Saturday, 17 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille: A Farewell Prayer


As this is the octave day of the feast, we bid farewell to the festival of Saint Colum Cille  with a farewell prayer from our Irish Redemptorist:


OUR FAREWELL PRAYER. 

 May his children hear his voice and follow in his steps. 

 May we love this loving Saint, and invoke him in our prayers. May his name be given to our Irish children that he may protect them. May his Feast Day, the Ninth of June, be kept holy throughout the Land — a day of prayer and supplication for Ireland and Scotland, a day of rejoicing for our young people in University and College, and in every one of Ireland’s schools. — 
 
May school and pulpit celebrate each year the glories of St. Columcille’s life. May Ireland’s own Music and Language and Literature be used to praise and glorify him. May Ireland’s new Bards awake and sing the glories of their own Columcille. 

 Columcille is dead, but may Ireland’s love for him never die, and may his protection never fail us; may his memory never perish, nor his spirit depart from our Land! Amen! Amen!

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907), 121. 

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Friday, 16 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille: 'another Saint John on Patmos'


During the four extra years of life granted to Saint Colum Cille he exercised his gift of prophecy to the full, including the sight of people passing from this world to the next:

THE FOUR YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH.

 During these four years Columcille was wrapt up in the contemplation of God and heavenly things, and he saw many wonderful things. 

 He exclaimed one day: “I see the soul of Columbanus, the smith, ascending to heaven in the company of the angels! He merited heaven by the labour of his hands and his charity to the poor.” 

 On another occasion he exclaimed in a transport: “O happy woman! O, happy woman! The angels carry your soul to heaven in reward of your virtues.” And after a year Columcille was again heard to say: “I see the soul of that blessed woman coming down from heaven to meet the soul of her husband at death’s hour. See! she is helping the angels to fight the demons who are striving to gain possession of his soul. They have failed! The soul is saved!” 

 He saw the soul of St. Brendan, of Birr, going up to heaven in great glory. Such was the splendour of Brendan’s soul that Columcille saw that it illuminated the whole world. He directed his monks to celebrate a solemn High Mass to thank God for Brendan’s happiness. 

He said a Mass of Thanksgiving for the happy death of the holy Bishop Coleman; and he also saw his soul ascend gloriously to heaven. 

St. Columcille was indeed another St. John in his Island of Patmos, and God revealed to him in Iona many wonderful things about this world and the world to come. 

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907), 110-111.

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille: The Golden Moon Sinking

The hagiographers present Saint Colum Cille as anxious to depart this world and to take his place in heaven. The people among whom he lived, however, had different ideas:

THE GOLDEN MOON SINKING. 

Our dear and blessed Saint was now drawing towards his end. The golden moon, that so long shone bright and full over Ireland and Scotland, was waning — fading away into the glorious dawn of God’s eternal day. 

With St. Paul, our Saint desired to be dissolved and so be with Christ. 

He appeared one day very joyful. Soon, however, he seemed to grow downcast and sad. Two monks were present, Lugbeus from Ireland, and Pilu from England. They asked him why, after such great joy, he became so strangely sad. “I will tell you,” he said, “but promise not to reveal now what I am going to say. With my whole heart I asked God,” he continued, “to let me die when I should have lived thirty years in Scotland, and the Lord heard my prayer; and He had sent angels to bear away my soul after my approaching death. But alas! God has now yielded to the prayers of the Faithful, and has prolonged my life for four years more.”

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907), 108-9. 

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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille and Connla the Craftsman


Continuing the series of vignettes from the Life of Saint Colum Cille with the story of Connla the Craftsman. Here Saint Colum Cille uses another of his extraordinary gifts, that of raising the dead to life:

CONNLA, THE ARTIST.

 About this same period he worked a wonderful miracle. There then lived an exceedingly artistic and accomplished man, whose name was Connla. He dwelt in a place known of old as Dim Cruitre (Fort of the Picts), but now called Screen Columcille, or Ardmagilligan. Connla was making a shrine, an exquisite shrine indeed, but, unfortunately, he died before it was completed. When Columcille beheld the unfinished shrine, he greatly desired to see it completed in all its beauty. He was aware, however, there was no artist in Ireland capable of completing the work in all its perfection. An inspiration came into his mind. He went to Connla’s grave, stood before it, and he cried out: “O Connla, in the name of Jesus Christ, arise from the dead ! ”And behold! he that was dead arose full of life and health, and all who were present were filled with awe and amazement and they praised God for His wonderful works. Conla finished the beautiful shrine, and lived to a good old age. 

 The tradesmen and artists of Ireland of that time could not be surpassed by any others in the whole world, and, by God’s blessing, the time is near when the same can be said once more.


The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907) ,39. 

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille and the Duel Fought in Ireland


Yesterday we looked at the granting of the gift of prophecy to Saint Colum Cille and today we see an example of this gift in use as our saint, although in Iona, is able to witness events in Ireland:

A DUEL IN IRELAND. 

Columcille one day appeared very sad and troubled. “ What ails you, father ?” said the monks to him. “Alas,” he answered, “ two noblemen are just now fighting a duel in Ireland. They have wounded each other. They are dying.” And such had really happened, as they learnt afterwards. 

“Father,” asked a monk, “how do you get knowledge of hidden things like these?” “There are people,” said Columcille, “and they see the whole world lit up most brilliantly as in one glorious sunbeam.” He was speaking of himself: for it was given him to see everything in the light of God. In the same way, we are told, he saw fire falling from heaven on a town in Italy, destroying its inhabitants on account of their wickedness.

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907), 103. 
 
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Monday, 12 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille's Angelic Gifts


In Irish tradition Saint Colum Cille had quite a reputation for prophecy, and in today's vignette we see that this was a gift bestowed on him directly by God:

THE THREE GIFTS.

 The Angel appeared again on another day and said: “Beg of God to grant you the three gifts that please you most, and He will give them to you.” “That is good news,” answered Columcille, “and I choose Virginity and Wisdom.” “You made a good choice,” said the Angel; “and you will get in addition to these the gift of Prophecy.” 

No sooner had the Angel left him than there came three most beautiful maidens, and showed by their manner a desire to speak to him. Columcille retired a little to let them pass, for he did not know them. But presently he summoned up courage and addressed them respectfully, asking them who they were. “We are three sisters,” said they, “and the companions offered to you by our father.” “And who is your father?” inquired Columcille. “The Saviour of the World,” said they. “And what are your names?” asked Columcille. “Our names are "Virginity, Wisdom and Prophecy, and we shall be with you always.” They then disappeared from his sight.

 From that day forward Chastity and Wisdom shone in all his words and actions, and God bestowed upon him the gift of Prophecy to foretell future events.

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907). 

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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Saint Colum Cille's Angel


We begin the series of vignettes from the hagiography of Saint Colum Cille with a story of his boyhood and the angel 'Auxil' sent to protect him:


ST. COLUMCILLE’S ANGEL.

 St. Columcille was so holy God took special care of him, and sent a particular Angel to guard and assist him. Auxil (which means “help”) was the Angel’s name. 

 On a certain night this Angel, clothed in shining raiment, came, and thus addressed the holy boy : “God be with you! Do manfully, and prepare your soul. God has placed you under my care in order that I may guide and protect you in all things, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” 

 “Who are you, and whence are you?” asked the young boy. The Angel answered: “My name is Auxil on account of the care I must take of you. I must guard you against the deceits of the devil, the world, and the flesh.” Columcille then inquired of him: “Do all the Angels appear as bright, as young, and as beautiful as you do?” The Angel made answer: “My garments and the garments and glory of the Angels are so beautiful, so noble, so splendid, that you could not behold them in this life ; and you should die if you were to behold the glory of the Angels as they are in heaven. If you wish, however, to wear my shining garments, and to share my glory, lead a holy life and practise virtue.” 

