Sep 032017
 

On this date in 590 Gregory I, commonly called Gregory the Great, became pope of the Catholic church. He is not the Gregory who instituted the calendar reforms that gave us the (current) Gregorian calendar, but he is famous (in some circles) for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert the pagan peoples of Europe (including the English) to Christianity. It is quite legitimate to argue that the papacy, Catholicism, and Europe itself as we conceive them now had their origins in the ideas implemented by Gregory. Gregorian chant is also named after him, although it’s not clear whether he founded it. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

Gregory was the son of a senator and the Prefect of Rome at age 30. He tried the monastic life for a time but soon returned to active public life. Even so, he ended his life as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy he greatly surpassed the administrative and political abilities of the emperors and improved the overall welfare of the people of Rome. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France, and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of their allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory also oversaw the alliance of Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, for example, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope (which could be conceived as a form of damning by faint praise, I suppose). He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.

In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I (410-496). The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical. In Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.

Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.” He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s (Gregory’s monastery), where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English child slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. He famously said on meeting them, “Non Angli, sed angeli (they are not Angles, but angels) . . . well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”

The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

The secular state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be formalized for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, “lists” of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, “books”. Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible.

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve the needy and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their efforts.

Gregory’s general charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, which had only disrespect for Gregory, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards. The Roman office of urban prefect went without candidates and secular government was largely defunct. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential voice in ruling Italy.

The mainstream form of Western plainchant which was standardized in the late 9th century, was attributed to Gregory  and so took the name of Gregorian chant, but the attribution is only loosely warranted. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon’s 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope’s death, and the chant that bears his name is actually the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Gregory is interred in St Peter’s in Rome.

Not much is known about cooking in the 6th century in Italy or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  So I’ll start by talking about the ecclesiastical cycle of feast and fast that dominated Europe through the Middle Ages and beyond. Today is both Sunday and a significant feast day in the Catholic church. That means you are free to eat what you want. On fast days, which used to include Fridays, the eves of feast, and the period of Lent, different regions of the Catholic world and different sects had different rules. Many animal products such as dairy, eggs, fats, and meats were not to be eaten and, in the more restrictive regions, only one meal during the day was allowed. Such restrictions were more relevant to the rich than the poor (who were numerous). For the majority, cereals were the norm and meat was a luxury. Even so, the rich found many ways around the restrictions and managed to eat quite sumptuously on fast days even though technically deprived of eggs and meat on those days. It comes down to whether you subscribe to the letter or the spirit of the law. As (nominal) followers of Jesus, they should have observed the spirit, but you know how people are.

I’ve had times in my life when I have been extremely observant of fast and feast days even though as a Protestant minister I have no obligation to do so. These days I am much less aware of such issues because I routinely eat one meal a day – breakfast – and it consists primarily of soup, rice, vegetables, and fruit (with a small amount of meat). I make a practice of eating eggs on Sundays as a treat. This practice has to do with my age and my circumstances. I live in Myanmar where rice is a staple and other dishes are small accompaniments for flavor, not the main ingredients.  When I lived in the US and was an active pastor I followed Medieval fast and feast rules rigorously, most especially in Lent. I won’t go into the spiritual details here, but I will point out that an Easter Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes, and sumptuous gravy followed by a suet pudding with fresh egg custard was glorious after 40 days of fasting.

There’s the medieval trick that has long left us behind. Satisfying every culinary whim, because you feel like it, just makes you fat and lazy. Working on a cycle of fast and feast has much to commend it, but it’s a personal choice. Furthermore, alternating feasting and fasting is another version of my desire for variety in my culinary life.

Frumenty is a reasonable medieval dish for a feast day.  It’s basically a wheat porridge with various flavorings added. The typical method of preparation was to parboil whole grains of wheat in water, then strain them and boil them in milk. The finished grains were then sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other sweet spices, such as cloves and allspice. Dried fruits, usually raisins, might also be added.

May 262017
 

Today is the feast day of Augustine of Canterbury, who died on this date in 604. He was a Benedictine monk who was sent to Britain by pope Gregory the Great to convert the relatively new settlers from northern Europe generally called the Anglo-Saxons. He eventually became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597, securing in perpetuity the primacy of Canterbury over all other Anglican archdioceses (although from his time until the English Reformation it was a Catholic archdiocese).

