Despite the “pop-culture” association of St. Patrick’s Day with leprechauns and green beer, this is actually the feast-day of a very impressive and influential saint of the early Church: Saint Patrick (Patricius) was a Briton who became the missionary to and evangelist (and ultimately, Bishop) of Ireland, which in turn ultimately led to the amazing flowering of faith and culture which was early Christian Ireland – and the salvation of the Classical inheritance of Western Europe, during and following the period often known (somewhat incorrectly and misleadingly) as the “Dark Ages.”
“To learn of the many missionaries and martyrs of the Church who have gone abroad throughout hostile nations is to be moved by the hardships unceasingly endured, and the intensity of heroic virtue constantly displayed, to accomplish the work of God. Even so, I cannot help but esteem the labors of St. Patrick as among the greatest of those who have traveled far and wide for the discipleship of Christ.”
“On this day, we look to find the strength of St. Patrick in ourselves—that is, in our bishops and priests, in our religious and laity—to articulate the challenge of faith in the midst of difficult, even impossible, odds. In this age of ours, who would dare to go before senators and judges, declaring in the likeness of the saint: “Some put their trust in nations and some in avarice for every earthly thing; but we in the Lord our God”? Whether berated with the din of laughter, or caught in the clamor of scorn, it is our special task to give to the world this expression of the serenity and hope of Christian fortitude: a power that is never irrational, never violent, but also never afraid. And if it is thought by some to have diminished, or even gone wholly out of the Church, I stridently assert that in some persons its example remains unbroken…
“Although it is undoubtedly true that each and every one of the Church’s saints display a faith and virtue which is for all the ages of the world, I would especially believe that St. Patrick—though he lived some sixteen centuries past—is truly a saint for our times.”
One of the most important bishops of Rome and most influential writers of the Middle Ages, Gregory the First is one of only two popes (the other being Leo the First), to have been given the epithet “the Great.”
Indeed! But his greatest significance to Anglicans is his role as “the Apostle to the English,” for his zealous concern for their conversion to Christianity, culminating in his sending of the monk Augustine (who would become known as St. Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, having received the pallium from Gregory himself) as a missisonary / evangelist, with his companions.
It is said that Pope Gregory was inspired to his concern for the Anglo-Saxon people of England by encountering a group of English children or youth on sale as slaves in the Roman market around the year 573. He is said to have remarked on their beauty as being like that of angels, whereupon he was told that they were in fact Angles – causing him to say, Non Angli, sed angeli: “Not Angles, but angels.”
He originally planned to go to England himself, but when he was instead elected Pope, decided to send Augustine in 597 AD. And the rest is, as they say, history…
One of Gregory’s most notable achievements was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. He personally took the lead in the whole process, sending Augustine, prior of his own monastery of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill, and a number of fellow monks to southeastern Britain, to the Jutish kingdom of Kent, where they achieved within a few years the conversion of the people and of their king, Ethelbert. Gregory continue personally to guide the mission in matters that perplexed Augustine by sending a supporting group of missionaries, along with liturgical vessels, books, and vestments, in 601; and by writing to Ethelbert and his Christian queen, Bertha on various matters. The close relationship between Rome and the English Church was continued by Gregory’s successors, and in many ways the Church in England was closer to the papacy than the Church in Gaul was. The first Life of Gregory was written in England, and from the biographies written by the Venerable Bede, Aldhelm, and the anonymous biographer of Whitby come eulogies of Gregory as “the apostle of the English”, “our father and apostle in Christ”, and “he from who we have received the Christian faith, he who will present the English people to the Lord on the Day of Judgment as their teacher and apostle.”
Indeed, we have St. Gregory the Great to thank for the very existence of the Ecclesia Anglicana (Anglican, or English, Church)!
Elevated to the see of Canterbury in 1633, William Laud had already been King Charles’ principal ecclesiastical adviser for several years…
“Laud’s reputation remains controversial to this day. Honored as a martyr and condemned as an intolerant bigot, he was compassionate in his defense of the rights of the common people against the landowners. He was honest, devout, loyal to the king and to the rights and privileges of the Church of England. He tried to reform and protect the Church in accordance with his convictions – though these attempts at reform were marred by his treatment of those who strenuously disagreed with him theologically and liturgically. In many ways he was out of step with the views of the majority of his countrymen, especially in his espousal of royal Stuart views of the ‘Divine Rights of Kings.’ The historian Nicholas Tyacke rates Laud as one of the greatest of the Archbishops of Canterbury, not giving him complete approval, but recognizing that his contribution to the future of the English Church was of major importance.”