39: Roman Caledonia

“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance”

1 Thessalonians 1:5

Paradoxically, the Romans were both the bitterest opponents of Christianity and the most effective conduit for the dissemination of the Gospel, all at the same time!

The growth of Christianity throughout the Empire meant that channels had been established, that wherever the soldiers and traders went the message of Jesus was spread abroad.

How Christianity reached Britannia we are not quite sure. Legends abound but some may be based on a modicum of truth. Learned scholars such as Archbishop James Ussher, for example, believed that the great Apostle Paul himself visited the British Isles.

It is widely assumed that the Romans did not visit Scotland or Caledonia as they called it, with their Empire extending as far as Hadrian’s wall. As a result of archaeological discoveries, there is a conclusive body of evidence, however, that the Romans had fortifications almost as far north as Aberdeen. The Antonine Wall with its ramparts and forts, which extends from the Firth of Forth to the Clyde is adequate proof that the Romans occupied the area we associate with Glasgow and Edinburgh today.

What is also clear, however, is that the greatest army in the world failed to conquer the Picts and they were eventually forced to retreat behind Hadrian’s wall. This was a conflict, however, that continued over a prolonged period, and which ebbed and flowed.

The presence of the Roman soldiers in Caledonia became the inevitable conduit whereby the Gospel was established at least in the southerly regions. While the legends of Saint Ninian evangelising in this region exist, more conclusive proof abounds through the writing of the Irish evangelist Patricius.

Otherwise known as Saint Patrick, Patricius was a Roman boy living in Caledonia before being kidnapped. His father was a priest in a Christian congregation, which we must assume was well established before Patrick was born in the late Fourth or early Fifth Century. The finds of Roman coins in the Dumbarton area, where many believe he came from, further authenticates this hypothesis because Patrick’s Latin name suggests he came from Roman family. There is a crucial piece of evidence from the writings of Tertullian in the Third Century that the inhabitants of northern Britain, where the Romans had failed to conquer, had been converted and that Christ now reigned there.

Therefore as the Romans were warring with the Picts endeavouring to subjugate Caledonia a deeper work was being accomplished in the hearts of men and women by the power of the Holy Ghost. Within a Roman Community in Caledonia a church was planted which would be the spiritual nursery for a child called Patrick.

Lo, the great King of kings with healing in His wings,
To every captive soul a full deliverance brings;
And through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings;
The Comforter has come!

Francis Bottome

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