 “That I will do,” said Columcille; “and now sign my heart and my whole body with the sign of the Holy Cross.” The Angel did so, and disappeared from the boy’s sight. A great change came over Columcille from that time forward, and he became more faithful and diligent in the service of God.

The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907)


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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Naomh Columcille: Saint Columba

I recently checked in with the Internet Archive to see if they had brought any fresh materials on the Irish saints into the public domain and was rewarded with a Life of Saint Columba published in 1907 by an Irish Redemptorist priest. The text was issued in both Irish and English on facing pages, the Archive attributes the Irish text to Micheál O'Floinn.  Our anonymous Redemptorist starts by setting out his attitude to hagiography, coming down firmly on its side rather than that of history. He was, of course, writing in 1907 just after the Bollandist Father Delehaye published his critical approach to the study of the saints in the seminal work The Legends of the Saints. Delehaye himself was aware of the tensions his modernist scholarship raised for those who had a less critical approach to the saints for as he relates:
One of my first copies of The Legends of the Saints had a reception I was far from expecting. The friend who had recieved the complimentary copy informed me that he would put it in his library, but that he would never read it. "What do you expect?", he said, "I love the legends of the saints, and I do not want anything to spoil my pleasure in them".
It's a sentiment our Irish Redemptorist would have understood and indeed it's one I am aware of myself. So one hundred and ten years on from the publication of this bilingual Life of Saint Columba I intend to bring a selection of episodes drawn from the hagiography of Saint Colum Cille used in the book to celebrate the feast until the octave day. And to unashamedly enjoy them!
A Foreword to my Readers. 
THE Life of this great Saint is not written in a way to recommend it to many whose opinions lead in certain literary circles to-day, I offer no apology. “ Let every man abound in his own sense.” 
History is written in two ways. Both have their merits and their faults. The one, with a kindly trust in the honesty of those who have gone before, accepts his authorities as he finds them, and so shapes his tale — this I have done. The other sifts and sifts to find out what he calls the exact truth, acting in the process as if witnesses were more likely to be telling lies than truth. As a result he presents often dry and not too sweet-smelling bones which he calls history, overlooking the fact that in the telling of his tale he may be as much the victim of preconceived ideas as the mediaeval chronicler he laughs to scorn. 
But is not my plan a-playing fast and loose with truth if I do not think so. What comes from the past you may call legends if you will, but in the old sense of the word “legenda,” things to be read. Read, then, dear reader, my story of Columcille. All that is here written may or may not be well founded, yet those who handed us down these accounts were as worthy of credence as the men who to-day laugh at what they are pleased to call childish credulity. 
No doubt the miraculous will figure largely in this little book, but not too largely for those who believe that “God is wonderful in His saints”.
We present the Life of St. Columcille in Irish to the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland, in English to the Saxons. He laboured much for Gael and Scot and Saxon, and loved them well. May this Life help them to know and love him. 
The truly marvellous success of “Naomh Pádraig” gives me, indeed, good hope that “Naomh Columcille,” too, will make our Saint better known and better loved. 
St. Patrick's, Esker, Athenry,
Feast of St Columcille, 1907.
The Life of Saint Columcille in In Irish and English by a Redemptorist Father (Dublin, 1907). 







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Friday, 9 June 2017

The Feast of Saint Colum Cille, June 9

A.Steadman, Our Island Saints (1912)

Flaming June, aptly indeed, is the month in which St Colmcille's feast-day falls. Bright as fire was the nature of that princely saint. How vividly the race always remembered him!

Aodh de Blacam, 'St Colmcille as Poet', in The Irish Monthly, Vol. 67, No. 792 (Jun., 1939), p. 425.


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Thursday, 13 April 2017

New Book on Saint Brigid from Four Courts Press



Saint Brigid of Kildare

Life, legend and cult


Noel Kissane

Paperback €22.45
Catalogue Price: €24.95
ISBN: 978-1-84682-632-0
Coming May 2017. 384pp; ills. 
Despite being the female patron saint of Ireland and one of the most remarkable women in Irish history, St Brigid has always been an elusive figure. Some scholars have argued that she never existed as a real person but was merely the Christian personification of the cult of a pagan goddess of the same name. This book reviews all the evidence – history, legend and folklore – and concludes that while she has many of the attributes of the goddess Brigit, she was certainly a real person. The book also reviews her cult and veneration in Ireland and overseas, from her lifetime down to the present day, as attested by place-names, holy wells and folklore, and also by the large numbers of churches (Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland), schools and GAA clubs dedicated to her.

Noel Kissane worked in the National Library of Ireland for over thirty years, where he held the positions of education officer and keeper of manuscripts. His doctorate was for his edition of the Metrical Life of St Brigid. His previous books include The Irish face (Dublin, 1986), Parnell: a documentary history (Dublin, 1994) and The Irish famine: a documentary history (Dublin, 1996) .

http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2017/saint-brigid/

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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Saint Patrick - 'A Unique Voice from the Dawn of Irish History'


Today is the Octave Day of the Feast of Saint Patrick and thus brings to an end of the series of posts based on the work of modern scholar Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. I hope you will agree that he has raised some very interesting questions about the career of our national apostle and we shall give him the last word on the importance of Saint Patrick and his writings:
It is possible that Patrick's later dominant position in Irish tradition owes as much to the fact of a popular belief that he was the first Christian missionary of note (and a missionary of the people at that) as to the fact that it was his writings (and not any of Palladius's) that survived.
Ó Cróinín goes on to refer to the censorship of those writings at Armagh but finishes with a glowing tribute:
Thankfully, the full text of the Confession and the Letter survived intact in other copies, and remains to this day, as the testimony of a remarkable man, a unique voice from the dawn of Irish history, whose life and career were probably unparalleled and whose account of that time is one of the most remarkable documents of human expertise.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 58.


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Friday, 24 March 2017

Patrick and Palladius - Who Came to Ireland First?



In one of the most interesting parts of his discussion of the topic 'Patrick and the Historians',  Dáibhí Ó Cróinín presents the case, originally made by medievalist Mario Esposito (1887-1975), that contrary to the accepted wisdom, Palladius may have been Patrick's successor rather than his predecessor:
Esposito put forward the proposal that Patrick might, in fact, have preceeded Palladius in date and that his missionary activity may have taken place during the last years of the fourth century and the opening of the fifth, a full generation before Palladius arrived. There is much to recommend the AD 390 theory, and it would certainly account for two of the principal differences with the earlier chronology of the two men, namely that Patrick never mentions Palladius and secondly that Palladius was sent to an already existing community of Christians in Ireland. If these Christians were, in fact, some of Patrick's original converts, it would verify his claim to pioneering missionary status, and also explain how the fledgling community to which Palladius was sent had come into existence in the first place. It would also account for Patrick's silence about Palladius, since by this reckoning, Palladius came after Patrick, not before him. 
There are, however, some drawbacks to this theory:
It would not, of course, explain why Palladius was designated 'first' bishop of the Irish by the Pope, but given the obviously maverick nature of Patrick's career, his episcopal status might not have been recognised as canonical in Rome, (if indeed he had ever come to the attention of the papal see). Throughout his writings, Patrick is at pains to stress his valid orders, which suggests that there were others in the British Church, it seems, and perhaps in Ireland as well, who disputed that validity.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 57-58.
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

When did Saint Patrick die?



