The Irish Monastery Movement

by Paul Gallagher

The full report. Excerpts printed in the New Federalist Newspaper, March, 1995

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Links to ancient and medieval sources referenced in article.

From the Sixth through the Tenth Centuries, the monastery movement which flowered and grew to great size in Ireland and spread to Scotland, England, Gaul and N. Italy, had a profound effect on the emergence of the Carolingian Holy Roman Empire, and may even be said to have created the Carolingian and Ottonian monarchies. From this movement also came the majority of the early foundations of the Benedictine order, which as of 750 AD was the sole and universal monastic order of the Roman Catholic Church. This monastic movement was nothing like the later, usurious Benedictine Order; it was the basis upon which Pope St. Gregory and his successors were able to break the Church free at last from the Byzantine successors of the old Roman emperors and nobility. Christianity could not actually teach that each man and woman was in the living image of God, until this Roman-Byzantine grip was broken, which appears to have been made possible by this "Irish" Augustinian monastery movement.

Because of the reversal, under the impact of this monastic movement, of 250 years of European depopulation as of 600 AD, and the initiation of 700 years' continuous population growth which quadrupled the population of Gaul and tripled that of Europe, it appears as a precursor of the Golden Renaissance--particularly, because of its unique and widespread teaching role, as a precursor of the Brothers of the Common Life.

This monastic movement could best be called Columban, for Sts. Columba(531-597) and Columban(530?-615), the two great successors of St. Patrick who carried the movement respectively to Scotland and England and to Gaul and Italy. It can also be called Irish in the sense that the Irish monasteries continuously produced large numbers of missionizing teachers and scholars in Europe, and remained the center of classical scholarship until the Viking invasions from 875 onward. However the movement founded nearly 150 monasteries outside Ireland from 575 to 725, so clearly the majority of its recruits and teachers did not continue to be Irish emigrants.

The importance of this movement can quickly be illustrated by several events of the 9th Century bearing on the later Cathedral-building movement and the Renaissance. In 801 in Constantinople, in the period between the so-called "Syrian" and "Macedonian" Byzantine dynasties, there was a standoff of contenders in which Charlemagne himself was able to nominate a Byzantine emperor. Michael "The Stammerer" sent to Aachen from Constantinople, the first copies of the works (in Greek) of Platonic philosophy of Dionysius the Aeropagite, those works which later inspired Nicholas of Cusa. Charlemagne's successor Louis the Pious asked the Irish teachers who organized Carolingian educational reforms, to produce a Latin translation for circulation throughout his domains. The Irish monastic scholars had, since the 6th Century, been uniquely known throughout Europe for their knowledge of Greek, and often Hebrew. Hilduin in 817 produced the first translations--he was Abbot of St. Denis, the Royal monastery and crypt of French kings. To the "golden lie" about Dionysius the Aeropagite's authorship of these works which had been created about 500, Hilduin added another--that Dionysius was really St. Denis, France's patron saint--which ensured the wide circulation of these works throughout Church and monastic circles.

Around 850 in Rheims, another center of continuing Irish intellectual influence in France, the Irish Augustinian theologian John Scot Eriugena produced a second set of translations of Dionysius/"Denis" in better Latin. Nicholas of Cusa again organized the translation of these works in Latin after the Council of Florence; he at times uses the name Dionysius, at other times Denis. Eriugena's own works are profoundly similar to those of Cusa; his Periphyseon on the Division of Nature is a dialogue of Master and Disciple on the works of Dionysius, which foreshadows On the Not-other:

"Thus God is said to be essence, but properly speaking, he to whom nothing is opposed is not essence; he is hypeousia, superessential. Similarly he is called goodness, but he is not properly goodness, for evil is opposed to goodness; he is rather hyperagathos, more than goodness... .Hence God is not properly truth, but hyperalethes, more than truth. The same must be observed in all the divine names... .For the statement that it is truth, does not affirm that the divine substance is truth in the proper sense of the term, but that it can be called by this name by way of metaphor. ..."
And on Augustine's doctrine later taken by Thomas Aquinas and Nicholas of Cusa, Eriugena wrote:
"Authority indeed proceeds from true reason, reason never proceeds from authority. For all authority which true reason does not endorse is seen to be weak.... For true authority is not opposed to right reason nor right reason to authority. Indeed there can be no doubt that both spring from a common source, namely, divine wisdom."

John Scot Eriugena, through his own works and his widely circulated translations of Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor, was the primary conveyor of Platonic theology to the Medieval Church, and the precursor of the work of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed Aquinas' philosophy master at the University of Naples was the Irish scholar Petrus Hibernius, master for Frederick II Hohenstauffen. He taught in the same tradition established in Italy since the foundation in 615 by St. Columban, of what became the great monastery-school and library of Bobbio near Milan. In the 10th Century the Platonist Gerber was Abbot and librarian at Bobbio for 20 years before crossing the Alps to become Archbishop of Metz and education master for the Ottonian kings; Gerber was finally Pope Sylvester II from 999-1003.

The Ninth Century brought the mini-Renaissance of this movement, producing in addition to Eriugena: the Carolingian masters Alcuin and Clement (the latter Irish, the former Northumbrian and educated at Clonmacnois in Ireland, then head of the large monastic library at York); the astronomer Dungal, who founded the University of Pavia with branches in other Italian cities; the geographer Dicuil; Firghil or Virgilius, Archbishop of Salzburg, who taught the sphericity of the earth and the antipodes; the philologist Sedulius; St. Donatus and others. Most of these Irish and Northumbrians flourished in Carolingian France or Germany or Lombardy, where Irish or Northumbrian bishops, abbots and monastic teachers continued to be appointed for centuries. At the end of the preceding century the English king Alfred had been educated at Irish monastic schools, like large numbers of English nobility. Sylvia Brewda had read about this king and informs that he organized the translation of Boethius' works, which are so similar to those of Dionysius, and evidently produced at the same time (around 500) that Boethius may well have been involved in the "Platonic hoax" which created the works of Dionysius. (I find the name of this English king as Aldfrid; it is possible that I am confusing two members of the same family of kings, but the point is the same).

The works of Dionysius the Aeropagite, in Eriugena's translations, widely penetrated the monasteries of Europe, which remained its centers of learning. In the early 12th Century they were being studied intensively in the French monasteries from which the Cathedral-building movement came, such as St. Denis, Chartres, and St. Victor. The Abbot Suger of St. Denis in the early 12th Century had his monks write commentaries upon them, and had John of Sarracin translate them into French. Abbot Suger wrote ("On the Abbey Church of St. Denis") that he based the reconstruction of St. Denis around 1140 (considered the contruction of the first Gothic cathedral structure) upon the Celestial Hierarchy of Dionysius. Suger thus explained the symbolism of light in his basilica, and inscribed on one set of doors his own poem on Dionysius' theology of metaphor:

Whoever thou art,
If thou seekest to extol the glory of these doors,
Marvel not at the gold and the expense,
But at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work;
But being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds
So that they may travel through the true lights
To the True Light where Christ is the true door.
In what manner may be inherent in this world
The golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, seeing this light,
Is resurrected from its former submersion

John Scot Eriugena was a monk at St. Denis before going to the Carolingian court and to Rheims; at the end of his life Eriugena retired to the monastery of Laon, another center of continuing Irish influence in France and the location of a celebrated library.

Of course, at exactly the period of study of Dionysius' works and Eriugena's in the monasteries of the Cathedral-building movement, the Crusades were being conducted--in the name of the Papacy--by the very unholy alliance of Venice, the Norman/Angevin "Crusader Kings" and later the Mongol Khans attacking Islam from the East and North. Their ideological driving force was Bernard of Clairvaux and his Cistercian monastery movement; Bernard preached the Crusades and bragged that he could command the action of Popes and the deaths of the flower of European youth.

The two currents can be precisely separated and opposed. It is a humorous and revealing note that a French cleric, Edmond Boissard, conducted an entire study ("Saint Bernard et le Pseudo-Areopagite,") in which he showed that Bernard was completely uninfluenced in any way, on any matter, by Dionysius' works--essentially Father Boissard discovered a pure Aristotelian bacteria immune to Platonic anti-biotics, named Bernard of Clairvaux! Bernard wrote the apology for the existence of orders of military adventurers claiming to be monks--the Templars and Hospitalers--which were otherwise a scandal, since the entire previous practice of monasticism was to prevent warfare and military depredations against populations. He attacked Cathedral-building directly as ecclesiastical luxury. And the Cistercians deployed Malachy into Ireland in 1125 to "reform" the Irish monasteries with the backing of the Norman Conquerers of England and their Irish marcher-lord MacCarthaig, King of Munster. This forced "reform" had among its objectives the separation of the Irish monasteries (greatly damaged and set back by the Viking invasions of the previous two centuries) from both teaching and farming monastic land, previously their most characteristic activities since St. Patrick. Malachy eventually retired to Clairvaux, and Bernard wrote his biography in 1148, on the basis of which Malachy was canonized only 45 years later. By then the Norman "Crusader King" Henry II had murdered Thomas a Becket and conducted a military crusade into Ireland in 1172.

