In Part 1 we considered the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox accounts of how Christianity came to England. The information provided in Part 1 was taken from official websites of each of these branches of the catholic Faith. The one point on which all three accounts agree is that Augustine was the official representative of Rome and was based in Canterbury. As Britain was part of the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that the Roman Catholic narrative should predominate. The Roman narrative has dominated the conversation for so long that the deficiencies of the account are rarely questioned.
The Eastern Orthodox narrative places greater emphasis on the role of Irish monks and priests and their evangelistic efforts in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, it does not explore the evidence of a priest caste in Ireland well before the Roman Period. These priests served as prophets at oak trees, just as was done in Abraham's time (Genesis 12:6). They sacrificed animals. They believed in the eternal soul. They were wise in astronomy, medicine, construction of stone monuments, and metal work. They performed circumcisions, a practice that persisted among the royal families of Anglo-Celtic heritage. They offered sacrifices and prayers at sacred shrines, and the priests were ordained by ruler-priests. The description of the ruler-priests suggests that they were Hebrew priests who came to Ireland, Wales, and England. Evidently, some settled there.
Some of the Hebrew living in the British Isles would have been living in expectation of the Messiah and would have heard about Jesus' death and resurrection from Jews with whom they did business. Men like Joseph of Arimathea would have had opportunities to plant a Christian presence among their fellow Jews. As a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph was qualified to perform ordinations.
This suggests that the priesthood among the natives of Britain has a longer history than has been generally recognized. According to Gildas's De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae there were already Christians living in Britain in 46 AD. The presence of Christians in Roman Britain predates the episcopacy of Evodius of Antioch (53–69 A.D.) and the episcopacy of James of Jerusalem (d. 69 A.D.), and the episcopacy of Linus of Rome (64-79 A.D.).
Members of the Sanhedrin served under the presidency of the high priest much as priests today serve under the presidency of their bishop. The high priest bore the title nasi (ruler, king, prince) and retained this title even after the presidency was transferred to other hands. Similarly, in Anglican orders a bishop remains a bishop even after he has stepped down from serving in that office. Note the continuity of the tradition concerning the ordination of priests!
The doctrine of Apostolic Succession received from Rome remains problematic since none of the Apostles were priests. Apostolic succession addresses who has authority over the flock, but it does not shed light on the continuity of the priesthood between the Old order and New order.
However, when we come to ancient Britain, we find a priest among Jesus' followers who was qualified to ordain according to the Sanhedrin rule: Joseph of Arimathea. After we remove the embellishments of the Middle Ages we are left with this picture: Joseph was in southern Britain where he consulted as a mining expert. He is said to have visited the Ding Dong mine in Cornwall. (Lodes from that mine were worked well before the time of Abraham.) Mining experts also excavated cave tombs such as the one Joseph provided for our Lord’s repose. It is likely that Joseph saw the need for priests among the Messiah’s followers in Britain and that he ordained a few with the consent of two other members of the Sanhedrin. If this is so, the priesthood in England clearly predates the papacy of Linus which began in A.D. 64.
“The absence of documents makes it difficult to say precisely how these transitions came about. By the end of the first century the situation was that the apostles or their closest helpers or eventually their successors directed the local colleges of episkopoi and presbyteroi. By the beginning of the second century the figure of a single bishop who is the head of the communities appears very clearly in the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who further claims that this institution is established "unto the ends of the earth".
During the second century and after the Letter of Clement this institution is explicitly acknowledged to carry with it the apostolic succession. Ordination with imposition of hands, already witnessed to in the pastoral Epistles, appears in the process of clarification to be an important step in preserving the apostolic Tradition and guaranteeing succession in the ministry. The documents of the third century (Tradition of Hippolytus) show that this conviction was arrived at peacefully and was considered to be a necessary institution.” (INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION, Catholic Teaching on Apostolic Succession, 1973)
Rome is in error when it claims to have brought Christianity to the Britons and that there was no priesthood in Britain prior to Augustine. Father Louis R. Tarsitano expressed the truth when he wrote: ... it is a simple error of fact to claim that the Anglican Church “began” in the Reformation, or even with the late 6th century mission of St. Augustine to evangelize the newly arrived Anglo-Saxon pagans. The bishops of a five-centuries-old Christian Church met Augustine on the beach. (Of Forms and the Anglican Way)