Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The First Payment of Tithes in England
By John Selden (15841654)
From The History of Tithes
FOR the practice of payment among Christians, both Britons and Saxons, might we believe the common tale of that Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury province, his coming to Cometon in Oxfordshire, and doing a most strange miracle there; touching the establishing of the doctrine of due payment of tithes, we should have as certain and express authority for the ancient practice of such payment, as any other church in Christendom can produce. But as the tale is, you shall have it, and then censure it. About the year (they say) DC. Augustine coming to preach at Cometon, the priest of the place makes complaint to him, that the lord of the manor having been often admonished by him, would yet pay him no tithes. Augustine questioning the lord about that default in devotion, he stoutly answered, that the tenth sheaf doubtless was his that had interest in the nine, and therefore would pay none. Presently Augustine denounces him excommunicate, and turning to the altar to say mass, publicly forbad that any excommunicate person should be present at it, when suddenly a dead corpse, that had been buried at the church door, arose (pardon me for relating it) and departed out of the limits of the churchyard, standing still without, while the mass continued. Which ended, Augustine comes to this living dead, and charges him in the name of the Lord God to declare who he was. He tells him, that in the time of the British State he was huius villæ Patronus, and although he had been often urged by the doctrine of the priest to pay his tithes, yet he never could be brought to it; for which he died, he says, excommunicate, and was carried to Hell. Augustine desired to know where the priest that excommunicated him, was buried. This dead showed him the place; where he makes an invocation of the dead priest, and bids him arise also, because they wanted his help. The priest rises. Augustine asks him, if he knew that other that was risen. He tells him, yes; but wishes he had never known him. For (saith he) he was in all things ever adverse to the Church, a detainer of his tithes, and a great sinner to his death, and therefore I excommunicated him. But Augustine publicly declares, that it was fit mercy should be used towards him, and that he had suffered long in Hell for his offence (you must suppose, I think, the author meant Purgatory); wherefore he gives him absolution, and sends him to his grave, where he fell again into dust and ashes. He gone, the priest new risen tells, that his corpse had lain there above clxx. years; and Augustine would gladly have had him continue upon earth again, for instruction of souls, but could not thereto entreat him. So he also returns to his former lodging. The lord of the town standing by all this while, and trembling, was now demanded if he would pay his tithes; but he presently fell down at Augustines feet, weeping and confessing his offence; and receiving pardon, became all his life time a follower of Augustines. Had this legend truth in it, who could doubt, but that payment of tithes was in practice in the infancy of the British Church? The priest that rose from the dead, lived (if he ever lived) about cccxxx. after Christ, and would not surely have so taxed the lord of this manor only, if the payment had not been usually among other good Christians here, not taught only, but performed also. Neither need I admonish much of the authority of it: the whole course of it directs you how to smell out the original. Beside the common Legend of our Saints, it is in some volumes put alone, for a most observable monument; and I found it bound up at the end of the MS. life of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, written by John de Grandisono; and it remains in the public library of Oxford.