Daily Reading for May 26 • Augustine, First Archbishop of Canterbury, 605
The king bade the missionaries be seated; and Augustine is said to have addressed him to the following effect:
“Your everlasting peace, O king, and that of your kingdom, is the object we desire to promote in coming hither; we bring you, as we have already made known, tidings of never-ending joy. If you receive them, you will be blessed for ever, both here and in the Kingdom which is without end. The Creator and Redeemer of the world has opened to mankind the Kingdom of Heaven, and of citizens of the earth makes men inhabitants of a celestial city. . . .
“Do not, therefore, most illustrious king, regard us as superstitious, because we have been at pains to come from Rome to your dominions for the sake of your salvation and that of your subjects, and to force upon an unknown people benefits, as it were, against their will. Be assured, most loving king, that we have purposed this, constrained by the necessity of great love. For we long, beyond all the desires and glory of the world, to have as many fellow citizens with us as we can in the Kingdom of our God; and we strive with all our efforts to prevent those from perishing, who may be advanced to the company of the holy Angels. For this goodwill the loving-kindness of our Christ has everywhere infused, by the inestimable sweetness of His Spirit, into all the preachers of His Truth, that, laying aside the thought of their own necessities, they burn with zeal for the salvation of all nations, and esteem every people as their parents and sons, their brethren and kinsmen; and, embracing all in the single love of God, labour to bring them to everlasting ages of all happiness and festal joys. . . . Moved, too, by such love as this, Gregory, the present Father of all Christendom, thirsting most ardently for your salvation, would have come to you, hindered by no fear of punishment or death, had he been able (as he is not) to leave the care of so many souls committed to his charge. And therefore he has sent us in his place to open to you the way of everlasting light and the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven; in which, if despising the idols of devils, you refuse not to enter through Christ, you shall most assuredly reign for ever.”
Such was the tenor of the address which Augustine delivered to the king. He spoke it, as St. Bede tells us, “sitting by the king’s command.” Ethelbert’s answer was as follows: “Fair, truly, are the words and promises which you bring me, but they are new to me and of doubtful authority. I cannot, therefore, accept them, to the neglect of those religious observances, to which, in common with the whole English people, I have so long adhered. However, you are foreigners, who have come a long way to my country, and, as far as I find myself able to understand the object of your visit, you are come with the desire of imparting to me what you yourselves believe to be true and excellent. We are far, then, from wishing to molest you; rather we would receive you with kindness and hospitality. We shall, accordingly, take measures for supplying you with all necessary articles of food. Neither do we forbid you to preach, and make what converts you can to the faith of your religion.”
From Gocelin’s Life, quoted in The Life of Augustine of Canterbury, Apostle of the English by John Henry Newman (London: James Toovey, 1845).