Thursday, 20 November 2014

gregorian mission or lex luther

Having enjoyed a tenuous overlordship on the island to begin with and with the Romano-Britons driven across the Channel by the Anglo-Saxon invaders, there was essentially no writing in England until after the year six-hundred. The Germans chieftains did not speak Latin, having had little exposure to it previously, which already had a true alphabet. The Germanic tribes had runes, which were primarily used for inscriptions and charms and not an effective way of imparting lore or commerce—although surviving evidence of personal amulets suggest that the illiterate peoples were already enchanted by the written word: one of the more prevalent words found on these charms was garlic (spear-leek, ᚷᛚ), attesting to the Germanic custom (as was the fashion at the time) of wearing a garlic clove around one’s neck to ward off evil eventually being replaced by the non-perishable glyph for the same Kryptonite, imbued with the same mystical powers.  Irish monks to the north and west were scholars of Greek and Roman—inventing lower case Greek, among other things to make texts easier to copy, and the Goths on continental Europe had published a version of the Bible in their native language—but neither of these achievements was transmitted to England.

Instead, literacy only got traction thanks to Church administrators. A young monk from a Roman patrician family named Gregory was credentialed as apocrisiarius (papal ambassador to Constantinople) and plead with the emperor of the East to send in the legions to protect the Eternal City from barbarian raids. Though unsuccessful with this mission, Gregory did become extremely popular in aristocratic circles of the capital, especially with the wives of prominent officials and academics. This influence made his elevation, though unbidden, to Pope (discourses and chants but not the calendar Gregory) himself seem natural. While the anecdote of Gregory smitten by the sight of youths from England being sold at a slave market in Rome (Non Angli, sed angeli—But they are not Angles, rather they are angels) is said to have been what inspired the Pope to send Augustine and an army of missionaries to England, beginning with the Kingdom of Kent, to convert the pagan population, it probably also had to do with Church politics and cohesion, as those monastic communities in Ireland were not under the authority of the Holy See and had some pretty radical and potentially dangerous ideas—doctrinally and regarding decentralised governance. Augustine was welcomed by the king and queen of Kent, who were already members of the flock, but fearing what might happen after the current regime was replaced and wanting the Church of Rome to be fully cemented in England, the future archbishop of Canterbury directed throngs of monks to compose the most enduring and compelling reasons that he could summon up, aside from the Church itself: legislation and punishment. Perhaps Augustine thought that such threats were the only thing that these pagan brutes would understand, and he knew that none of them would care a jot about a bunch of rules in Latin. Therefore, scribes adapted the Latin alphabet to Old English and wrote out eighty-five laws, mainly dealing with consequences for damaging Church property or the clergy, in the native language of the population--making it not only the first document written in English but also one of the first vernacular codices in Europe since the beginning of the Republic.