The Germanic tribes, the Huns, the Franks and the Merovingian kingdom of Clovis were regarded by citizens of the Roman Empire as mere barbarians. We shall now advance to the formation of the Iro-Scottish Church. However, before we proceed, it is inevitable to distinguish the historic and contemporary terminologies pertaining to the Iro-Scottish Church. We must have a distinction between geographical and political divisions.
The British Isles is a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles.
Great Britain or simply Britain is an island composed of England, Scotland and Wales. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles.
England is a country (therefore, a political division) and the capital is London.
Wales is a country and the capital is Cardiff.
Scotland or Scotia Minor is country and the capital is Edinburgh.
Ireland or Scotia Maior or Hibernia (a classic Latin term) is an island west of Britain. In the present times,
it is politically divided into:
a. Northern Ireland – a country which is part of the United Kingdom and the capital is Belfast.
b. Ireland/ Republic of Ireland/ Republic of Eire is another country and the capital is Dublin.
United Kingdom is country composed of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and the capital
The Ireland (Scotia maior) and Scotland (Scotia minor) were never conquered by the Romans. They had conquered the Celtic people in much of Britain but never attempted to extend their territory over the island called Hibernia. Despite the boast of the Roman General Agricola that he could take Ireland with one legion and some auxiliaries, the land remained outside the Roman world.
Since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), the Church in the East (Byzantine Church) had the advantage in time in evangelizing the barbarians. The Eastern Church had the Gothic mission while the West had the Celtic mission. The Celtic territory is composed of 6 components:
- Isle of Man
- Britanny (France)
Basically, the Celtic mission was the Iro-Scottish mission.
A certain Prosper of Aquitaine (ca. 390-455) noted the following statement in his chronicles (431): “Palladius was sent in 431 by Pope Celestine I after his ordination as first bishop to the Scots (=Irish) believing in Christ.” With this, we can assume that there were existing Iro-Scottish groups of Christians, who were, however, without a bishop since no bishop is appointed to a diocese unless there is already an organized body of the faithful. We can infer that there were already Christian missionaries sent for the Celtic Church before the appointment of the bishop in 431.
At this time, Pelagianism had been taking grounds. In a nutshell, it is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid. Probably, Palladius was commissioned to take care of the orthodoxy (soundness of doctrine) and fight Pelagianism.
Bishop Palladius died after a brief and unsuccessful mission. He might had died on his way home or might had been martyred by the Irish. Though there is a degree of historical uncertainty about the life and ministry of Palladius, we are, however, certain of two things:
- that Christianity arrived in Ireland before the appointment of Bishop Palladius and
- that it was not Pallladius but St.Patrick who has gone down in history as the “Apostle of Ireland”.
ST. PATRICK (ca.385-461)
History and myth are not easy to separate in his case. Patrick was from Britain, the son of a Roman official. He was only 16 years old when the Iro-scots, on a plundering raid kidnapped him and took him as a slave to Ireland. For his 6 years of stay there, he had become acquainted with both the country and the language before he escaped and returned to Britain in 407.Afterwards, he became a monk. In a dream, he heard the voices of the Irish calling him and admonishing him to proclaim to them the Good News. He finally went back to Ireland as a bishop replacing the deceased Palladius. He was “the Apostle of Ireland”.
The term apostle is derived from the New Testament Greek noun ἀπόστολος or apostolos, meaning ‘the one who is sent forth as a messenger”. Truly, St. Patrick was the Apostle of Ireland.
- He baptized thousands.
- He ordained countless priests and bishops.
- He received the sons and daughters of kings as monks and virgins.
- He established dozens of monasteries throughout Ireland.
- He made Armagh in Northern Ireland the Metropolitan see and Ecclesiastical center (444).
- When he died in 461, Ireland was not only Christianized but also ecclesiastically organized.
TRIVIA: What is the connection between St. Patrick and the shamrock?