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from their province of Britannia in 410, the inhabitants were left to defend themselves against the attacks of groups from the north German plain and Scandinavia. Before the Roman withdrawal, Britannia had been converted by the Romans to Christianity. Archeology testifies to a growing presence of Christians, at least until around 360. After the Roman legions departed, non-Christian groups settled the southern parts of the island while western Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, remained Christian. Thus, the old British church developed in isolation from Rome under the influence of missionaries from Ireland, and was centered on monasteries instead of bishoprics. Other distinguishing characteristics were its distinctive method of calculating the date of Easter and the style of the tonsure that clerics wore. Evidence for the survival of Christianity in the eastern part of Britain during this time includes the survival of the cult of Saint Alban and the occurrence in place names of Eglos and Eglwys, Brythonic Gaelic for “church” (possibly Anglicized as Eccles).

It was against this background that Gregory I decided to send a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in 595. The Kingdom of Kent was ruled by Æthelberht, who married a Christian princess named Bertha some time before 588, and perhaps as early as 560. Bertha was the daughter of Charibert I, one of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. As one of the conditions of her marriage, she brought a bishop named Liudhard with her to Kent. Together in Canterbury, they restored a church that dated to Roman times —possibly the current St Martin’s Church. Æthelberht was not a Christian at this point but allowed his wife freedom of worship. It’s an open question whether Æthelberht and/ or Bertha asked Pope Gregory to send missionaries to Kent or whether Gregory initiated the mission on his own. Bede, in the 8th century recorded a famous story in which Gregory saw fair-haired Anglo-Saxon boy captives from Britain in the Roman slave market and was inspired to try to convert their people. He is reputed to have asked (in Latin) who they were and was told they were “Angli” (Angles) to which he replied, “Non Angli sed Angeli” (Not Angles but Angels). I prefer Sellar and Yeatman’s humorous mistranslation – “Not Angels but Anglicans.”

In 595, Gregory chose Augustine to head the mission to Kent. The pope selected monks to accompany Augustine and sought support from the Frankish royalty and clergy in a series of letters, of which some copies survive in Rome. He wrote to King Theuderic II of Burgundy and to King Theudebert II of Austrasia, as well as their grandmother Brunhild, seeking aid for the mission. Gregory thanked King Chlothar II of Neustria for aiding Augustine. Besides hospitality, the Frankish bishops and kings provided interpreters and Frankish priests to accompany the mission. By soliciting help from the Frankish kings and bishops, Gregory helped to assure a friendly reception for Augustine in Kent, as Æthelbert was unlikely to mistreat a mission which visibly had the support of his wife’s relatives and people. Moreover, the Franks appreciated the chance to participate in mission that would extend their influence in Kent. Chlothar, in particular, needed a friendly realm across the Channel to help guard his kingdom’s flanks against his fellow Frankish kings.

Sources make no mention of why Pope Gregory chose a monk to head the mission. Pope Gregory once wrote to Æthelberht complimenting Augustine’s knowledge of the Bible, meaning that Augustine was well educated. But he was also a good administrator. Gregory was the abbot of St Andrews as well as being pope, and he left the day-to-day running of the abbey to Augustine, the prior. Augustine was accompanied by Laurence of Canterbury, his eventual successor to the archbishopric, and a group of about 40 companions, some of whom were monks. Soon after leaving Rome, the missionaries halted, daunted by the nature of the task before them. They sent Augustine back to Rome to request papal permission to return. Gregory refused and sent Augustine back with letters encouraging the missionaries to persevere.

In 597, Augustine and his companions landed in Kent, achieving some initial success soon after their arrival. Æthelberht permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his capital of Canterbury where they used the church of St Martin’s for services. Neither Bede nor Gregory mentions the date of Æthelberht’s conversion, but it probably took place in 597. In the early medieval period, large-scale conversions required the ruler’s conversion first, and Augustine is recorded as making large numbers of converts within a year of his arrival in Kent. Also, by 601, Gregory was writing to both Æthelberht and Bertha, calling the king his son and referring to his baptism. A late medieval tradition, recorded by the 15th-century chronicler Thomas Elmham, gives the date of the king’s conversion as Whit Sunday, or 2 June 597; there is no reason to doubt this date, although there is no other evidence for it.

