Vol. 4, Chapter II (Cont’d) – The Conversion of Ireland. St. Patrick and St. Bridget


Literature. I. The writings of St. Patrick are printed in the Vitae Sanctorum of the Bollandists, sub March 17th; in Patricii Opuscula, ed. Warsaeus (Sir James Ware, Lond., 1656); in Migne’s Patrolog., Tom. LIII. 790-839, and with critical notes in Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, etc., Vol. II, Part II, (1878), pp. 296-323.

II. The Life of St. Patrick in the Acta Sanctorum, Mart., Tom. II. 517 sqq.

Tillemont: Mémoires, Tom. XVI. 452, 781.

Ussher: Brit. Eccl. Antiqu.

J. H. Todd: St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland. Dublin, 1864.

C. Joh. Greith (R.C.): Geschichte der altirischen Kirche und ihrer Verbindung mit Rom., Gallien und Alemannien, als Einleitung in die Geschichte des Stifts St. Gallen. Freiburg i. B. 1867.

Daniel de Vinné: History of the Irish Primitive Church, together with the Life of St. Patrick. N. York, 1870

J. Francis Sherman (R.C.): Loca Patriciana: an Identification of Localities, chiefly in Leinster, visited by St. Patrick. Dublin, 1879.

F. E. Warren (Episc.): The Manuscript Irish Missal at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. London, 1879. Ritual of the Celtic Church. Oxf. 1881.

Comp. also the works of Todd, McLauchan, Ebrard, Killen, and Skene, quoted in § 7, and Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, p. 431.

The church-history of Ireland is peculiar. It began with an independent catholicity (or a sort of semi-Protestantism), and ended with Romanism, while other Western countries passed through the reverse order. Lying outside of the bounds of the Roman empire, and never invaded by Roman legions, that virgin island was Christianized without bloodshed and independently of Rome and of the canons of the ecumenical synods. The early Irish church differed from the Continental churches in minor points of polity and worship, and yet excelled them all during the sixth and seventh centuries in spiritual purity and missionary zeal. After the Norman conquest, it became closely allied to Rome. In the sixteenth century the light of the Reformation did not penetrate into the native population; but Queen Elizabeth and the Stuarts set up by force a Protestant state-religion in antagonism to the prevailing faith of the people. Hence, by the law of re-action, the Keltic portion of Ireland became more intensely Roman Catholic being filled with double hatred of England on the ground of difference of race and religion. This glaring anomaly of a Protestant state church in a Roman Catholic country has been removed at last after three centuries of oppression and misrule, by the Irish Church Disestablishment Act in 1869 under the ministry of Gladstone.

The early history of Ireland (Hibernia) is buried in obscurity. The ancient Hibernians were a mixed race, but prevailingly Keltic. They were ruled by petty tyrants, proud, rapacious and warlike, who kept the country in perpetual strife. They were devoted to their religion of Druidism. Their island, even before the introduction of Christianity, was called the Sacred Island. It was also called Scotia or Scotland down to the eleventh century. The Romans made no attempt at subjugation, as they did not succeed in establishing their authority in Caledonia.

The first traces of Irish Christianity are found at the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century.

As Pelagius, the father of the famous heresy, which bears his name, was a Briton, so Coelestius, his chief ally and champion, was a Hibernian; but we do not know whether he was a Christian before he left Ireland. Mansuetus, first bishop of Toul, was an Irish Scot (a.d. 350). Pope Caelestine, in 431, ordained and sent Palladius, a Roman deacon, and probably a native Briton, “to the Scots believing in Christ,” as their first bishop. This notice by Prosper of France implies the previous existence of Christianity in Ireland. But Palladius was so discouraged that he soon abandoned the field, with his assistants for North Britain, where he died among the Picts. For nearly two centuries after this date, we have no authentic record of papal intercourse with Ireland; and yet during that period it took its place among the Christian countries. It was converted by two humble individuals, who probably never saw Rome, St. Patrick, once a slave, and St. Bridget, the daughter of a slave-mother. The Roman tradition that St. Patrick was sent by Pope Caelestine is too late to have any claim upon our acceptance, and is set aside by the entire silence of St. Patrick himself in his genuine works. It arose from confounding Patrick with Palladius. The Roman mission of Palladius failed; the independent mission of Patrick succeeded. He is the true Apostle of Ireland, and has impressed his memory in indelible characters upon the Irish race at home and abroad.

St. Patrick or Patricius (died March 17, 465 or 493) was the son of a deacon, and grandson of a priest, as he confesses himself without an intimation of the unlawfulness of clerical marriages. He was in his youth carried captive into Ireland, with many others, and served his master six years as a shepherd. While tending his flock in the lonesome fields, the teachings of his childhood awakened to new life in his heart without any particular external agency. He escaped to France or Britain, was again enslaved for a short period, and had a remarkable dream, which decided his calling. He saw a man, Victoricius, who handed him innumerable letters from Ireland, begging him to come over and help them. He obeyed the divine monition, and devoted the remainder of his life to the conversion of Ireland (from a.d. 440 to 493).

“I am,” he says, “greatly a debtor to God, who has bestowed his grace so largely upon me, that multitudes were born again to God through me. The Irish, who never had the knowledge of God and worshipped only idols and unclean things, have lately become the people of the Lord, and are called sons of God.” He speaks of having baptized many thousands of men. Armagh seems to have been for some time the centre of his missionary operations, and is to this day the seat of the primacy of Ireland, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. He died in peace, and was buried in Downpatrick (or Gabhul), where he began his mission, gained his first converts and spent his declining years.