According to legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain God. The shamrock, which looks like clover, has three leaves on each stem. St. Patrick told the people that the shamrock was like the idea of the Trinity – that in the one God there are three divine persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock was sacred to the Druids, a member of the priestly class in ancient Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, so St. Patrick’s use of it in explaining the Trinity was very wise.
THE SHIFT IN THE POST-PATRICIAN IRISH CHURCH
St. Patrick imposed an ecclesiastical organization based on bishops. Bishops were appointed to lead a Christian flock of a specific territory. After St. Patrick’s death in 461, the ecclesiastical organization based on bishops was replaced by the one based on abbots. Therefore, the external organization of the Church was tied to the numerous monasteries. The abbots became leaders of the Irish church. The abbots consecrated one of their subordinate monks as suffragan bishops to perform purely Episcopal function of ordination and consecration.
Eventually, the Iro-Scottish Church became a complicated structure: great monasteries formed federations but there were also Churches allied to great families (churches sponsored by a particular noble family) as well as “free” churches (independent churches). Bishops exercised a pastoral role over their churches and the clergy. Following the lines of the local tribal groupings, what happened was determined by the local conditions. There was no master plan.
THE RISE OF IRISH MONASTICISM
By the 6th century, countless of monasteries became advanced schools of intellectual life and piety. They produced countless saints, that’s why Ireland was the Insula Sanctorum. They produced countless scholars, that’s why Ireland was the Insula Doctorum. The Golden Age of the Irish Church lasted until 740.
Inspite of its strong anchoritic character, Irish monasticism was not opposed to the world but rather has a missionary spirit:
- Monks conducted schools and celebrated mass
- Monks should be priests. In Ireland, the very ideal of ministering priests were the monk-priests.
- Celibacy and hourly prayers were first peculiar only to the Irish monk-priest but in the course of time it became obligatory in the West.
Irish monasticism has three marked characteristics:
- Severe Ascetic Exercises
- Irish Monk-Priests were reputed to have spent nights standing in ice-cold water, while reciting the psalms.
- They denied food for their bodies.
- They had long vigils.
- They engaged in harsh pilgrimages
- They practiced the “Vigilia crucis” which is standing in prayer with arms extended cross-like for long periods.
- They practiced repeated genuflections.
- They had self-flagellations.
- They had prolonged total fast.
- They influenced the laity outside Ireland in practicing private, secret and voluntary penitence and private confession. Before, only public penance were done by major lay offenders.
- Emphasis on Penance
- Penitentials (Manuals for confessors) existed in Ireland in the 6th century before it was introduced to the Continent. It provided the clergy with practical instruction in the care of the soul. It consisted of a catalogue of sins with the corresponding penances.
- Penitentials gave a list of appropriate penances for specific sins. For instance, the penance for murderers was 7 years of bread and water; the penance for a mother who kills her own child was 12 years of bread and water; the penance for eating horse meat was 4 years of bread and water.
- The Celtic monks practiced individual confession of sins to a priest followed by absolution and imposition of a penance.
- There was a practice of commutation of penalties. It means relieving the severity of penance. Ex. Prayer can be done instead of eating bread and water. But the Franks objected and instead of prayer the payment of fines was imposed.
- Perigrinatio pro Christo (Pilgrimage for Christ) signifies a holy pilgrimage. It was a peculiar Irish practice by which monks would leave the security of their monastery to live in voluntary exile in strange places among strange peoples or in places where there were no people at all. These rugged bearded monks with their tonsured head and long flowing hair and tall travelling staff offered a strange picture. Over their shoulders on a strap they carried a water bottle and a leather bag in which they carried their books and around their neck they wore a capsule with relic and a vessel for the storing of the holy consecrated bread. They prayed and studied along their journey. They utilized every opportunity to win soul.
- Generally, they did not stay long in one place, and their mission, therefore, could not reach any depth.
- The peregrini (pilgrim monks) were not missionaries in the ordinary sense, yet those who travelled to the East can be called missionary monks since they visited people and preach them the Gospel.
