Ireland: An Expansion through Time
The Romans were the first true force to convert to Christianity. During their reign they would conquer and command heathen tribes into obeying this new found religion. However, the Roman Empire would decay, disappear and then it was left to another group to take over. The Irish would eventually become a driving force behind Christianity; peaceably converting and forming new ideas and thought behind the religion itself. Thus, the Irish unknowingly save civilization.
To put things in perspective, first one must know some background information. For it was Augustine who brought about the need for explanations. Augustine in his search for answers set up libraries with histories, philosophy, and legends. These libraries would become the treasure of classical knowledge and the basis for thought that would follow. Augustine constantly was questioning beliefs and always reforming them to suit his new state of mind. For instance Augustine’s beliefs on religion were quite exploratory.
To absolve himself from his lust of the fine flesh he abandoned Catholicism for Manicheism, which had the aspects of “a little Christian symbolism, a large dose of Zoroastrian dualism, and some of the quiet refinements of Buddhism. (49)”. Although this would not satisfy his intellectual hunger and he would move onto studying the works of Plato and Socrates. In the end though he would come across the letters of a Jew named Paul who would show him the light of the Christian god. Thus, he would purify his soul, absolve his past sins, and “ submit himself to the death of the flesh through baptism-and to the Christian God. (58)”
At this same time 4th Century Ireland was not as nearly educated as Augustine of that time was. Ireland was a barbaric nation, which in essence paralleled the famous epic poem Beowulf. It was a society in which wealth determined the ruling factor and histories were kept in the way of the oral tradition. Through stories such as Tain Bo Cuailnge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, one is shown what Ireland might have been like and through heroes such as Deirdre and Cuchulainn one can idealize what the Irish pagan ways were.
In the Tain one finds the characters of Medb and Ailil of who are trying to find out who has more wealth to insure the power of the other. The final decision comes down to a prize bull that lives in Ailil’s pastures because he can’t stand to be under the rule of a woman, therefore Ailil the King has more power. Medb determined to win though seeks the help out of a neighboring ally. The ally agrees but in the end the deal goes bad and we are introduced to the famous warrior Cuchulainn. Cuchulainn defeats Medb and shows again the fact that men are more powerful.
In Ireland’s Pagan society the God’s were merciless and yet at the same time they allowed more freedom in people’s actions. The pagan Irish had a religion that was more fantastical and easier to follow. Women in the pagan society were not held as equals but they were not cast aside such as those of the Christian society. During this time Ireland was not a developed nation. It was a simple time with a simple way of life. Life revolved around the good things in life such as wealth, sex, drinking, and storytelling. The only problems within the society were those that were created in-between themselves or those brought on by the will of the Gods; for example extreme weather or unexplainable situations. It would not be until Patrick came along that Ireland would resemble that of a higher society.
Patrick was brought to Ireland as a slave of an Irish king. As a respite from the pain and hunger he felt on a daily basis he turned to the god of his upbringing and through the Christian God he found his calling. He eventually escaped on a boat and managed to make his way back to England where he couldn’t get Ireland out of his mind and in his dreams he envisions himself as “VOX HIBERNACTIUM, The Voice of the Irish. (105)” He then travels to Gaul and starts a theological education in which he is ordained a priest and a bishop. At this point he becomes “virtually the first missionary bishop in history. (107)”
He establishes bishops throughout northern, central, and eastern Ireland by the time he is an old man. He not only introduces Christianity to the Irish people but he stops the slave trade among the Irish kings “and other forms of violence such as murder and intertribal warfare, decreased. (110)” After his establishment in Ireland though, Rome falls and leaves hordes of people trying to claw their way to the top. Kings trying to acquire more land take to pirating Ireland and it’s new churches. Patrick pleads to the British Christians for help. But, “The British Christians did not recognize the Irish Christians either as full-fledged Christians or as human beings-because they were not Roman. (112)”
As for the legends surrounding Patrick, few of them can actually be proven. “He did not chase the snakes out of Ireland. There is no way of knowing whether he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. (115)” One thing is certain though and that is that it was him that set up Christianity in Ireland. He may not have stopped the Irish from their promiscuous pagan ways, but he gave them a faith and God in which to trust. He would instill a faith so strong that it would survive all questionable times and he would do it peaceably. Making Ireland the only nation that has embraced Christianity through no force or bloodshed whatsoever. “As the Roman lands went from peace to chaos, the land of Ireland was rushing even more rapidly from chaos to peace. (124)”
Years later through Kevin the hermit Ireland brings about Monastery’s to Ireland. Within the monasteries the monks are taught Latin, Greek, and also how to write. It is through the monasteries that records of history start to be kept and earlier stories are preserved on paper. It also allows for Irish to become a written language that becomes the type script that is used throughout the rest of the middle ages. The Irish create their own style, which becomes revered across Europe. It also allows for the monks to write other thoughts or prose down; allowing future generations to understand and learn from the past.
Columcille is the next important figure in Ireland’s religious history for he is the first monk to become exiled from his beloved Ireland. In turn “he must save as many souls as perished in the battle he precipitated. (171)” He sets off for Scotland and it is “in this way, the Irish monastic tradition began to spread beyond Ireland. (184)”. Columcille brings another culture into the Christian way. In his shame he strives for forgiveness by showing others the light of his God. Thus he starts a new era for the Irish monk.
Columbanus becomes the next great exiled monk to spread the Christian faith. “At this great distance in time, we can no longer be sure how many monasteries were founded in Columbanus’s name during his lifetime and after his death. But the number, stretching across vast territories that would become in time the countries of France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, would be numerous. (192)” For it would be Columbanus that would truly spread Christianity throughout the western world, setting precedent in Italy where the holy city of the Vatican would later come.
It was in this way that Ireland saved civilization, through their solidarity in the Christian religion. Which allowed them to expand their knowledge and their ideals. Ireland as a country fostered the ideas of Patrick, Columcille, and Columbanus and allowed themselves to become one with those ideals. It was these Irishman that would spread their faith throughout the world from the eyes of Ireland. They not only had a God that would believe in them but they also had a country that would support them. For as Reinhold Neibuhr says in the foreword of How The Irish Saved Civilization, “Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes any complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.” Ireland was saved by its faith and in turn it saved a civilization from a chaos that was sure to follow.