How the Irish Saved Civilization

I love Thomas Cahill.  The subtitle of this book by the same author of “Gift of the Jews” is “The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.”

The gist of it is, while Germanic tribes were wreaking havoc all over the Roman Empire, Monk Scribes were copying texts, scriptural and classical, in Ireland.  He suggests that without this work, many ancient documents, and much that accompanies literacy, might have been lost forever.  When the Middle Ages ended and the Renaissance begin as a result of renewed interested in ancient texts, that was only possible because of the work of the Irish Scribes.

The early chapters paint a picture of the end of the Roman Empire.  What life was like.  What was important.  He focused on a poet named Ausonius first and then Augustine.  He definitely whetted my appetite for a good biography of Augustine.

Then he proceeds to tell the story of St. Patrick and contrast him with Augustine, and Celtic culture with Roman culture.  I also now want to read a good bio of Patrick.

He writes a lot about Celtic culture before and after Patrick, the great influence of Patrick and the men and (shock!) women who followed him as leaders in Irish Christianity of the Middle Ages.

Figures such as Brigid, Columcille and Columbanus, and Aidan were very interesting.

The scribes often left notes, comments, and poems in the margins or end of the texts that they copied.

He used the term “Green Martrydom” for the Irish who, although not in danger of persecution, chose to renounce materialism to live alone or in monasteries to be closer to God.  Then the age of Celtic missionaries came, which was referred to as White Martyrdom.  There are monasteries and abbeys all over Europe which were founded by Celtic missionaries.

Another book I want to read now is “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by George Hunter III.  I just happened to see it in a catalog and know that it will practically develop the differences that existed 1,500 years ago between Rome and Ireland.

You know that you have read a great book when:

  • you dread the end,
  • are inspired to read more about all the main figures and events in it,
  • hope and pray that author has written a lot more,
  • and are ready to read almost anything as soon as you are finished.

That’s what Thomas Cahill has done for me.  I am thrilled that he has written more that I haven’t read yet.  Yet.

I highly recommend “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” whether you like history or are simply a Christian, you will get something out of it.

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4 thoughts on “How the Irish Saved Civilization

  1. Thanks for this review. I was just reading the other day about the destruction by those Germanic tribes. Whenever I read of manuscripts, libraries, or letters being destroyed it makes me want to cry. I have Cahill’s “Gift of the Jews” on my shelf, but haven’t read it yet. Now I’ll have to add another to my want-list. Your points about how to know when you’ve read a great book are so true.

  2. brian

    bump up Gift of the Jews on your list, it is really good, he approaches it from a somewhat sociological/culture perspective, but it was faith-building for me

  3. Thanks for your notes on this one, Brian. I read the book on the Irish back when it came out and absolutely loved it. It inspired me to present a lesson at church on St. Patrick. Most people seemed to appreciate the occasional lessons I would do on “Christian Biography.” The only ones who didn’t like them were the people who didn’t appreicate my referring to folks like Patrick as a “Christian” since he wasn’t one of “us.” There’s got to be Christian way of telling those people where to go.

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