Benedict Biscop worked towards the same end in a quieter fashion, coming backwards and forwards across the sea with books and relics and cunning masons and painters to rear a great church and monastery at Wearmouth, whose brethren owned obedience to the Roman See. In 652 they first set out for a visit to the imperial city; and the elder, Benedict Biscop, soon returned to preach ceaselessly against the Irish usages. He was followed by Wilfrid, whose energy soon brought the quarrel to a head. The strife between the two parties rose so high at last that Oswiu was prevailed upon to summon in 664 a great council at Whitby, where the future ecclesiastical allegiance of England should be decided. The points actually contested were trivial enough. Colman, Aidan's successor at Holy Island, pleaded for the Irish fashion of the tonsure, and for the Irish time of keeping Easter; Wilfrid pleaded for the Roman. The one disputant appealed to the authority of Columba, the other to that of St. Peter. "You own," cried the king at last to Colman, " that Christ gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven - has He given such power to Columba?" The bishop could but answer "No." "Then will I rather obey the porter of Heaven," said Oswiu, "lest when I reach its gates he who has the keys in his keeping turn his back on me, and there be none to open." The importance of Oswiu's judgment was never doubted at Lindisfarne, where Colman, followed by the whole of the Irish-born brethren and thirty of their English fellows, forsook the see of Aidan and sailed away to Iona. Trivial in fact as were the actual points of difference which severed the Roman Church from the Irish, the question to which communion Northumbria should belong was of immense moment to the after fortunes of England. Had the Church of Aidan finally won, the later ecclesiastical history of England would probably have resembled that of Ireland. Devoid of that power of organization which was the strength of the Roman Church, the Celtic Church in its own Irish home took the clan system of the country as the basis of Church government.
Tribal quarrels and ecclesiastical controversies became inextricably confounded; and the clergy, robbed of all really spiritual influence, contributed no element save that of disorder to the state. Hundreds of wandering bishops, a vast religious authority wielded by hereditary chieftains, the dissociation of piety from morality, the absence of those larger and more humanizing influences which contact with a wider world alone can give, this is the picture which the Irish Church of later times presents to us. It was from such a chaos as this that England was saved by the victory of Rome in the Synod of Whitby.
The Church of England, as we know it to-day, is the work, so far as its outer form is concerned, of a Greek monk, Theodore of Tarsus whom Rome, after her victory at Whitby, despatched in 669 as Archbishop of Canterbury, to secure England to her sway. Theodore's work was determined in its main outlines by the previous history of the English people. The conquest of the Continent had been wrought either by races such as the Goths, who were already Christian, or by heathens like the Franks, who bowed to the Christian faith of the nations they conquered. To this oneness of religion between the German invaders of the Empire and their Roman subjects was owing the preservation of all that survived of the Roman world. The Church everywhere remained untouched. The Christian bishop became the defender of the conquered Italian or Gaul against his Gothic and Lombard conqueror, the mediator between the German and his subjects, the one bulwark against barbaric violence and oppression. To the barbarian on the other hand he was the representative of all that was venerable in the past, the living record of law, of letters, and of art. But in Britain priesthood and people had been exterminated together.
When Theodore came to organize the Church of England, the very memory of the older Christian Church which existed in Roman Britain had passed away. The first Christian missionaries, strangers in a heathen land, attached themselves necessarily to the courts of the kings, who were their first converts, and whose conversion was generally followed by that of their people. The English bishops were thus at first royal chaplains, and their diocese was naturally nothing but the kingdom. The kingdom of Kent became the diocese of Canterbury, and the kingdom of Northumbria the diocese of York. In this way too realms which are all but forgotten are commemorated in the limits of existing sees. That of Rochester represented till of late an obscure kingdom of West Kent, and the frontier of the original kingdom of Mercia might be recovered by following the map of the ancient bishopric of Lichfield. Theodore's first work was to order the dioceses; his second was to add many new sees to the old ones, and to group all of them round the one centre of Canterbury. All ties between England and the Irish Church were roughly broken. Lindis-farne sank into obscurity with the flight of Colman and his monks. The new prelates, gathered in synod after synod, acknowledged the authority of their one primate.
The organization of the episcopate was followed during the next hundred years by the development of the parish system. The loose system of the mission-station, the monastery from which priest and bishop went forth on journey after journey to preach and baptize, as Aidan went forth from Lindisfarne or Cuthbert from Melrose, naturally disappeared as the land became Christian. The missionaries became settled clergy. The holding of the English noble or landowner became the parish, and his chaplain the parish priest, as the king's chaplain had become the bishop, and the kingdom his diocese. A source of permanent endowment for the clergy was found at a later time in the revival of the Jewish system of tithes, and in the annual gift to Church purposes of a tenth of the produce of the soil; while discipline within the Church itself was provided for by an elaborate code of sin and penance in which the principle of compensation which lay at the root of Teutonic legislation, crept into the relations between God and the soul.