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Synod of Whitby

663/4. An important turning point in the history of the church in England. English Christianity in the seventh century had two main streams. One came from Rome via Augustine of Canterbury and Paulinus, and the other from the Celtic Church via Iona and Lindisfarne. There were a number of differences of ethos and of religious observance between these two streams, the most notable of the latter concerning the date on which Easter* was to be celebrated. The issue came to a head in 663 when King Oswy of Northumbria saw that in the following year he would be celebrating Easter when his wife, who had been brought up in Roman ways, would be observing Lent.

A synod was called at Streanshalch (Whitby) in Yorkshire, the site of Hilda's abbey. The delegates of the Celtic persuasion were King Oswy, who presided; Cedd,* bishop of the East Saxons; Hilda*; and Colman,* bishop of Lindisfarne. The Roman representatives included Oswy's son Alchfrith; Agilbert, bishop of Dorchester; Wilfrid,* abbot of Ripon; and James the Deacon. Colman argued that the Celtic tradition went back through Columba* and Polycarp* to John the Evangelist. Wilfrid pleaded the near-universality of the observance of a tradition going back to Peter and Paul. The king judged in favor of the Roman party on the grounds that he would rather be on good terms with “the keeper of heaven's gate” than with Columba. The decision caused some bitterness among the Celtic party and was influential in bringing England within the mainstream of Christendom (with its administrative advantages and theological dangers) for the next eight and three-quarter centuries.

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