Again, during the Renaissance the works of Dionysius "the Aeropagite" were of central importance. Of Cusa's inspiration by them, nothing need be said here. In Erasmus' and More's networks, both John Colet and William Grocyn gave extensive lectures around 1490 in English universities on the works of Dionysius, and started their translation to English. Grocyn, provoked or at least supported by Erasmus, first declared in his teaching that the Dionysian works could not have been written in Apostolic times, and he guessed that Boethius was their real author. In France during Louis Xl's reign, the church reformer Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples organized the study of Dionysius' works in the Church and universities; he wrote Theologica Vivificans on the thought of Plato and the Apostolic fathers.

Origins Of This Movement

The origins of the Irish monastery movement contribute to understanding Lyndon LaRouche's statement, that the idea that each human being is imago Dei and capax Dei, established by Christ and the Apostolic fathers of Christianity, nonetheless did not become integral to the organization of society for many centuries, until the creation of nation-states by the Renaissance. The simple fact is that 500 years after the birth of Christ--as a result of the Roman/Byzantine cultural policies associated with the "Donation of Constantine" hoax--the great majority of the leadership of the Catholic Church professed various heresies which had in common the denial of the true divinity of Christ, and therefore of the sacredness of each human life. As John Cardinal Newman put it in 1868 in Development of Christian Doctrine:
"In the year 493 in the Pontificate of Gelasius, the whole of the East was in the hands of traitors to Chalcedon (ie., Monophysite or Nestorian heresies), and the whole of the West under the tyranny of the open enemies of Nicaea (ie, Arians, and in Britain and some other locations, Pelagians)."
The reasons for this religious and cultural disaster, associated in time with the ongoing depopulation of the regions ruled or formerly ruled by Rome, are epitomized by the fact that most bishops and other higher clerics were appointed either by the Byzantine Emperor or his Exarchs in Rome, Ravenna, etc; and that all of the first 7 doctrinal Councils of the Church had been convened in Constantinople or its immediate suburbs (Nicaea, Chalcydon, Ephesus). All of the Persian and Syrian Churches were Nestorian or Manichean; the Armenian Monophysite, the Greek infected by Monophysitism or Arianism; those of Gaul and Northern Italy Arian; those of Britain and Visigothic Spain Pelagian or Arian. In most of Europe, where the Christian faith had spread under Roman rule it had reached only the military, administrative, professional classes and of course the nobility of the Roman cities. In the 5th century as Roman rule finally disintegrated these regions became again pagan, as their rural areas had remained all along. And in the 350-600 depopulation of Europe, many of the Roman administrative cities and towns completely disappeared and literally were overgrown with forest wilderness. For example, despite the famous conversion of Clovis the Frankish conqueror of Gaul in 476, by 540 both the Franks and the conquered Gauls had overwhelmingly reverted to paganism, definitely including the Merovingian Frankish kings and their nobility.

St. Ambrose and St. Augustine

In this overall darkness, dominated by the Arianism of the old Roman and Greek nobility who were most of the clerical hierarchy and the "classical scholars," we see why the trinitarian Christianity of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose shone like such a beacon. St. Ambrose became bishop of Milan by popular election as a young man in 350, and was still so when he converted St. Augustine, who had come there from Egypt, in 386.

At that time Ambrose was in battle against the moves to take over the churches in the Milan region by Arrian clerical appointees of the Byzantine Exarch in Italy. Instrumental to his battle for the faith of the Apostolic fathers, Ambrose had organized the first monasteries in the West, inspired by St. Anthony, as Augustine was converted by the inspiration of St. Anthony's example. Many sources report that Ambrose organized a kind of militant Christian civil rights movement, based on cadre of monks and nuns leading church congregations in "sit-ins" in the churches in the Milan region which the Exarch had ordered turned over to his appointees. To inspire this movement Ambrose composed the first Latin Christian hymns, or Ambrosian chants.

Ambrosian Chants

Ambrose's poems were a musical advance. "Classical" Latin poetry was recited rather than sung, unrhymed, rhythmically somewhat irregular. Ambrose developed a four-verse stanza which was in regular trimeter with the last foot or "measure" consisting of three syllables of equal quantity; the last lines always rhyming through the song; the inner verses of a stanza sometimes rhyming. These hymns are the subject matter of Augustine's study in De Musica.

Ambrose's stanzas were imitated by the best Christian hymnists for centuries, including Martin of Tours' teachers and collaborators, St. Hilary of Poitiers and Prudentius. Then in the 6th and 7th Centuries the Irish monastic leaders made a further musical advance in poetry, best known from examples of the poetry of St. Columba (see below).

The battle for Christianity based on the love of all mankind and the faith in the Spirit of grace that proceeded from the Father and the Son to every human being, was waged from Milan by Ambrose and Augustine against the dominant Arianism (Christ was a blessed and noble human being) and the English variant Pelagianism (Christ's life was merely an exemplar of "good works," a kind of utopian socialism). Aside from their collaborators in Egypt, their "beachhead" into the disaster north of the Alps became Tours in southern France.

St. Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours was a soldier and then a monk of St Ambrose at Milan, driven from there by the Arians after Ambrose's death in 399. In Gaul, Martin's patron was St. Hilary of Poitiers, who had been driven from his see by Arians. Like Ambrose, Martin was a widely beloved Christian who was elected Bishop of Tours in a kind of popular protest. Martin, Hilary and their collaborators organized monasteries around Tours, from which for the first time they preached to peasants and converted them. At the same time, they alone provided "heavy artillery" supporting St. Augustine against the Pelagian heresy. Honoratus organized Lerins monastery in 410; Cassian organized monasteries at Marseilles; Germanus organized Auxerre monastery. These were all supporters of St. Augustine, and then of Pope St. Leo the Great and Maximus the Confessor.

In 429 Germanus went to England on a mission against the Pelagians who were still completely dominant there; he took with him his student, St. Patrick. This was the only time or connection in which St. Patrick had anything to do with the English church.

St. Patrick

St Patrick was probably St. Martin of Tours nephew. As soon as he escaped from his slavery in pagan Ireland, to which he was kidnapped as a young teenage, he went directly to Bordeaux and travelled by foot to Tours. One of the monasteries there at which he studied was Marmoutier, which remained a center of learning to which Irish monks went to study in the 5th and 6th Century, including Patrick's most important student Finian.

In Ireland, Patrick took the attitude to the Irish pagan culture that Leibniz wished to take to the natural philosophy of the Chinese. He wrote in his Confession:

"The Lord has raised me up, fool that I am, from amongst those who appeared to be wise, and learned in the law, and powerful in word. long as I should faithfully serve this nation to which the charity of Christ has transferred me..."
The Annals of Ireland are in Latin, the product of St. Patrick's church; the Historic Tales are in Gaelic, and preexist the church, though the monks committed them to writing. Prof. John O'Curry's study in 1867 found them to be almost completely consistent with each other in what they report.

The Annals report that:

"In the Age of Christ 438. The tenth year of Laeghaire. The Sencus and Fienchus (Laws and History) of Ireland were purified and written, the old books of Ireland having been collected and brought to one place (Tara, in County Meath, the royal district within Leinster) at the request of St. Patrick."
This was an agreement between Leaghaire, the pagan "high king" of Ireland, Dubhthach, the chief bard and historian, whom Patrick had converted, and Patrick himself.
"When they came to the Council the Gospel of Christ was preached to them all... It was then that all the professors of the sciences in Erin were assembled, and each of them exhibited his art before Patrick, and in the presence of every chief in Erin. It was then that Dubhthach was advised to exhibit the judgements, and all the poetry of Erin, and every law which prevailed amongst the men of Erin, through the law of nature... .Now the judgements of true nature, which the Holy Ghost had spoken through the mouths of the Brehons (traditional judges--PG), and the just poets of the men of Erin...were all exhibited. What did not clash with the Word of God in the law, and in the New Testament, and in the consciences of the believers, was confirmed in the law of the Brehons by Patrick, and by the chieftains of Erin; for the law had been quite right, except the faith, and the harmony of the Church and the people. And this is the Senchus." (Law).
This led to the Cain Patrick late in the 5th Century.

The idea that Patrick was sent from England to Ireland originated with the 12th Century biography by Jocelyn. That worthy admitted that he, himself, had came to Ireland in the train of the Norman invader Henry II, and that he was asked to stay there and write a new biography of St. Patrick, by Henry II's agent, John de Courcy (whose name rings a bell). Henry specialized in literary hoaxes as well as murder: he invaded Ireland with a "Bull Laudabilitur" of Pope Adrian IV, "donating" Ireland to England, which was later proven a forgery; and he commissioned fraudulent histories of the English church by one Walter Map in 1170, claiming to show that the Phoenicians founded England and that Joseph of Arimathea came from Jerusalem to England with the sword of Solomon and the Holy Grail of Christ's blood, founding a race of English kings, etc. Jocelyn's biography of Patrick can be considered with Bernard of Clairvaux's "reform" of Ireland. In the wake of Henry's invasion 33 of Bernard's Cistercian monasteries were established in Ireland, and Norman invaders tried to appoint all clergy.

