Saturday, 2 September 2023

Irish Teachers in the Carolingian Revival of Learning Part II

In the concluding part to his 1907 paper on 'Irish Teachers in the Carolingian Revival of Letters', Bishop William Turner brings together a further selection of interesting Irish scholars active in continental Europe. He deals with the famous John Scotus Eriugena in this section but some of the lesser-known figures are also quite intriguing. Whilst I was aware that the Irish took Latin names, this paper made me aware of how many aliases were also scripturally-based. I had no idea, for example, that there was at least one Irish scholar called Israel. Bishop Turner's writing perhaps shows its age in its ready acceptance of stereotypical imaginative Celts versus stolid Anglo-Saxons, but he has brought many overlooked and neglected figures to our attention here, some of whom I hope to follow up on in future posts.



Contemporaneous with the Irish colony at Liège was the no less important Irish colony at Laon. That very ancient center of Christianity in France had, as early as the sixth century, been the scene of the missionary activity of the wandering Celt. Thither in the ninth century, flocked many of those scholars whom Eric of Auxerre described as a "herd of philosophers' from Ireland. Eric himself studied there, and had for his teacher Elias. This Elias was, apparently, one of those who changed their native names for the latinized form of a scriptural name. That he was an Irishman is proved by the testimony of Gautbert (tenth century), which occurs in a Leyden manuscript, to the effect that "Elias, of the same nation as John the Scot (Scotigena), taught Eric (of Auxerre) and, as a reward for his learning (sapientia), was made Bishop of Angoulème." Another contemporary document published by Delisle gives Elias as bishop of Angoulème, and a third contemporary witness, Ademar (in the third book of his Histories), tells us that the celebrated Theodulf of Orleans had for "his heir in philosophy" Elias the Irishman, Bishop of Angoulème. The first mentioned document goes on to enumerate the members of the Laon colony, and among the names that occur are Daoch, Israel, Egroal, Gono, and Remi, the successor of Eric at the school of Auxerre. Of these, all except the last two were Irish. From other sources we know that among the scholars at Laon were Martin, Luido and Duncan, or Dunchad. Martin was beyond doubt, an Irishman; for the Annals of Laon have the following entry under the year 875: "Martin the Irishman fell asleep in the Lord." He wrote poems in Greek which bear his name and in which he styles himself "a Greek." There may be some doubt as to the nationality of Luido; but Dunchad was certainly an Irishman and a bishop. While teaching at St. Remigius' at Rheims, Dunchad composed a commentary on the astronomical section of the work of Martianus Capella on the seven liberal arts. The commentary exists, in part, at least, in a tenth century manuscript in the British Museum, and is there entitled distinctly "COMMENTUM DUNCHAT (H superscr) PONTIFICIS HlBERNIENSIS QUOD CONTULIT SUIS DISCIPULIS IN MONASTERIO SCI. REMIGII DOCENS SUPER ASTROLOGIA CAPELLAE, etc." By a strange misreading of DUNIS for DOCENS, O'Connor  interprets the title to mean that Dunchad taught at Down. The authors of l'Histoire litteraire are at a loss to account for Dunchad's journey to France; they consider it to be undeniable that he taught at Rheims, but cannot determine whether he was bishop of an Irish or of a French see; indeed it is not necessary to suppose that he was bishop of any diocese. Besides mentioning the astronomical commentary they tell us of another work of Dunchad, a book of "observations" on Pomponius Mela, in which he tried to give his pupils a taste for geography, "then so universally neglected." This Dunchad is not to be confounded with Duncan, or Donnacan, another Irishman, who, according to the Chronicon Scotorum, was son of Maeltuile, was a scribe and an anchorite, and died in Italy in 843. To the school of Laon belonged also John Scotus Eriugena and his brother Aldhelm, of whom mention will be made later.