The vexed question of the chronology of Saint Patrick which we looked at yesterday affects the date of his death as much as the date of his arrival in Ireland. Once again there are competing theories among biographers old and new, but just as AD 432 became the accepted date of his arrival, AD 461 became an accepted date for his death. Indeed just as in 1932, 1961 was celebrated in Ireland as a 'Patrician Year'  with the Patrician Congress 'marking the 1,500th anniversary of the death of St Patrick with all the panoply of a State visit' as a contemporary report in the Irish Times put it.  AD 461 was not universally accepted, however,  as Dáibhí Ó Cróinín briefly summarizes:
This confusion about the date of Patrick's arrival was also reflected of course in the controversy surrounding the date of his death: some gave it as having taken place in AD 461, others in AD 493, some annals indeed gave more than one date for the saint's death.
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 56.

Tomorrow I hope to look at one of the most interesting aspects of the chronology of Saint Patrick, the relationship between the timing of his mission and that of Saint Palladius.

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

When was Saint Patrick in Ireland?


We will be dealing today with yet another question regarding the mission of Saint Patrick which remains unresolved - when was he in Ireland? I have a copy of the volume of studies issued in 1932 (see picture above) to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of his coming amongst us, one of many events and publications which celebrated the occasion. But how secure is this date? As Dáibhí Ó Cróinín sees it, the answer is not very:
Patrick gives no dates whatsoever in either his Confession or his Letter. 432 was simply taken over from the chronology of Palladius..stated by Prosper to have been sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine in 431. Later Irish historians (from the seventh century on), puzzled by the subsequent silence in the historical sources concerning Palladius, concluded that the vacuum in the narrative would best be filled by bringing Patrick to Ireland as soon after AD 431 as possible. Hence AD 432 became the 'official' date of his arrival, and the date was entered retrospectively into the Irish annals. Once that date had become enshrined in Irish historical tradition, it was almost impossible to shift it.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 56.

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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Saint Patrick - Preaching Where no Man Has Gone Before?






As we continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Patrick based on a series of questions posed by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in a 2001 paper, we arrive at one of the biggest questions of all - what was the nature of the objections of the elders (seniores) in Britain to the man and his mission? Our scholar provides this insight:
Part of the difficulty which Patrick's activities presented to his superiors was his manifest concern to preach the gospel among the heathen Irish. He several times remarks that he has taken the Christian message 'where no man has gone before' (Conf. 34) and that such efforts involved him and his companions in physical danger (Conf. 51). It was this physical dangers that drew down the displeasure of his seniores on Patrick.

Now this might strike a modern reader as curious, for one naturally assumes that an element of danger is part of any missionary endeavour. There is always a risk that the message will not be received favourably and the messenger violently rejected.  Later Irish saints, like Killian, for example, found this out in their labours among the Germanic pagan peoples and were martyred for their pains. But Ó Cróinín sets this objection into its historical context and it is one which indeed seems counter-intuitive to the contemporary reader:

The reason for it was that the early church in this period had no concept of mission to the unbelieving, of the kind that we are familiar with today from the work of Christian missionaries in Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The post-apostolic Church developed no conscious institutionalised missionary effort or personnel, conversion as a rule, was sporadic and individual, rather than communal. Palladius, after all, had been sent to 'the Irish believing in Christ' not to the heathen. 

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 55.

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Monday, 20 March 2017

Did Saint Patrick Study on the Continent?




So he crossed the southern British sea, and beginning his journey through Gaul with the intention of eventually crossing the Alps, as he had resolved in his heart, he came on a very holy bishop, Germanus, who ruled in the city of Auxerre, the greatest lord in almost all of Gaul He stayed with him for quite some time, just as Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel; and in all humility, patience and obedience he learned, loved and treasured wholeheartedly knowledge, wisdom, purity and every benefit to soul and spirit, with great fear and love for God, in goodness and singleness of heart and chaste in body and spirit.

A. B. E. Hood, ed. and trans. Muirchú's Life of Saint Patrick, (London and Chichester, 1978), p.84

Thus does Saint Patrick's seventh-century biographer, Muirchú, describe the training received by his subject at the feet of one of the most pre-eminent saints of his age, Germanus of Auxerre. Yet Saint Patrick himself makes no mention of his famous teacher or of any years spent in Gaul in his own writings. The episode is found only in the writings of his later hagiographers and as a result has come under the scrutiny of modern scholarship. In his discussion of Saint Patrick's Gaulish training for his Irish mission, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, acknowledges that there are some mentions of Gaul in the extant writings of the saint:
True, he does mention later in the Letter (s.14) the 'custom of the Gallo-Roman Christians of ransoming captive Christians from their heathen captors'. And in the Confession (s.43) he also mentions his wish that, at some stage, he might have an opportunity (apparently unfulfilled) to visit the brethern in Gaul; but these are hardly the kind of statements we would expect from a man whose training had been received in the foremost cathedral school in Gaul, under the most prominent Gallican bishop of his time.
The real issue for Ó Cróinín is that if Germanus of Auxerre had prepared Patrick for his mission then that would have provided some pretty powerful ammunition for Patrick to have used against those who questioned its validity:
Had Patrick really studied at Auxerre under Germanus, his detractors at home could have no conceivable grounds for complaint about his inadequate training; on the contrary he could have boosted a superior religious formation probably than any that was to be held in Britain at that time.
Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 53-54.

It's an interesting point and one upon which the academic jury is still deliberating. Tomorrow we will look at the nature of the objections to Saint Patrick's mission.

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Did Saint Patrick Fund His Own Mission to Ireland?



We continue the series of posts in honour of Saint Patrick with a look at another of the questions raised by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín - did he, at least in part, fund his own mission to Ireland? Yesterday we saw that Patrick, then back in Britain, recorded a nocturnal vision in which he first read and then heard 'The Voice of the Irish' entreating him to come and walk again among them. Yet he also makes it clear that he did not act immediately on this plea. Indeed, as he says in section 28 of his Confessio 'I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was nearly worn out'.  In his writings Saint Patrick makes reference to the elders (seniores) and to Ó Cróinín:
The implication of his words..is that Patrick's activities were, in part at any rate, sponsored (and perhaps also subsidised) by some senior churchmen in Britain. But he appears also to have provided his own financial resources for the undertaking, since he remarks in the Letter (s.10) that he had sold his noble rank (uendidi enim nobilitatem meam), which appears to mean that he sold off his parental estate.  
 Ó Cróinín then goes on to speculate that this may perhaps also explain the long delay in Patrick's return to Ireland:
Patrick may have been an only child...nowhere does he mention siblings. If he were the sole heir to his father's properties, Patrick could very well have sold them off to pay for his Irish mission. And if that were the case, it would explain too the long delay before his return to Ireland, for he may have had to wait until his parents had passed on before the opportunities provided by his inheritance gave him the necessary spur to return to Ireland.

Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 52-53.

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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Vox Hiberionacum - Irish or Latin?


