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616 A.D. - Ethelbert Overcomes Wimbledon Loss With Big Bertha Assist

Though historians, like many specialists, will argue fiercely about nearly any matter brought up for discussion, there are some generally held truths that many can agree on. One of those is that, prior to the 7th century, two of the most crucial European conversions to Christianity were those of the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Frankish King Clovis. Both men wielded extensive influence in their time, and so their conversion did also. And both men's conversion to Jesus echoed forward for many generations.

It is noteworthy that in both of their cases their conversion was apparently acheived through the influence of a woman who was already a Christian. I say that not to flatter women, but because the male oriented societies of their time didn't always give them their due share of recognition for the good that they accomplished in spreading the Lord's word. And also, God made specific mention that women could do righteousness before Him in bringing forth children, yet that can be a grinding and thankless seeming job, in the childrens' earlier years especially. Yet, while women are doing that job, they often see much around them in society that they would like to do or to change for Jesus.

So, when they are able to acheive both the child raising and the kingdom building it is a special accomplishment that God surely took a hand in. In the same manner, the accomplishments of men for the kingdom of God are no more than an honor given them by God. So, neither men nor women should be personally proud of what they accomplish for God, but we both should take joy in the honor they were given in being allowed to do it. That was the basic viewpoint of the Apostle Paul for one, and I believe he was right.

While Constantine and Clovis are given much credit as Christian milestones, there is a third person often placed in their same category, and that is Ethelbert (roughly equivalent to Albert) of Kent, who was a late 6th and early 7th century Saxon king.

Kent is in south eastern England, and along with the Isle of Wite it was an early Germanic settlement area - for the Jutes in particular. They were a people who crossed the English channel from their native Jutland (today part of Western Denmark) along with the Angles and Saxons at the behest of the Brythonic king Vortigern. Vortigern wanted them to come as mercenaries to fight the Picts for him, and for this he agreed to give them some land and they in turn agreed to remain under his rule.

But after fighting the Picts, the foreign Saxons believed themselves to have been unfairly paid for their efforts, so they revolted against Vortigern and the native Brythonic peoples (Welsh and other celts) and took over part of Britain as their new homeland. They invited other Germanic speaking kin from the European continent, who came in mass to take advantage of this richer and more fertile land of England - as it was advertised to be. And the Saxon invasion was begun. Though many Britons had been Christians during the earlier Roman times, the Romans who stayed in Britain had not much been Christian, and the Germanics (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) came almost entirely as pagans. So Christianity, which started out fairly strong in Britain, was burning very dim when the Saxon invasion was in full swing.

Ethelbert was himself a king, and also the great-grandson of Hengist who was the first great Saxon king of England. Hengist had come to fight Picts for Vortigern in about 450 A.D. And Ethelbert was married to a Christian woman named Bertha, who was a grand daughter of Clovis, and apparently a daughter of Charibert, also a king of the Franks; her brother was the king of Paris. This close association with the Frankish portion of the European continent closest to the Kentish area of England was a valuable alliance, but it was Bertha, the woman herself who was to prove crucial in the kingdom of our Lord. She even insisted that she be allowed to bring her own Bishop to Kent - Bishop Liudhard of Senles.

Ethelbert had made an attempt to become the Saxon overlord of all Britain, but had been defeated in the battle of Wimbledon in about 568 A.D. by the man who would eventually attain that overlordship - Ceawlin of Wessex.  'Bretwalda' was their name for this Saxon 'overlord' position. But what Ethelbert had not been able to obtain in open battle fell to him by default when Ceawlin died a short time later and his heir was unable to step in. So, Ethelbert became the 3rd 'Bretwalda' of the Saxon areas of Britain. This made him the most important Saxon king in England south of the Humber River.

This was a very influential position, and by God's good design, Ethelbert was a very just and able administrator - a man with an innately noble and fair dispostion. But, he was PAGAN! He worshipped Odin and that Germanic pantheon of the Saxons.

