letter of advice to Augustine of Canterbury
from Gregory the Great sometime after 596 C. E. Augustine was been Prior
of Saint Andrews Monastery in Rome when the Pope sent him to England in
596 to convert the Saxon kingdom in Kent.
Note Gregory’s rationale for blending traditional pagan culture
(buildings and folks festivals, for example) with the Christian faith.
Augustine [of Canterbury] that he should by no means destroy the temples
of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he
purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in
them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted
from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing
that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish
error from their hearts and come to
places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and
worship of the true God. Further, since it has been their custom
to slaughter oxen in sacrifice to the demons, they should receive some
solemnity in exchange. Let them, therefore, on the day of the dedication
of their churches, or on the feast of
those martyrs whose relics are preserved in them build themselves
huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with
religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more
as an offering to the Devil, but for the glory of God, to whom, as the
giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satisfied.
Thus, if they are not deprived of all the exterior joys, they will more
easily taste the interior ones. For surely it is impossible to efface
everything all at once from their... minds, just as, when someone wishes
to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by
step, not by leaps and bounds... Mention this then to our brother the
bishop [Augustine], that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit
according to the conditions of time and place.