His Roman Catholic biographers have surrounded his life with marvelous achievements, while some modern Protestant hypercritics have questioned even his existence, as there is no certain mention of his name before 634; unless it be “the Hymn of St. Sechnall (Secundinus) in praise of St. Patrick,” which is assigned to 448. But if we accept his own writings, “there can be no reasonable doubt” (we say with a Presbyterian historian of Ireland) “that he preached the gospel in Hibernia in the fifth century; that he was a most zealous and efficient evangelist, and that he is eminently entitled to the honorable designation of the Apostle of Ireland.”

The Christianity of Patrick was substantially that of Gaul and old Britain, i.e. Catholic, orthodox, monastic, ascetic, but independent of the Pope, and differing from Rome in the age of Gregory I. in minor matters of polity and ritual. In his Confession he never mentions Rome or the Pope; he never appeals to tradition, and seems to recognize the Scriptures (including the Apocrypha) as the only authority in matters of faith. He quotes from the canonical Scriptures twenty-five times; three times from the Apocrypha. It has been conjectured that the failure and withdrawal of Palladius was due to Patrick, who had already monopolized this mission-field; but, according to the more probable chronology, the mission of Patrick began about nine years after that of Palladius. From the end of the seventh century, the two persons were confounded, and a part of the history of Palladius, especially his connection with Pope Caelestine, was transferred to Patrick.

With St. Patrick there is inseparably connected the most renowned female saint of Ireland, St. Bridget (or Brigid, Brigida, Bride), who prepared his winding sheet and survived him many years. She died Feb. 1, 523 (or 525). She is “the Mary of Ireland,” and gave her name to innumerable Irish daughters, churches, and convents. She is not to be confounded with her name-sake, the widow-saint of Sweden. Her life is surrounded even by a still thicker cloud of legendary fiction than that of St. Patrick, so that it is impossible to separate the facts from the accretions of a credulous posterity. She was an illegitimate child of a chieftain or bard, and a slave-mother, received holy orders, became deformed in answer to her own prayer, founded the famous nunnery of Kildare (i.e. the Church of the Oak), foretold the birth of Columba, and performed all sorts of signs and wonders.

Upon her tomb in Kildare arose the inextinguishable flame called “the Light of St. Bridget,” which her nuns (like the Vestal Virgins of Rome) kept

“Through long ages of darkness and storm” (Moore).

Six lives of her were published by Colgan in his Trias Thaumaturgus, and five by the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum.


Critical Note on St. Patrick

We have only one or two genuine documents from Patrick, both written in semi-barbarous (early Irish) Latin, but breathing an humble, devout and fervent missionary spirit without anything specifically Roman, viz. his autobiographical Confession (in 25 chapters), written shortly before his death (493?), and his Letter of remonstrance to Coroticus (or Ceredig), a British chieftain (nominally Christian), probably of Ceredigion or Cardigan, who had made a raid into Ireland, and sold several of Patrick’s converts into slavery (10 chapters). The Confession, as contained in the “Book of Armagh,” is alleged to have been transcribed before a.d. 807 from Patrick’s original autograph, which was then partly illegible. There are four other MSS. of the eleventh century, with sundry additions towards the close, which seem to be independent copies of the same original. See Haddan & Stubbs, note on p. 296. The Epistle to Coroticus is much shorter, and not so generally accepted. Both documents were first printed in 1656, then in 1668 in the Acta Sanctorum, also in Migne’s Patrologia (Vol. 53), in Miss Cusack’s Life of St. Patrick, in the work of Ebrard (l.c. 482 sqq.), and in Haddan & Stubbs, Councils (Vol. II., P. II., 296 sqq.).

There is a difference of opinion about Patrick’s nationality, whether he was of Scotch, or British, or French extraction. He begins his Confession: “I, Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and the least of all the faithful, and the most contemptible with the multitude (Ego Patricius, peccator, rusticissimus et minimus omnium fidelium et contemptibilissimus apud plurimos, or, according to another reading, contemptibilis sum apud plurimos), had for my father Calpornus (or Calphurnius), a deacon (diaconum, or diaconem), the son of Potitus (al. Photius), a presbyter (filium quondam Potiti presbyteri), who lived in the village of Bannavem (or Banaven) of Tabernia; for he had a cottage in the neighborhood where I was captured. I was then about sixteen years old; but I was ignorant of the true God, and was led away into captivity to Hibernia.” Bannavem of Tabernia is perhaps Banavie in Lochaber in Scotland (McLauchlan); others fix the place of his birth in Kilpatrick (i.e. the cell or church of Patrick), near Dunbarton on the Clyde (Ussher, Butler, Maclear); others, somewhere in Britain, and thus explain his epithet “Brito” or “Briton” (Joceline and Skene); still others seek it in Armoric Gaul, in Boulogne (from Bononia), and derive Brito from Brittany (Lanigan, Moore, Killen, De Vinné).

