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"Isle of Columba's Cell, Where Christian piety's soul-cheering spark, (Kindled from Heaven between the light and dark Of time) shone like the morning star."


[Authorities:—"Life of S. Columba," by Adamnan, edited by Dr. Reeves, 1857; Montalembert, "Les Moines d'Occident," 1863; Book of Deer, edited by Dr. John Stuart; Cosmo Innes, "Scotland in the Middle Ages;" Thomas Innes, "Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland;" "Life of S. Columba," by Dr. John Smith, 1798; Lanigan, "Ecclesiastical History of Ireland;" Dr. G. Grub, "Ecclesiastical History of Scotland;" J. Hill Burton, "History of Scotland;" Bp. Forbes (of Brechin), "Kalendar of Scottish Saints ;" Butler, "Lives of the Saints;" Abp. Ussher, "Ecclesiastical Antiquities;" Duke of Argyll, "Iona,"&c]



FROM the beginning of the fifth century, the claim advanced by the Bishops of Rome to a spiritual Primacy, and to the supreme government of the Universal Church, seems to have been very generally acknowledged by the Christian world. The conception of this tremendous claim was due to the aspiring genius of Pope Innocent ;1 it was afterwards adopted and partially developed by Leo the Great; it became a reality during the pontificate of S. Gregory. The last named was a contemporary of the saint of Iona, the Apostle of Western Scotland, the great and holy Columbia; or, rather, the latter's sun rose above the horizon as that of S. Gregory began to sink below it; yet neither before the age of Columba, nor during his lifetime, was the power of Rome acknowledged either in Britain or Ireland. The allegiance which the Continental nations vowed to the chair of S. Peter was never conceded by the early British Church. Not less resolute in the assertion of her independence was the Church of Ireland, distinguished as she was by the number and devoutness of her holy men. Ireland was called, and not unjustly, Insula Sanctorum, the Isle of Saints f but it was not the Island of Rome, and its saints

1 Dean Milman, "Latin Christianity," ii. c. I.

5 "In the age following S. Patrick," says Camden, "Ireland was termed Sanctorum Patria, and the Scotch monks in Ireland and Britain were eminent for their holiness and learning, and sent many holy men into all parts of Europe."

refused to recognise the Roman authority. Nor, until the eleventh century, did Rome admit into the Kalendar of Saints the name of a single Irish bishop, priest, or monk.

In the sixth century Ireland was greatly in advance of her sister-isle in general culture and religious fervour. Her Church was "the burning and shining light of the Western World;" like the bright beacon of some rock-planted lighthouse, which flings its warning and helpful radiance over a wild waste of waters, it sent forth a pure and sacred glow to illuminate the dark places of heathendom. The English scholars were jealous of the superior fame of Ireland as the home of learning. She had her churches and almshouses, and she had also her colleges, schools and libraries. Baeda informs us that many of the nobles, and of the lower ranks of the English nation, repaired thither for purposes of study,1 or to lead a calm and spiritual life. She had also her monastic system, a system peculiar to herself, and a system which differed widely from that afterwards established by the Mediaeval Founders. Her monasteries were numerous, and wherever they were situated they became centres of civilisation and of the highest moral influence. While the Eastern monks or anchorites made a condition of passive meditation the secret of a devout life, and dispersed into the solitudes of the desert to satisfy their aspirations by stern self-discipline and rigid asceticism, the Irish monks adopted the doctrine afterwards formulated by S. Bernard in the well-known phrase, "Laborare est orare," and thought that they did nothing well unless it was done for the good of their fellowmen. They prayed frequently and fasted oft, but they did not deny themselves the sweet pleasures of a domestic life, and many families, all probably belonging to one particular tribe, were united in these remarkable communities. It may almost be said that they set the type and pattern of what may be called Christian Socialism. Their members shared all things in common; they worked, they prayed together; if threatened by an enemy, they rose with one consent against him. They acknowledged the rule of a superior, whose authority seems generally to have been hereditary, and with whom they may well have been connected by the ties of blood; so that each convert combined the features both of 1 Baeda, iii. 27.

a clannish and a monastic organisation. And though I see no reason to suppose that their members were counted by hundreds, and tens of hundreds, as some authorities assert, yet it is probable that each community was of considerable strength, and it is certain that in each were represented all classes of the population. There were priests among them, of course, and there were also writers and caligraphers, musicians, painters, and carvers; men who could wield the pen, and men who could handle the plough. Over all ruled one supreme personage, exercising a kind of theocratic rule, prince and priest, abbot and legislator, as powerful as much from the force of his character or his natural genius, as from the traditional sanctity of his position.

But, besides the Abbot, each monastic colony had its Bishop or Bishops,1 an ecclesiastical anomaly, which has sadly perplexed historians, and proved the subject of a fertile and ingenious controversy. Let me frankly confess that I see no grounds for believing that the Celtic Bishops exercised any territorial jurisdiction. They were Bishops without dioceses; missionary Bishops; whose chief object seems to have been to continue the succession, and ordain priests. Whether they were subject to the rule of the monasteries with which their names are connected, it seems impossible to determine; they may simply have held themselves aloof as representing the Universal Church. All that can be safely asserted is, the impossibility of denying, in the face of undisputed tradition and authentic testimony, the existence of the Episcopal order in the monastic communities of Ireland.

It might reasonably be supposed that the lively fancy of the Celt would not fail to divert itself with so congenial a subject as the Irish Saints. It took this glorious army, and arrayed it in martial order, dividing it into three great battalions: the first, led by the Patron Saint of Erin, was wholly composed of Bishops, Roman, British, Frankish, and Irish-Scottish, and shone with the radiance of the sun; the second, commanded by S. Columba, and consisting exclusively of priests, glowed like the moon; and the third, under the guidance of S. Colman and S. Aidan, numbering 1 Dr. Todd, "Life of S. Patrick," pp. 171, 172.

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