Light of the Irish Church
The spread of Christianity among the Irish people laid the foundation of the new era (St. Patrick era), which, as we have seen, is interpreted as a continuation of the Mil’s Gaels era and, at the same time, as its logical end, its apogee. The Celtic church, with the Archiepiscopal Cathedra in Armagh, founded by St. Patrick, and the monastic center in the Hebrides, Iona, founded by St. Columba, were the main centers of Christian culture, learning, and education during the very early periods of the British Isles’ history. Gradually, the network of Christian monasteries and parishes fully replaced the Druid function. At the same time, the Celtic Church’s relations with political power, the Irish kings, were based on a model that was developed in the pre-Christian era. The Druids were spiritual authority, carriers of knowledge and traditions, practicing ceremonies, kings’ counselors, but political power was concentrated in the hands of the military aristocracy and royal dynasties. At the same time, Ireland was, at least, nominally, arranged as an Empire. The Emperor function was performed by the High King in Tara (County Meath capital), and four other kings (Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht) were his “vassals”. In practice, this imperial model was rarely observed in different historical times, as there was no such person who would be able to turn the nominal power of the Tara ruler into actual power. In addition, the power of the four regions of the island was not centralized and was shared between different branches of the royal families, who often stood against each other. Nevertheless, the Irish knew the imperial paradigm since ancient times, and perhaps it reflects the mythical empire of the ancient Celts and their King Ambigatus, who was, at the same time, the prototype of King Arthur. The high king of Ireland, reigning in Tara with the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), one of the relics brought by the Tuatha Dé Danann from the mysterious North, is a true expression of the fundamental nature and completeness of the Irish sacred tradition.
In the St. Patrick era, the Celtic church protected the balance of spiritual and secular power, which led to the Irish world’s Christianization, maintaining its political and legal basis to a large extent. Irish life remains just as it was before, only the sacred determination of the Irish Dasein changed its religious form. From now on, the Irish geniuses in philosophy, history, music, war, agriculture, and mechanical arts have gained the Christian form. Ireland was included in Christianity’s history, creating a place for its own history and culture.
Thus, in the 5th century, the basis of the new historical, Christian, cycle was created, evolving new stages, eras, and periods within itself.
The first stage lasted for several centuries, from the Christianization till the conquest of Britain by the Germanic tribes, which was also prolonged for a long time, and, therefore, is a period itself. The Celtic church strengthened in Ireland and Dál Riata, increasingly expanded in Caledonia, converting the Picts, and prospered among the Britons. Of course, it was a specific Christianity, and we know that St. Germanus of Auxerre was sent to Britain to fight the heresy of Pelagius, and severely clashed with Briton king Vortigern (who invited the Angles and Saxons to protect them from the Picts and the Gaels, according to the legend), but in any case, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes who invaded Britain were heathens, and the Celts were the Christians. Ireland was undoubtedly the most important sacred center in the world of Celtic Christianity. Ireland spread Christianity in Western Europe, in France and Germany, nations that, being under the power of the Germanic tribes, were mostly heathens. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ireland became, for a certain period of time, the main center of Christianity. Armagh or Iona sent thousands of Christian preachers to different European countries, especially to the northern regions of the Frankish Empire.
One of the outstanding representatives of the Irish missionaries in Europe was monk Columbanus (540 – 615), who preached first in Britain and then in Gaul. At the end of the 6th century, he founded, in Europe, a wide network of monasteries in Burgundy, Neustria, Austrasia, and the Kingdom of the Lombards. Expelled from Nantes by secular authorities, he went to Germany, where he continued his preaching and the establishment of a monastery network. In 612, he came to North Italy (a country that was inhabited by the Celts) and founded one of the most famous monasteries, Bobbio. It is significant that the scope of Columbanus and other Irish monk missionaries repeats the borders of Celtic Ecumene. The light of Ireland, at this time, covered the entire of Northern and Western Europe.
Sedulius Scottus was a noticeable Catholic Irish scriptural commentator, who lived in the King Lothair era. Living in Liege among other Irish monks, Sedulius Scottus translated the works of the neo-Platonist Porphyry and other Greek texts into Latin. He wrote poems and theological works, but many of them were lost. He defended a balance between the spiritual authority and secular power from those thinkers of “Carolingian Enlightenment”, who were inclined to shift the equilibrium towards the figure of the King. Sedulius Scottus relied on the Irish tradition, where the balance of the sacred and imperious sources was precisely determined, even in the pre-Christian times.
But the most prominent representative of the Irish theology was the Irish monk John Scotus Eriugena (815 – 877), who is the star of the early scholastics and the first fully-fledged Christian philosopher of France. Johannes Scotus Eriugena was close to the French King Charles the Bald, performing the same role as Alcuin of York under his grandfather Charlemagne. Johannes Scotus Eriugena translated the Areopagite’s texts into Latin, inducing the whole Neo-Platonic tradition of the European Middle Age. His own works are the top of metaphysical thought.
In this context, Irish identity in this form, which was realized in the St. Patrick era, reaches maximum concentration and expressiveness.