He does not state the instrumentality of his conversion. Being the son of a clergyman, he must have received some Christian instruction; but he neglected it till he was made to feel the power of religion in communion with God while in slavery. “After I arrived in Ireland,” he says (ch. 6), “every day I fed cattle, and frequently during the day I prayed; more and more the love and fear of God burned, and my faith and my spirit were strengthened, so that in one day I said as many as a hundred prayers, and nearly as many in the night.” He represents his call and commission as coming directly from God through a vision, and alludes to no intervening ecclesiastical authority or episcopal consecration. In one of the oldest Irish MSS., the Book of Durrow, he is styled a presbyter. In the Epistle to Coroticus, he appears more churchly and invested with episcopal power and jurisdiction. It begins: “Patricius, peccator indoctus, Hiberione (or Hyberione) constitutus episcopus, certissime reor, a Deo accepi id quod sum: inter barbaras utique gentes proselytus et profuga, ob amorem Dei.” (So according to the text of Haddan & Stubbs, p. 314; somewhat different in Migne, Patrol. LIII. 814; and in Ebrard, p. 505.) But the letter does not state where or by whom he was consecrated.

The “Book of Armagh “contains also an Irish hymn (the oldest monument of the Irish Keltic language), called S. Patricii Canticum Scotticum, which Patrick is said to have written when he was about to convert the chief monarch of the island (Laoghaire or Loegaire). The hymn is a prayer for the special aid of Almighty God for so important a work; it contains the principal doctrines of orthodox Christianity, with a dread of magical influences of aged women and blacksmiths, such as still prevails in some parts of Ireland, but without an invocation of Mary and the saints, such as we might expect from the Patrick of tradition and in a composition intended as a breast-plate or corselet against spiritual foes. The following is the principal portion:

“5. I bind to myself to-day, — 

The Power of God to guide me,

The Might of God to uphold me,

The Wisdom of God to teach me,

The Eye of God to watch over me,

The Ear of God to hear me,

The Word of God to give me speech.

The Hand of God to protect me,

The Way of God to go before me,

The Shield of God to shelter me,

The Host of God to defend me,

Against the snares of demons,

Against the temptations of vices,

Against the lusts of nature,

Against every man who meditates injury to me.

Whether far or near,

With few or with many.

6. I have set around me all these powers,

Against every hostile savage power,

Directed against my body and my soul,

Against the incantations of false prophets,

Against the black laws of heathenism,

Against the false laws of heresy,

Against the deceits of idolatry,

Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,

Against all knowledge which blinds the soul of man.

7. Christ protect me to-day

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wound,

That I may receive abundant reward.

8. Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ at my right, Christ at my left,

Christ in the fort [i.e. at home],

Christ in the chariot-seat [travelling by land],

Christ in the poop [travelling by water].

9. Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

10. I bind to myself to-day

The strong power of an invocation of the Trinity,

The faith of the Trinity in Unity,

The Creator of [the elements].

11. Salvation is of the Lord,

Salvation is of the Lord,

Salvation is of Christ;

May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.”

The fourth and last document which has been claimed as authentic and contemporary, is a Latin “Hymn in praise of St. Patrick” (Hymnus Sancti Patricii, Episcopi Scotorum) by St. Sechnall (Secundinus) which begins thus:

“Audite, omnes amantes Deum, sancta merita

Viri in Christo beati Patrici Episcopi:

Quomodo bonum ob actum simulatur angelis,

Perfectamque propter uitam aequatur Apostolis.”

The poem is given in full by Haddan & Stubbs, 324-327, and assigned to “before a.d. 448 (?),” in which year Sechnall died. But how could he anticipate the work of Patrick, when his mission, according to the same writers, began only eight years earlier (440), and lasted till 493? The hymn is first mentioned by Tyrechanus in the “Book of Armagh.”

The next oldest document is the Irish hymn of St. Fiacc on St. Patrick, which is assigned to the latter part of the sixth century, (l.c. 356-361). The Senchus Mor is attributed to the age of St. Patrick; but it is a code of Irish laws, derived from Pagan times, and gradually modified by Christian ecclesiastics in favor of the church. The Canons attributed to St. Patrick are of later date (Haddan & Stubbs, 328 sqq.).

It is strange that St. Patrick is not mentioned by Bede in his Church History, although he often refers to Hibernia and its church, and is barely named as a presbyter in his Martyrology. He is also ignored by Columba and by the Roman Catholic writers, until his medieval biographers from the eighth to the twelfth century Romanized him, appealing not to his genuine Confession, but to spurious documents and vague traditions. He is said to have converted all the Irish chieftains and bards, even Ossian, the blind Homer of Scotland, who sang to him his long epic of Keltic heroes and battles. He founded 365 or, according to others, 700 churches, and consecrated as many bishops, and 3,000 priests (when the whole island had probably not more than two or three hundred thousand inhabitants; for even in the reign of Elizabeth it did not exceed 600,000). He changed the laws of the kingdom, healed the blind, raised nine persons from death to life, and expelled all the snakes and frogs from Ireland. His memory is celebrated March 17, and is a day of great public processions with the Irish Catholics in all parts of the world. His death is variously put in the year 455 (Tillemont), 464 or 465 (Butler, Killen), 493 (Ussher, Skene, Forbes, Haddan & Stubbs). Forbes (Kalendars, p. 433) and Skene (Keltic Scotland, II. 427 sqq.) come to the conclusion that the legend of St. Patrick in its present shape is not older than the ninth century, and dissolves into three personages: Sen-Patrick, whose day in the Kalendar is the 24th of August; Palladius, “qui est Patricius,” to whom the mission in 431 properly belongs, and Patricius, whose day is the 17th of March, and who died in 493. “From the acts of these three saints, the subsequent legend of the great Apostle of Ireland was compiled, and an arbitrary chronology applied to it.”


