A sonnet for Augustine of Canterbury

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Augustine

Justin

Justin

Today is the feast day of St. Augustine of Canterbury, and I am drawn back to one of the most moving moments in the  enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury the 104th successor to St. Augustine, when he stood before the Canterbury Gospels and showed his love for the Gospel, which is itself God’s declaration of love for us, by kissing the sacred text. It was moving because the book he kissed was the very book that Augustine of Canterbury brought to these shores in the 6th century. Like the gospel it contains, it has stood the test of time, like the gospel it contains it has persisted fresh and beautiful through all the vicissitudes of our history, the wars and betrayals, the making and breaking of governments, the wrecks of empire, declaring in time and in timely ways, the redeeming Love that comes to us from beyond time. It embodies the extraordinary and miraculous continuity amidst change, the apostolic succession, that links the first and the hundred and fifth Archbishop of Canterbury.

And for both men this same gospel book, and this same Gospel is a vital source of hope and inspiration, the story of strength made perfect in weakness, of Love triumphing against the odds. ‘Apostle to the English’ was a tough assignment then and it’s a tough assignment now. In fact St. Bede tells us that after Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine to our shores he got cold feet on the way (literally I expect as well as metaphorically) and Bede tells us he wrote to Gregory asking if he could be allowed to turn back and have an easier posting somewhere else! Bede quotes the letter back from Gregory in which he strengthens Augustine’s resolve and says, ‘you’ve put your hand to the plough, go on in faith, Christ and his gospel will see you through. In last month’s enthronement service Justin Welby placed Christ, and reliance on Christ, the Christ revealed in those Canterbury Gospels at the centre of everything he will do as Augustine’s successor, and I am sure that the first ABC was cheering him on from Heaven. After watching the enthronement service I wrote this sonnet, for Augustine and his successors:

(As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the \play button.This sonnet will be part of a sequence for the saints in my next book of poetry ‘The Singing Bowl’. meantime my current collection Sounding the Seasons, published by the appropriately named Canterbury Press, is available from Amazon and all good booksellers)

Augustine of Canterbury

‘Oh loving Lord don’t send me to the English,
Boorish and brutal pagans that they are’
You prayed, you wrote to Gregory in anguish
But he replied ‘since you have come so far,
Your hand is on the plough, you must continue,
And reach them on their rain-drenched island shore
There’s something in the English that will win you
And Christ himself will open up the door.’

And so the gospel came to Canterbury,
The very gospel book we still possess,
Weathering the storms of history
In all its splendour and it’s hiddenness.
We bless you for that gospel you proclaim,
Bless your successors as they do the same

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The new Archbishop and The Canterbury Gospels

7 Comments

Filed under imagination, literature

7 responses to “A sonnet for Augustine of Canterbury

  1. This sonnet is truly marvelous Malcolm. Nanci and I just met your Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall; charming beyond expectation. It’s hard to imagine “the English” were once feared as categoricaly “boorish and brutal pagans,” but it’s good to remember that we have both a past as well as a future, knowing also that our present is niether hopeless or complete.

    I found your preamble quite moving: “…it has stood the test of time, like the gospel it contains it has persisted fresh and beautiful through all the vicissitudes of our history, the wars and betrayals, the making and breaking of governments, the wrecks of empire, declaring in time and in timely ways, the redeeming Love that comes to us from beyond time.”

    Glory!

  2. malcolmguite

    Thanks Steve. Glad you met Prince Charles. He’s a very thoughtful person and Patron of the Temenos Academy for whom I sometimes do some speaking and writing

  3. Beautiful and moving as always

  4. I am a tad confused, as I thought the feast day of St Augustine of Canterbury is 26 May. My confusion does take away my delight in your sonnet celebrating him. Thank you.

  5. … Editing of the above …. Does NOT take away …..

    • malcolmguite

      I posted this on his day. I just alluded to it yesterday on FB because I had the chance to see the actual Canterbury Gospel book 🙂

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