I have recently been reorganising my files and came across some notes I had made from a paper by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín on Saint Patrick. In it he examines various aspects of our national apostle's career from a revisionary standpoint, thereby providing some food for thought. I intend to have a look at a few of the issues he raises over the octave of Saint Patrick's feast and so will begin with his discussion of the language used by Patrick's community in Ireland. Was the 'voice of the Irish' which Patrick heard in his famous vision of Victoricus and his letters speaking in Irish or in Latin? Let's remind ourselves first of Patrick's own account from his Confessio:
"I saw, in a nocturnal vision, a man named Victoricus coming as if from Ireland, with a large parcel of letters, one of which he handed to me. On reading the beginning of it, I found it contained these words: 'The voice of the Irish;' and while reading it I thought I heard, at the same moment, the voice of a multitude of persons near the Wood of Foclut, which is near the western sea; and they cried out, as if with one voice, 'We entreat thee, holy youth, to come and henceforth walk amongst us.' And I was greatly affected in my heart, and could read no longer; and then I awoke."
Ó Cróinín begins by pointing out that at the time of Saint Patrick, Irish was not a written language:
We recall that Victoricus came to Patrick in his night vision bearing letters, though no Irish person of the 4th or 5th century could have written such a letter in the literal sense, and certainly none in the Irish language. If the letter that Patrick began to read out loud was written in Latin (as surely it must have been), then that raises an interesting question: was Patrick's missionary activity carried out amongst people who spoke that language?
In raising this possibility the writer is not suggesting that Patrick had no knowledge of Irish, on the contrary:
Since Patrick spent six years of his youth in Ireland we need not doubt that, by the time of his escape, he had mastered the native language and could express himself fluently in Irish. He appears to imply as much when he says that his words and speech 'are translated into a foreign tongue' (sermo et loquela nostra translata est in lingua alienam). But since Irish was not, by that time, a written language, is Patrick speaking metaphorically, when he speaks of letters brought by his nocturnal messenger, or does he mean exactly what he says?
But if the letter from Ireland is written in Latin, what might this mean?  Ó Cróinín offers an  interesting speculation:
If it was the case that Patrick's vox Hiberionacum ('the voice of those living in Ireland' belonged to Latin speakers, then it is possible that he refers to a group of people who - like himself - had been taken captive in Britain and brought back to Ireland. There is nothing out of the ordinary in such an interpretation after all, Patrick himself states that he was taken captive 'along with many thousands of others' (cum tot milia hominum; Conf.1
 This leads to a further intriguing possibility about the identity of the community speaking to Patrick:
Patrick seems to make a distinction in his vocabulary between native Irish (Scotti) and people living in Ireland (Hiberionaci), who might not necessarily be Irish. The latter term (an adjectival formation on the noun Hiberio 'Ireland') might well be a coinage of his own, to denote those people - like himself- who had been brought by force to Ireland (Hiberione). 
And this linguistic speculation is followed by a final psychological one:
Patrick would have felt a natural affinity with such fellow-exiles, and the fact that he had escaped and they had not might well have engendered in him a feeling of guilt that preyed on him when he was back in Britain.
 Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, 'Saint Patrick', in A .J. Hughes and W. Nolan, eds., Armagh: History and Society - Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 2001), 51-52.



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Friday, 17 March 2017

Archbishop Mac Hale - A Sermon on Saint Patrick's Day

To commemorate the feast of our national patron, Saint Patrick, below is a stirring sermon from the 'Lion of The West', Archbishop John Mac Hale (1789-1881). I think it's safe to say that he lived in interesting times. Born in the year that the French Revolution began, his lifetime also encompassed the 1798 Rebellion, Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine and the campaigns for land reform and for Catholic education, all set against the backdrop of the growth of political and cultural nationalism. This sermon on Saint Patrick was delivered in Rome, in the Irish Franciscan church of Saint Isidore Agricola. It is thus no surprise to see the speaker making special mention of Saint Patrick's continental education at Auxerre and of the legacy left by the early Irish church on continental Europe. And no surprise whatever to see the Archbishop employ all of the tropes familiar to Irish Catholic writers of this period, in his portrayal of the Irish people as being prepared to suffer in order to cling to their faith, the price which their 'indissoluble bond with Rome' demanded:

SERMONS AND DISCOURSES.

ST. PATRICK'S DAY.

" We are the children of the saints, and look for that life which God will give to those who change not their faith from Him."—Tobias, ii. 18.

Among the various trials through which Ireland has passed, and may be still fated to endure, it has, in the recollection of the past, and in the hope of the future, one of the richest sources of human enjoyment. The records of an honourable lineage must console the humblest descendant who is conscious of not tarnishing the lustre of his name, and when there is hope it is capable of lighting up the horrors of a dungeon. Between those two lights it was the consolation of Ireland to walk in the darkest days of her adversity. By the past I mean not the glories of a profane and remote antiquity, on which the world dwells with rapture, but I mean the more valuable claims of a sainted heraldry, by which our people have been so signally distinguished. Whilst they contemplated the illustrious models, which their Church in every age held out to them, they were endued with courage to brave every persecution; and when, like the old Tobias, their devotion to their God was made a subject of bitter raillery, their piety rose superior to every provocation, and, like him, they exclaimed, "We are the children of saints, and look for that life which God will give to those who change not their faith from Him." Happy people, who have preserved with such fidelity the precious legacy bequeathed to them by our great national Apostle! I purpose, then, in this discourse to give a brief outline of his life and labours, and then to take a rapid glance at the various fortunes of the Irish Church, still so steadfast in the faith which he planted.

It has been the fate of St. Patrick, like that of other eminent men, to have rival nations contending for the honour of being the place of his nativity. It is no wonder the steps of boyhood, light and bounding as the spirits that guide them, seldom leave a sufficiently deep impression for the historian to track them by; and few there are, like St. John of God, over whose birth a heavenly light is seen to play, to direct the biographer through the earlier stages of his life. Our best guides in this question are his own confessions, and a metrical life of the Apostle by Fiech, one of his episcopal disciples. He tells us himself, in clear and distinct terms, where he was born; but, to a modern ear, more accustomed to the Saxon tongue than to the venerable language in which those confessions were written, the simple expression of the words would not decide the controversy. Much ingenuity has been resorted to in giving them interpretations of which they are not naturally susceptible, in order to confirm the opinions of the respective advocates of Scotland and of Gaul.

But notwithstanding the process of refinement to which they have been subjected, enough of their ancient form still remains to determine every intelligent and unprejudiced antiquarian in favour of the opinion that assigns the birth of St. Patrick to the northern provinces of France. But why occupy your time or patience upon a point which can have but little influence on the object for which you are assembled? It matters little where the Saint was born, since he is one of those extraordinary individuals that are sent by Providence to bless mankind at distant intervals, and who, on that account, may be claimed as the common property of the human race. Nor shall I stop to refute an opinion of which the malignity is neutralised by its folly, that because of this discrepancy of opinion regarding the place of his birth, St. Patrick was a phantom. Were such sophistry to have any weight, it would, assuredly, strip history of some of its most illustrious ornaments. What? must the inhabitants of Egypt doubt the existence of the source of their great river because European travellers cannot agree about the spot from which it springs? Let others, then, expend their darkling labours in exploring the small and distant fountain of the faith of Ireland, we shall be content with the incontestable proofs that are furnished of its existence, whilst we contemplate the majesty of the flood that has already filled the nations with the noise, and spread over a large country the fertility of its waters.

