non angelus?

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For longer than I think I can remember has had the sub-title “non angelus, sed anglus“. Let me tell you a story and explain why…

Augustine, a Roman Abbot, was sent at the head of a group of 40 monks by Pope Gregory the Great to bring the Bible to England in what is one of the more romantic episodes in English history. The primary source is the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in AD 731. Working from his abbey at Jarrow, he wrote a detailed account of the conversion of England utilizing a wide variety of sources from all over England and Europe, including papal documents in Rome.

The account begins in a Roman slave market, where the pope-to-be was drawn to a group of fair-skinned, fine-haired youths on the seller’s block. When he was told that they were Angles (English) he is supposed to have replied, in history’s earliest recorded pun, “Not Angles, but Angels — for they have an angelic face.” and he went on to express great sadness that such divine-looking people should still be unsaved.

The exact latin phrase was

Non Angli, sed Angeli

You can find similar versions of the same story here and here.

My sub-title, however, is slightly different,

non angelus, sed anglus

Which is essentially back to front, and in the singular. “Not an angel, but English”. I’m no angel, but then none of us are. But I am English (which is not, I should point out, somehow better than being an angel – although others may beg to differ). Rather, it’s simply a marker of who I am. Not an angel, but a simple sinner and an Englishman, albeit a saved one.

As well as the personal labeling, perhaps you might view it as an allusion to one of my main writing topics – Anglicanism. I’m a convinced Anglican and it grieves me when others take that badge for themselves but then seek to deliberately undermine and deny those basic fundamental beliefs on which the Church of England was based as espoused in the 39 Articles of Religion. If you like, those are the title deeds of the house called Anglicanism and there’s a whole host of squatters.

Having said all that, let me leave you in no doubt that being English is something to brag about, which I will leave to the experts.

I blame the poor subtitling at the end on the fact that it was the Australian version.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Roger Gallagher

    Hi David,

    I thought that the OT was full on puns and wordplay in Hebrew. Wouldn’t that make Gregory a rather late exponent of the “art”?

  2. David Ould

    Good point, Roger. Perhaps he’s the first to do it in Latin?! Who knows…

  3. Roger Gallagher

    As for being English being something to brag about, I have to agree. It’s amazing the level of achievement reached by so many Englishpeople, despite the incredible disadvantages they have encountered from birth through being born English.

    1. David Ould

      thanks James. Fascinating article. Welcome to the website!

  4. Richard Brown

    I once saw a performance of Pinafore where the ‘Englishman’ was played by a man with the broadest Glasgow accent I have ever heard. As I was looking for an amdram to join, I reckoned that they were about my standard and would take anyone. Reader, I joined them.

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