Without exploring all the stories of St. Patrick's life, or the question of whether or not he lived 120 years (372-492?); it is very clear from comparing the works of contemporary biographers, hagiographers and secular researchers, that as a mature missionary he was from, and of, the Augustinian network of St. Martin of Tours, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine himself. He was sent from Tours to Ireland, He received the backing of Pope Leo I, who sent three more missionaries to join Patrick in 441, the first year of his Papacy. He had had years of study in monasteries of Tours, Lerins, Auxerre and Milan; he had built his own small sanctuary at what is now St. Patrice on the Loire. He may have met or known St. Ambrose in the 39Os; he may have been consecrated bishop of Ireland by Maximus the Confessor at Eboria near Milan; but that he represented these Augustinian teachers, and that the primary emphasis of his own teaching in Ireland was the doctrine of the Trinity as taught by St. Augustine and by Pope St. Leo, are the clearest facts of St. Patrick's life. St. Martin of Tours remained a figure of continuous veneration by St. Columba, St. Columban, St. Gall and all the other Irish monastery founders for centuries, and Tours has been venerated in Ireland ever since. Augustine's works on faith and grace, and Leo I's epistles "On the Trinity and Incarnation", were memorized by Irish monks starting with Patrick, and became the touchstones and the triune shamrocks of Irish Christianity. St. Patrick's most famous prayer, the poem known as "St. Patrick's Breastplate," is a hymn on the Trinity:

"I bind to myself this day
The strong virtue of
The invocation of the Trinity,
The Faith of the Trinity in Unity,
The Creator of the elements.
I bind to myself this day
The power of the Incarnation..."
This is both the beginning and the ending of the hymn.

The Augustinian current, from its beachheads in North Italy, Egypt and Southern Gaul, burst out in Ireland. The Irish before Patrick's mission (beginning 432), though with an ancient language-culture which had produced epics of sung poetry, were famous or notorious for raiding and enslaving other Europeans; militarily formidable and completely pagan, virtual Vikings of the 4th-5th Centuries. Neither Roman conquest nor Christianity had ever touched the island. One-hundred years later the Irish population (perhaps 250-300,000, perhaps more) was almost completely converted to Christianity taught by Augustinian teachers--this made the Irish completely unique in Europe in the early 6th Century. The monasteries which had accomplished this extraordinary transformation were also centers of classical learning for Europe as a whole. In significant part this was because as life in Gaul deteriorated drastically after the collapse of Roman authority, the monastic networks around Tours, who had been known for their study and their "scriptoria" for the reproduction of classical and scriptural manuscripts, migrated to Ireland to teach in the monasteries there. From them came the knowledge of classical Greek for which Irish scholars were uniquely famous for the next 400 years. So also did scholars from Wales, particularly from the monastery and library called "Candida Casa," go to Ireland as the pagan Anglo-Saxons and Picts took over in Britain in the 5th Century. In Southern France, meanwhile, Gregory of Tours wrote in 525:

"Culture and education are dying out, perishing throughout the cities of Gaul.. .You often hear people complaining 'Alas for our times; literacy is dying among us, and no man can be found who is capable of setting down the deeds of the present on paper.'"

The Monasteries in Ireland

From 600 the Irish monasteries and their schools "multiplied exceedingly", and the three largest monastery/schools in Ireland--Clonard, founded by St. Patrick's collaborator St. Finian; Bangor, founded by Comgall, and Clonfert, founded by the famous Navigator St. Brendan--numbered 3000, 4000, and 3000 monks. These were "the largest monastic foundations ever established in Christendom," according to Montalembert's huge history of monasticism. There were at least 40 other foundations significant enough to have long histories; one, Clonmacnois, seems to have had 7-800 monks. If the average of the monasteries numbered only 200 monks or nuns, there were nearly 20,000 in the monasteries. The ratio of lay brothers and sisters--from families having their children educated at the monastery schools, craftsmen working for the monasteries, etc.--to monks and nuns was at least one to one; in Gaul in the next century it was apparently often three to one, including the pupils of the school. Thus a monastery population which may have reached 40,000 out of a population total estimated to have been 250,000 (though some 19th Century Irish Franciscan scholars claimed it was much higher). This gives an idea of an extraordinary "education density" in that society, and also an idea how such large numbers of Irish monks missionized Scotland and Northumbria (beginning with Columba in 565) and then the huge territory of Gaul (beginning with Columban sometime between 575 and 590). "All saints whose origins could not be traced, were supposed to have come from Ireland," says Montalembert.

The Irish monastery schools took children either at S or at 7, and taught them a regular curriculum until they were 17 (20, if they were to be ordained). The Irish Church had completely absorbed the clans, so that some children (but not all) of every family were thus educated. The Cain Patrick (Law Code of Patrick) said that "the eldest son shall render the service of a free monk to the Church, and the Church shall teach him learning." By 600 the same was usually true of the first daughter. These schools had no textbooks; they were provided with manuscripts of the Gospels, Psalms, classical Latin poets, Euclid and sometimes Homer, by the extraordinary production of the monastery scriptoria. The students could attain to seven "degrees" of which to gain the first, they had to recite all 150 Psalms--St. Columban could do this by age 10. He was working toward the highest degree, Sai Litre or Doctor of Literature, when he left his home and became a monk himself. They were taught (for example at Moville, where Columba was educated as a boy; this may be the best level, since he was of royalty) divinity, classical poetry, philosophy, Latin, Greek, science and general literature.

Note again, that the "Cistercian reform" of the 12th Century in Europe as a whole involved a rule barring children from study in monasteries, and that the size and influence of monastic schools declined dramatically in that "reform."

The monks were also provided with "Patrick's ABC's" with which they taught reading and writing in Irish vernacular, consequently the first literate vernacular in Europe (with an epic poetic and history tradition going back to early in the Iron Age). These poems and stories were being written and learned in the vernacular, along with the codes of laws established by the monastic leaders and imposed upon the kings, between 550-575. From 550 onward Irish manuscripts were written regularly on parchment in the monasteries, and used for teaching. About 590 the monk Adamnan's Amra Columcille (Life of Columba, a poem) was circulating in Irish. The first English and Welsh vernacular writing appeared shortly after 600, and regional vernacular written languages of Gaul and Northern Italy during the course of the 7th Century. More below on the role of the Irish monks in the development of these vernaculars.

According to the British historian Jon Morris, in all the monastic schools of the Martin of Tours tradition, the students were sons and daughters of laymen; their parents expected many of them to return to secular life after a long education. In the Irish schools, spoken and written Latin, written vernacular, and often Greek all began in the first year, and all students were bi-lingually literate. Because of this the ecclesiastical Latin learned in the Irish schools was of a high quality, because it was not being mixed with vernacular vocabulary. From the Convention of Drumceatt in 560 the "classical Irish" epics and stories were added, and also classical poets, particularly Virgil, Ovid, and Homer. (At the convention of Drumceatt, St. Columba's intervention "saved" the traditional bards from popular resentment at their privileged status, by bringing them into the Church--many of them became poetry teachers in the schools.)

Morris writes "what made the Irish houses the main centers of Christian learning was educational opportunity." For example, large numbers of Welsh and English went to Ireland for education, many of them spending years travelling from one famous school to another. According to the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People:

"The Irish welcomed them all, gave them food and lodging without charge (they sometimes had to beg to scrape by--PG), lent them books to read and taught them without fee."

Morris' summary is as follows:

"Societies that offer higher education to all comers, native or foreign, without fee, with expenses paid, and without requiring proof of qualification, are not numerous in human history; the Irish was the first. .. .Men trained in Ireland were in demand throughout Europe... technological skills leapt ahead when a high standard of art and design was expected and its craftsmen respected.(cf. Leibniz on the need to change the low estate of craftsmen, in Economy and Society--PG) Advances in mechanical engineering, in plant and animal biology, and above all in the cheap application of water power and the intensification of arable farming, were initiated by the same monasteries whose skills illuminated manuscripts and worked beautiful metal objects; both were a direct consequence of the educational system, whose expense was borne by the monasteries themselves and by rulers, who were compelled by public faith to make land and resources available."
Bede's famous History also acknowledges that in his century (the 7th) Irish agriculture was definitely more productive than that of his own England, and that its monasteries were not corrupted by living on the rents of tenants on the land the monasteries had been given.

This is crucial--the Irish Church, like that of Ambrose and Augustine and St. Martin of Tours, was in the world; it expressed the apostolic faith by "washing the feet" of its flock, whose servants the monks saw themselves as being.