- Monasteries became center of Christian life in a semi-pagan environment.
- [We will see a more systematic approach with the missionary activities of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries.]
- The Irish Monastery became a universally acknowledged Center of Learning.
- The pedagogy in learning Latin from books was developed by studying the grammar and word lists. The holy books, the Bible and ceremonials were all in Latin. This was brought to the court of Charlemagne (768-814) by the English monk Alcuin (+804) and became a major influence on the subsequent learning of the universal language of the Middle Ages.
- Celtic monks did not only study manuscripts but copied them.
- They provided biblical and grammatical commentaries which went with them to the Continent.
COLUMBAN THE YOUNGER (530-615)
He was the most important of the Iro-scottish travelling missionaries and founder of the monasteries in the continent. He stands as an exemplar of Irish missionary activity in early medieval Europe. He spread among the Franks a Celtic monastic rule (Rule of St. Columban) and Celtic penitential practices for those repenting of sins, which emphasized private confession to a priest, followed by penances levied by the priest in reparation for the sin.
The island of Iona in the west coast of Scotland served as the Columban’s center of conversion of the Picts.
In 590, he started a perigrinatio religiosa pro Christo, a holy pilgrimage to the continent together with twelve companions just like the 12 apostles of Christ.
The field of St. Patrick's labors was the most remote part of the then known world. The seeds he planted in faraway Ireland, which before his time was largely pagan, bore a rich harvest: whole colonies of saints and missionaries were to rise up after him to serve the Irish Church and to carry Christianity to other lands.
He worked in Brittany, Gaul and Burgundy promoting Christian life among the Frankish nobilities and the clergy. He founded numerous monasteries most notably Luxeuil (France) and Bobbio (Italy) for which he devised a rigorous rule (Rule of St. Columban) which was brought to the continent. This rule reflected the Irish asceticism and emphasized severity, particularly physical severity. It stated as its guiding principle: “the chief part of the monk’s rule is mortification. Violation of the rule was to be punished harshly.” His severe asceticism inspired young men to become monks.
In 610, he criticized the amoral life of the Merovingian King Theuderic II (+613) and his feared grandmother Brunhilde. So, he was sent to exile and flee from Luxeuil. He went to pagan territories which are present day France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. He met many kings and bishops and opened important monasteries which spawned daughter monasteries.
In 613, he moved to upper Italy where he founded the abbey of BOBBIO, and he died there in 615. He influenced the religious life of the Frankish kingdom through the confessional and penitential practices.
THE RULE OF ST. COLUMBAN
The Monastic Rule of St. Columban is much shorter than that of St. Benedict, consisting of only ten chapters. The first six of these treat of obedience, silence, food, poverty, humility, and chastity. In these there is much in common with the Benedictine code, except that the fasting is more rigorous.
Chapter VII deals with the Choir Offices. Sunday Matins in winter consisted of seventy-five psalms and twenty-five antiphons ̶ three psalms to each antiphon. In spring and autumn these were reduced to thirty-six, and in summer to twenty-four, fewer were said on week days. The day hours consisted of Terce, Sext, None and Vespers. Three psalms were said at each of these Offices, except Vespers, when twelve psalms were said.
Chapter X regulates penances (often corporal) for offenses, and it is here that the Rule of St. Columban differs so widely from that of St. Benedict. Stripes or fasts were enjoined for the smallest faults. The habit of the monks consisted of a tunic of undyed wool, over which was worn the cuculla, or cowl, of the same material. A great deal of time was devoted to various kinds of manual labor, not unlike the life in monasteries of other rules.
The Rule of St. Columban was destined before the close of the century to be superseded by that of St. Benedict. For several centuries in some of the greater monasteries the two rules were observed conjointly.
Excerpts from the Rule:
He who fails to say grace at table or to answer “Amen” will be punished with six blows. Also, he who speaks while eating, not because of the needs of another brother, will be punished with six blows.
