Ireland and Civilization – Catholic World Report

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Thomas Cahill’s 1995 bestseller tells the remarkable story of how the Irish Church preserved the light of faith and learning in the midst of Europe’s Dark Age

Fr Seán Connolly

Only Ireland on the outer fringe of western Europe was left unconquered by the mighty Roman Empire. The weather was too rough (the Romans referred to the island as “Hibernia, Land of Winter”) and its Celtic warriors too fierce, to make a military expedition there worth it. Today’s saint was braver than the Roman generals, however. St. Patrick was able to conquer the remote island nation for Christ during his missionary labors there from 432 to 461.

When Patrick was laying the foundations of the Irish Church no one could have foreseen the vital role it would play shortly after his death in preserving the light of faith and learning in the midst of Europe’s Dark Age. A worthy St. Patrick’s Day resolution would be to read Thomas Cahill’s 1995 bestselling book which tells this little known but remarkable story: How the Irish Saved Western Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.

Cahill’s book details what can be considered Ireland’s “Golden Age” which lasted from the sixth, until the Viking invasions of the ninth century. During this time, 500 recognized saints came from the Emerald Isle and its many monasteries produced a flourishing of art and learning that missionaries would bring to a suffering European continent in the wake Rome’s collapse. How the Irish Church came to the rescue of civilization is Patrick’s greatest legacy.

The church founded by Patrick had three distinct characteristics: it was Celtic, monastic, and missionary.

Patrick showed great respect for the native spirituality and traditions of the Irish which were easily incorporated into Christian practice. The native Celtic culture was transformed by the Gospel from within without being eradicated. Cahill writes, “In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life…Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination—making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”


Ireland and Civilization – Catholic World Report

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