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Irish Monasticism - Learned and Ascetic | KFP Articles
Irish Monasticism - Learned and Ascetic PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 04 May 2012 23:05

Irish monasticism is known for its asceticism and evangelical poverty but many do not think about the Irish monastic tradition in terms of learning.  We have dedicated this site to the life of the Irish saints and particularly the Ancient Celtic monks.  Brigid over at Under The Oak does a good job of painting its unique character in her post on the Feast of Saint Anthony:

Neither stone nor wood-and-earth huts would have afforded much comfort to brothers and sisters, who made do with pleasures of mind and soul. Wherever they lived, Irish monks and nuns, who had never known the Romans as rulers, took up Latin as part of their religious training. Monastic communities organized the study of this entirely foreign language, its grammar, and its major religious texts. They also formed their own idiosyncratic ways of making letters and manuscripts, thus initiating a distinguished tradition of book-learning and production. In addition to Bibles, psalters, and grammar books, Irish monks in the seventh and following centuries produced biblical commentary, prayers, letters, astronomical works, laws, penitentials, and many other texts in both Latin and Europe's earliest written vernacular, Irish. They commemorated the lives of their monastic founders in biographies of saints, beginning with Cogitosus's life of Brigit. They also wrote and rewrote the poetry and stories of their ancestors, the kings of ancient Ireland, and the myths of the pre-Christian era. Only the most prosperous communities could muster the supplies and labor to create a great library, or the gorgeously illuminated manuscripts for which Ireland became known (such as the seventh-century Book of Durrow, the earliest known decorated Irish manuscript); others had to borrow and copy what they could.


An excellent source for information on the Irish monks is Venerable Bede.  He held the learning of the Irish monks in high esteem.

The historian known as the Venerable Bede (672?–735), writing in the early eighth century, spread the reputation of Irish scholars, who were already taking in foreign students by then: "The Irish welcomed them all gladly, gave them their daily food, and also provided them with books to read and with instruction without asking for any payment" (Historica Ecclesiastica, III.27, trans. King 1930, p. 485). From large monasteries such as Bangor, where Saint Comgall first ruled, scholars such as Columbanus (543–615) went to continental Europe and Britain to gather and offer Christian learning.

Go and read the complete article.


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