Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mellitus of Canterbury

Mellitus was sent to England in AD 601 by Pope Gregory in response to an appeal from Augustine of Canterbury for a fresh band of missionaries. He was commissioned by Gregory to convey the pallium to Augustine, together with a present of books and "all things which were needed for worship and the ministry of the Church."

Mellitus was consecrated in 604 by Augustine as bishop in the province of the East Saxons, which had a capital at London, making him the first Bishop of London. Mellitus baptised Saebert of Essex, Æthelberht's nephew, and Saebert then allowed the bishopric to be established. The episcopal church which was built in London was probably founded by Æthelberht, rather than Saebert, but a charter that claims to be a grant of lands from Æthelberht to Mellitus is a forgery. Mellitus attended a council of bishops in Italy in February 610, held by Pope Boniface IV. Boniface had him bring back two papal letters to England, one to Æthelbert and his people, and another to Lawrence, the archbishop of Canterbury. He also brought back the synod's decrees to England. No authentic letters or documents from this synod remain, although some were forged in the 1060's and 1070's at Canterbury. While he was bishop, Mellitus and Justus, the bishop of Rochester, subscribed a letter that Laurence wrote to the Celtic bishops urging the Celtic Church to adopt the Roman method of calculating the date of Easter.

Mellitus was driven from London by Saebert's heathen sons in 616, which Bede says happened because he refused the brothers request for a taste of the sacramental bread. This was after the death of Saebert, as well as Æthelberht of Kent, which left the Gregorian mission without strong patrons. He fled to Gaul but was recalled to Britain by Laurence of Canterbury, the second Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he did not return to London, because the East Saxons remained pagan.

Upon Laurence's death in 619, Mellitus succeeded him as the third Archbishop of Canterbury. Gregory addressed a letter to Mellitus that dealt with the issue of pagan temples and festivals, urging the reuse of temples. It was while he was archbishop that he supposedly performed a miracle in 623 by diverting a fire that had started in Canterbury and was threatening the church. Mellitus was carried into the flames, which caused the winds to change direction, saving the church. Other than the miracle, little happened during his time as archbishop, with Bede praising his sane mind.

Mellitus died on 24 April 624 and was buried at St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury on the same day. After his death, he was revered as a saint, with a feast day of 24 April. He was still venerated in 1120 at St Augustine's, along with a number of other local saints.

Propers for Mellitus - Confessor and Archbishop of Canterbury

The Collect.

O heavenly Father, Shepard of thy people, we give thanks for thy servant Mellitus, who was faithful in the care and nurture of thy flock; and we pray that, following his example an the teaching of his holy life, we may by thy grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Epistle - Acts 1:1-9.

THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

The Gospel - St. Luke 6:17-23.

JESUS came down and stood in the plain, with the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coasts of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for your's is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven.

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