It’s easy to forget, when we’re talking about history, what a very long time sometimes elapses between major events. That’s probably a factor of our having grown up in the 20th Century, when something major seems to have happened every ten years, or so. Not all history is like that, though.
For example, Jesus Christ was crucified sometime around 30 A.D. Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome in 65 A.D. That’s thirty-five years! Think about that. In our terms of reference, it was as long between the crucifixion and Nero’s first persecution of the Church as it has been, roughly, since the Iran Hostage crisis. Since Ronald Reagan was elected president the first time.
In 1980, the average American wage was $17,500.00. Gas cost 86 cents a gallon. Remember those days? Lots of you don’t. That’s how long ago it was. But then look at the order of magnitude of the passage of time: How long was it between the Crucifixion and the consolidation of Roman power in Britain? It was over sixty years. As long as it’s been since the Korean War started. Longer than Rock and Roll has been around. And, how long did the Romans stay there after they got there? Well, they left in 411 A.D., so do the math. Rome ran what we, today, think of as England for almost 350 years. What were we doing 350 years ago? Not even all 13 Colonies had been settled. A few hundred Englishmen and a few hundred more Dutch and French were clinging to the Eastern Seaboard for dear life, and the Spanish were mining the Southwest for whatever gold they could lay their hands on. The Romans were in Britain for a very long time, indeed, and the Church existed there for all that time.
There is a very old tradition that the Church came to Britain even before the Romans did, to stay. There is an unprovable but persistent belief that Joseph of Arimathea brought a party there in 38 or 39 A.D.: Just a couple of years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection. There is also an old tradition that the Apostle Paul visited there, after his first trial, in Rome. There can be little doubt that some British nobles converted to Christianity while in Rome, themselves. Paul addresses one of them, Linus, in II Timothy, Chapter 4, and also greets high-ranking Romans like Pudens (in Timothy) and Rufus (in the Book of Romans). It is also absolutely certain that Roman soldiers brought the faith to the Isles in the first or second Century. The Roman Catholic Church has records of British Bishops (who were not Romans!) in the 200s. Nor, should we forget that Constantine himself may well have been raised in a Christian home, in the late 200s. The British (or Celtic) Church had existed, separate from the Roman one, for at least 300 and maybe for almost 400 years, when the Romans left in 411.