When St. Augustine had introduced the practice of monasticism to the African Church, he had written De Opera Monachorum, establishing the rule of work and study in the monasteries. This was the tradition taken to Irish monasticism, together with the practice of confronting kings and nobles on their morality (which went back to Ambrose excommunicating the Roman Emperor Theodosius for killing citizens, and forcing him to surrender and release prisoners); and the central place of Trinitarian doctrine and of education of lay youth. By contrast, for example, the Benedictine monasteries established in Italy in the 5th and 6th Centuries did not accept any students who were not monks-in-training. The Benedictine monasteries were not numerous even in Italy, nor did they include noted centers of learning, until the "absorption" by Papal policy of large numbers of Columban monasteries into the Benedictine Order between 600 and 725. Some of their founders were like Cassiodorus, a Roman noble who remained advisor to the Gothic (Arian) King Theodoric while the latter persecuted Boethius and Pope John I. Popes were dependent on the Byzantine Emperors and were frequently humiliated by them, despite the exception of Leo I's interventions into the Council of Chalcydon. Leo caused the foundation of the monastery of St. Victor near Marseilles, which was one of the few in Gaul which kept its large size and vitality during the devastation and depopulation of the 6th Century (this devastation also hit Northern Italy due to the invasion of the Lombard Kings, who were also Arian "Christians.")

In this period of disaster those few monasteries which survived, lived on the rent of the serfs and slaves on their lands, and pursued contemplative study programs. Bede described the same pattern still in England in the 7th Century: "many monasteries observe no rule, and no monastic observance but gluttony," and having "gotten so much land under such pretenses that none remains to be given to warriors who fight the barbarians of East England."

But the Irish monasteries universally followed the tradition of Ambrose, Augustine, and Martin. The Irish monks worked the agricultural land given to the monasteries with a high productivity -- as indicated above, introducing large-scale use of water mills for the first time in Europe, and also a major improvement in the horse-collar for ploughing. Both innovations seem to have been made earlier in China and their transmission all the way is possible but complicated to discuss here. The water mills often involved river diversions; Irish water engineers in Italy astonished Pope Gregory the Great. In France, Germany and Austria the "Anglo-Irish" monasteries ("Shottenkloster") were major agents of technological change and concentration of agriculture, much of it in lands previously lightly farmed. Heavy workhorses were bred in Continental Europe by the 10th Century to use the Irish innovations better. They invented the corn kiln, for drying and threshing corn in an integrated process. In the 6th Century they made a large extension of agriculture in Ireland, going into areas remote, unpopulated and "unprofitable" to kings and nobles.

The Columban monks in Ireland and in Europe organized agricultural communities with crops and livestock, blacksmiths, artisans, carvers, painters, goldsmiths--all of whom were protected in their employment; and with libraries and scriptoria equipped with parchment, waxen tablets for writing, awls, pens, inkwells. Unlike the society around them (and the later Cistercians) they washed daily and kept their houses clean. "Their lands were better administered than those of laymen, the economy far better controlled, and returns were good," wrote John DeCarreaux in Monks and Civilization, referring both to Ireland and to Columban monasteries in Europe. He gives the following account from preserved records of one year of the Columban monastery of Bobbio in Italy. The year was 643, about 30 years after its foundation. By then it had 300 monks, 10 multi-story buildings for their dwellings; 30 one-story buildings for lay workers and their families; 28 farms, and 7 parish churches. Bobbio's surplus for that year was 5700 bushels of corn, 1600 cartloads of hay, 2700 litres of oil, 5000 pigs, 800 amphoras of wine, and cattle. The surpluses were sold at the lowest prices consonant with maintaining other farmers' livelihoods.

In Ireland the monks constructed plank and gravel roads, necessary because of its very high rainfall and wet soil. Full moldboard ploughs with metal "collars" were harder to use in Ireland for reason of the wet soil, yet they were first developed and used there. These ploughs generally belonged to monasteries, which loaned them out.

The monastery centers became centers of population density because by largely moral but sometimes physical means, they protected farming populations near them, from the depredations of armed retainers and tax-collectors, etc. of kings and nobility. The monastery movement was known for its law codes, which it imposed on the competing royalties. The Caín Patrick prohibited killing of clerics or their students; the Caín Dar í prohibited cattle rustling and land raiding; the Caín Domnaig prohibited laboring on Sunday. The most powerful was the Caín Adamnan, which was a code defining and prohibiting war crimes. Most importantly, it forbade the drafting of women as soldiers, forbade their murder or their enslavement; and also redefined protections of children, students, and clerics. It also attempted to eliminate the death penalty. The rule for the churchmen themselves was called the Corus Bescnai, which stated:

"He will free slaves; he will exalt base hundreds through the grades (of study) of the church, and through the service of penitence to God. For the kingdom of Heaven is open to every kindred of men after the coming of the Faith, both free kindreds and base kindreds. So, likewise, is the church the same to every man whoever should submit to the law.... Let the church give him reading, because a divine legacy is more important than a human one."
This rule enjoined the monks not to be in monasteries near their own close relatives, nor those which had property from their own family, for obvious reasons of manipulation and discord. The monks campaigned to reduce the unit of land-holding to the nuclear family holding, and to secure the family's rights to property against the claims of the clans.

These laws were written in both Latin and Irish, and circulated and proclaimed by monks who regularly went on "circuits" (cuarta) like judges' circuits, to lead prayers for the laws. Armagh, St. Patrick's foundation, was the center of peace and mediation for all of Ireland.

Literacy and Poetry

The sea-raids of the Irish clan barons ceased during the 6th Century, and the emigrations of the monks of Columba and Columban began instead; the monastic law-codes demanded kings stay at home and punish criminals. The position of women improved from the previous barbaric servitude and military impressment; the monastic education process included them through the establishment of large numbers of cloisters, often paired with the monasteries. Family holdings in agriculture became more common. An order of laymen attached to monasteries as craftsmen or protected farmers arose, called the Culdee, for the book of that name which was provided for them to learn and memorize--lives of the saints and martyrs in poetry in Irish. Population grew, though whether slowly or rapidly is disputed between demographers and religious scholars.

In the period 500-800 this movement appears from the standpoint of faith as an Augustinian evangelical movement; from the standpoint of education, as a mass-literacy movement rather than a renaissance, resonating knowledge but only occasionally creating it, preparing for figures like Eriugena, Alcuin, Clement and others in the 9th Century Carolingian changes in government.

The most crucial Irish innovation during this period appears to be the creation of vernacular alphabets for the teaching of vernacular, Latin and Greek languages together. Montalembert refers to this in generalities:

"The classical languages--not only Latin but Greek--were cultivated, spoken and written. They wrote the Latin of the church books in Hellenic characters. Each monastery was a school, and each school a workshop of transcription, from which day by day issued new copies of the Scriptures and of the Fathers of the Church, copies which were dispersed throughout Europe and are still (1860-PG) the great majority of medieval manuscripts to be found in Continental libraries. They may easily be recognized by the original and elegant character of their Irish writing, as also by the use of the alphabet..."

Historians have recently reconstructed this process in more detail. In the period of St. Jerome's 4th Century creation of ecclesiastical Latin, books were copied in large Latin capitals ("Uncials," meaning one-ounce letters) and a page usually had two columns of 15 lines with one word, perhaps two, per line. Jerome called them "burdens of writing rather than books." The Irish monks developed, first, an alphabet based on both Greek and Latin characters, in which they were able to write the rigorous cases and inflections of Irish Gaelic, and in the next two centuries they adapted it to European regional vernaculars, developing successors to "Patrick's ABCs". Second, they developed this alphabet in lower case, or "semi-uncial," for the first time. This script became cursive in its best practice, and was lighter, faster, more beautiful, and became very widespread. For the different regional vernaculars there was a "Luxeuil type" in the Rhone Valley, a "Corbie type" in southern France; a "Gall type" in Switzerland (from St. Gall, who was a great linguist of Columban's movement); "Lombardic type" developed from Bobbio in the 7th Century; a "Visigothic type" in Spain by the early 8th Century.

The Book of Kells, a gospel made in the 8th Century at the monastery of Kells in Ulster, is the greatest example of completely cursive Irish semi-uncial writing: "nowhere else in the Western world was a document ever so superbly transcribed". But the Lindisfarne gospels and others are of the same quality. Lindisfarne was established by St. Aidan and the monk-leaders of the Irish kingdom of Scotland, coming down into Northumbria and Wales in the 7th Century, and was a great school of calligraphy. By contrast, Canterbury--the center of the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy which later historians wanted to call Roman Christianity as opposed to the "strange, barbaric Celtic church" --still used Roman capitals in the 8th century, and produced few manuscripts which survived.

The "Carolingian small writing," a combination of semi-uncial, capitals, and double capitals for headings and initials, was derived from the "types" of the Columban monasteries of St. Gall and Corbie (on the Loire). This was revived in the 15th Century in Italy for printing, and is the basis of many modern printing types.