Scarce had Patrick attained his sixteenth year when he was seized by a band of freebooters, who infested the coast of Gaul, and carried him captive into Ireland. From a mind, less disciplined to piety, and a conformity with the will of God, such a disaster would have called forth murmurs against Providence. Far, however, from turning his misfortune into a theme of vexatious complaints, it became to him a rich source of spiritual consolation. It was his painful duty to tend his master's flock on the mountains of Antrim, in the province of Ultonia. His solicitude always anticipated the morning sun; the cold of winter could not chill the ardour of his devotions. From the rough elements which surrounded him he drew canticles of praise, commanding the frost and the snows, in the sublime apostrophe of the Hebrew youths, to praise the Lord; and in the canopy of heaven, which was spread over him, he beheld a faint image of the glory of its Creator. "When I came to Ireland," says the saint (for there is a simple unction in his own words, which evaporates in any other language) "I fed my master's flocks, and prayed frequently in the day. The fear and love of God were gradually increasing in me, and His faith and spirit gaining such ground, that each day I said a hundred prayers, and as many by night, so that I stayed in the woods and on the mountains, and rose to prayer before the light, through the frost, and the snow, and the rain; and yet I felt no in convenience, nor was there any sloth about me, because the spirit- was then fervent within my breast." What an interesting spectacle do we here contemplate in the early life of our Apostle; and how well adapted such a severe discipline to the lofty destiny to which he was afterwards to be raised. Yes; for those who are destined for the ordinary situations of life, an ordinary training may be well suited; but for him who was intended to be the Apostle of a nation, and the conqueror of its vices, the Almighty had prepared a discipline analagous to the arduous nature of his future labours. Hence he was early transplanted to that solitude without which no growth in the moral and intellectual, as well as the physical world, can ever attain strength or majesty. Far from the contagion of the world, his virtue was here pure as the atmosphere which he breathed; and his thoughts were simple and elevated as the lofty scenery around him. Such was the school in which St. Patrick's virtue was formed. The commands of a hard master exercised his obedience; his patience was tried by this man's capricious disposition. In the solicitude with which he watched his flock, he was inured to that vigilance which he was afterwards to exercise over a portion of Christ's fold; and if, according to the admonition of St. Peter, it be the perfection of a Christian pastor to become "a pattern of the flock from the heart," nothing could be more worthy of God's providence than thus to enable the future Church of Ireland to contemplate, in its great Apostle, the model which was shown it on the mount—being thus the most appropriate—and, as if the prophetic type of a priesthood, which, like him, was doomed to look for shelter from the cruelty of man, amidst the severity of frosts and snows, and to offer the pure sacrifice of the Lord in the caverns of the rocks and the solitude of the mountains.

After six years of servitude he was at length released under circumstances which impress a conviction that his life was under the immediate guidance of heaven. On landing in his own country, he had to traverse a vast and dreary wilderness, in which he and his companions were exposed to perish from hunger. The Saint sustained their desponding spirits by his reliance on his God; when lo! a herd of swine, like the quails that relieved the Hebrews of old, seasonably appeared and convinced them of the justness of his confidence. A few years elapsed, and he was again carried into a similar captivity, and after the short interval of six months again restored to the embraces of his affectionate parents. When absent, they deplored his loss, and now that he was returned, they adjured him not to quit them more, in hope that, like the young Tobias after his escape from a strange country, he would become "the light of our eyes, the staff of our old age, the comfort of our life, the hope of our posterity." But St. Patrick was destined to be the father of a different and a holier offspring. It was not for the improvement of his family fortune he was exercised in his early warfare. The Almighty had destined another sphere for his exertions, and whilst, perhaps, the secret whispers of grace calling him to a holier state were in danger of yielding to the louder importunity which repeated the subduing language of father and mother and of home, he was favoured with a vision of the night, in which he beheld an old man of the name of Victor, standing on the western shore of Ireland, in the barony of Tyrawley, handing him one of many letters which he held in his hand, inscribed with these words: "The voice of the Irish," on perusing which he fancied to have heard the collected voices of numbers of children, who, with outstretched arms, adjured him in the following earnest supplication: "We entreat thee, holy young man, to come and walk among us;" and thus were the entreaties of parents and of friends drowned amidst the more imperative and importuning cries of a people who were perishing for want of religious instruction. The Saint hesitated not, but, like Samuel, who was only anxious to know the divine will, immediately obeyed the call of heaven. Far, however, from imitating those who mistake their own presumption for the impulse of the Spirit, he had recourse to the regular channel through which God has ordained the conveyance of His high commission, and accordingly sought, like the Apostle, another Ananias in the person of St. Germanus, the holy Bishop of Auxerre, into whose hands he resigned himself, in order to become duly qualified for the ministry. Under the advice of this eminent prelate, he spent, as we are informed by the Bishop who wrote his life, a portion of his time in the islands of the Tuscan Sea, and most probably in the Island of Lerins, then famed for a learned seminary, in which the monastic discipline of St. Martin of Tours was associated with the successful cultivation of ecclesiastical learning.

Thirteen years are said to have been employed by the Saint in the alternate exercise of solitary study and of active duties in the ministry, under the immediate direction of St. Germanus, by which long and laborious preparation he became admirably fitted for the great work to which he was called by the Almighty. Thus prepared and furnished with ample testimonials of his merits, he sets out for Rome, the centre of Christian unity, to obtain, ere he embarked on his intended mission, the benediction and approval of the Sovereign Pontiff. St. Celestine then sat on the chair of St. Peter, who, having already invested Palladius, with episcopal powers for the mission of Ireland, now gives his sanction to St. Patrick, as a subordinate associate in the same holy work. Palladius' stay in Ireland was but short, the success of his mission partial; in less than a year he quitted Ireland, and before St. Patrick had time to reach that country he was informed that Palladius died in Great Britain. This recent death of one who had been sent to convert Ireland, together with his own early captivity there, as well as the mysterious vision which he saw upon its shores, must have impressed upon his mind that to him was reserved the spiritual conquest of that country. He therefore receives without delay the episcopal consecration, and, accompanied by a few select associates, burns with a holy impatience to impart to that benighted land the glad tidings of salvation. Accordingly, he lands on its shores in the year of our Lord 432, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, and soon shapes his course to the northern province, which had been the early scene of his captivity. There he gained a few converts; but it was only from the festival of Easter the following year we may date the glorious era of Ireland's liberation from spiritual bondage. Instead of wasting his time in obscure and unprofitable labours along the extremities, he meditates at once his attack upon the centre, and directs his spiritual thunders against the very citadel of paganism. On Holy Saturday, the day set apart by the Church for the blessing of the fire, a large mass of flame, kindled by the saint on an opposite eminence, is seen from the royal residence at Tara, and the jealousy of the Druidical priests trembled for the reigning superstition. The monarch, who was taught by those artful ministers to connect the safety of his throne with the Druidical worship, was alarmed at the sight of those flames, which were to spread nought but sedition through the land. He, therefore, sets out, accompanied by those who were most skilled in the devices of his craft, in order to extinguish those forbidden fires. They were met by the Saint, with no other arms than the crucifix, who soon convinced them that theirs were the lurid and murky fires, lit by a dire and sanguinary superstition, whilst his was but an emblem of that mild light which came from heaven to dissipate the darkness of sin and death; and in the universal tradition of the country, that when the fire of St. Patrick was kindled, those of Baal went out, we may recognise another truth, that the feeble light of the Magi was eclipsed by the overpowering splendour of his religion. On the following day he was summoned to give an account of the faith that was in him before the assembly of Pagan sages who crowded the monarch's court. Like Moses, he spoke before kings, and was not confounded: all the arts with which the Druids were gifted were put in requisition to rival the wonders which he wrought; but the wisdom of the world was subdued by the folly of the cross; all the powers of superstition gave way before the virtue that went forth from the man of God, and though, like Festus or Pharaoh, the heart of the monarch remained unsubdued, the conversion of numbers on that memorable day, among whom are ranked some of the King's children, attested the triumph of St. Patrick and the discomfiture of his enemies.