From Laon sprang the school of Auxerre. The city of St. Germain had, even in the earliest times, been associated with the legendary accounts of the life of St. Patrick. And when, in the ninth century, Eric and Remi learned profane wisdom from the Irish teachers at Laon, Ireland was simply making return for the sacred lore which St. Patrick was supposed to have received at the school of St. Germain. The school of Auxerre is well known in medieval history as an important center of literary and philosophical activity. There Eric and Remi, following in the footsteps of their Irish teachers at Laon, expounded the text of Martianus Capella and the treatises of the Latin grammarians, and showed in their own writings the influence of Eriugena, Elias and Israel. Perhaps it should be added here that, besides the Israel who taught at Laon, there was another Israel, also an Irishman, who, in 947, was present at the Council of Verdun. He was a monk of the monastery of St. Maximin of Trier, and, as the teacher of Bruno of Cologne, influenced the educational reform of the Rhineland in the tenth century. Of his pupil, Bruno, it is said that he carried his books about with him as the Hebrews carried the Ark of the Covenant. Mention should also be made of the curious manuscripts found at Laon, which date from the time of the Irish settlement there. Among them are a glossary (an explanation of words) attached to a Greek grammar, written, probably, by the Martin of whom we have already spoken, a Greek lexicon, and a Hebrew alphabet, with explanations. These are very interesting specimens of early medieval knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and are highly prized by modern students of philology.
Charles the Bald, who, after the treaty of Verdun, (842), reigned over the Western half of the empire, and from 875 to 877 bore the title of emperor, emulated the example of his grandfather, Charlemagne, as a patron of letters. During his reign Irish scholars flocked in great numbers to the Continent. The monarch was fond of discussing knotty questions, and had a keen taste for the subtle disputations to which the Irish dialecticians were devoted. Encouraged by his patronage, the Irish monks migrated in so great numbers to France that hostelries were built for their exclusive use. The most eminent of these, the scholar who found most favor with the emperor and attained the highest fame as a learned man, was John Scotus Eriugena. From the time when he first set foot in France (about 845), he was recognized as the most accomplished linguist in the empire and one of the ablest theological thinkers in the world of Latin Christianity. At the emperor's request he translated from the Greek the works of the Neo-Platonic writer known as Pseudo-Dionysius, and at the invitation of some of the prelates of the Church in France he entered into the controversy then waged concerning the theory of Predestination propounded by the monk Gotteschalk. According to a tale first told by William of Malmesbury and since often repeated, the emperor, on one occasion, asked the Scot, who sat opposite him at table, "What is the difference between a Scot and a sot?" "The table is all that is between them just now," promptly answered the royal guest. Of John's extraordinary learning, of his profound, though heterodox, philosophical interpretation of nature, of his theological errors, of his ingenious poems, in which Greek and Latin are often intermingled in the most bewildering fashion, the historians of medieval philosophy, theology and letters have treated at great length. It will be sufficient here to call attention to what is new in the literature, already vast, which has grown up around the biography and criticism of John the Scot. First, with regard to the name. It is now proved by a careful examination of the manuscripts that, while "John the Scot" was the only name by which he was known to his contemporaries the name by which he called himself, and by which he was known to the earliest copiers of his translations was "Eriugena." This form is to be preferred to "Erigena" and "lerugena," both because, as Professor Baeumker has shown, it has in its favor the authority of the oldest manuscripts, and also because it is the more correct philological compound, its meaning being "a native of Erin." Recent investigationhas also shown that Eriugena is not the author of the satiricalpoem so long ascribed to him, in which the manners and customs of ecclesiastical Rome are mercilessly arraigned.The poem is now known to have been written by a Neapolitangrammarian about the year 878. That there was, however,a keen edge to John's wit is evident from his epitaph on a miserly bishop, Hincmar by name, "who never did a noble deed, till he died." It has also been shown, in recent times, that Eriugena had disciples, not only among his contemporaries, such as Elias, Bishop of Angouleme, Wicbald, Bishop of Auxerre, Martin, and Luido of Laon, and Eric and Remi of Auxerre, but also in subsequent times among the Cistercians. Finally, Dr. Rand, Assistant Professor of Latin at Harvard, has published (Munich, 1906), the glosses which are found in so many ninth and tenth century copies of Boethius' Opuscula Sacra, and shown that they are to be ascribed to John the Scot.