Augustine established his episcopal see at Canterbury. It is not clear when and where Augustine was consecrated as a bishop. Bede, writing about a century later, states that Augustine was consecrated by the Frankish Archbishop Ætherius of Arles in Gaul after the conversion of Æthelberht. Contemporary letters from Pope Gregory, however, refer to Augustine as a bishop before he arrived in England. A letter of Gregory’s from September 597 calls Augustine a bishop, and one dated ten months later says Augustine had been consecrated on Gregory’s command by bishops of the German lands.

Soon after his arrival, Augustine founded the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, which later became St Augustine’s Abbey, on land donated by the king. This foundation has often been claimed as the first Benedictine abbey outside Italy, and that by founding it, Augustine introduced the Rule of St. Benedict into England, but there is no evidence the abbey followed the Benedictine Rule at the time of its foundation. In a letter Gregory wrote to the patriarch of Alexandria in 598, he claimed that more than 10,000 Christians had been baptized; the number may be exaggerated but there is no reason to doubt that a mass conversion took place. However, there were probably some Christians already in Kent before Augustine arrived, remnants of the Christians who lived in Britain in the later Roman Empire.

Further missionaries were sent from Rome in 601. They brought a pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, and books. The pallium was the symbol of metropolitan status, and signified that Augustine was now an archbishop unambiguously associated with the Holy See. Along with the pallium, a letter from Gregory directed the new archbishop to consecrate 12 suffragan bishops as soon as possible and to send a bishop to York. Gregory’s plan was that there would be two metropolitans, one at York and one at London, with 12 suffragan bishops under each archbishop. As part of this plan, Augustine was expected to transfer his archiepiscopal see to London from Canterbury but the move from Canterbury to London never happened. No contemporary sources give the reason, but it was probably because London was not part of Æthelberht’s domains. Instead, London was part of the kingdom of Essex, ruled by Æthelberht’s nephew Saebert of Essex, who converted to Christianity in 604.

Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in Wales and Dumnonia to the west. Gregory had decreed that these Christians should submit to Augustine and that their bishops should obey him, apparently believing that more of the Roman governmental and ecclesiastical organization survived in Britain than was actually the case. According to Bede, the Britons in these regions viewed Augustine with uncertainty, and their suspicion was compounded by a diplomatic misjudgement on Augustine’s part. In 603, Augustine and Æthelberht summoned the British bishops to a meeting south of the Severn. These guests retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops, they refused to recognize him as their archbishop. There were also, however, deep differences between Augustine and the British church that perhaps played a more significant role in preventing an agreement. At issue were the tonsure, the observance of Easter, and practical and deep-rooted differences in approach to asceticism, missionary endeavors, and how the church itself was organized. There were political dimensions involved, as Augustine’s efforts were sponsored by the Kentish king, and at this period the Wessex and Mercian kingdoms were expanding to the west, into areas held by the Britons.

Site of the tomb of Saint Augustine, founder and first abbot of the abbey later dedicated to him.

Before his death, Augustine consecrated Laurence of Canterbury as his successor to the archbishopric, probably to ensure an orderly transfer of office. Although at the time of Augustine’s death the mission barely extended beyond Kent, his undertaking introduced a more active missionary style into the British Isles. Despite the earlier presence of Christians in Ireland and Wales, no efforts had been made to try to convert the Anglo-Saxon invaders. Augustine by converting them eventually became the decisive influence on the development of Christianity in the British Isles.

I have chosen Kentish huffkins for today’s recipe, not because they are especially ancient or Anglo-Saxon, but because they are a distinctively regional specialty and rather hard to come by these days because they cannot easily be produced commercially. They are rather rich bread rolls, noted for the indentation in the middle. They can be eaten plain, or more commonly these days, with the middle hole filled with either something savory, such as bacon, or sweet, such as pitted cherries (for which Kent is well known).

Kentish Huffkins

Ingredients

500g strong bread flour
5g salt
50g vegetable shortening
12g fresh yeast
5g sugar
200ml milk
200ml water

Instructions

Sieve the flour into a warm bowl. Rub the vegetable shortening into the flour and add the salt and the sugar. Leave in a warm place for a few minutes.

Heat the milk and water in a small pan until just tepid, then crumble in the fresh yeast and stir until the yeast and liquids are all thoroughly blended. Add the yeast and liquids to the dry ingredients and combine to form a dough.

Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead for about 20 minutes until it is smooth.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a round ball and place them on a greased and floured baking sheet making sure to leave enough space between the balls for expansion. Press your thumb firmly into the center of each roll to form a hole. Leave in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes.

Set oven to 425ºF

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.