Chapter 24 - CONVERSION OF THE BARBARIANS; CHRISTIANITY IN BRITAIN

As the old empire of Rome disappears, the modern kingdoms of Europe begin to come to view; and we may now look at the progress of the Gospel among the nations of the West.

The barbarians who got possession of France, Spain, South Germany, and other parts of the empire, were soon converted to a sort of Christianity; but, unfortunately, it was not the true Catholic faith. I have told you (p 93) that Ulfilas, "the Moses of the Goths," led his people into the errors of Arianism. As it was from the Goths that the missionaries generally went forth to convert the other northern nations, these nations, too, for the most part, became Arians; while some of them, after having been converted by Catholics, afterwards fell into Arianism. It is curious to observe how opposite the course of conversion was among these nations from what it had been in earlier times. In the Roman empire, the Gospel worked its way up from the poor and simple people who were the first to believe it, until the emperor himself became at length a convert. But among the nations which now overran the western empire, the missionaries usually began by making a convert of the prince; when the prince was converted, his subjects followed him to the font, and if he changed from Catholicism to Arianism, or from Arianism to Catholicism, the people did the same. In the course of time, all the nations which had professed Arianism were brought over to the true faith. The last who held out were the Goths in Spain, who gave up their errors at a great council which was held at Toledo in 589; and the Lombards, in the north of Italy, who were converted in the early part of the following century.

Our own island was little troubled by Arianism, and St. Athanasius bears witness to the firmness of the British bishops in the right faith. But Pelagius, as we have seen (p 124), was himself a Briton; and, although he did not himself try to spread his errors here, one of his followers, named Agricola, brought them into Britain, and did a great deal of mischief (AD 429). The Britons had been long under the power of the Romans; but, as the empire grew weaker, the Romans found that they could not afford to keep up an army here; and they had given up Britain in the year 409. But after this, when the Picts and Scots of the north invaded the southern part of the island (or what we now call England), the Britons in their alarm used to beg the assistance of the Romans against them. And it would seem as if the British clergy had come to depend on the help of others in much the same way; for when they found what havoc the Pelagian Agricola was making among their people, they sent over into Gaul, and begged that the bishops of that country would send them aid against him.

Two bishops, German of Auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes, were sent accordingly by a council to which the petition of the Britons had been made. These two could speak a language which was near enough to the British to be understood by the Britons, it was something like the Welsh, or the Irish, or like the Gaelic, which is spoken in the Highlands of Scotland (for all these languages are much alike). Their preaching, had a great effect on the people, and their holy lives preached still better than their sermons; they disputed with the Pelagian teachers at Verulam, the town where St. Alban was martyred (p 37), and which now takes its name from him, and they succeeded for the time in putting down the heresy.

It is said that while German and Lupus were in this country, the Picts and Saxons joined in invading it; and that the Britons, finding their army unfit to fight the enemy, sent to beg the assistance of the two Gaulish bishops. So German and Lupus went to the British army, and joined it just before Easter. A great number of the soldiers were baptized at Easter, and German put himself at their heads. The enemy came on, expecting an easy victory, but the bishops thrice shouted "Hallelujah!" and all the army took up the shout, which was echoed from the mountains again and again, so that the pagans were struck with terror, and expected the mountains to fall on them. They threw down their arms, and ran away, leaving a great quantity of spoil behind them, and many of them rushed into a river, where they were drowned. The place where this victory is said to have been gained is still pointed out in Flintshire, and is known by a Welsh name, which means, "German's Field." Pelagianism began to revive in Britain some years later, but St. German came over a second time, and once more put it down.

But soon after this, the Saxons came into Britain. It is supposed that Hengist and Horsa landed in Kent in the year 449; and other chiefs followed, with their fierce heathen warriors. There was a struggle between these and the Britons, which lasted a hundred years, until at length the invaders got the better, and the land was once more overspread by heathenism, except where the Britons kept up their Christianity in the mountainous districts of the West,--Cumberland, Wales, and Cornwall. You shall hear by-and-by how the Gospel was introduced among the Saxons.