Question from Anon on 4/9/2008:
Mr. Bunson. I have recently read a short history that claims that the Church of England was founded by St. Paul in his travels, and that it was reformed by St. Augustine of Canterbury in the sixth century under Pope Gregory the Great. To support this belief, the history relates that, 1) Clement wrote in 87 AD that St. Paul had travelled to the west (and it’s assumed to be that St. Paul or a follower founded the Church of England), and 2) that when St. Augustine arrived in 597, that there were already Christian churches there. This history therefore claims Apostolic Succession through St. Paul. Could you discuss this, which is news to me? Thank you. Anon
Answer by Matthew Bunson on 4/26/2008:
I am unaware of a journey by Paul to England (or Britannia as it was called under Roman occupation). The last years of Paul are obscure, but the chronology reconstructed from tradition and his later letters suggest that he probably visited Spain and then perhaps revisited Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete. Arrested again, he was taken back to Rome, kept in close confinement, and apparently knew his death was imminent, as is clear from his second letter to Timothy (in particular 4:6-8). He was martyred around 67 by Emperor Nero, most likely beheaded as reported by Tertullian. According to the apocryphal Acts of St. Paul, his place of martyrdom was on the left bank of the Tiber; he was said to have been buried in a cemetery on the Via Ostia owned by a Christian named Lucina, the site where the Basilica of S. Paolo Fuori le Mure (St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls) was built.
It is clear in Romans 15:22-27 that Paul was eager to journey to Spain. He likely went there via southern Gaul. A trip to Britannia was unlikely given the unsettled conditions in islands there in the middle of the 1st century A.D. (it had been conquered only in 43 A.D.). The Christian presence developed there slowly over the next few centuries. There are, of course legends that Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea went to Britain.
Clement (along with I believe various Church Fathers) refers to Paul going West, but the reference is always taken to mean Hispania, in keeping with Paul’s own expressed wishes.