Hearts And Minds Aflame For Christ: Irish Monks—A Model For Making All Things New in the 21st Century

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1“Throughout the Middle Ages there was probably not a more barbarous period in Western Europe than the hundred years which ran from 650 to 750. Classical and clerical studies had fallen into utter decay. With very few exceptions, even the best instructed laymen scarcely knew how to read and write. The clergy, indifferently skilled in Latin letters, despised the national tongue which was in truth still undeveloped, and were totally ignorant of Greek.” (Louis Gougaud, Gaelic Pioneers of Christianity, trans. by Victor Collins. [Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1923], 42).

2The Nicois Frenchman Antoine Pagi (1624-1699) said of Patrick, “It is to him that the Irish owe the fact that their country has become the Island of the Saints and even, during our time, the center of influence in letters and sciences.” (Quoted by Christiani Chanoine, “Saint Patrick and the Christian Origins of Ireland,” in The Miracle of Ireland, ed . M. Daniel-Rops, trans. by the Earl of Wicklow. [Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959], 20).

3Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization – The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 108.

4Cahill, 151.

5M. Daniel-Rops, The Miracle of Ireland, trans. the Earl of Wicklow (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959), 10.

6H. Zimmer, The Irish Element in Medieval Culture, trans. and notes by Jane Loring Edmands (The Knickerbocker Press, 1891; reprint, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons: 1969), 45-46 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

7John Ryan, Irish Monasticism – Origins and Early Development (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972), 378.

8Zimmer, 17-18.

9John Ryan, ed., Irish Monks in The Golden Age (Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds Ltd., 1963), 380.

10From Brian D. McLaren, “Why Leaning Back Can Help Us Move Forward,” paper presented at EFMA Executive Retreat, Kansas City, Missouri, September 17, 2002.

11Daniel-Rops, 7.

12William H. Marnell, Light from the West—The Irish Mission and the Emergence of Modern Europe (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 1-2.

13Zimmer, 130-131.

14Gougaud, 72-73.

15James P. Mackey, An Introduction to Celtic Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 106.

16J.M. Clark, The Abbey of St. Gall As a Centre of Literature & Art (Cambridge: University Press, 1926) 27. No source I have found reveals the reason for tattooing.

17Ryan, Irish Monks, 20-23.

18Zimmer, 19-20.

19Ryan, Irish Monks, 103.

20Mackey, 106. See also Gougaud, 8.

21Zimmer, 24.

22Marguerite-Marie Dubois, “Saint Columbanus,” in Ryan, Irish Monks, 45.

23Marnell, 79.

24Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. I : To 1500 A.D. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 222.

25Dubois, “Saint Columbanus,” 46.

26Ibid., 47.

27Ibid., 48.

28Dubois “Saint Columban and his Disciples,” In The Miracle of Ireland, ed. M. Daniel-Rops. 64. See also Dubois, “Saint Columbanus,” 55.

29Marnell, 111.
30Dubois, “Saint Columbanus,” 56.

31Marnell, 103.

32Ibid, 79-80.

33Zimmer, 69-70.

34Ibid., 15. At a time when there were still few books in Europe, the abbey library at Gall in Moengal’s time included copies of the Scriptures, works of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Victorinus, Cassiodorus, Bede, Origen, the Etymologies of Isidore, Josephus, the Rules of Benedict and Basil, Eusebius, Priscian’s Grammar, Orosius, Solinus, Boethius, biographies by Jonas and Walahfrid and other authors. Joynt offers a detailed description of many of the ancient manuscripts from the St. Gall library (The Life of St. Gall, 49-57).

35Ibid,, 72-73.

36Clark, 33.

37Zimmer, 73-74, 77.

38Clark, 34.

39Maud Joynt, The Life of St. Gall (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 1927), 17. See Clark, 96-124, for an excellent comprehensive description of the textbooks and style of education.

40Clark, 91.

41Ibid., 288-289.

42Gougaud, xv.

43See Gougaud, 43-44, and Clark, 30, for two renditions of this account.

44Zimmer, 45.

45Latourette, I:357.