From an entry in a book preserved in the National Library of Paris it appears that there was at Laon in the middle of the ninth century a certain "Aldhelm, brother of John the Scot." Notwithstanding the Anglo-Saxon form of the name, this student at Laon is believed by critics to have been John's brother in the literal sense, and, therefore, one of the Irish colony at that place.
Another Irish teacher who attained prominence and enjoyed royal favor at the court of Charles the Bald was Manno, at one time Master of the palace school, and, probably, Eriugena 's successor in that post. He was head of the Chapter at St. Oyen in Burgundy in 870. He died in 880. Manno had among his pupils at the palace school many of the most distinguished ecclesiastics of the time, such as Bishops Stephen, Mancio and Ratbold. By an inexcusable error arising from Manno 's knowledge of Greek, the Jesuit writer Dessel in his Bibliotheca Belgica (Louvain 1643) affirms that Manno was of Greek nationality, a blunder which is repeated by Stockl in his Geschichte der Padogogik. Dümmler has published a letter which after referring to "the doctrine of John the Scot" in the matter of the accent of a Greek word, goes on to say, "When I was at the palace at Compiegne, Manno told me the meaning of mechano and mechania (leg. mechanica)." The letter was written about the year 870, and is interesting not only for the mention of Manno, but also for the light it throws on the educational, scientific and general cultural conditions at that time.
Before we turn from the northern kingdoms of the empire to study the foundations of Irish schools in the southern provinces, we must notice, if only briefly, the Irish teachers who found their way to the various ecclesiastical settlements in Lorraine and the neighboring countries. In the diocese of Metz, the monastery of Vassor (Vallis decor, Walciodorus) was founded by Irish monks in the ninth century and had for its first abbot Maccallin. In 950 Maccallin was succeeded by Cadroe, who, though a Scotchman, was educated in Ireland. To Cadroe succeeded Fingan, to whom was entrusted, later, the monastery of St. Symphorianus at Metz. In Ghent "the holy Irish Abbot Columban," (died 987), in Burgundy Anatolius and Maimbod, and in Cologne Mimborinus renewed in the tenth century the monastic spirit which had first been implanted in those regions by Irish missionaries three hundred years previously. 
Among the most famous of all the Irish foundations of learning in Europe were those which in the ninth and tenth centuries flourished in the country of the Allemanien in Southern Germany. At Rheinau, on the Rhine, about five miles above Schaffhausen, there appeared about the middle of the ninth century Fintan, or Findan. Fintan was born about the year 800 in Leinster; while still a youth he fell into the hands of the Danes, was taken to the Orkney Islands, escaped to France, made a pilgrimage to Rome, returned to Switzerland under the patronage of Count Wolf, and in 851 was made Abbot of Rheinau. There he died in 878. This Irish exile spending his lonely vigils among the hills of the Allemanien heard voices of angels and demons calling to him through the night. And the language of the spirits was the ancient tongue of the Gael. Fortunately, the author of the Life of St. Fintan, written in the tenth century, was an Irishman, who could remember and write down the words spoken in the vision to the saint, and the words, as recorded by him are among the very oldest specimens of the Irish language that have come down to us.  There were Irishmen at Rheinau, however, even before the time of Fintan, as is evident from the records of the monastery. This fact accounts for the presence at Schaffhausen of a celebrated Irish manuscript, Adamnan's Life of Columba, transcribed by Dorbene, Abbot of Iona (died 713). The manuscript was discovered in 1851 by Dr. Keller. It had lain, how long no one can tell, at the bottom of a heap of rubbish on an old book shelf in the public library of Schaffhausen.
Not far from Rheinau, situated on Lake Constance, was the still more celebrated monastery of Reichenau (Augia dives), which, during the early middle ages, was seldom without a number of Irish monks within its walls. Thither, in the ninth century, during the reign of Abbot Walahfrid, came Irish scholars, teachers of Greek, who inaugurated a period of literary activity and brought with them many valuable manuscripts. And, despite the numerous incursions of the Hungarians, despite the repeated destruction of the monastery and its library by fire, Reichenau continued to be one of the most important centers of the book industry in Germany. The manuscripts now in the library of Carlsruhe are the remnants of the literary treasures amassed by the monks at the abbey of Reichenau. Unfortunately, we do not know the names of these Irish teachers and scribes. For instance, we have no record of the name of the Irishman who was the teacher of the abbot Erlebold (823-838) at the beginning of the literary era of the monastery. It will be remembered that it was at Reichenau Walahfrid wrote of the "Irish to whom the habit of travel has become a second nature."
