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Bede, The Venerable:
The Synod of Whitby, 664 AD

The Roman monks who had been sent by Gregory the Great to convert the "English" to Christianity, found that the missionaries from Ireland observed Easter at a different time from that which had been appointed by the Roman church. After years of controversy it was agreed that a synod should be held where the difficulty might be settled. Bede thus describes the arguments advanced by both sides and gives an account of the victory of the Roman party.


The Controversy over the Date of Easter
[Bishop Colman spoke for the Scots (i.e. Irish) and said:] The Easter which I keep I received from my elders, who sent me hither as bishop; all our forefathers, men beloved of God, are known to have kept it after the same manner; and that this may not seem to any contemptible or worthy to be rejected, it is the same which St. John the Evangelist, the disciple beloved of our Lord, with all the churches he presided, is recorded to have observed." . . .

Then Wilfrid was ordered by the king to speak for the Roman practice: " The Easter which we observe we saw, celebrated by all at Rome, where the blessed apostles, Peter, and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried - we saw the same done in Italy and in France, when we I traveled through those countries for pilgrimage and prayer. found that Easter was celebrated at one and the same time in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Greece, and all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad, through the various nations and tongues ; except only among these and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and only in part even of them, oppose all the rest of the universe. . . .

You certainly sin if, having heard the decree of the apostolic see, and of the universal Church, and that the same is confirmed by Holy Writ, you refuse to follow them; for, though your fathers were holy, do you think that their small number, in a corner of the remotest island, is to be preferred before the universal Church of Christ throughout the world ? And though that Columba of yours (and, I may say, ours also, if he was Christ's servant) was a holy man and powerful in miracles, yet should he be preferred before the most blessed prince of the apostles, to whom our Lord said, 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give up to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven'?"

When Wilfrid had spoken thus, the king said, "Is it true, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?" He answered, "It is true, O king!" Then said he, "Can you show any such power given to your Columba?" Colman answered, " None." Then added the king, " Do both of you agree that these words were principally directed to Peter, and that the keys of heaven were given to him by our Lord?' They both answered, , We do." , Then the king concluded "And I also say unto you, that he is the doorkeeper, whorl I will not contradict, but will, as far as I know and am able in all things obey his decrees, lest when I come to the gate of the kingdom of heaven there should be none to open them he being my adversary who is proved to have the keys." The king having said this, all present, both great and small gave their assent and, renouncing the more imperfect institution, resolved to conform to that which they found to be better.

Britannia's British History Department

Reproduced by kind permission of The Medieval Source Book