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07 Apr

Richard FitzRalph: Law and Dominion

Born in Dundalk around 1300 to an Anglo-Norman family, Richard FitzRalph was educated in Oxford and became chancellor of the University in 1332. His tenure was turbulent and lasted only two years, directly leading to his first visit to Avignon. His contribution to debates there on the beatific vision made him a prominent figure in the papal court. A successful ecclesiastical career both in England and in Ireland followed.

He became archbishop of Armagh in 1347. He was known for great preaching ability and care of his flock. His sermons that survive show keen awareness of social tensions and economic problems. His major focus was on two issues: the war (overt and covert) between the English and Irish elements, and the general prevalence of theft and dishonesty. He denounced the tendency to view theft against “the other side” as a minor issue and defended the cause of the weak (Walsh, p. 258):

[FitzRalph] singled out two faults for special denunciation, and it would appear that he had identified them in the course of a year’s close scrutiny of his flock and its mores — firstly, the civil war ‘inter Anglicos et Hibernicos’ and secondly, general theft and dishonesty. In the former case he pointed out to his hearers, most of whom we can presume were ‘Anglici’, that both rival communities in Ireland were under the impression that it was lawful not merely to rob and plunder those of the opposing community, but also to kill them, and he issued a stem warning that to kill was always gravely sinful except in self-defence. Only an officer of the law, acting in accordance with the prescriptions of that law, had such power.

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03 Apr

Giraldus Cambrensis and the necessity of martyrs

horsemeat
An early horse meat scandal in Ireland (via “Topography”)

A look at the history of Irish philosophy shows that a rather high proportion of our well known philosophers worked abroad. But we do know that bishops capable of debate were around before John Toland aggravated Bishops Edward Synge and William King.

Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) came to Ireland to visit his Barry relatives in 1186-7. He wrote a description of the country in his Topography of Ireland. As in his works about Wales, Gerald is less than complimentary about the nonNormans he encounters. In his Topography (pp 79-81) he argues that the Irish people have many failings, and attributes this to the failure of prelates to preach to them. To support that preaching was lacking he cites the unparalleled lack of martyrs in the story of Ireland’s conversion to Christianity. If there had been a “voice like a trumpet” preaching to this uncivilised nation, says Gerald, there should have been martyrs.

He once (he tells us) put this argument to Maurice, archbishop of Cashel, (probably Muirges Ua hÉnna) “a discreet and learned man” who retorted:
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02 Apr

(E-Book) Journeys of Janus: Explorations in Irish Philosophy

Journeys of Janus:Explorations in Irish Philosophy

A book by Leonard O’Brian exploring the work of five Irish philosophers.

Contents

  • Prologue
  • John Scottus Eriugena
  • John Toland
  • George Berkeley
  • Francis Hutcheson
  • Iris Murdoch
  • Epilogue
17 Mar

Patrick, Augustine and a blackbird

When philosophy and the name Augustine are mentioned, one immediately thinks of the North African bishop, reluctant convert and writer of classic works like the Confessions and The City of God.

At about the same time a man who shared Augustine’s fathers’ name was on a mission to Christianise Ireland. While not in the same literary or philosophical league Patrick’s Confessions mark the start of a long Christian tradition and his Letter is a very early statement of a belief that slavery (of Christians at least) is wrong.

The collapse of the Roman Empire (Augustine died in a city under siege) left turmoil. The works of the ancients were preserved in the East, in the Arab world, and in Ireland.

The monks not only preserved works but also created their own commentaries and treatises. In the 7th century an Irish monk later known as Augustinus Hibernicus (the Irish Augustine) produced a Latin treatise De mirabilibus sacrae scripturae (in English: On the miraculous things in sacred scripture). This treatise was widely circulated (76 copies at least extant) though possibly because they thought it was by the better know Augustine.

The treatise is called a “rationalisation” of the Bible, but this is slightly misleading. To put it in modern terms Augustinus Hibernicus argues that God does not break the rules of nature he has created to perform a miracle. Instead miracles are performed using the natural possibilities within the object. This applied to both Old Testament and New Testament miracles. Both the water turned to blood in Egypt and the water turned to wine in Cana are to Augustinus Hibernicus the performing of a natural process, only greatly accelerated. Water becoming wine (in a vine) or blood (in an animal) is part of nature.
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