Henceforth the progress of the Gospel was rapid and irresistible. In the county of Meath, which was the cradle of the Christian religion, he remained for some time propagating his infant Church, and fortifying it by the establishment of piety and learning. From hence he directed his way to the West of Ireland, spreading the blessings of the Gospel over the country which he traversed. Wherever he went he was received as the messenger of heaven. By his preaching the people were reclaimed from turbulence and immorality; at his interposition rival chieftains forgot their feuds, and left their resentments as a sacrifice at his feet; females in the full enjoyment of youth and fortune were glad to exchange the fleeting prospects of life for the happiness of virginity; and princes gladly resigned their crowns to purchase the promised blessings of religion. From a lofty mountain on the shores of the Atlantic, which still bears his name from being the scene of his penitential exercises, he turns his steps towards the people of the district, now the Diocese of Killala, who were the first to invite him in the vision to come to Ireland. There his spiritual succours were commensurate with the wants of the inhabitants. After appeasing the deadly feuds that raged between the children of the chief, he baptised them, together with twelve thousand people in a running fountain, which still remains as a monument of their immersion ; and in the language of the Psalmist, "We will adore in the place where his feet stood." Ps. cxxxi. 7. I am aware that, like other practices of Catholic piety, this feeling of reverence for the footsteps of the saints has been much misrepresented. But surely it is not necessary to dwell, especially here, on its vindication, surrounded as I must be by generous individuals who have resigned all the solace of their domestic circle to come and meditate among the monuments of those ancient masters whose lofty deeds and ardent language first kindled in their own hearts the like aspirations. Those who would loiter an entire day along the fabled fountain where a benevolent monarch studied those lessons of wisdom by which he subdued a turbulent race to the arts of civilised life; or gladly forego their morning's repast to look for those spots, on which the violation of female virtue was avenged, and utterance was given to those burning appeals to a nation's justice and a nation's freedom, of which the warmth has not been chilled through the transit of ages—men who would cheerfully risk all the perils of distant voyages to visit those fields in which their fancy might behold the spirits of the heroes of Marathon thronging round them, invoked by the Athenian orator, and awakened by the magic of that invocation—yes; those at least who have a heart can understand and for those who have not, preaching is useless, what must be the feelings which burn within the breast of a Catholic when he touches those hallowed spots that streamed with the Redeemer's blood, or were sanctified by His baptismal immersion; or what must be the similar sentiments, though fainter in degree, that must fill his mind as often as he treads over ground which bears the monuments of the benevolent power of Christ's Saints and Apostles? Do we not view with admiration every trophy which a country has erected to those warriors who conquered its enemies and protected its freedom? And are we to evince no gratitude towards those who conquered vice and error, the deadliest of man's foes? Nay, they are deserving of a more heartfelt homage, since such is the vicissitude of war that the glory and the greatness of one country cannot be purchased without a corresponding depression and misery in another, whereas the saints of God are the only heroes whose laurels were never soiled with a single tear, and whose success has not cost mankind one solitary execration.

The northern coast, from Killala to Down, through the intermediate county of Donegal, was the next theatre of his labours. Those who hitherto sat in darkness saw now a great light, and the joyous sounds of mercy and salvation were heard amidst those remote solitudes which were hitherto involved in all the darkness of paganism. Again, from the north, the Apostle turns his steps to Meath, the first scene of his mission, and labours, in the province of Leinster, to enlarge the boundaries of the Church. The trophies which everywhere marked his progress, and the fame that was gathering round him as he went, rendered obedience prompt and resistance fruitless, so that on his arrival in Cashel, the centre of Munster, the monarch of that province, surrounded by his nobles, came forth to greet a conqueror, who, instead of leaving desolation in his path, filled the land with gladness, and was cheered with the blessings of its inhabitants. Not Cashel alone, but various other places in the south, were favoured for some years with the enlivening presence of the Apostle. In short, there was scarcely a portion of Ireland which felt not his joyous influence. Like the Saviour of the world, he went round doing good unto all; monuments of mercy and beneficence long attested the footsteps of the man of God, and the passage of St. Patrick through the land, like the broad and lucid zone which is seen to cross the heavens, could be tracked by the superior brilliancy that streamed along the path which the Apostle had traversed.

Now that the vineyard which was let out to this faithful labourer was reclaimed and cultivated, his solicitude was naturally turned to the means by which it might be protected. For the purpose, then, of modelling the Church of Ireland to the rest of the Catholic Church, which is beautifully compared to an army in battle-array, in the ascending gradation of its hierarchy, from the humblest levite who ministers in the temple to the Supreme Pontiff, he appointed bishops in the different Sees which he established, leaving to his successors in Armagh the authority of Primate, with which he himself was invested, and bequeathing to them all, as a most valuable inheritance, obedience to that See from which his own mission was derived. Never was bequest preserved with more devout reverence; and the tenacity with which the Irish Church has clung to the faith of Peter has been only equalled by the enlightened docility with which it was first adopted. I have passed over the numberless miracles of the Saint, content to observe,with St. Augustine, on the propagation of Christianity, that such an astonishing submission to the yoke of the Gospel, unaccompanied by miracles, would have been more miraculous than the signs and wonders in which St. Patrick was so powerful. Content with the proofs of those miracles, and the piety of its first preachers, the Irish people readily embraced the Christian religion. Its martyrs were reserved for a remoter period ; and the cheerfulness with which those martyrs died for the faith showed how strong and indelible were its first proofs, which the interval of centuries could not weaken. Besides, they kept a steady eye on the source from which that faith was first imparted. There is no example of a national church, having sundered its connection with the chair of Peter, that can resist the storm by which the Church is continually assailed. Firm, therefore, in its indissoluble connection with Rome, the Irish Church resisted every innovation; and if it has risen triumphant over the tide which deluged the faith of other countries, it is because its anchorage was never torn from that rock on which the Church of Christ was erected.

After thus providing for the safety of that Church, which he planted with so much care, the Saint went to rest from his labours in the enjoyment of that reward which his virtues had merited. His obsequies were celebrated with peculiar veneration. From the remotest parts of Ireland the clergy assembled to pay the last rites to his remains. The people mourned for him twelve successive days ; and, in the simple tradition, that during that period there was a continual day without any interval of darkness, we may perceive how brilliant and continuous was the light of the funeral tapers which dispelled the gloom of the night during the melancholy solemnity.

However, the hopes of religion were far from being buried in his grave. The seeds which he had scattered fell on a grateful soil; and not many years elapsed from the death of St. Patrick when the Church of Ireland became one of the fairest and most flourishing portions of the extensive vineyard of Christ. Every province had its colleges and its cloisters, in which the youth of Ireland might spend their time in perpetual vigils round the sacred fire of the temple, or go forth to cast its light and heat into the midst of a corrupt world. Besides Clonard and other schools which arose in the centre of the kingdom, Armagh and Bangor in the north, Cashel and Lismore in the south, Clonfert and Mayo in the west, at once became seminaries of learning, which not only educated the natives of Ireland, but soon attracted by their fame the youth of the Continent who panted for science. Not only were these colleges gratuitously opened to strangers, they were likewise furnished with books and other necessaries for instruction; and, far from relying on legendary lore, or the high-wrought praises of national minstrelsy in this picture of the hospitality and learning of the Irish Church, I am only translating the sober testimony of Bede, who tells us, that such was the confluence of strangers into Ireland, that Mayo was denominated, from the number of its Saxon monks, Mayo of the Saxons. No; it is not to Ireland I shall turn, lest it should become abashed by repeating the echo of its own eulogy. I shall appeal to the people of the Continent, who have been too grateful for the benefits of the faith to conceal the source from which it was derived. To commence with the north.