Before this movement, "in 600, no European scholar could write in German or French, Italian or Spanish, even if he wished to address the unlearned."(DeCarreaux, Monks and Civilization). The Irish (or Columban) paradigm shift to teaching literacy in the vernacular, was connected to their going out "in the world" to serve the rural population. The Roman-era and early Benedictine monasteries were built "under the walls of Roman cities" for protection, but this confinement was broken by the associates of Martin of Tours who built their foundations out among the peasants. The Columban monks deliberately went to unused land in the nearly deserted, depopulated areas of collapsed Roman society. They were "given" land by Merovingian and other kings and nobles who had merely assumed it from the Roman treasury and had never set foot on it. They often drained and dammed river-bed land; cleared wilderness forests such as the entire area around the "double monastery" (monks and nuns) of Jumieges on the Loire, or around the Carolingian school center of Fulda. With all the difficulties of witnessing faith and grace to brutalized pagan peasant populations, the Columban monks of necessity began with Latin and recruited translators, and quickly developed vernacular writing. Several biographies of Columban report their:

"Latin-German vocabularies like the one in Irish script in the library of St. Gall in Switzerland, of which Gall was the author; he was renowned for his ability to learn languages. The extensive vocabulary contains words related to agriculture, land and sea travel, building, seasons, weather, animals, plants, the human body, the terms of divinity studies."
It also contained phrases and sentences in Latin and German.

The greatest centers of transcription through the 8th Century were all Columban: Bangor, Durrow, Kell, Lindisfarne, in Northumbria York, Ripon, Jarrow and Yearmouth; in Switzerland St. Gall; in Germany Echternacht, Salzburg; in Italy Bobbio (especially known for the transcription of Virgil) and Nonantola; in France Luxueil, Corbie, Autun, Tours, St. Amand, St. Medard de Soissons, and Lyons, from which the Carolingian education "master" of Spain, Agobard, was trained and sent. In the 8th Century there were few scholastic centers in Italy or Spain; they were in the British Isles and Gaul.

The continuous proliferation of books by the Columban movement is epitomized by the incident in which St. Columba raised a small army to fight the Irish high king Diarmit over Columba's right to make copies of the first "whole book of all the Scriptures" brought to Ireland from Rome by Bishop Finnian in 555. Columba won the battle or skirmish of Cuil Dremhni, an indication of the shift of power from the kings and clans to the church. He then went to voluntary exile in Scotland for the rest of his life as penance for causing bloodshed, established the monastic church and the independent kingdom of Scotland by crowning Aidan, whose sons established Columban monastery centers in Northumbria and Wales.

"The sound of the voice of Colum Cille
Great was its sweetness above all clerics:
To the end of 1500 paces,
Though great the distance, it was distinctly heard."

Thus the Leabar Breac, or Book of Saints, describes the singing of poetry by Columba ("Colum Cille" or "Colomkill" meaning Columba of the Cell. As in MacBeth, Rosse asks "Where is Duncan's body?" And MacDuff replies, "Carried to Colmes-Kill, The sacred storehouse of his predecessors, And guardian of their bones."

Columba was the monk who went to Scotland in 565 and spread the monastery movement to Scotland, and through his and Aidan's successors, to Wales and Northumbria; the latter became the focus of the "Anglo-Irish renaissance" from which in the 7th and 8th Centuries came Bede, St. Boniface (the apostle of Germany), and Alcuin of York. Columba also made an advance in the singing of poetry, based on the previous reestablishment of the singing of (religious) poetry. In general, the Irish and Welsh poets about 600 began to use regular rhyme, within lines as well as at the end, in both vernacular and Latin, in which it was a thoroughly new development; also frequent alliteration, new meters, and lines of several lengths within poems. They studied, of course, much of Irish and also classical history in verse, and the monastic curriculum called for reciting both the Psalms and the "stories," Irish historical epics and stories, which were to be "synchronized and harmonized." There were 350 such stories, including a Heroic Cycle, a Mythological Cycle, a Historic Cycle, and a Finn Cycle of geneologies.

Columba made a specific poetic innovation which the others imitated, and which is probably the first rhyming Latin poetry; the nature of this innovation shows that he had read Augustine's work. Recall that Ambrose's hymns, which became the standard for the best hymnists, were in quatrains with each line of poetry having two equal "measures" and then a third, shorter, ending measure with an even rhythm; rhyming was across the stanzas only from last line to last line.

St. Augustine in De Musica, addressing himself to these chants and to ancient Greek sung poetry, gave a definition of rhythm, meter and verse. Rhythm is the repetition of feet of similar times, or what in music are called "measures." A definite repeating length of rhythm, with an ending after each defined length, is meter. But verse, says Augustine, requires more:

"a place somehow laid down by law for a break in discourse before the end of the verse.... that is defined as verse and so called which consists, you might say, of two members joined in a fixed measure and ratio."
He gives as example the first line of Virgil's Aeneid:

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primis ab oris
to make clear that he is requiring the caesura in the line, at a definite place, to create two parts of the poetic "discourse" which are the same yet different, and to define poetic meter as true sung verse.

Columba, two centuries later, wrote Latin hymns in which a new line appeared, consisting of two Ambrosian lines joined by a rhyme and a caesura in the middle. For example, his hymn on the Trinity and the Creation, called Altus Prosator ("Great Creator"), which has 26 stanzas each beginning with a different letter. Here is the "0" stanza"

Orbem infra et legimus,  incolas esse novimus, 

Quorum genu precario  frequenter flectit Domino,  

Quibusque impossibile  librum scriptum revolvere  

Obsignatum signaculis  septem de Cristi monitis  

Quem idem resignaverat  postquam victor exstiterat  

Explens sui presagmina  adventus prophetalia.

The first several line of the "C" stanza make even clearer how this Hexameter line, divided by rhyme and caesura into strophe and response, also used alliteration:

Christo de Coelis Domino  descendente celcissimo,  

Perfulgebit clarissimum  signum cruxis et vexillum  

Tetisque luminaribus  duobus principalibus...  

Here is the hymn-line of St. Ambrose (a nocturne) which had been generally imitated until Columba's hymns:

Hoc nauta vires colligit  

Pontique metiscunt freta,  

Hoc, ipsa petra Ecclesia  

Canente, culpam diluit.  

Surgamus ergo strenue,  

Gallus jacentes excitat  

Et comnolentos increpat  

Gallus negantes arguit.  
One of the poem-hymns of St. Columban (though Columban appears to succeed Columba because Columban started the movement into Gaul about 15 years after Columba brought it to Scotland and Northumbria, the two saints were contemporaries, friends, and both teachers of the singing of poetry to this movement) shows this rhyming and alliteration taken a step further. This is a hymn to the beneficence of the monastic rule (regula) of Bangor:

Benchuir bona regula,  recta atque divina,  

Stricta, sancta, sedula,  summa, justa ac mira.  

Munchir Benchuir beata,  fide fundata certa,  

Spe salutis ornata,  caritate perfecta.  

St. Boniface and also Firgil (Bishop Virgilius) of Salzburg cited the Altus Prosator among others in support of their arguments with Pope Zacharius in the early 9th Century, in which they held that the earth was a sphere with gravitational antipodes.

These lines for the singing of poetry, showing the conscious attention to the problem Augustine posed in Book III of De Musica, are both suited to memorization in the context of education of large numbers of people, and also very musical in a time when rhyme and alliteration in poetry were generally unknown in Europe. If one can judge from translations, Columba's best poem was "The Song of Trust," which is very much like the long Psalms of deliverance from danger and evil--it creates dramatic shifts in its thought-object by the interjection of short lines of exclamation and irony.

Columba's learning and the force of his intelligence were such that he was then and subsequently thought of with Pope St. Gregory the Great(590-604), who in the next decades threw off Byzantine domination of the Church. Gregory established a school of music at Rome and reformed its hymnody in the last years of Columba's life. Beginning about 650 the other leading school of music in Italy was Columban's Bobbio; and while librarian there 300 years later, Gerbert wrote De Cantibus et Musicae Sacrii.

While still in Ireland in the 56Os, Columba recruited large numbers of poets, or bards, to the church and gave them rules (from the Convention of Drumceatt) for arranging the annals of the monasteries in poetry, and for writing the old epics so they could be circulated and read. The monastic libraries were the sole repositories of books; "books were much more numerous in Ireland than anywhere else."(Montalembert). In the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1172, Henry II's knights expressed surprise (this is in Ireland's Ancient Historical Documents collection, edited by O'Curry) that all the Irish abbots, and all the bishops, could sing and play the harp, and knew large numbers of poems.

Columba was far more successful in spreading Augustinian Christianity to the British Isles than Gregory, who sent the second Augustine to England in 597. Starting from his island monastery base at Iona in 565, Columba's Dalraida Scots converted the Picts by the early 7th Century; the Anglo-Saxons to the south were not converted, because the Briton Christians did not attempt to convert them, as both Gregory and Bede admitted. Columba named and crowned Aidan as king of the independent kingdom of Scotland, with a "treaty of mutual defense" with Ireland. (The stone on which he performed the coronation was stolen from the Abbey of Scone at Perth in 1291 by Edward I, and taken to Westminster where English kings were subsequently crowned on it.) Aidan's entire family became monks and founded monasteries south of Scotland beginning with Lindisfarne in 635; during the 7th Century the Scots-Irish founded the other leading centers of education, book production and calligraphy of the "Northumbrian" or "Anglo-Irish renaissance"--Yearmouth, Jarrow, York, etc. In Wales their major monastic school was Llancarvan, founded by Cadoc after his education in Ireland. Cadoc and his monks established a wide area of proserous farming and defended it, militarily at times, against the Anglo-Saxon pagan princes; they also stopped the practice of executions in Wales. Cadoc had his scholars learn Virgil by heart, and was known for praying for the soul of Virgil. Cadoc's monks went to Brittany, still in the 6th Century, during the period Welsh written vernacular was spreading, the second such in Europe. Welsh and Breton are evidently still very similar languages. At the first landing, however, they established their monastery and school on an island off the Breton coast and built a 450-foot bridge so that children could come to school, such were the dangers of the prevailing war and chaos in Gaul.

