Monday, March 17, 2003

The Ancient Irish and the Ancient English
From The Rise and Progress of Universities by Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O.

"The seventh and eighth centuries are the glory of the Anglo-Saxon Church, as are the sixth and seventh of the Irish. As the Irish missionaries travelled down through England, France, and Switzerland, to lower Italy, and attempted Germany at the peril of their lives, converting the barbarian, restoring the lapsed, encouraging the desolate, collecting the scattered, and founding churches, schools, and monasteries, as they went along; so, amid the deep pagan woods of Germany and round about, the English Benedictine plied his axe and drove his plough, planted his rude dwelling and raised his rustic altar upon the ruins of idolatry, and then settling down as a colonist upon the soil, began to sing his chants and to copy his old volumes, and thus to lay the slow but sure foundations of the new civilization. Distinct, nay antagonistic, in character and talent, the one nation and the other, Irish and English, the one more resembling the Greek, the other the Roman, open from the first perhaps to jealousies as well as rivalries, they consecrated their respective gifts to the Almighty Giver, and, labouring together for the same great end, they obliterated whatever there was of human infirmity in their mutual intercourse by the merit of their common achievements. Each by turn could claim pre-eminence in the contest of sanctity and of learning. In the schools of science England has no name to rival Erigena in originality, or St. Virgil in freedom of thought; nor among its canonized women any saintly virgin to compare with St. Bridget; nor, although it has 150 saints in its calendar, can it pretend to equal that Irish multitude which the Book of Life alone is large enough to contain. Nor can Ireland, on the other hand, boast of a doctor such as St. Bede, or of an Apostle equal to St. Boniface, or of a Martyr like St. Thomas,—or of so long a catalogue of royal devotees as that of the thirty male or female Saxons who in the course of two centuries resigned their crowns, or as the roll of twenty-three kings, and sixty queens and princes, who, between the seventh and the eleventh centuries, gained a place among the saints. Yet, after all, the Irish, whose brilliancy of genius has sometimes been considered, like the Greek, to augur fickleness and change, have managed to persevere to this day in the science of the saints, long after their ancient rivals have lost the gift of faith. "


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