15. The Irish Church after St. Patrick

The Missionary Period

The labors of St. Patrick were carried on by his pupils and by many British priests and monks who were driven from England by the Anglo-Saxon invasion in the 5th and 6th centuries. There was an intimate intercourse between Ireland and Wales, where British Christianity sought refuge, and between Ireland and Scotland, where the seed of Christianity had been planted by Ninian and Kentigern. In less than a century, after St. Patrick’s death Ireland was covered with churches and convents for men and women. The monastic institutions were training schools of clergymen and missionaries, and workshops for transscribing sacred books. Prominent among these are the monasteries of Armagh, Banchor or Bangor (558), Clonard (500), Clonmacnois (528), Derry (555), Glendolough (618).

During the sixth and seventh centuries Ireland excelled all other countries in Christian piety, and acquired the name of “the Island of Saints.” We must understand this in a comparative sense, and remember that at that time England was just beginning to emerge from Anglo-Saxon heathenism, Germany was nearly all heathen, and the French kings — the eldest sons of the Church — were “monsters of iniquity.” Ireland itself was distracted by civil wars between the petty kings and chieftains; and the monks and clergy, even the women, marched to the conflict. Adamnan with difficulty secured a law exempting women from warfare, and it was not till the ninth century that the clergy in Ireland were exempted from “expeditions and hostings” (battles). The slave-trade was in full vigor between Ireland and England in the tenth century, with the port of Bristol for its centre. The Irish piety was largely based on childish superstition. But the missionary zeal of that country is nevertheless most praiseworthy. Ireland dreamed the dream of converting heathen Europe. Its apostles went forth to Scotland, North Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and North Italy. “They covered the land and seas of the West. Unwearied navigators, they landed on the most desert islands; they overflowed the Continent with their successive immigrations. They saw in incessant visions a world known and unknown to be conquered for Christ. The poem of the Pilgrimage of St. Brandan, that monkish Odyssey so celebrated in the middle ages, that popular prelude of the Divina Commedia, shows us the Irish monks in close contact with all the dreams and wonders of the Keltic ideal.”

The missionaries left Ireland usually in companies of twelve, with a thirteenth as their leader. This duodecimal economy was to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. The following are the most prominent of these missionary bands:

St. Columba, with twelve brethren, to Hy in Scotland, a.d. 563.

St. Mohonna (or Macarius, Mauricius), sent by Columba, with twelve companions, to the Picts.

St. Columbanus, with twelve brethren, whose names are on record, to France and Germany, a.d. 612.

St. Kilian, with twelve, to Franconia and Würzburg, a.d. 680.

St. Eloquius, with twelve, to Belgium, a.d. 680.

St. Rudbert or Rupert, with twelve, to Bavaria, a.d. 700.

St. Willibrord (who studied twelve years in Ireland), with twelve, to Friesland, a.d. 692.

St. Forannan, with twelve, to the Belgian frontier, a.d. 970.

It is remarkable that this missionary activity of the Irish Church is confined to the period of her independence of the Church of Rome. We hear no more of it after the Norman conquest.

The Irish Church during this missionary period of the sixth and seventh centuries had a peculiar character, which we learn chiefly from two documents of the eighth century, namely, the Catalogue of the Saints of Ireland, and the Litany of Angus the Culdee.

The Catalogue distinguishes three periods and three orders of saints: secular, monastic, and eremitical.

The saints of the time of St. Patrick were all bishops full of the Holy Ghost, three hundred and fifty in number, founders of churches; they had one head, Christ, and one leader, Patrick, observed one mass and one tonsure from ear to ear, and kept Easter on the fourteenth moon after the vernal equinox; they excluded neither laymen nor women; because, founded on the Rock of Christ, they feared not the blast of temptation. They sprung from the Romans, Franks, Britons and Scots. This order of saints continued for four reigns, from about a.d. 440 till 543.

The second order, likewise of four reigns, till a.d. 599, was of Catholic Presbyters, three hundred in number, with few bishops; they had one head, Christ, one Easter, one tonsure, as before; but different masses and different rules, and they refused the services of women, separating them from the monasteries.

The third order of saints consisted of one hundred holy presbyters and a few bishops, living in desert places on herbs and water and the alms of the faithful; they had different tonsures and Easters, some celebrating the resurrection on the 14th, some on the 16th moon; they continued through four reigns till 665.

The first period may be called episcopal, though in a rather non-episcopal or undiocesan sense. Angus, in his Litany, invokes “seven times fifty [350] holy cleric bishops,” whom “the saint [Patrick] ordained,” and “three hundred pure presbyters, upon whom he conferred orders.” In Nennius the number of presbyters is increased to three thousand, and in the tripartite Life of Patrick to five thousand. These bishops, even if we greatly reduce the number as we must, had no higher rank than the ancient chorepiscopi or country-bishops in the Eastern Church, of whom there were once in Asia Minor alone upwards of four hundred. Angus the Culdee gives us even one hundred and fifty-three groups of seven bishops, each group serving in the same church. Patrick, regarding himself as the chief bishop of the whole Irish people, planted a church wherever he made a few converts and could obtain a grant from the chief of a clan, and placed a bishop ordained by himself over it. “It was a congregational and tribal episcopacy, united by a federal rather than a territorial tie under regular jurisdiction. During Patrick’s life, he no doubt exercised a superintendence over the whole; but we do not see any trace of the metropolitan jurisdiction of the church of Armagh over the rest.”