The Movement in Gaul

A few years after Columba went to Scotland, Columban (or Columbanus) with 12 disciples crossed from Ireland to Gaul, arriving on the Coast of France (I think in 575; there are several possible dates) establishing their first foundations in the valley of the Seine. Now came the turning point, and an even greater flowering of the Augustinian monastic movement and its schools.

The Irish by 625 had founded 80 monastic centers in Ireland, Scotland, Northumbria and Wales. The most important were Bangor and Armagh in Ulster; Clonard in Meath; Glendalough in Leinster; Lismore in Munster; in Connaught, the west of Ireland, Clonmacnois and Clonfert of St. Brendan the Greek scholar and navigator of the North Atlantic (the Irish monks regularly sailed to Greenland, and probably at times to Newfoundland); the important schools in Scotland and Britain are named just above. Now, between 575 and 725 in Continental Europe, the Irish monastic movement founded 113 monasteries and schools in France and Switzerland; 26 in Germany, 10 in Austria, and three in the north of Italy. Several thousand monks followed Columban from Ireland, and already by the time of his death in 615, he and his immediate followers had founded 40 monasteries and begun to establish the same teaching process throughout this huge region, formerly Roman Gaul, now the Merovingian kingdoms of Neustria, Austrasia, Armorica (Brittany), and Bavaria, the region the Lombards had conquered, and the regions of the Frisians and Saxons east of the Rhine. This is the future Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne and successors to the 12th Century. The map shows the extraordinary spread and density of this Augustinian teaching movement during this time. Looking at this map of the "Columban" movement, think by contrast of the relative handfuls of Benedictine monasteries founded in Italy and Spain by the order of St. Benedict from 500-650; recall that by 725 all of the Columban monasteries had become Benedictine under instruction of Gregory and his successors in Rome (evidently without any dispute or resistance). It is clear that the "Columban" movement is the origin of the universally dominant Benedictine monastic order of the 8th-11th Centuries. A further clear contrast is shown by the two Benedictine intellectual centers of Spain in the early 7th Century--Seville, and Agali(Toledo)--were clearly Aristotelian schools, teaching and popularizing Aristotle even as the spread of Islam did so in parallel. Their leaders were from the "high Greco-Roman nobility"-Leander, his brother St. Isidore, and St. Ildefonso; Isidore's The Origin of Things bases itself heavily on Aristotle, and became an influential school manual.

When Columban first walked into Gaul, its human condition was desperate. The population of Europe as a whole had been falling since 300 AD, and had dropped, according to demographic histories, by 25%. The area of Roman Gaul was even more devastated, having sunk from about 7.5 million to roughly 4 million; a destruction like that of the century of Black Death 1000 years later. Pope Gregory wrote to Emperor Maurice of Byzantium in 590: "All Europe is in the power of the barbarians or the heretics. The cities are overthrown. the provinces are depopulated, the soil has no longer hands to cultivate it." As he broke Byzantine control over the church, Gregory of necessity chose Gaul (and implicitly Ireland) as the nucleus of the Western Church because only there had paganism and heresy been overcome, or were being replaced, by Augustinian Christianity.

In the period of worst population collapse, 400-550, Roman taxation and then barbarian invasions had finally reduced entire regions to "deserts" (in the strict, not the dry and sandy, sense of the word). There were six such regions in Burgundy alone. Forests had grown over the sites of former towns and cities, especially in the region of the Rhine from Belgium down to Switzerland. In this environmentalist's paradise roved bands of brigands, military forces and "foresters" of the petty kings of the various Merovingian domains. Gregory of Tours called one of them, Chilperic, king of Neustria (his court was usually at Soissons) "the Herod and Nero of the times. Chilperic tried to rule that there were only two persons of God."

Pope Pius XI, while a bishop doing research at Milan's Ambrosiano library, wrote "the Renaissance of all Christian science and culture in France, Germany and Italy is due to the labors and zeal of Columban and his followers and successors." Columban's most important monastery, Luxeuil, in the region known as the Vosges south of Rheims --which was the "second Bangor", the center of the entire continental monastic movement until it was destroyed by the Islamic invaders fought off by Charlemagne's grandfather Charles Martel; Charlemagne then rebuilt it--was the site of such a Roman city overgrown with forest. Attila's invasions had devastated the entire region. The Merovingian king Sigibert at Rheims sent Columban and his 12 disciples off into this wilderness, where all the towns were in ruins, as a sign of his magnanimity. Yet within a few years, three monasteries had been established near one another in the Vosges forest--first Annegray, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, with 600 monks; then Luxeiul, with 1000, and Fontaines, with 300 monks and 900 lay brothers and sisters.

The monks cleared the forest, farmed, gave food away and traded it for craftsmen's products; around these monasteries, population increased as they became centers of protection against military and royal chaos. From 590 onward, one new monastery was founded every year. All became schools, the most important being Luxeuil. They recruited both nobles and their serfs and slaves from nearby regions to become monks or students. While the Merovingian kings promoted or slaughtered each other's bastard children, many of the youth of the Burgundian and Frank nobility, and often their parents as well, came from Lyons, Strasburg, Autun, and Langres to study at Luxeuil; most returned to secular life. After King Theuderic deported Columban and all his Irish cadre around 600, one of these Burgundian nobles, Walbert, took over as Abbot of Luxeuil for 40 years, but monks from Ireland continued to pour into Gaul. Walbert sent out missionary deployments of monks every day, some for long distances.

Columban, who continued to study classical literature and write poetry throughout his embattled life, wrote to Luxeuil as Theuderic was attempting to deport him to Ireland:

"Whereever God will build with you, go and multiply, you and the myriads of saints which shall be born of you... (then invoking Socrates) After all, this that has happened to us is nothing new. Was there not of old a philosopher wiser than the others, who was thrown into prison and put to death for maintaining, against the opinion of all, that there was but one God? Without adversaries, no conflict; and without conflict, no crown. Where the struggle is, there is courage, vigilence, fervor, patience, fidelity, wisdom, firmness, prudence; out of the fight, misery and disaster. Thus, then, without war, no crown! And I add, without freedom, no honor!"
Columban with some Irish disciples travelled to Switzerland; St. Gall the linguist, who knew German, Latin and Greek and developed the German vernacular teaching books, founded the monastery and town of St. Gall. Another monk, Sigisbert, founded the Disentis monastery which was a school for 1000 years. The monastery of Ursanne was founded by another monk along the way. This was then a completely pagan region. Columban continued to Northern Italy and founded Bobbio, where he died.

St. Gall wrote this about the church in the world:

"Oh, mortal life! Thou fliest and art nothing; thou appearest and art but a shade; thou fliest in coming, and comest in flying. Thou art then the way of life and not Life itself. It is necessary, then, 0 human life! to fathom thee, but not to trust in thee. We must traverse thee without dwelling in thee."
The Merovingian kings had controlled the appointment of bishops, and the Arian bishop Arigius, Bishop of Lyon and leader of the synod of Gaul, repeatedly tried without success to call Columban before synods, such as that of Chalon in 603, to condemn him as a heretic.

The practice of confronting kings on their immorality and uplifting people on the basis of natural law, coming down from Ambrose, Augustine and Martin, was continued by Columban, who denounced Theuderic and Sigibert to their faces as lechers, polygamists, and misrulers. The Merovingians eventual deportations of Columban and his closest Irish disciples did not work: their nobility and their subjects continually were converted to the Irish church. Columban refused a summons to come back from Italy to meet with Clothair in 613--although Clothaire's wife Theudelinde had become herself an active founder of monastery cloisters and schools for women--because Clothaire had unified two thrones by slaughter. Also in Lombardy in Italy, Columban's monks refused to salute the Lombard kings, like Tell with Gessler, because those kings were Arians; on two occasions they preached the Trinity to King Ariowald in the street, angering and abashing him.

It is clear that this process of confrontation, recruitment, and Augustinian Christian education, especially as it affected the Burgundian nobility who became monks (while still retaining their social influence) eventually created the Carolingian monarchy, of a totally different character from the Merovingian.

