…raising his holy hand, making the sign of the cross in the air saying to the beast, “do not advance any further; do not seize the man but quickly depart”. Then indeed the beast, at the command of this holy man, speedily flees trembling.
The dramatic passage above is from the Vita Sancti Columbae, the life of Columba, telling of his encounter with a huge beast with large teeth near Loch Ness1 The 7th of December this year is the 1,500th anniversary of his birth, and this year sees a series of events, including an exhibition by the RIA Library on the Cathach (available here). However this post is not about Columba but the writer of the passage above, Adomnán, who created a law which has been described as the “first Geneva Convention”.
There could be no more appropriate Irish philosopher to write about at Easter than Sedulius Scottus, at least according to another Irish philosopher Dr George Sigerson. In 1922 Sigerson’s “The Easter song : being the first epic of Christendom, by Sedulius the first scholar-saint of Ireland” was published, and in the introduction to this partial translation of the “Paschale Carmen” Sigerson stated that Sedulius who composed it was Irish1 While this was not a pure assumption on Sigerson’s part2, and the same attribution has been made before and since, modern scholars see no reason to assume an Irish origin for this 5th century writer3.
There is no such doubt about Sedulius Scottus, whose very name betrays his origins. (Though because nothing is ever simple, he is sometimes confused with another, slightly earlier Irish Sedulius, who is known only for a commentary on Matthew, and is sometimes called Sedulius Senior to avoid confusion4 (fl. 7th–8th cent.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography].)
Patrick wrote two texts that we can still read today. The first is his Confessio, giving the story of his life and his mission in Ireland. The other, less well-known text is his Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, in which Patrick roundly condemns their murder and capture of baptised Irish. He repudiates them as countrymen and calls for others to do likewise, and tells them what they can expect as Christians: “Riches, says Scripture, which a person gathers unjustly, will be vomited out of that person’s stomach. The angel of death will drag such a one away, to be crushed by the anger of dragons.”1
In this episode of Distillations, the creator and host of Babes of Science, Poncie Rutsch, interviews Michelle DiMeo, an expert on Lady Ranelagh who is currently writing a book on Ranelagh’s life.
The page for the podcast (including a transcript) is here.
At some point today somewhere on Irish radio, “Hail Glorious St Patrick” will be played. A traditional staple for St Patrick’s day written by a woman, Sr Agnes, this hymn not only praises Patrick and asks for his help for the “poor children” of Ireland, but also praises Ireland itself. Written in the early 19th century, it closes with the assertion that “And our hearts shall yet burn, wherever we roam, For God and Saint Patrick, and our native home.”1
The interaction between nationalism, patriotism and love of country is a complex one. They are not synonymous.
Ireland is famous, of course, for the peregrinato who left Ireland for the continent in the Early Middle Ages and their scholarly successors. Some, however, went further afield. When the Franciscan missionary Odoric of Pordenone was to Asia (c. 1316–18), he was accompanied by James of Ireland for at least part of this journey. On Odoric’s return to Italy he dictated an account of the things he had seen, dying a few months later (January 14, 1331) on his way to papal court at Avignon1 On the 5th April after Odric’s death, a gift of two marks was given to James by the city of Udine, described by the public books of “companion of the blessed Brother Odoric, loved of God and Ordoric”2.
Odoric’s account was popular in the later Middle Ages, and Odoric was lauded by later writers, including Luke Wadding.
Simon Blackburn sardonically defines iconoclasm as “the odd pair of beliefs shared by enthusiasts including Cromwell and the Taliban, that while ‘false idols’ have no supernatural powers they are nevertheless so dangerous that they must be destroyed rather than ignored”1 Iconoclasm literally means image breaking and historically has been done for political reasons (as in the French Revolution) and for religious reasons2. In addition to the reformation, iconoclasm was a serious issue in the 7th and 8th centuries in the Byzantine Empire.
The end of the First Iconoclasm and the Frankish Response
At the last ecumenical council, the Synod of Nicaea in 787 which both representatives of the Orthodox and Western Christian Church attended, the issue was put to rest. Images not only could but should be displayed, for “the more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration”3 Byzantian iconoclasm, its forebears and its philosophical aspects are covered in this episode of the History of Philosophy podcast.
Continue reading ““We do not adore the painted images” – Dúngal against iconoclasm”
In his Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, c. 731 AD) Bede noted that the Irish (Scots) and Britons had differed from the rest of the Western Church regarding Easter: “they did not keep Easter Sunday at the proper time, but from the fourteenth to the twentieth moon; which computation is contained in a revolution of eighty-four years” 1
This might suggest the Irish were at fault. Yet, for the past centuries and into the Carolingian Renaissance Irish scholars were at the forefront of “computus”, the development of the ecclesiastical calendar, most particularly the date of Easter. To do this correctly required observation of the moon, and facility at mathematics. “What Irish scholars of the seventh century achieved, therefore, was a comprehensive understanding of Easter reckoning, which was to become the unanimously accepted system for the calculation of Easter, from the ninth century onwards, for the rest of the Middle Ages and in the Orthodox Church to the present day”2.
Continue reading “Calculating Easter: Irish Computus to the Carolingian Renaissance”
In 2017 the Russian Orthodox Church added Patrick to their calendar of saints1 A saint from before the Great Schism and the Reformation, Patrick is venerated by the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Indeed, many have attempted to claim Patrick as particularly their own.
Patrick has also been invoked in bringing different groups together. While Ireland had a recognisable identity from early times, but like ancient Greece or contemporary Germany, that did not suggest a unitary state. The warring of petty states led to a influx of Normans. Henry II’s assertion of his dominance over those Norman lords led to a separation of the inhabitants into “mere Irish” and “Old English.”
The line between “the king’s English subjects” and “the king’s Irish subjects” was, counter-intuitively, a matter of choice. Those adhering to the native customs outlawed by the Statutes of Kilkenny were declaring themselves outlaws, those adopting an English lifestyle were English regardless of background. For “Old English” Norman families outside the Pale, who intermarried and interacted with Irish Gaelic families, a certain amount of fancy footwork must have been required to balance Irish customs with English laws. The borders of the Pale saw constant aggression that Richard Fitzralph’s admonishing sermons gives witness to2.
Continue reading “Who will separate us? Patrick and division in 17th and 18th century Ireland.”
Luther sent his ninety-five theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg, on 31 October 1517. He may also have fixed them to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on that day, but there is no contemporary evidence of it. The first reference to the supposed nailing of the theses is in 1558 (twelve years after Luther’s death) from Philip Melanchthon, an ally of Luther who was not in Wittenberg in 1517. If the theses was fixed to the church door, a practice at the time, one would have expected in line with that practice that they would have been fixed by wax1
Very early in the history of Protestantism, history became important. Confronted with the question of “where was your church before Luther” a succession of scholars set out to establish that their church was not new, starting with Magdeburg Centuries (1559-1574) 2 Luther was not the first to call for reform in the Church, and forebears could be traced: Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. And before Wycliffe, at least according to John Foxe (born in 1517), an Irishman: Richard FitzRalph.
Continue reading “Perspectives on Ireland and the Reformation”