The second period was monastic and missionary. All the presbyters and deacons were monks. Monastic life was congenial to the soil, and had its antecedents in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods of the Druids. It was imported into Ireland probably from France, either directly through Patrick, or from the monastery of St. Ninian at Galloway, who himself derives it from St. Martin of Tours. Prominent among these presbyter-monks are the twelve apostles of Ireland headed by St. Columba, who carried Christianity to Scotland in 563, and the twelve companions of Columbanus, who departed from Ireland to the Continent about 612. The most famous monastery was that of Bennchar, or Bangor, founded a.d. 558 by Comgall in the county of Down, on the south side of Belfast Lough. Comgall had four thousand monks under his care. From Bangor proceeded Columbanus and other evangelists.

By a primitive Keltic monastery we must not understand an elaborate stone structure, but a rude village of wooden huts or bothies (botha) on a river, with a church (ecclais), a common eating-hall, a mill, a hospice, the whole surrounded by a wall of earth or stone. The senior monks gave themselves entirely to devotion and the transcribing of the Scriptures. The younger were occupied in the field and in mechanical labor, or the training of the rising generation. These monastic communities formed a federal union, with Christ as their invisible head. They were training schools of the clergy. They attracted converts from the surrounding heathen population, and offered them a refuge from danger and violence. They were resorted to by English noblemen, who, according to Bede, were hospitably received, furnished with books, and instructed. Some Irish clergymen could read the Greek Testament at a time when Pope Gregory J. was ignorant of Greek. There are traces of an original Latin version of the Scriptures differing from the Itala and Vulgate, especially in Patrick’s writings. But “there is no trace anywhere of any Keltic version of the Bible or any part of it. St. Chrysostom’s words have been misunderstood to support such a supposition, but without ground.” If there had been such a translation, it would have been of little use, as the people could not read it, and depended for their scanty knowledge of the word of God on the public lessons in the church.

The “Book of Armagh,” compiled by Ferdomnach, a scribe or learned monk of Armagh, in 807, gives us some idea of the literary state of the Irish Church at that time. It contains the oldest extant memoirs of St. Patrick, the Confession of St. Patrick, the Preface of Jerome to the New Testament, the Gospels, Epistles, Apocalypse and Acts, with some prefaces chiefly taken from the works of Pelagius, and the Life of St. Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus, with a short litany on behalf of the writer.

In the ninth century John Scotus Erigena, who died in France, 874, startled the Church with his rare, but eccentric, genius and pantheistic speculations. He had that power of quick repartee for which Irishmen are distinguished to this day. When asked by Charles the Bald at the dinner-table, what was the difference between a Scot and a Sot (quid distat inter Scottum et Sottum?), John replied: “Nothing at all but the table, please your Majesty.”


16. Subjection of Ireland to English and Roman Rule

The success of the Roman mission of Augustin among the Anglo-Saxons encouraged attempts to bring the Irish Church under the papal jurisdiction and to force upon it the ritual observances of Rome. England owes a good deal of her Christianity to independent Irish and Scotch missionaries from Bangor and Iona; but Ireland (as well as Germany) owes her Romanism, in great measure, to England. Pope Honorius (who was afterwards condemned by the sixth ecumenical council for holding the Monothelite heresy) addressed to the Irish clergy in 629 an exhortation — not, however, in the tone of authoritative dictation, but of superior wisdom and experience — to conform to the Roman mode of keeping Easter. This is the first known papal encyclical addressed to that country. A Synod was held at Magh-Lene, and a deputation sent to the Pope (and the three Eastern patriarchs) to ascertain the foreign usages on Easter. The deputation was treated with distinguished consideration in Rome, and, after three years’ absence, reported in favor of the Roman cycle, which indeed rested on a better system of calculation. It was accordingly adopted in the South of Ireland, under the influence of the learned Irish ecclesiastic Cummian, who devoted a whole year to the study of the controversy. A few years afterwards Thomian, archbishop and abbot of Armagh (from 623 to 661), and the best Irish scholar of his age, introduced, after correspondence with the Pope, the Roman custom in the North, and thereby promoted his authority in opposition to the power of the abbot of Iona, which extended over a portion of Ireland, and strongly favored the old custom. But at last Abbot Adamnan likewise yielded to the Roman practice before his death (704).

The Norman conquest under William I., with the sanction of the Pope, united the Irish Church still more closely to Rome (1066). Gregory VII., in an encyclical letter to the king, clergy and laity of Ireland (1084)., boldly challenged their obedience to the Vicar of the blessed Peter, and invited them to appeal to him in all matters requiring arbitration.

The archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, claimed and exercised a sort of supervision over the three most important sea-ports, Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick, on the ground that the Norman settlers applied to them for bishops and priests. Their influence was exerted in favor of conformity to Rome. Clerical celibacy was more generally introduced, uniformity in ritual established, and the large number of bishoprics reduced to twenty-three under two archbishops, Armagh for the North and Cashel for the South; while the bishop of Dublin was permitted to remain under the care of the archbishop of Canterbury. This reorganization of the polity in the interest of the aggrandizement of the hierarchy was effected about 1112 at the synod of Rathbreasail, which was attended by 58 bishops, 317 priests, a large number of monks, and King Murtogh O’Brien with his nobles.

