THE MEMORY Of St Augustine was particularly lively last week, with ceremonies in Canterbury and London, with Cardinal Hume in Canterbury, then a great Mass in Westminster Cathedral and Sung Latin Vespers in Canterbury. On both occasions Cardinal Hume preached. The Diocese of Southwark also had its celebrations in Canterbury.
Then it was the turn of Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, to preach. I find I take issue with him on his presentation of English history. To speak solely of Augustine and refer only once to Gregory the Great, and to use the words "who commissioned him", is hardly doing justice to a great man of that time. To ignore Gregory is to ignore Rome, and it was as Bishop of Rome that he sent Augustine and his monks to England. To leave out Gregory is a distortion of history. It is Gregory, not Augustine, whom Bede calls "The Apostle of the English".
Though the lines of communication were slow, and a degree of indepen dence had grown up in the Celtic Church, it was obviously Gregory's desire to keep this far-flung nation on the edge of the world in the mainline Church. It was the Bishop of Rome who founded the See of Canterbury. In the coat of arms of the See is the Pallium, a gift to Archbishops, bestowed personally by the Pope, as a token that they possess "the fullness of the episcopal office". Archbishops cannot give it to themselves. Eveything points to the link between Canterbury and Rome.
As Cardinal Hume said in his sermon in Westminster Cathedral: "I never cease to be impressed how the Bishop of Rome was regarded as the ultimate authority in the Church.
"Not a hundred years later, I think of Willibord receiving his mandate from Pope Sergius to convert the people of the Low Countries, and Boniface receiving his from Pope Gregory II." It was on the Feast of St Boniface so many centuries later that Britain voted to go into the Common Market.
Cardinal Hume went on to recall the powerful intervention of Wilfred at the Synod of Whitby, when he spoke of Rome and the successor of Peter.
What has always struck me was the way Gregory was so sensitive to other cultures and situations. "Don't destroy the pagan temples," he wrote to Abbot Mellitus before the Abbot's departure to BritaM. "Make them holy and use them for Christian purposes."
FOR DR CAREY to leave out the role of Gregory is an affront. Understandably, he has problems with history, and he cannot jeopardise his raison d'être.
But truth is not served by distortion. Ecumenism is certainly not helped, and leaves people with the impression that it is some form of shadow boxing. It was not one of Dr Carey's best moments. But he may have served a purpose.
By leaving Gregory out of the story, he may have highlighted the fact that the See of Canterbury is indeed one of the erstwhile Sees of Rome.
• Fr Kit Cunningham is parish priest at St Etheldreda's, Ely Place, in central London