Reichenau's fame, great as it was, was outshone by that of the neighboring monastery of St. Gall. This monastic retreat, situated in the heart of the Alpine range above Lake Constance, was founded in the seventh century by St. Gall, the companion and countryman of St. Columban. It became during the ninth century the favorite stopping place for Irish pilgrims, who in their journeys to and from Rome and the Holy Land, loved to linger round the shrines which contained the sacred relics of their own saints, such as Kilian, Columban and Gall. Two such pilgrims, Moengal (called in Latin Marcellus), and his uncle, Marcus, a bishop, returning from Rome, in the year 841, were induced to remain at St. Gall and, becoming members of the community (this is not certain in the case of Marcus), donated all their books to the monastic library. Moengal had been Abbot of Bangor; that is, if he is the same person as the Moengal mentioned both in the Annals of the Four Masters and in the Annals of Ulster. His influence as a teacher was evidently appreciated at St. Gall; for he was placed at the head of the "inner school" (for the training of clerics, the future monks of St. Gall, while Iso, the representative of the learning of Fulda, was given charge of the "outer school" for the education of lay students). Moengal’s activity as a teacher continued until 871, the date of his death. He had for pupils, Notker, Tutilo, Ratpert, Hartmann and Waltramm. We are told expressly that he taught the seven liberal arts as well as theology, and that, under his guidance, the monks of St. Gall became proficient in the art of music. Indeed, the achievements of his pupils are the best tribute to his success as a teacher. Notker's activity in the various departments of sacred and profane learning are well known; especially is he noted for his use of the vernacular (Old German) in many of his writings most important material for the study of German philology. Tutilo was the artist of the group; we are told that he attained extraordinary proficiency in the use of stringed instruments (the harp?), and the visitor to St. Gall can still see and admire his carvings in ivory. Fortunately these men found in the writer of the Annals of St. Gall a faithful chronicler of their daily life, and, thanks to him, we can form a vivid detailed picture of the group of scholars: Notker, surnamed the Stammerer, the student of logic and translator of Boethius; Tutilo, the poet, musician, painter and sculptor; Waldramm, the librarian of the monastery, and poet ; Salomon and Hartmann, both of whom were afterwards bishops. These were accustomed to gather, at night, in the writing-room (scriptorium), to discuss their literary projects; and when their enemy, Sindolf, the refectorarius, who suspected that their midnight gatherings had something to do with the "dark art," was caught playing the spy, the sons of learning were not slow to mete out to him the punishment which his eavesdropping deserved. Whatever these men achieved in the realm of literature and art they owed, in large measure, to the training they received from Moengal. In the tenth century, Faillan and Clemens, both Irishmen, were teachers at St. Gall. The former is distinctly styled "head of the school " (magister scolarum); he died in 991, as appears from the Necrology of the monastery.  In 841, the year in which Moengal arrived, there arrived also another Irish teacher, Eusebius. Soon, however, he retired, like many of his countrymen before him, to some mountain fastness, where he led the life of a recluse. Throughout the ninth and tenth centuries, Irish scholars continued to arrive at St. Gall, such as Brendan, Dubslan, Adam, David, Melchomber, Fortegian, Chinchon, Hepidan, and Dubduin, whose names occur in the necrologies and other records. The last of these it was who in somewhat rude verses deplores the ascendancy of the German element in the monastery founded by an Irish saint, and extols the achievement of the monks of Irish nationality, to whose credit he places the conversion of England and Germany.
