How the Irish Saved Civilization

“What is remarkable,” Thomas Cahill writes, “is not that Patrick should have felt an overwhelming sense of mission, but that in the four centuries between Paul and Patrick there are no missionaries.[1] “Patrick crossed that threshold upon which we left Augustine hesitating.”[2] Patrick was “the first missionary to barbarians beyond the reach of Roman law.”[3]

On the last, cold day of December in the dying year we count as 406, the river Rhine froze solid, providing the natural bridge that hundreds of thousands of hungry men, women and children had been waiting for. They were the barbari—to the Romans an undistinguished, matted mass of Others.[4] Patrick was “the imperfect Roman”[5] meaning that Patrick did not live past his teenage years in the Roman culture; he endured the trauma of forced relocation to Ireland. Years later he was not at home in either Roman or Irish culture. This severe mercy made him perfect person to communicate which the gospel of the kingdom to the Irish.

The Irish were still sacrificing human beings to their gods when Patrick began his mission.[6] Patrick declared that such sacrifices were no longer needed. Christ had died once for all.[7]

Leaving the Homeland, Like Abraham. Ireland was, according to Cahill, the “only land into which Christianity was introduced without bloodshed. There are no Irish martyrs. This troubled the Irish, to whom a glorious death by violence presented such an exciting finale.”[8] “The Irish revered as martyrs not only those who died for their faith, but also those whose ascetic discipline made their lives a kind of daily immolation for Christ.” So, the Irish developed a new kind of martyrdom. They called it Green Martyrdom, as opposed to Red Martyrdom. If they couldn’t lose their lives for Christ, they could die to the worldly. They would leave the comforts of home, go to the green hills and mountains or to an island and study Scriptures, copy Scriptures and commune with God. Gougaud states that “Voluntary exile appealed to them as the supreme immolation, and as being specially adapted to perfect the act of renunciation they had undertaken.” Phrases such as “for the welfare of the soul” and “to gain the heavenly fatherland” are used to describe their motivation. The ideal of Green Martyrdom led Irish to become missionaries. This book is honeycombed with remembrances of the God of Abraham, who was went to a place that God showed him, that all the nations might be blessed.

How the Irish Lit Europe with the Love of Reading. Cahill wrote, “The first Irish Christians also became the first Irish literates.”[9] He continued:

Where they went, the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.[10]

The monastic pattern of administrating the Christian community. For a long time, the Christian communities were administrated by monasteries, not parish churches. Abbots appointed bishops. This was the pattern of Celtic Christian communities from the 6th to the 9th century. It endured for such a long time that we must reckon it a legitimate version of Christian governing, an alternative to Catholic and Protestant hierarchies. The Celtic monks minted so many missionary monasteries over so vast an expanse of rural Europe that the de-centralized nature of their government seems to prove that there is nothing inherently better or more natural about the Roman pattern of rule by district bishops, whose power emanates from a central locus.

References Cited

Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. 1st ed. New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1995.

Fletcher, R. A. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. 1st American ed. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1998.

[1] Thomas 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, 1st ed. (New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1995). p. 187. Cahill should have confined his statement to the Roman church, of course; the Church of the East had sending bases in Nisibis (modern day Nusaybin in Turkey) and Edessa (now Urfa) from whence missionaries went eastward to Persia and beyond.

[2] R. A. Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, 1st American ed. (New York: H. Holt and Co., 1998). 86

[3] 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. 108

[4] Ibid. 11

[5] Ibid. 187

[6] Ibid. 136

[7] Ibid. 140

[8] Ibid. 151

[9] Ibid. p. 151

[10] Ibid. 196