46Gougaud, 52. Not only were the Irish leading in scholarship across Europe, but gradually they and their students began replacing the older generation of Gallo-Roman Church leaders. Even though this does not appear to be one of their objectives, the credibility and scholarship of the Irish in education earned them a hearing in the broader church world. Marnell states that, “the Irish conquest of the Frankish Church…was completed within a half century of the death of Columbanus” as his students and in turn their students, took over the power structure of the Roman Church (118). Many Church leaders including bishops across Europe during this period were Irishmen, including Virgil in Salzburg, Israel in Provence, Donatus at Fiesole, Abel in Gaul, Tomianus and Helias, both at Angouleme. (Gougaud, 22-23). Fiaich lists several Irish leaders and scholars (Mackey, 120-125). Israel is probably the bishop who put the story of Branden (who was memorialized so much in Germany with Brandenburg and other cites) in literary form. See also Marnell, 187-189.

47Zimmer, 31.

48Rene Aigram “The Contribution of Ireland to Medieval Christian Thought,” in The Miracle of Ireland, ed. M. Daniel-Rops, 137. Aigram lists many other Irish scholars, 132-137.

49Fiaich, Thomas O, Irish Cultural Influence in Europe, VIth to XIIth Century (Dublin: Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland, 1967), 4.

50Gougaud, xix-xx. Gougaud, writing in 1923 compares these Irish missionaries to the Irish missionaries of the early 1900’s. “This grand display of zeal led to fresh conquests for the Church of God, but in our own day it has been eclipsed by the splendid enthusiasm that has smitten men of brilliant minds and generous hearts, and impelled them, with an imperious urgency, to devote their lives to the conversion of China” (xxi).

51Cerbelaud-Salagnac, “The Monastaries of Ireland, Nurseries of Saints,” in The Miracle of Ireland, ed. M. Daniel-Rops, 46.

52J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, “Saint Aidan in England,” in Irish Monks in the Golden Age, ed Daniel-Rops, 37.

53“The exodus of the Irish monks and scholars had little of the modern foreign missionary movement about it. For one thing, the primary motive was ascetical rather than evangelical.” Fiaich (Mackey, 103).

54Fulbert Cayre , “Irish Spirituality in Antiquity,” in The Miracle of Ireland, ed. M. Daniel-Rops, 106-107.

55Quoted in Ryan, Irish Monasticism, 261.

56Cahill, 151. Ryan has an excellent discussion of the concept of martyrdoms (Irish Monasticism, 197-199).

57Clare Stancliffe, “Red, white and blue martyrdom,” in Ireland in Early Mediaeval Europe ed. Dorothy Whitelock, Rosamond McKitterick, and David Dumville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 21. This is a detailed and technical study on the concepts of martyrdom among the Irish.

58Gougaud, 5-6.

59Some historians believe that those who left Ireland and sailed away under the white sky were following the White Martyrdom, but it is unclear as to whether this terminology was used to refer specifically to leaving Ireland. Cf. Cahill, 184.

60Gougaud, 4-5.

61Marnell, 2.

62Quoted by Peter O’Dwyer, “Celtic Monks in the Culdee Reform,” in An Introduction to Celtic Christianity ed. James P. Mackey, 168.

63Daniel-Rops, 14.

64Ryan, 68.


66Ryan, Irish Monks in the Golden Age, 15.

67Cerbelaud-Salagnac, 38.

68Ryan, Irish Monks in the Golden Age 112.

69Aigram, 127.

70Ibid, 133.

71Daniel-Rops, 13.

72“To speak very strictly, there was held to be but one science, that of the Sacred Scriptures….The other branches of learning were only considered to be handmaids or assistants to religious education. The liberal arts, prosody, poetry, chronology, were in principle believed to have no other right to exist than in so far as they were useful in preparing the mind for the lectio divina, by which was meant the study of the Divine Thought as expressed in the Bible and handed down by tradition.” (Gougaud, 59).

73Cahill 194.

74Zimmer, 102-103.

75Ibid., 101-102.

76Marnell, 62, 73.

77Mackey, 134.

78Zimmer, 33.

79Zimmer, 114-116.

80Zimmer, 103, 106-108. Also Bernard Guillemain, “The Irish Saints in France,” in The Miracle of Ireland, ed. M. Daniel-Rops, 77.

81Marnell, 125.

82Charles Malik, The Two Tasks (Westchester, Illinois: Cornerstone, 1980) 31-32, 34.