Not only are the Irish teachers associated with the school of dialectic that flourished at Auxerre and with the logical studies of the monastery of St. Gall (we have from the school of logic in St. Gall not only the treatises published by Hattemer and Piper, but also several hitherto unedited works, including a set of verses on the valid moods in the three syllogistic figures a kind of forerunner of the "Barbara, Celarent" of Peter the Spaniard). They are also associated with abstruse metaphysical and mystical theological speculations suggested by the works of the Neo-Platonists, of which the rest of Europe at that time understood very little. For example, the Irishman, Macarius Scotus, who lived in the ninth century in the abbey of Corbey, commenting on a passage of St. Augustine's De Quantitate Animae, revived the doctrine of monopsychism; that is to say, he taught that there is but one mind, or intellect, in which all men participate. Unfortunately, his work is lost; we have, however, an answer to it from the pen of the celebrated Ratramnus .
The influence of the Irish teachers was felt not only in Southern Germany, but also in Austria and Northern Italy. In the tenth century Coloman and several companions, returning from Rome, settled in Austria, founded several monasteries in the neighborhood of Vienna, and, no doubt, inaugurated there the literary activity for which their fellow countrymen were distinguished. At Verona, in the ninth century, appeared an Irish monk from Bobbio, who was placed at the head of the school of St. Zeno. He seems, judging from a poem of his which has come down to us, to have run away from Bobbio, and the verses in which he describes his longing for the old home and the community of St. Columban have the ring of genuine pathos:

Nocte dieque gemo quia sum peregrinus et egens.
(Poet. Aevi Carol, III, 688.)

Towards the end of the same century there was another Irish teacher at Verona. (Ibid., 639, n.)

At Bobbio, on the Trebia, among the wildest, but most picturesque, of the Ligurian Appenines, Columban had made his monastic home, and there, after all his missionary labors, he found a final resting place. To this shrine of the greatest of Ireland's missionary saints pious scholars from Erin frequently found their way, bent on honoring the relics of their monastic founder. There Cummian, the aged bishop, found a haven of rest (about 750); there, by his piety and devotion, he earned the esteem of Luitprand, king of the Lombards. His epitaph was written by John, whom we judge from the title magister to have been the head of the school at Bobbio.  It was to Bobbio that, as we have seen, Dungal, the poet and astronomer, retired from the field of active work as a teacher, and it was to the library of Bobbio that he bequeathed his books, as a gift to St. Columban. Fortunately, we are as well informed about the library of Bobbio as we are about the school of St. Gall. We have a catalogue made in the tenth century showing the titles of the books it contained at that time. In it we find many interesting entries; for example,"Also the books which Dungal, the chief scholar among the Irish, gave to St. Columban ... a book in Latin on the Irish language." As is well known, the Muratorian Fragment, which contains the oldest extant list of the Books of the New Testament, now in the Ambrosian Library, formerly belonged to the library of Bobbio. Finally, students of the history of mathematics will remember that it was while Abbot of Bobbio (982) that Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II, wrote his work on geometry, making use of the manuscripts which he found in the library of the monastery, especially of the works of the Roman surveyors.

In addition to all those whose names we have succeeded in gathering from various sources, both edited and unedited, there were, no doubt, many teachers from Ireland of whom the continental records make no mention whatsoever. It is equally certain that, among anonymous works composed during the ninth and tenth centuries, there were some which are to be added to the credit of the Irish scholars. Sometimes there is an indication, a point of style, a characteristic mistake in orthography, an allusion, a turn of phrase, which warrants the critic in surmising that the author of the work was Irish. Thus, Dümmler is able to hazard the hypothesis that an elegy to Bishop Gunthar of Cologne is the work of an Irish scholar. Frequently, the mere fact that a work contains Greek words, or reveals an acquaintance with Greek, is taken as a sufficient proof of its Irish origin.