No scholar is ignorant of the labours of Columba, the Apostle of the Picts, who, from his zeal to multiply the temples of God, has been known by the name of Columbkill, or Columba of the Churches; and though many of the monuments of his piety have been since defaced, his fame still sheds its grateful odour round the hallowed tombs of Iona. From this island, likewise, came forth some of the principal missionaries of Great Britain; and to the zeal of Aidanus  and the Irish Monks, the companions of his labours, was the kingdom of Northumberland indebted for the Christian religion. The memory of St. Livinus, who shed his blood for their conversion, is still revered by the devout gratitude of the Belgians. Colman, an Irish saint, is honoured as the Patron of Austria. The episcopal throne of Strasbourg was twice filled by Irish ecclesiastics; nor need I allude to Virgilius,  the Bishop of Salzburg, famed for his piety, but still more famed for his persecutions, because his mind had outstripped, in its pursuit of astronomical knowledge, the slow progress of the age. Luxeuil is still associated with the historic monuments of the Island of Saints. Amidst the recesses of the Alps, the memory of St. Gallus is inscribed on the grateful hearts of the Swiss peasantry; and while the confines of France and Germany were preoccupied by more of his countrymen, such was the zeal of St. Fridolinus that he sought fresh ground for his labours by building a monastery in one of the hitherto uninhabited islands of the Rhine. Even Italy herself, the mistress of the world in religion and in arts, as once in arms, did not disdain to participate in the blessings which the Irish Church poured forth with such profusion. The name of Frigidianus is enrolled in the catalogue of the bishops of Lucca. Florence felt the holy influence of the neighbourhood of Donatus; and when I recollect the position of his episcopal seat, I am only transcribing the Scriptural allusion in saying, that he shone like a burning light from the lofty eminence of Fiesole. Far, however, from imitating those systematic absentees, who are forever arraigning the crimes which they inflict, and calumniating the country which they plunder, Donatus never forgot his duties to his country, which distance had only endeared to him; and in lines which a fastidious critic would not find unworthy of a more classic period, the Arno was heard to resound with the just praise of the land of his nativity. Bobio preserves the fame of Columbanus  in the depths of the Apennines; and such was the veneration of the natives of the north of Italy for this illustrious saint, that they have associated his name with the topography of their soil. Naples, too, exhibits traces of the holy heroism of our Church; and without dwelling on the circumstance that an Irish ecclesiastic was one of the masters of the illustrious doctor who has filled the world with his fame, the name of Cataldus appears conspicuous among the Bishops of Tarentum. I have thus only glanced at some of the most conspicuous theatres of the labours and the learning of the Irish Saints, since, to dwell on them with more minuteness would require to transcribe a large portion of the ecclesiastical history of the Continent. In short, from the most southern point of Europe to the Wall of Adrian, and from the shores of the Atlantic to the banks of the Vistula there is not one solitary district over which the massive fragments of Irish genius and of Irish sanctity are not profusely scattered; and though a stone should not be left upon a stone in that ill-starred land to tell of the holy men by whom it was once trodden, still, through the luminous and faithful pages of a Bede, a Bernard, a Muratori, a Mabillon, a Tillemont, and a Fleury, the learned scholar may yet view, as in so many mirrors, a strong though imperfect image of the ancient splendours of the Irish Hierarchy.

But no; the Church of Ireland will not, I trust, be obliged to seek among foreign nations alone, the title deeds of its fame, nor be doomed to taste that bitter solace which springs from the consciousness that the source which supplies it is no more. It is deserving of a better destiny, and it is a pleasing reflection that amidst all its calamities its religion promises to be lasting and immortal. Yes, there is something providential in the relation which this insular Church, embosomed in the Western Ocean, has maintained with the nations of the Continent. When the Roman empire, which was destined for the easier propagation of the Gospel, had, on the fulfilment of its end, been consigned to destruction, and law and order threatened to retire from the world, scared by the savage conflicts of the tribes who fought for the fragments of the mighty ruin; when the holy men who survived the shock of one revolution were swept away by another, and the asylums of religion, which stood after one storm, were buried under a more disastrous hurricane; when, in short, amidst the strife of fierce and contending passions, the materials of God's temple were sometimes seen adrift upon the tide, and the few that attempted to arrest its fury were almost ready to sink in the common ruin, exhausted by their unremitting labours: then comes forth a body of men full of all the life and energy with which a youthful faith inspired them, having had just sufficient time to be trained to that discipline which, by detaching man from the cares of life, braces his spirit to that lofty tension of virtue which worldlings cannot understand; at such a critical and perilous juncture are the exertions of the Irish Church called forth to succour the labouring virtue of the Continent; and from the West the dove-like spirit of religion was felt to come across the deep, passing over the dark and troubled mass of a falling empire, and calming, as it passed, the mutinous elements of society. Think you that I speak those things in the spirit of national vaunting? What! shall the earthen or more polished vessels presume to interrogate the craftsman who fashioned them of different materials? No, I allude to those topics rather to teach us humility by showing how the exaltation or depression of Churches, like those of kingdoms, are only instruments in achieving the higher purposes of Providence. I instance them to show how the Churches, like the members of which they are composed, are all knitted together by the spirit of unity; and how, as the Apostle says, they ought to sympathise in each other's sufferings, or rejoice in each other's glory.

It was thus the Irish Church, in the days of its prosperity, extended its relief to its distressed brethren of the Continent, little, perhaps, imagining that in the revolution of human affairs it should stand in need of a reciprocal assistance. I do not allude to the ravages of the Danes. Though their fury was violent it was not artful or systematic, and, like the fiery eruptions of Vesuvius, its traces disappeared in the labour and industry of a few years. Not so with the hostility of heresy; it is more dangerous because more enduring; and when the attempts of violence and storm become frustrated, it has recourse to the slow and insidious process of the mine. Thus it was with the Irish Church. The fury of the Danes passed over it without tarnishing a faith that resembles in its freshness the verdure of the national symbol, the shamrock, that clothes its soil. It was destined to pass through a severer ordeal. Ireland gave the Continent aid against the destructive rage of pagan idolatry. It now sought its assistance against a foe which is always more deadly in its hostility to the Church, because it springs from its own bosom. Never was call more faithfully responded to; and the nations that might have felt the sense of former favours have since nobly cancelled the obligation. I shall not detail, for the detail would be harrowing, all the violence that was offered to the piety and tenderness of the human heart by a code of laws which have had no parallel in the annals of the most sanguinary legislation. Suffice it to say of the Church of Ireland, that "her sanctuary was desolate like a wilderness, her festival days were turned into mourning, her Sabbaths into reproach, her honours were brought to nothing," [I Mac. i. 41] " and the vessels of her glory were carried away captive." Then her priests, who returned from a far country fraught with that knowledge which was made penal in their own land, snatched the fire from the altars of the falling temples and hid it in a valley; and like the tabernacle which was rescued by the prophet from the ruins of Jerusalem, the ark of our religion has been preserved amidst the solitude of our mountains.

