Monday 18 December 2017

Saint Adamnan of Iona and the Genealogy of Christ

St Matthew from the Book of Durrow
J.O. Westwood (1868)

As we approach the feast of Christmas we will be hearing the genealogy of Christ among the readings for the season. This is an aspect of the scriptures which scholar Thomas O'Loughlin has discussed in his book 'Journeys on the Edges - The Celtic Tradition' (part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality series). In the excerpt below, he examines how the great abbot of Iona and biographer of St Colum Cille, Adomnan, would, unlike people today, have found this type of information compelling and of genuine interest:

'Today when we hear scriptural passages in the liturgy, either about the tribal wars in Kings or any of the descriptions of tombs in which a patriarch was buried - or worse when we hear any of the genealogical passages - we may become exasperated that 'such stuff' is greeted as the Word of God. But to Adomnan these were among the parts of the Scriptures that spoke most directly to him and his people. He knew tribal warfare at first hand - it was endemic in his society and he expended much effort in trying to mitigate its suffering. And, just as the scriptural writers assumed that God took sides in this so that 'his people' either triumphed or were punished for their sins by defeat, he assumed that God could take sides and manifest his will in these matters. Conscious that he was Irish and a member of a family that could be related to a common ancestor, all the genealogical material in Scripture was inherently interesting to Adomnan. He knew himself as a member of the Cenel Conaill - the ruling family in the northern part of Ireland - which was also the family of Columba and the five other abbots before him, and we can still construct his family tree! His own culture shared many of the values of those who originally compiled that material, and just as biblical writers created genealogies to forge alliances between groups, so Adomnan looked to those lists of ancestors to find his people's relationships to the rest of humanity. By tracing an ancestry back to the Flood the Irish became part of the whole history of God's providence, and then it was simply a matter of location that they were among the last peoples to hear the gospel.'

(Thomas O'Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges (London, 2000), 52-53.

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1 comment:

Finola Finlay said...

Often wondered about that. Thanks for the info.