Whenever the Irish scribe used the characteristic Irish script, the origin of the book is, of course, evident even to the casual observer. It is as easy to distinguish a page of Latin written in Irish script from a page written in the continental style as it is to distinguish a printed page of German from a printed page of English. The Irish scribes, however, did not always use their own style of writing. In fact, the continental student found the Irish style of writing so difficult that he would have none of it. In the old booklists we often meet the entry, "Written in Irish characters: cannot be read" "Scottice scriptus, legi non potest." And when parchment became scarce, as it did in the eleventh century, or when the supply in the monastery gave out, the Irish books were often the first to be sacrificed. Sometimes they were used in binding other books; we find pages from them pasted inside bookcovers, and if a still greater number of them were not sacrificed in this way it was probably because of the illuminations which gave them a value independently of their legibility. Nevertheless, the Irish form of letters influenced the style of alphabet generally used on the continent in the ninth and tenth centuries. And not only in respect to the form of letters, but also in such matters as the preparation of the parchment, the mixing of the ink, etc., did the Irish scribes influence the technique of bookmaking. Dr. Keller, Nigra, and others who have devoted attention to the matter, tell us that the ink used by the Irish scribes was of superior quality, and that it is still distinguishable by its extraordinary freshness; even Bede remarked the durability and brightness of the red ink used by the Irish scribes of his time. The perfection to which the Irish brought the art of illumination is well known. Their work in this department of the fine arts is an unceasing source of astonishment to the modern critic, who knows how far the continental artist fell below the level of their attainment. The Irish illuminated manuscripts are distinguishable principally by the delicate, and at the same time complicated, geometrical tracings, the curiously symbolical representations of men, animals and plants, the symmetrical wordspacing, all of which, however, was done with the quill (the usual implement of writing among the Irish, as appears from a representation of St. John in the Book of Kells), and, so far as we know, without the aid of a compass. Examined under a microscope, these intricate designs do not reveal a single flaw. The Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh, the Lindisfarne Gospels, etc., which are to be seen in the libraries of Ireland and England, are not the only samples that have come down to us of the "Illuminated Hosts of the Books of Erin.'  Dr. Keller has made a study of the Irish manuscripts in the libraries of Switzerland, and, in an interesting work on the subject, has given some beautiful specimens of illumination and other ornamental work. He has a theory that not only the knowledge of Greek, for which the Irish teachers were famous, but also their art of illumination, was taught them by Greek monks from Alexandria who, he thinks, began to settle in Ireland early in the Christian era. However this may be, the specimens of Irish scroll work which he gives and the illustrations which are so generally reproduced nowadays from the Book of Kells, though they do not do full justice to the originals, give some idea of the perfection to which the Irish scribes brought the art of bookmaking. The Irish manuscripts are, however, interesting also from another point of view. The scribe whose sometimes uncongenial task it was to copy a treatise on Latin grammar would often adorn the margin of his page with a short poem of his own composition or with some side remark, such as "This is a dull page," "Night is drawing nigh," "The parchment is bad, the ink is bad; I'll say no more about it." These remarks and the marginal verses are sometimes in Irish, and constitute some of the most precious specimens of the old forms of the Gaelic language. The St. Gall copy of Priscian is especially interesting from this point of view. It is described by Nigra in his Reliquie celtiche (Turin, 1892). In it we meet invocations of Irish saints written on the margin (e.g., "St. Patrick, help me," "St. Brigit, aid the writer"), the names of Irish scribes who wrote the book, e.g., Maelpatrick, Dongus, Finguin, Cobtach, (Coffey), and an occasional set of verses, such as the quatrain in which the scribe, turning aside for a moment from the text of the grammarian, commemorates the song of the thrush singing in the green hedge outside the monastery walls. Finally, the Irish scribes who wrote in the schools of Switzerland and Germany left in their marginal notes and in the vocabularies which they drew up for the use of their students specimens of the old German language, for which the modern philologist is very grateful. For instance, among the most cherished treasures in the library of St. Gall is the little volume, Vocabularius Sancti Galli, said to have been used by St. Gall himself, but more probably written about 750. It contains Latin words with their German equivalents, written in Irish characters.
From the manuscript records alone it would not be difficult to show that the Irish teachers in the ninth and tenth centuries possessed a knowledge of Greek which was quite beyond the attainments of the continental scholars of that time. We have, however, more striking proofs in the achievements of John Scotus Eriugena, Sedulius and the Irish colony at Laon. In fact, the only question among modern critics is how to account for a condition which was certainly exceptional. The contemporaries of John the Scot expressed their surprise that one who came from the farthest regions of the earth could be so familiar with a language which was a closed book to those who stood closest to the center of ancient classic culture. And modern French and German scholars, students of the history of the early middle ages, can do little more than re-echo the note of astonishment.
