seven centuries of the Christian era. On the other hand the western church, which became the Roman church, through evangelical fervour spread far and wide, developing new customs as it embraced new cultures. Although Mormonism claims to be neither protestant nor a continuation of the early church, it can loosely be linked to the second and first ‘great awakenings’ during the 18th and early 19th centuries in the U.S. and before that to the separatist movement that led the Scrooby Puritans to seek religious freedom firstly in Holland and then in New England. That movement then takes us back to the Reformation in England and Europe. ..
But while this is a simplistic description of how the Christian church developed; we are forgetting those movements that were labelled heresies. Now it is this area we call heresy that brings me to one of the more remarkable stories in Bede’s history. It is an account of a doctrinal battle that seems to go back even to the time of Paul and James, two New Testament writers. It is the opposing views of being saved only by grace or by our own efforts, ie our works. This is Bede’s account of the battle that occurred in 425.
Apparently one Agricola, the son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, had corrupted with its foul taint the faith of the Britons who did not have the intellectual abilities to defeat these teachings .’ So what was the Palagian heresy? Orthodoxwiki explains it well:
‘Pelagius was a British biblical scholar and theologian who lived in Rome in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. He stressed the human ability to fulfill the commands of God, and thus man's full responsibility for his own salvation. The role of Jesus is viewed as only "setting a good example" and divine grace has no place.
This teaching was opposed by St. Augustine, the leading figure in the North African Church at that time. While Pelagius, in his claims that humans can (alone) do what God requires, had emphasized the freedom of human will and the ability to control one's motives and actions under the guidance of God's law. Augustine insisted that no one can control his or her own motivation and that person requires the assistance of God's grace if he or she is to will and to do good. Only with the help of divine grace can an individual overcome the force of sin and live rightly before God.
Pelagius was excommunicated in 417 by Pope Innocent I, and his views were condemned by a series of Church councils. The issues of human freedom (human works; fight of faith) and divine grace, however, have remained central topics of debate throughout the history of Christian theology.’
But although Pelagius was ex-communicated he continued to spread his teachings which reached even those few Christians then living in the British Isles. To combat this Rome sent two adversaries, one Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes. Miracles accompanied the journey and arrival of these missionaries before they dealt with this heresy.
‘These bishops speedily filled the island of Britain with the fame of their preaching and miracles; and the Word of God was by them daily preached, not only in the churches, but even in the streets and fields, so that the faithful and Catholic were everywhere confirmed, and those who had been perverted accepted the way of amendment. Like the Apostles, they acquired honour and authority through a good conscience, learning through the study of letters, and the power of working miracles through their merits. Thus the whole country readily came over to their way of thinking; the authors of the erroneous belief kept themselves in hiding, and, like evil spirits, grieved for the loss of the people that were rescued from them. At length, after long deliberation, they had the boldness to enter the lists (contest). They came forward in all the splendour of their wealth, with gorgeous apparel, and supported by a numerous following; choosing rather to hazard the contest, than to undergo among the people whom they had led astray, the reproach of having been silenced, lest they should seem by saying nothing to condemn themselves. An immense multitude had been attracted thither with their wives and children. The people were present as spectators and judges; the two parties stood there in very different case; on the one side was Divine faith, on the other human presumption; on the one side piety, on the other pride; on the one side Pelagius, the founder of their faith, on the other Christ. The blessed bishops permitted their adversaries to speak first, and their empty speech long took up the time and filled the ears with meaningless words. Then the venerable prelates poured forth the torrent of their eloquence and showered upon them the words of Apostles and Evangelists, mingling the Scriptures with their own discourse and supporting their strongest assertions by the testimony of the written Word. Vainglory was vanquished and unbelief refuted; and the heretics, at every argument put before them, not being able to reply, confessed their errors. The people, giving judgement, could scarce refrain from violence, and signified their verdict by their acclamations.’
But my interest is not so much in this doctrinal contest, but how these Pelagians and those ‘numerous souls’ they had influence over, then living in Britain, first embraced Christianity? This is long before the arrival of St Augustine, so was it possible that Christians had been a small minority amongst the pagan populace for generations, perhaps even from the beginning? After all, it is recorded on the Orthodox timeline that Joseph of Arimathea, he who provided the tomb for the Saviour, was first imprisoned then banished by the Jewish authorities but afterwards travelled the world preaching the gospel before finally landing in Glastonbury where he was laid to rest. Bede makes no mention of him.
One other notable figure that is not included in Bede’s history is none other than Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Patrick was born around 390 at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland. His parents were part of the Christian minority of Britain; his father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, the son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ. Age 16 he was captured by pirates and made a slave in Ireland. From there he eventually escaped and vowed to return to Ireland to teach the gospel. After training it was Germanus who ordained him bishop before he left for Ireland. Patrick is particularly important because he wrote down his own testimony and conversion story which has survived to this day.
So you see how one thing leads to another. I shall now return to Cedd.
As already stated Cedd received his education and training from Irish priests sent from Iona to Lindisfarne during the period 635 and 640. This branch of Irish Christianity and authority must stem from Patrick’s ministry. Although St Gregory, Bishop of Rome from 582 to 587, ordained Augustine as Archbishop to the English and sent him and 40 others (none of whom were proficient in the native tongues of Britain) to convert the English, and though he was successful in Kent up to the river Humber through the conversion of King Ethelbert, he and successive Archbishops were unsuccessful in maintaining the faith. It was Cedd and his companions sent first to Mercia and then to Essex who established the faith more securely. He was ordained bishop of Essex by Finan of Lindisfarne, established monasteries in Bradwell-on-sea and Tilbury as well as re-establishing St Paul’s in London as the main seat of his diocese.
So what can we conclude from this? Simply that it was not Archbishops sent by Rome that successfully established the faith but those raised and taught within these islands by the Irish.
To conclude my short history of Cedd, who is often called Cedd of Lastingham, I will conclude with how he gained that title. I quote from Orthodoxwiki:
‘Bishop Cedd always remained fond of his northern homeland and made regular visits there. On one such occasion in 658, Cedd was approached by King Aethelwald of Deira. Finding Cedd to be a good and wise man, he pressed upon him to accept a parcel of land at Lastingham in Yorkshire on which to build a monastery. Cedd eventually agreed, but would not lay the foundation stones until the place had first been cleansed through prayer and fasting. Cedd was the first Abbot of Lastingham and remained so while still administering to his flock in Essex.
In 664 Cedd was at Lastingham at a time that a great plague was raging through the area. Both he and his brother, Cynebil, fell sick and, after placing Lastingham in the charge of their youngest brother, Chad, they died. Cedd was first buried in the open air, and his funeral was attended by some thirty monks from Bradwell who, sadly, also contracted the plague and died. Eventually, a little stone church was built at Lastingham in honour the Virgin Mary, and Cedd's body was interred there, to the right of the altar. The latter remains intact in the Norman crypt that was later built on the site, though St. Cedd's bones were removed around the same time to the cathedral founded by his brother, Chad, at Lichfield.’
On my recent visit to the North Yorkshire Moors I paid a visit to Lastingham and the crypt where once Cedd’s body was laid.
352 miles on foot from Lindisfarne to Bradwell...