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Christianity and Identity in Ireland 1: Early Christian Ireland
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Christianity and Identity in Ireland 1: Early Christian Ireland



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  • 1. Christianity and Identityin Ireland: how faith has made us who we are … a prayerful journey through this island’s story
  • 2. HISTORY?• It’s just one thing after another!!1. History is telling stories about the past• A science: what really happened?• More than one story (narrative plurality)• No “authorative” story• As we tell “our” story we have to be sensitive to the fact there are many other stories going on (narrative hospitality)2. What story should we tell?• We are the Church• What is our responsibility to this island? What sort of future would we like to have?3. Thinking historically is like travelling to a foreign country• No context = pretext (remember Ben Franklin!)• There is always a bigger story
  • 3. Week 1: Early Christian Ireland A.D. 431-795“To the Irish believing in Christ, Palladius having been ordained by Pope Celestine, is sent as first Bishop.”(Ad Scottos in Christum credentes a papa Caelestino Palladius primus episcopus mittitur.) - Chronicle of Prosper of Aquitaine
  • 4. Four questions:• Who were the “Scotti” (Irish)?• How had some of them come to believe in Christ?• Why was Palladius sent to them?• How does St. Patrick fit into the story?
  • 5. 1. Who were the “Scotti”?Geography:• forest, bog and rock.• Wolves and wild boar• “Ultima Thule”First Inhabitants? Map of Ireland based upon Ptolomy’s Coordiantes. Ptolomy lived in Egypt c. 90-150
  • 6. 1. Who were the “Scotti”?“The first that landed upon this island were three Spanish fishermen drove upon the coast by a storm.”“Note: this landing of the fishermen is The Book of Invasions (Lebor deemed fabulous.” Gabála Érenn) c. 11th century
  • 7. 1. Who were the “Scotti”?Geography:• forest, bog and rock.• Wolves and wild boar• “Ultima Thule”First Inhabitants:•We know nothingabout the culture,hopes desires, societyof the “pre Celts”•They have left Map of Ireland based upon Ptolomy’smysterious structures Coordiantes. Ptolomy lived in Egypt c. 90-150
  • 8. Dating back to c. 3200 BCNewgrange mound and passagetomb in Co. Meath is the oldestastronomical structured in theWorld.
  • 9. The Celtic Invasions c. 800-100 B.C.“The Dying Gaul” Roman copy of Greek Statue, c. 230-220 BC
  • 10. PictishGaedollicBrythonic(also Brittany and Iberia) British Isles, mid 5th century
  • 11. Celtic Society • “Tribal, Hierarchical, Familiar” (D. A. Binchy) • Semi-nomadic • Illiterate • Complex literary and legal culture • Ring forts, crannògs, raths • No towns (civitae) • Cattle important as staple food and currency • Pagan Religion
  • 12. The Structure of Celtic Society• Not Feudal!• 180 Túatha (petty kingdoms)• 4 generation derbfine – identity was bound up with membership of the kin group• Hierarchy: King (Ri), Poets (Filid), Lawyers (Brehons)• Clienstship• Tannistry (rule didn’t pass from father to son)• Fosterage• Cultural unity – political disunity• Not a nation! A Celtic World
  • 13. 2. How had they come to be “believing in Christ”?• Edict of Milan, A.D. 313• Yet: Roman forces never stepped foot in Ireland• Outside the scope of the Pax Romana (Hadrian’s Wall)• Trading? especially in south-east (silver hoardes, Emperors Valens [365-78] and Honorius [395-423]) “I was taken into captivity in• Ogham Stones? Ireland with many thousands• Big Picture: Collapse of of people” the Empire; Celtic Pirates (Patrick, Confessio) (Civitas Dei)
  • 14. 3. Why was Palladius sent to them?• We know very little about what he did beyond being “consecrated as first bishop”• To the “many thousands”?• A specialist in dealing with heresy• Patrick’s mission started in A.D. 432, confusion of identities• 8th century, “cult of Patrick” (smear campaign)
  • 15. Where does St. Patrick fit into all this?The Patrick of legend…• What “facts” do you know about Patrick?• Myths, but important myths!! (the Vitae (lives) of Tierchan and Mierchu)The Patrick of history…• Two surviving documents – Confessio and Letter to Coroticus• Born c. 395• Roman citizen from Bannavem Taburniae (Carlisle?)• Father and grandfather served church• Taken by Irish pirates at age 16
  • 16. • 6 years tending flock as a slave; Spiritual awakening• Escapes to Gaul (France) on a boat• Welcomed home with much rejoicing• Couldn’t settle for the privileged villa lifestyle• In a dream hears the “vox hiberniae” (voice of the Irish)• Returns to France for education
  • 17. • Consecrated as bishop in 432• Greatest success in Ulster• Perhaps first goal, like Palladius was to reach Christian Britons who had been abducted into slavery like him• Many thousand “Scoti” come to faith through his ministry• Opposes the slaughter of Irish by Romans• Stands up for woman• Speaks against slavery• Dies 461• A passionate evangelistic spirit• A thorough-bread Roman, entirely “orthodox” Page from Patrick’s Confessio
  • 18. The Churches of St. Patrick• Episcopal; territorial, oversight by bishops• Any possible problems with this?• Separatist (the early canons)• Not “culturally” Celtic, Roman/Latin in character! The traditional site of Patrick’s burial, Downpatrick• Coenobitic monasticism (hermits) – why there are “deserts” in Ireland!