At last Ireland was invaded and conquered by England under Henry II., with the effectual aid of Pope Adrian IV. — the only Englishman that sat on the papal throne. In a curious bull of 1155, he justified and encouraged the intended invasion in the interest of the papacy, and sent the king the ring of investiture as Lord of Ireland calling upon that licentious monarch to “extirpate the nurseries of vice” in Ireland, to “enlarge the borders of the (Roman) Church,” and to secure to St. Peter from each house “the annual pension of one penny” (equal in value in the twelfth century to at least two or three shillings of our present currency). Henry carried out his design in 1171, and with a strong military force easily subdued the whole Irish nation, weakened and distracted by civil wars, to British rule, which has been maintained ever since. A Synod at Armagh regarded the subjugation as a righteous judgment for the sins of the people, and especially for the slave trade. The bishops were the first to acknowledge Henry, hoping to derive benefit from a foreign régime, which freed them from petty tyrants at home. A Synod of Cashel in 1172, among other regulations, ordered that all offices of the church should hereafter in all parts of Ireland be conformed to the observances of the Church of England. A papal legate henceforward was constantly residing in Ireland. Pope Alexander III. was extremely gratified with this extension of his dominion, and in September, 1172, in the same tone of sanctimonious arrogance, issued a brief confirming the bull of Adrian, and expressing a hope that “the barbarous nation” would attain under the government of Henry “to some decency of manners;” he also wrote three epistles — one to Henry II., one to the kings and nobles of Ireland, and one to its hierarchy — enjoining obedience of Ireland to England, and of both to the see of St. Peter.


17. The Conversion of Scotland. St. Ninian and St. Kentigern

See the works of Skene (the second vol.), Reeves, McLauchan, Ebrard, Cunningham, mentioned in § 7.

Also Dr. Reeves: The Culdees of the British Islands as they appear in History, 1864.

Dr. Jos. Robertson: Statuta Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 1866, 2 vols.

Bishop Forbes: The Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edinb., 1872; Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern, compiled in the 12th century, Edinb., 1874.

Haddan & Stubbs: Councils and Ecclesiast. Docum., Vol. II, Part I. (Oxf., 1873), pp. 103 sqq.

Scotland (Scotia) before the tenth century was comprised in the general appellation of Britain (Britannia), as distinct from Ireland (Hibernia). It was known to the Romans as Caledonia, to the Kelts as Alban; but the name of Scotia was exclusively appropriated to Ireland till the tenth century. The independent history of Scotland begins with the establishment of the Scottish monarchy in the ninth century. At first it was a purely Keltic kingdom; but in the course of time the Saxon race and feudal institutions spread over the country, and the Keltic tribes retreated to the mountains and western islands. The names of Scot and Scotch passed over to the English-speaking people and their language; while the Keltic language, formerly known as Scotch, became known as Irish.

The Keltic history of Scotland is full of fable, and a battlefield of Romanists and Protestants, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, who have claimed it for their respective systems of doctrine and church-polity. It must be disentangled from the sectarian issues of the Culdean controversy. The historian is neither a polemic nor an apologist, and should aim at nothing but the truth.

Tertullian says, that certain places in Britain which the Romans could not conquer were made subject to Christ. It is quite likely that the first knowledge of Christianity reached the Scots and Picts from England; but the constant wars between them and the Britons and the decline of the Roman power were unfavorable to any mission work.

The mission of Palladius to Scotland by Pope Caelestius is as vague and uncertain as his mission to Ireland by the same Pope, and is strongly mixed up with the mission of Patrick. An Irish colony from the North-Eastern part of Ulster, which had been Christianized by Patrick, settled in Scotland towards the close of the fifth century, and continued to spread along the coasts of Argyle and as far as the islands of Mull and Iona, until its progress was checked by the Northern Picts.

The first distinct fact in the church history of Scotland is the apostolate of St. Ninian at the close of the fourth century, during the reign of Theodosius in the East. We have little reliable information of him. The son of a British king, he devoted himself early to the ministry of Christ. He spent some time in Rome, where the Pope commissioned him to the apostolate among the heathen in Caledonia, and in Gaul with Bishop Martin of Tours, who deserves special praise for his protest against the capital punishment of heretics in the case of the Priscillianists. He began the evangelization of the Southern Picts in the Eastern districts of modern Scotland. He built a white stone church called “Candida Casa,” at Whittern (Quhithern, Witerna) in Galloway, on the South-Westem border of Scotland by the sea side, and dedicated it to the memory of St. Martin, who had died in that year (397). This was the beginning of “the Great Monastery” (“Magnum Monasterium”) or monastery of Rosnat, which exerted a civilizing and humanizing influence on the surrounding country, and annually attracted pilgrims from England and Scotland to the shrine of St. Ninian. His life has been romanized and embellished with legends. He made a newborn infant indicate its true father, and vindicate the innocence of a presbyter who had been charged by the mother with the crime of violation; he caused leeks and herbs to grow in the garden before their season; he subdued with his staff the winds and the waves of the sea; and even his relics cured the sick, cleansed the lepers, and terrified the wicked, “by all which things,” says Ailred, his biographer, “the faith of believers is confirmed to the praise and glory of Christ.”

