Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England

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Date: 627

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BEDE, Ecclesiastical History, Lib. ii, c. 13; Lib. iii, c. 3; GILES, pp. 94–96, 98, 111–112. World History

33.

Bede’s Account of the Conversion of Northumbria (627)

Coifi’s argument

The king, hearing these words, answered that he was both willing and bound to receive the faith which he taught, but that he would confer about it with his principal friends and counselors, to the end that if they also were of his opinion, they might all together be cleansed in Christ, the fountain of life. Paulinus consenting, the king did as he said; for, holding a council with the wise men, he asked of every one in particular what he thought of the new doctrine of the Deity that was preached. To which the chief of his own priests, Coifi, immediately answered: "O king, consider what this is which is now preached to us; for I verily declare to you, what I have learned for certain, that the religion which we have hitherto professed has no virtue, no usefulness in it. For none of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favors from you, and obtain greater dignities than I, and are more prosperous in all their undertakings. Now if the gods were good for anything, they would rather forward me, who have been more careful to serve them. It remains, therefore, that if upon examination you find those new doctrines, which are now preached to us, better and more efficacious, we immediately receive them without any delay."

The parable of the sparrow

Another of the king’s chief men, approving of his words and exhortations, presently added: "The present life of man on earth, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed." The other elders and king’s counselors, by divine inspiration, spoke to the same effect.

But Coifi added that he wished more attentively to hear Paulinus discourse concerning the God whom he preached; which he having by the king’s command performed, Coifi, hearing his words, cried out: "I have long since been sensible that there was nothing in that which we worshiped; because the more diligently I sought after truth in that worship, the less I found it. But now I freely confess that such truth appears in this preaching as can confer on us the gifts of life, of salvation, and of eternal happiness. For which reason I advise, O king, that we instantly abjure and set fire to those temples and altars which we have consecrated without reaping any benefit from them."

The profanation of the heathen sacred places

In short, the king publicly gave his license to Paulinus to preach the gospel, and, renouncing idolatry, declared that he received the faith of Christ; and when he inquired of the high priest who should first profane the altars and temples of their idols, with the inclosures that were about them, he answered: "I; for who can more properly than myself destroy those things which I worshiped through ignorance, for an example to all others, through the wisdom which has been given me by the true God?" Then immediately, in contempt of his former superstitions, he desired the king to furnish him with arms and a stallion; and mounting the same, he set out to destroy the idols; for it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride except on a mare. Having, therefore, girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king’s stallion and proceeded to the idols. The multitude, beholding it, concluded he was distracted; but he lost no time, for as soon as he was near the temple he profaned the same, casting into it the spear which he held; and, rejoicing in the knowledge of the true God, he commanded his companions to destroy the temple, with all its inclosures, by fire. This place where the idols were is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Godmundingham, where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he had himself consecrated.

The reconversion of the north by missionaries from Scotland (635–642)

The same Oswald, as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous that all his nation should receive the Christian faith, whereof he had found happy experience in vanquishing the barbarians, sent to the elders of the Scots, among whom himself and his followers, when in banishment, had received the sacrament of baptism, desiring they would send him a bishop, by whose instruction and ministry the English nation which he governed might be taught the advantages and receive the sacraments of the Christian faith. Nor were they slow in granting his request, but sent him Bishop Aidan, a man of singular meekness, piety, and moderation; zealous in the cause of God, though not altogether according to knowledge; for he was wont to keep Easter Sunday, according to the custom of his country, which we have before so often mentioned, from the fourteenth to the twentieth moon; the northern province of the Scots and all the nations of the Picts celebrating Easter then after that manner.

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Chicago: "33. Bede’s Account of the Conversion of Northumbria (627)," Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, ed. Edward Potts Cheyney (1861-1947) (Boston: Ginn, 1935, 1922), 49–52. Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DA2QQ6GTCJMJS94.

MLA: . "33. Bede’s Account of the Conversion of Northumbria (627)." Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, edited by Edward Potts Cheyney (1861-1947), Boston, Ginn, 1935, 1922, pp. 49–52. Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DA2QQ6GTCJMJS94.

Harvard: , '33. Bede’s Account of the Conversion of Northumbria (627)' in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England. cited in 1922, Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, ed. , Ginn, 1935, Boston, pp.49–52. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DA2QQ6GTCJMJS94.