If through negligence, forgetfulness ore carelessness a monk spills an unusual amount of liquids or solids, he will be given the long pardon in church by prostrating himself without moving any limb while the other monks sing twelve psalms at the twelfth hour.
A monk who coughs while chanting the beginning of a psalm will be punished with six blows. Also, he who bites the cup of salvation with his teeth, six blows. He who receives the blessed bread with unclean hands, twelve blows. If a monk comes late to prayer, fifty lashes. If he comes noisily, fifty lashes...If he makes a noise during prayer, fifty lashes.
Rule of St. Columba 6th Century
Even if it did not quite "save civilization", Ireland was one of the monastic centers of Europe in the early middle ages. In fact the Church in Ireland was dominated by monasteries and by monastic leaders. Other Irish monks became missionaries and converted much of Northern Europe St. Columba (521 -597) and his followers converted Scotland and much of northern England. Columba did not leave a written rule. But the following rule, attributed to him, was set down much later. I does reflects the spirit of early Irish Monasticism.
Be alone in a separate place near a chief city, if thy conscience is not prepared to be in common with the crowd.
Be always naked in imitation of Christ and the Evangelists.
Whatsoever little or much thou possessest of anything, whether clothing, or food, or drink, let it be at the command of the senior and at his disposal, for it is not befitting a religious to have any distinction of property with his own free brother.
Let a fast place, with one door, enclose thee.
A few religious men to converse with thee of God and his Testament; to visit thee on days of solemnity; to strengthen thee in the Testaments of God, and the narratives of the Scriptures.
A person too who would talk with thee in idle words, or of the world; or who murmurs at what he cannot remedy or prevent, but who would distress thee more should he be a tattler between friends and foes, thou shalt not admit him to thee, but at once give him thy benediction should he deserve it.
Let thy servant be a discreet, religious, not tale-telling man, who is to attend continually on thee, with moderate labour of course, but always ready.
Yield submission to every rule that is of devotion.
A mind prepared for red martyrdom [that is death for the faith].
A mind fortified and steadfast for white martyrdom. [that is ascetic practices] Forgiveness from the heart of every one.
Constant prayers for those who trouble thee.
Fervour in singing the office for the dead, as if every faithful dead was a particular friend of thine.
Hymns for souls to be sung standing.
Let thy vigils be constant from eve to eve, under the direction of another person.
Three labours in the day, viz., prayers, work, and reading.
The work to be divided into three parts, viz., thine own work, and the work of thy place, as regards its real wants; secondly, thy share of the brethen's [work]; lastly, to help the neighbours, viz., by instruction or writing, or sewing garments, or whatever labour they may be in want of, ut Dominus ait, "Non apparebis ante Me vacuus [as the Lord says, "You shall not appear before me empty."].
Everything in its proper order; Nemo enim coronabitur nisi qui legitime certaverit. [For no one is crowned except he who has striven lawfully.]
Follow alms-giving before all things.
Take not of food till thou art hungry.
Sleep not till thou feelest desire. Speak not except on business.
Every increase which comes to thee in lawful meals, or in wearing apparel, give it for pity to the brethren that want it, or to the poor in like manner.
The love of God with all thy heart and all thy strength;
The love of thy neighbour as thyself
Abide in the Testament of God throughout all times.
Thy measure of prayer shall be until thy tears come;
Or thy measure of work of labour till thy tears come;
Or thy measure of thy work of labour, or of thy genuflexions, until thy perspiration often comes, if thy tears are not free.
Source: A. W. Haddan and W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland II, i (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1873), pp. 119-121.
This physical severity did not recommend itself to the monks on the continent. Mixed monasteries, which combined Columban and Benedictine rules, appeared in the 6th century and in the end, it was more moderate flexible rule of St. Benedict that prevailed and became the predominant form of monasticism in medieval Europe.
 Post-patrician means “after St. Patrick’s era”.