St. Kentigern (d. Nov. 13, 603), also called St. Mungo (the gracious one), the first bishop of Glasgow, labored in the sixth century for the conversion of the people in Cumberland, Wales, and on the Clyde, and re-converted the Picts, who had apostatized from the faith. He was the grandson of a heathen king in Cumbria or Strathclyde, the son of a Christian, though unbaptized mother. He founded a college of Culdees or secular monks, and several churches. He wore a hair shirt and garment of goat-skin, lived on bread and vegetables, slept on a rocky couch and a stony pillow, like Jacob, rose in the night to sing psalms, recited in the morning the whole psalter in a cold stream, retired to desert places during Lent, living on roots, was con-crucified with Christ on Good Friday, watched before the tomb, and spent Easter in hilarity and joy. He converted more by his silence than his speech, caused a wolf and a stag to drag the plough, raised grain from a field sown with sand, kept the rain from wetting his garments, and performed other marvels which prove the faith or superstition of his biographers in the twelfth century. Jocelyn relates also, that Kentigern went seven times to Rome, and received sundry privileges and copies of the Bible from the Pope. There is, however, no trace of such visits in the works of Gregory I., who was more interested in the Saxon mission than the Scotch. Kentigern first established his episcopal chair in Holdelm (now Hoddam), afterwards in Glasghu (Glasgow). He met St. Columba, and exchanged with him his pastoral stave. He attained to the age of one hundred and eighty-five years, and died between a.d. 601 and 612 (probably 603). He is buried in the crypt of the cathedral of St. Mungo in Glasgow, the best preserved of medieval cathedrals in Scotland.

St. Cuthbert (d. March 20, 687), whose life has been written by Bede, prior of the famous monastery of Mailros (Melrose), afterwards bishop of Lindisfarne, and last a hermit, is another legendary saint of Scotland, and a number of churches are traced to him or bear his name.


18. St. Columba and the Monastery of Iona

John Jamieson (D. D.): An Historical Account of the Ancient Culdees of Iona, and of their Settlements in Scotland, England, and Ireland. Edinb., 1811 (p. 417).

Montalembert: La Moines d’ Occident, Vol. III., pp. 99-332 (Paris, 1868).

The Duke of Argyll: Iona. Second ed., London, 1871 (149 p

*Adamnan: Life of St. Columba, Founder of Hy, ed. by William Reeves (Canon of Armagh), Edinburgh, 1874. (Originally printed for the Irish Archaeolog. Society and for the Bannatyne Club, Dublin, 1856).

Skene: Celtic Scotland, II. 52 sqq. (Edinb., 1877). Comp. the Lit. in § 7.

Saint Columba or Columbcille, (died June 9, 597) is the real apostle of Scotland. He is better known to us than Ninian and Kentigern. The account of Adamnan (624-704), the ninth abbot of Hy, was written a century after Columba’s death from authentic records and oral traditions, although it is a panegyric rather than a history. Later biographers have romanized him like St. Patrick. He was descended from one of the reigning families of Ireland and British Dalriada, and was born at Gartan in the county of Donegal about a.d. 521. He received in baptism the symbolical name Colum, or in Latin Columba (Dove, as the symbol of the Holy Ghost), to which was afterwards added cille (or kill), i.e. “of the church,” or “the dove of the cells,” on account of his frequent attendance at public worship, or, more probably, for his being the founder of many churches. He entered the monastic seminary of Clonard, founded by St. Finnian, and afterwards another monastery near Dublin, and was ordained a priest. He planted the church at Derry in 545, the monastery of Darrow in 553, and other churches. He seems to have fondly clung all his life to his native Ireland, and to the convent of Derry. In one of his elegies, which were probably retouched by the patriotism of some later Irish bard, he sings:

“Were all the tributes of Scotia [i.e. Ireland] mine,

From its midland to its borders,

I would give all for one little cell

In my beautiful Derry.

For its peace and for its purity,

For the white angels that go

In crowds from one end to the other,

I love my beautiful Derry.

For its quietness and purity,

For heaven’s angels that come and go

Under every leaf of the oaks,

I love my beautiful Derry.

My Derry, my fair oak grove,

My dear little cell and dwelling,

O God, in the heavens above I

Let him who profanes it be cursed.

Beloved are Durrow and Derry,

Beloved is Raphoe the pure,

Beloved the fertile Drumhome,

Beloved are Sords and Kells!

But sweeter and fairer to me

The salt sea where the sea-gulls cry

When I come to Derry from far,

It is sweeter and dearer to me — 

Sweeter to me.”

In 563, the forty-second year of his age, Columba, prompted by a passion for travelling and a zeal for the spread of Christianity, sailed with twelve fellow-apostles to the West of Scotland, possibly on invitation of the provincial king, to whom he was related by blood. He was presented with the island of Hy, commonly called Iona, near the Western coast of Scotland about fifty miles West from Oban. It is an inhospitable island, three miles and a half long and a mile and a half broad, partly cultivated, partly covered with hill pasture, retired dells, morass and rocks, now in possession of the Duke of Argyll, numbering about three hundred Protestant inhabitants, an Established Presbyterian Church, and a Free Church. The neighboring island of Staffa, though smaller and uninhabited, is more interesting to the ordinary tourist, and its Fingal’s Cave is one of the most wonderful specimens of the architectural skill of nature; it looks like a Gothic cathedral, 66 feet high, 42 feet broad, and 227 feet long, consisting of majestic basalt columns, an arched roof, and an open portal towards the ocean, which dashes in and out in a constant succession of waves, sounding solemn anthems in this unique temple of nature. Columba and his fellow-monks must have passed it on their missionary wanderings; but they were too much taken up with heaven to look upon the wonders of the earth, and the cave remained comparatively unknown to the world till 1772. Those islands wore the same aspect in the sixth century as now, with the exception of the woods, which have disappeared. Walter Scott (in the “Lord of the Isles”) has thrown the charm of his poetry over the Hebridean archipelago, from which proceeded the Christianization of Scotland.