Some people have suggested that the word Odin comes from the worship of an ancestor that is none other than 'Dan', from the tribe of Dan, in the Bible, though other's disagree.  Some say Odin was Nimrod.  But probably Odin was just a leader of this peo[le when they migrated from the Black Sea area to the Denmark area in the 2nd century B.C.  Who that fellow was named after may point back to one of those other earlier candidates, but who knows? 

Oddly enough, there is some evidence - not definative but intriguing - to suggest that the Angles and Saxons and Jutes might actually have been descendents of one or another of Jacob/Israel's sons (the son named Joseph in particular for the Anglos and Saxons, who worshipped an ancestor named 'sheaf', and the Jutes name might have been related to 'Judah', also one of the 12 tribes founders, and one who's propheseyed destiny was to rule it's brother tribes - See the website 'BritAm' to learn more about this viewpoint if you wish.  More importantly see Genesis 49 where a dying Israel prophesies to his sons, and Deuteronomy 33 where a soon to die Moses prophesies to the tribes, around 400 years later.  Those prophesies may hint at the nations that those tribes will go on to become.)

Ethelbert was not immediately attracted to Christianity, but allowed his wife Bertha to be Christian from the beginning. Throughout his life Ethelbert was strongly opposed to forced conversion, thinking it a matter of personal conviction. He and Bertha had three children, for instance, and one son remained pagan for his whole life.

But there came a time early on when he travelled to an island - Thanet Island - to meet with Christians sent by Pope Gregory the Great who wanted to enter his land as missionaries. He met them outside and under an oak tree because the oak was a powerful symbol of his own pagan religion, and it was their pagan belief that magic spells had no effect outside of buildings, beneath the open skies. He wanted a little insurance since these Christians were reputed to have magical powers.

But upon meeting with the Christians, he decided he liked their ways, and appearance, so he allowed them to leave the Island and come inland, to come to his land and preach. He even provided for them, and they came and based out of Bertha's church buildings in the area of St. Martin's church. Ethelbert stated that he was not personally ready to change his faith, yet, but that they could convert those who chose to join them within the confines of his kingdom. And so, not immediately but gradually, Ethelbert came to be a believer in his wife's God, and he allowed a man named Augustine of Canterbury to baptise him about 4 years after marrying Bertha.

But once he became a Christian, he became a quite determined force for Jesus among the Saxons. He built some very important churches - St. Andrew's and the Monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, for instance, with Canterbury becoming the center of the Roman Catholic church's presence in Britain- and upon their king's conversion, some 10,000 of his subjects also decided to convert on just a single occasion. A group of 10,000 Christians in the 7th century A.D. has a very large impact as the centuries go by! Also, Etherbert was influential in convincing a couple of nearby kings to believe in Jesus also: Sabert, of the East Saxons and Redwald of the East Angles. They in turn were an influence upon the people of their own important kingdoms.

And also of significance, Ethelbert wrote a system of laws in the Germanic language called the 90 Dooms, judgements formed somewhat after an earlier Roman model.  These '90 Dooms', despite their grim sounding name, established the beginnings of a fair and equitable government for the Saxons in England. One source stated that the very first law (or 'doom') had to do with the protection of church rights - reparation for stolen goods robbed from churches, church property, or priests.  God was acknowledged in the law, as He should be in America's law, and I think all people's laws.

So, Bertha, the Frankish Christian bride of Ethelbert, was such a shining example to her husband, an Odin worshipper, that he was eventually brought to believe himself. And upon his believing, both his own and other kingdoms in the area of Southern England were persuaded to adopt the Christian faith. And, the island of Great Britain began again to be predominately Christian, and the mighty force for Jesus that it would one day become. England would go on to build an Empire that the sun would never set upon, and though it was not for especiallly Christian purposes that the Empire was built, it did still help to carry Christianity to the furthest corners of the globe.

On Feb 24th, 616 A.D., after about a 56 year reign, Ethelbert's life ended, and he was buried in Canterbury. A lamp was lit to commemorate him there, and it is said to have remained lit (tended by generation after generation) until the time of Henry the VIII's revolt against the Catholic church when much at Canterbury was destroyed. But the lantern had burned for over 900 years by that point. That's a pretty good memorial for any man. Praise God who chooses who He chooses for reasons that He knows!

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website