The records of the ninth and tenth centuries give us some interesting, though all too meagre, details of the personal appearance and habits of the Irish scholars who appeared at every center of learning on the continent. The "Scots," they tell us, traveled in groups. They often made the pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land before taking up their abode at some French or German school. They presented a somewhat unusual appearance, having, we are told, the curious custom of dyeing, or tattooing, their eyebrows. They carried their books about from place to place in a kind of satchel, called a capsa (these were sometimes very highly ornamental), and generally used, instead of the ordinary pilgrim's staff, a crooked stick which was sometimes called cambutta Scottorum. From kings and princes who loved learning they received a royal welcome, at monasteries where the Irish were already known they were given hospitality, if not for their own sake, at least for the sake of the books and the learning they brought with them. There is in the Stadts u. Universitäts Bibliothek at Munich a manuscript volume (cod. lat. 14412, the text of the book was written in the 14th cent.), which, according to a note on the inside of the cover, was acquired by a monastery from a "foreign priest for four loaves of bread 'a sacerdote peregrino pro quattuor panibus.'" The note may, perhaps, refer to the time when "peregrinus" and "Irishmen" were synonymous. One would like to know the circumstances of this barter of the cherished book for the bare necessities of life, though the exchange may have been common enough at the time of which we are treating. That the Irish scholars were not always received with favor, however, is only too evident. When Alcuin's monks at Tours saw some strange ecclesiastics at the gate, they exclaimed, "Here are some more of the British (Irish) strangers." And the incident may be taken as typical. Indeed, the naturally ardent temperament of the Irish teachers, their light, airy way of referring to their own superiority, as when the two of whom the monk of St. Gall speaks cried out in the market-place, "If any one desire wisdom, let him come to us and he will receive it," their occasional boastfulness, as when Sedulius, describing the scene at Bethlehem, remarks that, as the Magi from the "Orient brought gold, frankincense and myrrh as an offering to Christ, so the Irish from the West brought Him the tribute of their wisdom, all this was calculated to provoke opposition. And it did. We have seen how St. Boniface denounced the Irishman Clement for rejecting the authority of the Latin Fathers, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory. Similarly, Alcuin, contrasting his own loyalty to the Latin Fathers with the well known preference of the Irish for the Greeks, complained that the "Egyptians" had supplanted the "Latins" at the court of Charlemagne. In many of his letters he returns to the same charge, sometimes indirectly, as when he says, "There are some who seek their own praise by striving to throw blame on others," "There are some who are better prepared to carp at the sayings of others than to put their own sayings before the public," sometimes more pointedly as, "They esteem it less to answer according to custom and authority than to add reason by way of confirmation". There was a twofold occasion for this conflict. In the first place, there was a real incompatibility between the Anglo-Saxon and the Celtic temperament, an incompatibility which explains much of medieval as well as of modern history. In the next place, there was a real divergence of views between Alcuin and his followers on the one hand and the Irish teachers on the other. The Anglo-Saxon mind, as represented by Alcuin, was not highly speculative. Its range was bounded by facts; its self-imposed task was to understand and expound the positive in the Christian system. The Celtic mind, on the contrary, was highly speculative. It was eager to know and to explain, and, as far as natural inclination went, it stopped at nothing in its effort to grasp the speculative principles of all truth. It fed, by preference, on the Greek theological literature of the early Church. The favorite gospel of the Irish was St. John's, their favorite theologian was Pseudo-Dionysius, and their favorite profane author was Martianus Capella, who, though he wrote in Latin, was looked upon with suspicion by men like Alcuin because of the free Hellenic mould in which his treatment of the  seven liberal arts was cast. It is easy to see that Benedict of Aniane, the pupil of Alcuin, must have felt the keen edge of some Irishman's wit when he denounced the "syllogism of delusion," with which the Scots were accustomed to overwhelm their opponents. The most violent, one might say virulent, of the opponents of the Irish on the continent, was Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans. He ridiculed the Irish pronunciation of Latin. His favorite name for an Irishman was "Scotellus." In speaking of Clement, the Irishman, he employed language which may be said to represent the utmost limit of odium theologicum: "a lawless thing," "a dull horror," "a deadly foe," "a malignant pest." Even John the Scot, towering in gigantic proportions over all his contemporaries, did not escape the shafts of malignant criticism. Although he had been invited to take sides in the great theological controversy concerning Predestination, he received but scant courtesy from friend as well as foe. "Irish porridge" (pultes scottica), was the phrase applied by his critics to that particularly subtle mode of argumentation in which he and his countrymen excelled.