The first Pepin of Landin became Mayor of the Merovingian palace of Rheims (624-639) supported by nobility who had become Columban monks and had founded monasteries, especially the dual monasteries (monks and nuns) of Jussamoutier and Remiremont. Pepin's predecessor in that position, Arnulf, was a monk from Luxeuil whose cousin succeeded Columban as Abbot of Bobbio. Arnulf resigned and became Bishop of Metz until his death in 640, and advisor to King Dagobert, the most Christian of the Merovingians. Others in Arnulf's family were Romeric, founder of the monastery/school of Remiremont, and Walbert, who succeeded Columban as Abbot of Luxeuil. Arnulf's son (from before his entering Luxeuil) married the daughter of Pepin; their son Pepin was the father of Pepin "the Short", the first Carolingian Emperor in 730.

This was not a simple process of succession, but one of continuous foundations of scores of monasteries which were primary, secondary, and higher education schools and centers of population density as population growth slowly resumed in Europe, and most rapidly in France, from 600. Walbert's monks built roads for the first Duke of Alsatia, Goudoin, connecting their new monastery there, Grandval, to others. Pepin I's friend Vandrille founded the monastery of Fontinelle on completely waste land and brought it into cultivation, around a cadre of 300 monks. The family of nobility of which Vandrille was a member, also founded the monasteries of Jouarre, Rebais, Pavilly, Fecamp, and Jumieges. Two of these founders, St. Ouen and St. Eligius, became simultaneously advisors at Dagobert's court along with Arnulf. The family of Duke Amalgar of Burgundy founded the monasteries of Besancon, Romainmoutier, Beze, and Cusance; so the entire family became Columban founders. Keep in mind that this entire process took only a few years. Jumieges' monks not only cleared and farmed a large area, fighting off "the royal foresters," but made Jumieges a center of trade. From its constructed docks Irish and Briton monks sailed down the Seine trading food, material for shoes and clothing, and fish. They also had vessels which went on missions to redeem or ransom slaves and military captives. Jumieges by 630 had 1000 monks, 1500 lay brothers, craftsmen, etc., and of course two schools. In the Ile de France and Champagne regions monks developed farms, gardens and vineyards for the poor to work in; the Irish monk St. Fiacre became the patron saint of gardeners in France.

On the Somme near Boulougne another noble, Riquier -- whose life was written by Alcuin 200 years later -- founded St. Omer, a famous school for 1000 years. The Carroll family, which gave the first Catholic prelates to colonial America, was educated and taught there, as were the Irish priests and martyrs who defied the Penal Laws of the House of Orange after 1688, and returned to Ireland to minister the outlawed Catholic faith and to teach the illegal "hedge schools."

Most of these noble recruits to the Columban monastic movement freed their serfs and/or brought them into the monasteries either as monks or through the education of children. This is the only way these monasteries could have become so large so rapidly. The practice of Ireland was continued, that nowhere did the monks live on the rents of serfs or tenants of monastery land, but rather worked themselves in addition to teaching. Ultimately the wife of King Dagobert, Queen Bathilde, who outlived her husband until 680, became a major force in the freeing of serfs and the founding of monasteries. She herself founded and lived at Chelles, but other monasteries whose founding she arranged with the Columban monks were more important as schools and centers for the production of books. Queen Bathilde refounded the old monasteries of Tours, Courbie, St. Germain of Auxerre, and St. Aignan of Orleans, as Columban monasteries; these dated from the work of Martin of Tours and had become nearly deserted. In 660 she made the royal abbey of St. Denis a Columban monastery, placing it under the direction of the Abbot of Luxeuil; this was to have important fruit in the 9th Century through the 12th, as described at the beginning of this report. The main sources of manuscripts of French medieval history, are the monasteries of Corbie, Fleury, St. Riquier and Jumieges.

Queen Bathilde was forced to abdicate in 670 by an aristocratic reaction against her monastic and educational policy, including the growing number of monastic schools for young women she founded, and against her pressure for the freeing of serfs. This was a turn in the battles by which the Merovingian gave way to the Carolingian monarchy.

While these monasteries appeared and grew with revolutionary rapidity, their monks reopened roads and bridges, built river docks, made rivers the main transport routes, spread the use of waterpower, horseploughing and other advances in agriculture, organized public charity and ransom payments to free slaves 50-100 at a time, and in some cases minted coins for trade.

Refer back to the map of the sites of the Columban monastery foundations from 590-725. Add the monasteries, also shown, which were founded by English monks under the impulse of the Northumbrian "renaissance" of Christian culture which was profoundly shaped by the Irish schools. The number approaches 200 foundations in 135 years. This process spread to the East of the Rhine (into "Frisia" and "Saxia") in the early 8th Century, under the leadership of St. Boniface of Devon (680-754, not the Pope Boniface who succeeded Gregory the Great in 615), who became Archbishop of Mainz and the apostle of Germany, and Willibrord and Egbert, Northumbrian monks. All had been educated in Ireland. This was a completely pagan population; the abbots and bishops missionizing under Boniface and Willibrord were usually Irish, and repeated the same process of developing vernacular vocabulary and sentence-books to teach reading and writing. Columba's Dalraida Scots meanwhile driven by Viking invasions to send their leadership back to Kells in Ireland, the Abbot of Kells Domnall mac Robartaig sent Marianus Scottus and others to southern Germany. They founded more Schottenkloster at Regensburg, Vienna, Nuremburg, and Kiev. These were the first schools and libraries established in these towns, and were fundamental to their subsequent development as urban cultural centers.

The Columban monks were relatively rapidly successful in converting the pagan German peoples who had been extremely hostile to earlier missionaries sent by the sparse "Roman" hierarchy of Frankish Gaul in the 5th and 6th Centuries. The earlier missionaries had been sent to the Germans by their conquerors, the Franks. The Columbans, by contrast, went to the cultural wilderness alone and fought for the Augustinian faith. On St. Boniface's second mission to Thuringia in 730, he did have the protection of Pepin III, Mayor of the Palace of Burgundy, then king of Neustria. Boniface returned to Gaul in 735. It was he who made the alliance between Pepin III, Carloman king of Austrasia, and the Vatican, by which Pepin III became the first Carolingian emperor.

Think, then, of the map of 200 foundations in 135 years as representing a revolutionary process of cultural warfare. This was the recruitment of an Augustinian cadre/teaching force reaching more than 100,000 monks and nuns in just over a century, from a total population growing toward 5 million, which at the start of the process was 90% pagan, with the remainder believing in "Christian" heresies which denied the divinity of Christ in explicit terms! When Columban first came to Gaul he wrote "civilization and virtue are more or less non-existent. The bishops and priests do not preach. Rule is by force alone."

The average monastery had 300-500 monks and two or three times that many associated lay persons and young students. They may have numbered by the end of the 7th century 250,000 persons of less than S million total. By that time the proportion of Irish monks among that cadre force was only 5-10%, so the "Irish monastery movement" was not continually characterized by Irish monks running all monasteries, but rather by its unprecedented educational/literacy practice, its compilation of classical libraries, and its spread of agricultural invention and technology. The Bobbio library, for example, by 675 contained, in addition to the Scriptures and lives of the saints: the works of St. Augustine, St. Isidore, St. Columban, Popes Leo and Gregory, St. Cyprian, Cassian, Virgil, Ovid, Proclus, the Iliad and Odyssey, Euclid, Cicero, Terence, Juvenal, Tertullian, Martial, and others. Bobbio was a primary source for Renaissance scholars in the 15th Century, and its collection was gradually loaned to other libraries, particularly the Vatican and the Ambrosiano in Milan.

By a postcard from campaigners for Cheminade in France, I have a photograph of the church of one of the Columban monasteries from the end of the 6th Century, at Bouches du Rhone in Aix-la-Chapelle. It looks very much like the description of another founded in 630 on the Marne by children who had been blessed by Columban, the church of the monastery of Jouarre. That Church of St. Paul is a mortuary chapel and also still survives. These domed churches are about 70 feet by 30 feet in dimensions, mini-Cathedrals.

Both the importance of St. Columban and the book production of his movement are indicated in the surprising fact that 130 complete manuscripts from the 7th Century still exist of the first Life of Columban, written by the Italian monk Jonas at Bobbio in the 620s. Columban wrote several pamphlets against Arianism, and a very long letter to Pope Boniface warning him against the influence of the Nestorian heresy.

In one anti-Arian pamphlet is this on the Trinity, taken from St. Patrick's Confession and stemming from Augustine On The Trinity, Book I:

"There is no other God, and never has there been, or will be, save the Lord, the unbegotten Father, without Beginning, from whom is all Beginning.. .who has begotten a Son consubstantial with Himself, made man, drawn back to heaven to the Father when death was overcome.... And to Him He gave all power over every name in heaven and earth and hell, so that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father... and He has poured into us, in its fulness, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the pledge of immortality. Who makes believers and subjects to be the sons of God the Father, whom we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the most holy name."

From Columban's Regula Coenobialis (Monastic Rule), his most influential writing, comes the following:

"Let men seek divine wisdom not by verbal debate but by the perfection of a good life, a life in which the divine image would shine out in splendor. God the omnipotent, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the ineffable, the unfathomable, when fashioning man out of clay, ennobled him with the dignity of His image. It is a great dignity that God bestowed upon man the image of His eternity and the likeness of His character. It is a great damnation to defile the image of God.

