Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

St Paul in Sussex

Last night Fr Jerome entertained the Brothers of the Oratory with a talk based upon a wonderful mixture of archaeological finds, Biblical references, possible hypotheses and a lot of wishful thinking. this was his retelling of the theories and interpretations in Edwin Wilmshurst's St Paul and Britain;notes on the dedication stone of the temple of Neptune and Minerva, at Chichester, which connects the Roman senator Pudens, the British princess Claudia, and St Paul, with the city of Chichester .This pamphlet was published in Chichester in 1910.

In it the author blends together facts and suppositions to talk of the connections berween St Paul, Caractacus, Old King Coel, Young King Coel, St Helena and a Palestinian-Roman-British dynasty based in what is now Sussex. Heady stuffy, and thought provoking in the bemused scratchings of heads kind of way.

Apart from its entertainment value Fr Jerome was making a serious point. Here, once again, was an attempt to create a British Church anterior to that of Rome - thus the British Christian Llyr becomes Linus successor of Paul, not Peter, as Bishop of Rome...

As Fr Jerome pointed out, and as a historian I quite agree, the "Celtic Church" and analagous institutions are modern - very modern - notions. When St Augustine met the native British episcopate, and tried, not perhaps too tactfully, to get them to co-opertate with him in evangelising the pagan Anglo-Saxons, he recognised them as being, like himself, bishops who derived their authority from the Universal Church, not from some autonomous independent origin. Similarly the Synod of Whitby recognised a common episcopate, and sought to resolve procedural and practical difficulties, not fundamental differences in origin. One cannot create an independent paleo-British Christianity just because it satisfies an emotional or national need centuries later.

Which does not deny the theoretical possibility of St Paul coming to Britannia after preaching in Hispania, or indeed the teenage Jesus coming with Joseph of Arimathea, who, as of course we all know was in the tin-trade, to Glastonbury...


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