Do I allude to those scenes in order to stir up any angry recollections? God forbid! From the lips of a minister of the Saviour of the world no accents but those of charity should fall, and the Church should be always an asylum in which a truce should be given to the passions of mankind. I allude to them in the instructive spirit of the historian of Rome, in order that from the experience of the past, people should draw a lesson for the future, and that those who are still anxious for the pure perpetuity of the faith, should imitate the holy disinterestedness of their fathers. The whole secret of the fortitude of the Irish people lay in the deep-rooted sentiment so well expressed in the language of my text: "We are the children of saints, and look for that life which God shall give to those who never change their faith from Him." Yes, they looked forward to that life which their faith clearly revealed to them, and in the brightness of that vision every other object disappeared. No courtly arts, no crooked intrigues, no cunning schemes of a wily and tortuous diplomacy were suffered to insinuate themselves into their councils. Their purpose was single and straightforward—the preservation of their faith; and compared to this one object every other consideration was valueless. Hence no compromise with a hostile government in the nomination of their chief pastors. For they knew from the history of Alcimus, the unprincipled high priest of Judea, as well as from the present melancholy experience of other countries, that those whose sins should exclude them from the sanctuary would be the most unremitting and successful in their canvass for an appointment to the high places of God's temple. Hence no compromise in the education of their children by suffering them to drink out of those impure fountains formed by the experiments of a chemical theology combining the various ingredients of error in stated proportions. Hence, in fine, no compromise on the part of the priesthood in bartering the affections of their flocks for the gold of the Government, well knowing that the measure was fraught with the Macedonian policy of purchasing by bribes that unconquerable attachment to the country's faith which open warfare was not able to subdue. But like the virtuous Fabricius, they have hitherto rejected the bribe; and like him, they might conduct the diplomatists of corruption into their humble cots to show whether those who could be content with the most homely fare were likely to be seduced into the betrayal of their country's faith or freedom. It was this virtuous poverty and ascetic independence which, like the similar early virtues of Rome, achieved all the triumphs of the Irish Church; and if ever the lust of money succeeds such pious disinterestedness—a curse which may heaven avert— it is then, and only then, like the same Roman state, it shall be seen to verge to its decline. It was by keeping aloof from the contagious atmosphere of kings and courts that the faith of Ireland burned with so much brilliancy, and whoever looks on the contrast between two lamps, the one scarcely winking its dark and flickering flame in the midst of halls laden with the effects of intemperance, and the other streaming its bright and unbroken blaze in the pure air of heaven, will not be surprised at the incessant splendour that has played around the Catholic hierarchy of Ireland. If we wish to transmit to after ages the purity of the faith of our fathers, we must labour to imitate their virtues, and, in order to cultivate those virtues, to follow the same process under which they had thriven. Yes, by keeping aloof from those occasions that are often fatal to its influence, not only will the faith of Ireland be preserved, but likewise those virtues that invariably follow in its train, but principally that virtue of chastity which has exclusively grown out of Christianity, and which may be called the touchstone by the practice or neglect of which you may ascertain its progress or decline: a virtue which has always distinguished in a peculiar manner not only the priesthood of Ireland, but likewise inspired its laity with an instinctive horror for vices to which, alas! a profligate world labours to give currency by opening its fashionable saloons for their admission, but which, like its other noxious reptiles, found death in the atmosphere of Ireland, or were obliged to creep away, shunned and detested, from its soil. Knowing, however, that it is in vain that we plant or water unless God give the increase, we should fervently implore the Almighty that He pour his blessing upon our labours. Let us also implore the intercession of St. Patrick that he continue to watch over that nation to which he has been an Apostle, and to protect the faith which he planted. For, if the friends of Job were required to have recourse to him as a condition of their acceptance with Heaven while as yet he struggled with the temptations of life, it surely cannot be imagined that the friends of God have less influence with Him when their spirits are freed from every earthly dross; or that they have less charity when in contact with the source of charity itself. But recollecting that all the apostles were only the ministers of Him who came to throw down the wall of separation, and to gather into one fold the scattered children of mankind let us endeavour to promote the great object for which they all laboured, by endeavouring to inspire all with the same faith, and animate them with the same charity; that after having enjoyed the happiness of living as children of the same family on earth, we may be associated in the enjoyment of the plenitude of that happiness which we hope to possess in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Amen.

T. Mac Hale, ed., Sermons and Discourses by the late Most Rev. John Mac Hale, D.D., Archbishop of Tuam (Dublin, 1883), 148-169


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Thursday, 9 February 2017

Saint Columba's Hymn to Saint Brigid

We conclude the series of posts on Saint Brigid on the octave day of her feast with a hymn attributed to her fellow-patron, Saint Colum Cille. He enjoyed a reputation as a prolific writer, as the compiler of the 'authoritative sources' tells us:



Saint Columba was passionately fond of books and learning in all its branches. He himself, we are told, copied out many hundreds of verses and also wrote poems himself, one of the latter being the following hymn on Saint Brigid, for whom he entertained a great affection: -

"Bridget the good and the virgin,
Bridget our torch and our sun,
Bridget, radiant and unseen,
May she lead us to the eternal kingdom,
May Bridget defend us,
Against all the troops of hell,
And all the adversaries of life,
May she beat them down before us,
All the ill-movements of the flesh.
This pure virgin whom we love,
Worthy of honour without end,
May she extinguish in us.
Yes, she shall always be our safeguard,
Dear Saint of Lagenia;
After Patrick she comes the first,
The pillar of the land,
When old age comes upon us,
May she be to us as the shirt of hair;
May she fill us with grace,
May Bridget protect us."


Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 71-72.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2017. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Vision of Saint Brigid

A curious episode today from the Life of Saint Brigid, her childhood vision of the trouble ahead for the Irish church. By the 10th century hagiographers were keen to put our national patroness in the company of our national apostle and thus the two meet at various gatherings, with Saint Brigid and her nuns eventually preparing a burial shroud for the dying Saint Patrick. In this case she sees the pristine purity of the Patrician church under threat from outsiders, most commentators suggest that this is a reference to the Vikings but of course they are only the first of a number of invaders to threaten Ireland:



Saint Brigid was brought by some friends to hear Saint Patrick speak of heavenly things. While the Apostle was discoursing, Saint Brigid fell into a state of ecstasy. Saint Patrick commanded Saint Brigid to tell the assemblage what she had seen in her vision. "I saw" said the child, "a herd of white oxen among white crops; then I beheld spotted animals of different colours; and after these appeared black and darkly coloured cattle.  Afterwards, I saw sheep and swine and lastly dogs and wolves worrying each other."

The Apostle interpreted this vision for his hearers: "The Church he had founded would enjoy peace for a time. Her brow would be adorned with snow-white flowers typical of the purity of her children and her peaceful progress through the first three centuries of her existence. The flowers would be then changed to a crown of thorns which she would have to wear for many long and weary centuries to come."

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 46.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Saint Brigid and the Anchorite

Today we meet a holy anchorite who denies his disciples the chance to meet with Saint Brigid and to receive her blessing. His reluctance arises from his vow not to be in the company of women, but of course Saint Brigid is not just any woman....



A bond of holy friendship existed between Saint Brigid and Saint Erc of Slane, on the banks of the Boyne. It appears from her Acts that she paid him a visit and accompanied him on a tour to his native province of Munster. We are told an anecdote in connection with this visit. The Saint was resting by the sea, not far from Saint Erc's house. Close by this an Anchorite and a number of disciples were resting while on their journey to form a hermitage. The news had reached them that Saint Brigid and her nuns, of whom they had heard so much, had taken up their abode not many miles away and the disciples approached the Father and asked him to allow them to visit Saint Brigid to get her blessing. To which request the Anchorite replied: "My children, you know already my vow to visit no woman."

When they arrived at a hospice in which they were to pass the night, they discovered that the greater portion of their luggage had been left behind on the road. They at once attributed their loss to their neglect on not having sought the blessing of Saint Brigid when passing her cell. In atonement for their fault they spent the night in fasting and prayer. 

Saint Brigid called her nuns round her and bade them carry into the Convent the property which these holy men had left on the wayside, and there the monks with their leader, who had returned for their belongings found them. They humbly knelt for Saint Brigid's blessing and remained three days and as many nights near where she lived. At the earnest request of the Anchorite and his brethren, our Saint accompanied them for one day, on their return journey and imparted a special blessing to them on her leave-taking. 

Saint Patrick and the Saints of Ireland from authoritative sources (London, John Ouseley Ltd, 1908-1909), 55.

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