Notwithstanding hostile criticism, which, after all, was an unconscious tribute, the Irish teachers left a lasting impression on their own and subsequent generations. Not only were they the chief teachers of grammar, poetry, astronomy, music and geography at a time when these branches of culture had no other, or scarcely any other, representative on the continent of Europe, but they also profoundly influenced the course of medieval thought in matters of philosophy and theology. Their elucidations of the Gospel of St. John and their commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul formed a new school of exegesis, and it may be remarked, in passing, that their exposition was based, not on the commonly accepted Vulgate, but on an earlier Latin version and, sometimes, on the Greek text itself. They introduced the Neo-Platonic point of view in metaphysical speculation, and carried the art of dialectic to a higher point than it had ever before attained. It is no exaggeration to say that they were the founders of scholasticism and that Ireland is the Ionia of medieval philosophy. At the same time it is true that if the free, intellectual Hellenism with its background of Celtic imaginativeness and spirituality, which they represented, had not been held in check by the definite, inelastic Latinism, which stood for precise, juristic formularies in the place of vague ideals, the history of medieval thought would be very different from what it really is.

Those Irish teachers must have been dimly conscious of the sublimity of their aims and the magnitude of their mission. For, in all their trials and amid all the clamor of race hatred and professional jealousy they preserved their ideals and were sustained in their devotion to learning. One can see in their writings that, though their mission called them to far distant lands, where their lot was that of an alien and an exile (peregrinus and exul occur very frequently in their descriptions of themselves), their heart yearned for Eire of their birth and the peaceful monastic homes from which they had been driven by the invader. What was said of Columkille might be said of each of his exiled brethren: "In his native land everything was dear to him, its mountains and valleys, its rivers and lakes, the song of its birds, the gentleness of its youth, the wisdom of its aged. He loved to steer his bark round its coast and to see the waves break on its shore. He even envied the driftwood which floated out from the shore of Iona, because it was free to land on the coast of Erin. He thought that death in Ireland was to be preferred to life in any other land, and when an Irishman was leaving Iona, he would say pathetically, "You are returning to the country which you love."

The foregoing pages are intended to set forth the details of the work of the Irish teachers, as far as it is possible to do so, from the scanty records which have come down to us. Of general tributes to the importance of that work there is no lack. That the Irish were the first teachers of scholastic theology as Mosheim expresses it, that, by carrying their talents and their learning to other lands, they won for their own country the high title of "Island of the Holy and the Learned," as Newman says: that their work formed, as Zimmer remarks, the actual foundation of our present concontinental system of civilization; that, as the distinguished historian of the Carolingian schools writes, "Ireland was thenone land where the Church achieved a double conquest unaidedmby the civil arm and unstained by the effusion of blood;" that from Ireland went forth that "enquiring, restless and often unruly Celtic spirit, touched and quickened by Hellenic thought, delighting in the discovery of new paths, impatient of every unproved formula, and accepting half mistrustfully, at best, what comes to it stamped with the highest sanction of wisdom and experience" all this is nowadays accepted as a commonplace in the history of medieval education. To show, however, that in these and similar statements there is no exaggeration, it seemed necessary to trace out the men who took a share in that work, to set down their names and recall their achievements, thus adding one more tribute to their fame, the tribute of their own writings, "for the glory of God and the honor of Erin," as the ancient scribes themselves were wont to express it. 


Catholic University Bulletin Vol 13 (1907), 562-581.



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