By the labors of Columba and his successors, Iona has become one of the most venerable and interesting spots in the history of Christian missions. It was a light-house in the darkness of heathenism. We can form no adequate conception of the self-denying zeal of those heroic missionaries of the extreme North, who, in a forbidding climate and exposed to robbers and wild beasts, devoted their lives to the conversion of savages. Columba and his friends left no monuments of stone and wood; nothing is shown but the spot on the South of the island where he landed, and the empty stone coffin where his body was laid together with that of his servant; his bones were removed afterwards to Dunkeld. The old convent was destroyed and the monks were killed by the wild Danes and Norsemen in the tenth century. The remaining ruins of Iona — a cathedral, a chapel, a nunnery, a graveyard with the tombstones of a number of Scottish and Norwegian and Irish kings, and three remarkable carved crosses, which were left of three hundred and sixty that (according to a vague tradition) were thrown into the sea by the iconoclastic zeal of the Reformation — are all of the Roman Catholic period which succeeded the original Keltic Christianity, and which lived on its fame. During the middle ages Iona was a sort of Jerusalem of the North, where pilgrims loved to worship, and kings and noblemen desired to be buried. When the celebrated Dr. Johnson, in his Tour to the Hebrides, approached Iona, he felt his piety grow warmer. No friend of missions can visit that lonely spot, shrouded in almost perpetual fog, without catching new inspiration and hope for the ultimate triumph of the gospel over all obstacles.

The arrival of Columba at Iona was the beginning of the Keltic church in Scotland. The island was at that time on the confines of the Pictic and Scotic jurisdiction, and formed a convenient base for missionary labors among the Scots, who were already Christian in name, but needed confirmation, and among the Picts, who were still pagan, and had their name from painting their bodies and fighting naked. Columba directed his zeal first to the Picts; he visited King Brude in his fortress, and won his esteem and co-operation in planting Christianity among his people. “He converted them by example as well as by word” (Bede). He founded a large number of churches and monasteries in Ireland and Scotland directly or through his disciples. He was involved in the wars so frequent in those days, when even women were required to aid in battle, and he availed himself of military force for the overthrow of paganism. He used excommunication very freely, and once pursued a plunderer with maledictions into the sea until the water reached to his knees. But these rough usages did not interfere with the veneration for his name. He was only a fair type of his countrymen. “He had,” says Montalembert, “the vagabond inclination, the ardent, agitated, even quarrelsome character of the race.” He had the “perfervidum ingenium Scotorum.” He was manly, tall and handsome, incessantly active, and had a sonorous and far-reaching voice, rolling forth the Psalms of David, every syllable distinctly uttered. He could discern the signs of the weather. Adamnan ascribes to him an angelic countenance, a prophetic fore-knowledge and miracles as great as those performed by Christ, such as changing water into wine for the celebration of the eucharist, when no wine could be obtained, changing bitter fruit into sweet, drawing water from a rock, calming the storm at sea, and curing many diseases. His biography instead of giving solid facts, teems with fabulous legends, which are told with childlike credulity. O’Donnell’s biography goes still further. Even the pastoral staff of Columba, left accidentally upon the shore of Iona, was transported across the sea by his prayers to meet its disconsolate owner when he landed somewhere in Ireland.

Columba died beside the altar in the church while engaged in his midnight devotions. Several poems are ascribed to him — one in praise of the natural beauties of his chosen island, and a monastic rule similar to that of St. Benedict; but the “regula ac praecepta” of Columba, of which Wilfrid spoke at the synod of Whitby, probably mean discipline or observance rather than a written rule.

The church establishment of Columba at Iona belongs to the second or monastic period of the Irish church, of which it formed an integral part. It consisted of one hundred and fifty persons under the monastic rule. At the head of it stood a presbyter-abbot, who ruled over the whole province, and even the bishops, although the episcopal function of ordination was recognized. The monks were a family of brethren living in common. They were divided into three classes: the seniors, who attended to the religious services, instruction, and the transcribing of the Scriptures; the middle-aged, who were the working brethren, devoted to agriculture, the tending of the cattle, and domestic labor; and the youth, who were alumni under instruction. The dress consisted of a white tunica or under garment, and a camilla or outer garment and hood made of wool. Their food was bread, milk, eggs, fish, and on Sundays and festivals mutton or beef. The doctrinal views and ecclesiastical customs as to the observance of Easter and the tonsure were the same as among the Britons and the Irish in distinction from the Roman system introduced by Augustin among the Saxons.

The monastery of Iona, says Bede, held for a long time the pre-eminence over the monasteries and churches of the Picts and Northern Scots. Columba’s successors, he adds, were distinguished for their continency, their love of God, and strict attention to their rules of discipline, although they followed “uncertain cycles in their computation of the great festival (Easter), because they were so far away from the rest of the world, and had none to supply them with the synodical decrees on the paschal observance; wherefore they only practised such works of piety and chastity as they could learn from the prophetical, evangelical, and apostolical writings. This manner of keeping Easter continued among them for a hundred and fifty years, till the year of our Lord’s incarnation 715.”

Adamnan (d. 704), the ninth successor of Columba, in consequence of a visit to the Saxons, conformed his observance of Easter to the Roman Church; but his brethren refused to follow him in this change. After his death, the community of Iona became divided on the Easter question, until the Columban monks, who adhered to the old custom, were by royal command expelled (715). With this expulsion terminates the primacy of Iona in the kingdom of the Picts.

The monastic church was broken up or subordinated to the hierarchy of the secular clergy.