"The choice of free will, though beatitude be lost, is not lost. There is freedom to turn and love God, and love of God is restoration. Love of God is the renovation of His image."

From Columban's letter to Pope Boniface on the danger of the Nestorian heresy (in Italy known as "The Three Chapters" heresy), this Trinitarian credo is expressed:

"We hold in Christ, Who in his divinity is co-eternal with the Father and in his humanity is younger than His mother; Who born in the flesh never departed from heaven; Who remaining in the Trinity, lived in the world."
In the same letter Columban told the Pope:
"If you are held in high honor through the honor of your See, you should beware of losing such honor by any lapse whatsoever. Your power will last as long as your discernment. For the heavenly porter (meaning the successor of Peter) is he who opens the gates to the worthy. ... If he act otherwise he will be unable either to open or to close them."
This does not contradict, but highlights, the complete loyalty to the Papacy for which the Irish monastic church was known, and by which it became the greatest part of the Benedictine Order.

Comparison of the Rule of St. Columban with the Rule of St. Benedict which replaced it everywhere by 725, occupies scholars but is not fruitful. What is crucial is that the generative principle of the two monastic movements was different. One was initially an intellectual movement of the Roman and Greek aristocracies within the Church, apparently Aristotelian in its scholarship and not able to continue to grow during the 6th Century attacks of the Lombards in Italy and the Goths and Muslims in Spain. The other was hereditarily Augustinian, teaching through the love of God and all human beings of every layer of society, with certainly one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful missionizing outreach in the history of the Catholic Church. Pope St. Gregory was a Benedictine monk, but to achieve the freeing of the Church from Byzantium, based it on the Augustinian/Columban mission, and began to put that mission under the "less rigorous" Rule of St. Benedict.

Columban, like Columba, was devoted with music and poetry. He was so concerned with the beautiful singing of Psalms by his monks that his Rule varied the number of Psalms sung at Nocturnes and Matins year-round, according to the change in the length of the night; and specified the singing of all of the Psalms in the course of each week. Columban wrote a monks' boating song for travelling on the rivers of Europe or across to Ireland, known as the Carmen Navale, or Song of the Boatmen, which has stanzas of two rhyming lines and a repeated, highly rhythmical third line:

En Silvis caesa, fluctu meat acta carina  
Becornis Rheni et pelagus perlabitur uncta,  
Heia! Viri! nostrum reboans echo sonet heia!  
Behold amid the forest of the Rhine,  
Our boat speeds on, lashed by the waves,  
Courage! Comrades! Let our resounding echo answer 
The winds roar and angry rains beat down,  
But united strength of men conquers the tempest.  
Courage! Comrades! Let our resounding echo answer 
For though the storm lashes with fury,  
Unconquering toil and will knows no defeat.  

Courage! Comrades! ...  
A very short Columban poem of prayer for change:  
Quod enim sum non fui      For what I am, I was not,  
Et non ero                 And shall not be,  
Unaquaqua hora aliud sum   Every hour I am different,  
Et numquam sto.            And never stay.  
Also from Columban's movement came the Fis Adamnain, or Vision of Adamnan. Written originally in Irish by the monk who wrote the first life of St. Columba in the 7th Century, this vision is the earliest fully-developed Christian vision of a voyage through heaven, purgatory and hell by a living man guided by a spirit--here, St. Michael the Archangel. This work became as widely known a "vision of heaven and hell" as that of Virgil's Aeneid. It opens with a prayer in praise of the Creator and Creation, and places great emphasis upon the Trinity, in contrast to later medieval stories of the afterlife. It fully develops Purgatory, a doctrine of Augustine, also emphasized by Gregory the Great: all pass through the fires of Purgatory, but some quickly, some slowly and tortuously. It describes the essence of punishment as loss of the Beatific vision after getting a glimpse of it (what Dante called "chi hanno perdutto il bel del intelletto"), and portrays this as the reason for the moral correction effected by the vision upon the human traveller who is able to go through it while still alive.

Adamnan was a Latin and Greek scholar. His Vision was a Christian perfection of two of the 17 categories of memorized "stories" of pre-Christian Irish literature, the Fisi, or Visions, and the Imrama, or Voyages. During the 9th Century Carolingian renaissance, the Fis Adamnain was translated and recopied in French, German, Italian, Norman, Provencal, and Norwegian, as was also St. Brendan's Voyages to Greenland and Newfoundland. A further example of the Irish fostering of European vernaculars.

Fis Adamnain is a small precursor of the Divina Comedia, though there is no definite confirmation that Dante knew it; he did know the later "Vision of Tundale" which was based upon it.

The Carolingian Revival

When St. Boniface, graduate of the Irish monastic school at Lismore in Leinster, made the concordat among Pepin III, Charles Martel and the Vatican to create the Carolingian Holy Roman Empire, it was at the height of preparations to stop the invasion of Moors and Muslims which advanced from Spain deep into France before being repulsed in 732. They took action just in time to defend the Christian culture which was being created by the Columban movement of which St. Boniface was a leading representative.

Carolingian culture was basically monastic--there were no universities in Europe until the 11th Century, but hundreds of good monastic schools--and the most important monasteries of Carolingian learning had all already been founded in 725; some of the most important by the alliance of Dagobert's Queen Bathilde and the Columban monks. Resting on the same Augustinian mission, the Popes had become actual heads of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is clear that the idea of Charlemagne starting out to reform and establish education in his realms, calling Alcuin and other learned monks from Irish schools to his court, is wrong. They had created his monarchy, and the educational process on which its strength was based, over the previous 200 years. Charlemagne did have personal relations with the schools of his empire as far from Aachen as Switzerland, Aix-la-Chapelle, Spain, Lombardy. He personally gave the ivory and other materials for carving bas-reliefs, for example, to the monk Tutilo at St. Gall in Switzerland, who was an accomplished musician, painter, sculptor and calligrapher. St. Gall became a European-wide school of music under the Abbot Notker, as did Bobbio through the time of Gerber. These monasteries had two of the four largest libraries in Europe, the others being Alcuin's York, and the Vatican library.

In the 9th Century, from the final years of Charlemagne's reign and during those of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, the Columban movement passed from an Augustinian teaching and mass-literacy revolution affirming all men in the image and likeness of God, to showing sparks of actual renaissance of new knowledge. The works of Eriugena are a strong sign of this. It appears that his translations of Dionysius, Maximus, Gregory of Nyssa and Proclus, and his own works, were a major introduction--perhaps the primary reintroduction--of the ideas of Plato to the overwhelming majority of Christians and even Christian leaders in Europe who did not know Greek. From Eriugena's lifetime onwards, his works were the focus of intensive study and controversy in monastic schools of Europe.

Earlier, before Charlemagne's death in 814, his astronomer, the Irish monk Dungal of Bangor (and then of St. Denis), along with Alcuin and Clemens, spearheaded doctrinal interventions into the church. The synods which Charlemagne convoked at Frankfort in the early 790s, of the bishops of his domains, were initially concerned with the question of iconoclasm in the church, a dispute which had come from Byzantium. Dungal wrote a refutation of iconoclasm which became very influential, but at the same time the Carolingian bishops sought to reduce praying to images of the saints in the churches, and to teach that the icons and statues in themselves had no spiritual power at all--merely reminding of the souls of those who had died in imitation of Christ. More importantly, the Caroline Books produced during the period of these synods, and written by Alcuin, Clemens and Dungal, strongly argued for the introduction of the Filioque into all church service. While settled in concept by the Nicene Councils, the Filioque had not yet been adopted into the Nicene Creed and other prayers. Charlemagne personally pressed this upon the Vatican in letters to Pope Zacharias after the Caroline Books were sent to the Vatican, and it was widely discussed in the churches of those bishops represented in the synods of Frankfort.

The figures of the 9th Century Irish monastic schools have not been studied by us to my knowledge--I have begun with Eriugena. This monastic movement received a major blow at the end of that century, with the Viking invasions of Ireland beginning 875. The Vikings burned and destroyed monasteries, along with their general destructions, for more than a century until King Brian Boru defeated and drove them out in 1014. Later in that same century began the new Viking invasions known as the Norman invasions of France, England, and then Ireland. The decisive turn away from the Augustinian image of man and God seems to come with the Cistercian movement of Bernard of Clairvaux, with his propaganda tract for the Templars, In Praise of the New Knighthood. Bernard's followers did not just preach the crusades and the transformation of the image of the man of God from the Augustinian teacher to the military adventurer ("In the death of a pagan a Christian is glorified, because Christ is glorified" wrote Bernard); they also eliminated the teaching of youth from the monasteries, and to a large extent agricultural labor as well, in favor of contemplation.

How and when were the alliances of Venice with the various Norman and Angevin kingdoms formed, which had become so obvious by the late 12th Century as alliances against the Hohenstauffen and the idea of the Holy Roman Empire? Did Venetian alliances or intelligence support, such as with the Mongols later, exist even with the Viking invaders of Europe in the 8th and 9th Centuries? What were the relations of Venice with the Cistercians, and with Bernard of Clairvaux personally?

Sources for first report:

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