St. Augustine of Canterbury
First Archbishop of Canterbury, Apostle of the English; date of birth unknown; died 26 May, 604.
Symbols: cope, pallium, and mitre as Bishop of Canterbury, and pastoral staff and gospels as missionary.
Nothing is known of his youth except that he was probably a Roman of the better class, and that early in life he become a monk in the famous monastery of St. Andrew erected by St. Gregory out of his own patrimony on the Cælian Hill. It was thus amid the religious intimacies of the Benedictine Rule and in the bracing atmosphere of a recent foundation that the character of the future missionary was formed.
Chance is said to have furnished the opportunity for the enterprise which was destined to link his name for all time with that of his friend and patron, St. Gregory, as the “true beginner” of one of the most important Churches in Christendom and the medium by which the authority of the Roman See was established over men of the English-speaking race. It is unnecessary to dwell here upon Bede’s well-known version of Gregory’s casual encounter with English slaves in the Roman market place (H.E., II, i), which is treated under GREGORY THE GREAT.
Some five years after his elevation to the Roman See (590) Gregory began to look about him for ways and means to carry out the dream of his earlier days. He naturally turned to the community he had ruled more than a decade of years before in the monastery on the Cælian Hill. Out of these he selected a company of about forty and designated Augustine, at that time Prior of St. Andrew’s, to be their representative and spokesman.
The appointment, as will appear later on, seems to have been of a somewhat indeterminate character; but from this time forward until his death in 604 it is to Augustine as “strengthened by the confirmation of the blessed Father Gregory (roboratus confirmatione beati patris Gregorii, Bede, H. E., I, xxv) that English, as distinguished from British, Christianity owes its primary inspiration.