  • 19. The Emergence of Irish• Monasticism Church in a little over 100 years would look totally different• Chaos in Europe, lines of communication broke, Christianity nearly dies out in Britain• Political turbulence in Ireland – rise of the Uí Néills, colonisation of Ayrshire by Dál riAta (“Scot”land), colonisation of Wales• Reasonable to presume decline of Patrician churches• Yet: new evangelistic movement sweeps through the Celtic world: monasticism• Between 5th-12thC. Over 600 monastic settlements built!• “The Irish church was almost exclusively monastic.” (Gougaud)• Spiritually vibrant and culturally relevant Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry
  • 20. Early Irish MonasteriesStarted by charismatic leaders:• Columcille – Derry• Comgall – Bangor• Finnian – Clonard• Bridget – Kildare• Kevin – Glendalough
  • 21. Life in an Irish Monastery• Early Monastic sites based on the local tradition of ring forts.• Inside fort was a small church, cells the monks lived in, guest house, refectory, high cross.• Buildings were made of timber or wattle and daub though stone buildings in the West (e.g. Skellig Michael)• Life of Prayer (contemplation) and Confession• studyied the Bible and various literature (e.g. philosophy)• Taught illiterate people• Copied sacred manuscripts• Bookmaking, Irish manuscripts highly prized on continent
  • 22. The difference between Irish Monasticism and the Churches of St.• Abbot has authority, not bishop Patrick• Not restricted by territorial boundaries• Expansionist, mother house/satellite houses• Appearance of monks (Irish tonsure)• Private confession, penance• Dating of Easter: not innovation, archaism! (Synod of Whitby, 664)• Reading the Bible – “historio-critical” not “allegorical”Spirituality of Irish Monasticism:• naturalism? (John Ryan)• Charismatic (Brendan Bradhsaw) -remember the Patrick of Tierchan and Mierchu! – reminiscent of the Book of Acts• thought themselves totally orthodox, loyal to Rome!!• Not “a dark age hippy colony inhabited by gentle gurus doing their own Christian thing far removed from the stultifying influence of sub-Roman bishops and their dioceses” (A. P. Smyth)
  • 23. White Martyrdom• Most famous: Kevin of Glendalough, died c. 618• Choosing exile from the protection of the Kin group was a renouncement of identity and a form of martyrdom• Strict discipline (nettle bath, naked in ocean)• highly valued the Bible, especially the Gospels• Coenobitic monasticism didn’t prevail; communal lifestyles emerged
  • 24. Green Martyrdom, the “Peregrinito”Columcille c. 521-597• From a prominent branch of the Ui Neill’s• Trained at Clonard• In 563 left Derry for Scotland with 12 companions• Granted land at Iona• Launches evangelising mission to the Picts• Part of Ui Neill expansion?Columbanus c. 540-615• Schooled in Fermanagh, a promising scholar• Spends many years with Comgall in Bangor• Set out as a missionary-pilgrim to the Continent, formed many monasteries, most fmaously Luxeil (France) and Bobbio (Italy)
  • 25. Why was this type of monasticism successful in the Celtic world?Culturally relevant:• Semi-nomadic: a people who “had been, within all tribal memory, on the move.” (Kathleen Hughes)• No towns• Clientship, political expansion• Fosterage• Filid = scribes• Functioned as cultural-political centres Nendrum, Co. Down
  • 26. Land of saints and Scholars?• From illiterate to the most sought after Latin scholars in Europe• Compose immesnse amount of manuscripts in both Latin and vernacular John Scotus Eriugena c.• Develop Irish alphabet 815-77, considered the most capable• Technological philosopher/theologian of the early Medieval achievements period (Nendrum mill) The Cathach of Columcille, c. 560-600, the earliest surviving folio in Irish script
  • 27. Treasures of the Golden Age
  • 28. Secularisation• Political expediency ultimately trumps spiritual vibrancy• Position of Abbot becomes hereditary post• In the background with Columcille; until death of Adamnàn in 704 all the abbots of Iona were kin of Columcille’s. Kildare, Clonmacnois and Clonard were all connected to powerful kin groups.• After split in Celtic Christianity with Synod of Whitby in 664, no further contact with Rome, Irish church increasingly insular• “Nasty” aspects of Celtic society persist• The “golden age” ends with the first Viking foray into Ireland on Rathlin in 795
  • 29. St. Patrick, Identity and Power GamesShield of the Ui Neill, Protestant Archbishop of Armagh,St. Patrick’s cathedral James Ussher’s book on theArmagh John De Courcey, Carrickfergus similarities of ancient Irish religion Castle, St. Patrick coin and Protestantism
  • 30. Recommended ReadingT. M. Charles Edwards, Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge: University Press, 2000Kathleen Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1972Máire & Liam DePaor, Early Christian Ireland. London: Thames & Hudson, 1958Louis Gougaud, Christianity in Celtic Lands. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1932Liam de Paor, St. Patricks World. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1992Brendan Bradshaw, “The Wild and Woolly West: Early Irish Christianity and Latin Orthodoxy” in The Churches, Ireland and the Irish, Studies in Church History no. 25. London: Ecclesiastical History Society, 1989Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilisation, New York, NY: Doubleday, 1995James F. Kenney, The Sources for the Early History of Ireland: Ecclesiastical. Dublin: Irish University Press, 1929Dáibhí Ó Cróinin, (ed.). A New History of Ireland, I: Prehistoric and Early Ireland. Oxford: University Press, 2005St. Patricks Confessio: