The Irish Missions In The Early Ages -- By: Rufus Anderson
BSac 25:98 (April 1868) p. 346
The Irish Missions In The Early Ages
In a religious point of view, Ireland of the present day is painfully contrasted with Ireland as it was a thousand years ago. Yet one would scarcely think so on reading what Hume says of it, previous to its conquest by Henry II., in the year 1172. “The Irish,” he says, “from the beginning of time had been buried in the most profound barbarism and ignorance; and as they were never conquered, or even invaded, by the Romans, from whom all the Western world derived its civility, they continued still in the most rude state of society, and were distinguished by those vices alone to which human nature, not tamed by education or restrained by laws, is forever subject.” 1
He adds, indeed, that “the Irish had, by precedent missions from the Britons, been imperfectly converted to Christianity; and, what the Pope regarded as the surest mark of their imperfect conversion, they followed the doctrines of their
BSac 25:98 (April 1868) p. 347
first teachers, and had never acknowledged any subjection to the See of Rome.”
How remote the first of these extracts is from historic truth in respect to Ireland before its subjection to the Pope of Rome, will appear as we proceed.
The excellent Dr. D’Aubigne, moreover, in his History of the Reformation in England, misled by his authorities, has done much injustice to the ancient Irish Christians; and Irish authors very properly take exception to his statement concerning the propagation of the gospel on the continent of Europe.
“The missionary bishops of Britain,” he says, “traversed the Low Countries, Gaul, Switzerland, Germany, and even Italy......Columbanus (whom we must not confound with Columba), feeling in his heart the burning of the fire which the Lord had kindled upon earth, quitted Bangor in 590 with twelve other missionaries, and carried the gospel to the Burgundians, Franks, and Swiss......Thus was Britain faithful in planting the standard of Christ in the heart of Europe.” Again: “The British church, which at the beginning of the seventh century carried faith and civilization into Burgundy, the Vosges mountains, and Switzerland, might well have spread them both over Britain.” Once more: “At that time there existed at Bangor, in North Wales, a large Christian society, amounting to nearly three thousand individuals, collected together to work with their own hands, to study, and to pray, and from whose bosom numerous missionaries (Columbanus was among the number) had from time to time gone forth.”2
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