St. Patrick, St. Columbanus and the advent of Irish spirituality
A propitious moment of great importance for medieval spirituality is crystallised in two Irish monks: St. Patrick and St. Columbanus (Columban). St. Patrick, patron of Ireland (d. 461), having been shaped, essentially, by a monastic environment in Roman Gaul, came back to Ireland as bishop. He encouraged the development of monasticism, as well as a secular priesthood, and instituted communities of monks and nuns who functioned as missionaries under his supervision. Through the tireless work of this bishop and his collaborators, a strong Catholic faith was planted in Ireland – one which has characterised the people of the Irish republic to this day. The radical choices and rapid success of St. Patrick’s mission and that of his followers was to have therefore, consequences of the greatest importance for the future history of Eire, with clashes and wars marking the subsequent encounter between Catholic Ireland and the English Anglican mainland – conflicts which are still focused today on the British and ‘Protestant’ province of Ulster - the six northern counties of the island.
St. Columbanus (b. ca. 563) was trained in the rigidly observant community of Bangor (Co. Down). In around 591 he was transferred to Gaul, where he preached at the court of Childebert, king of Austrasia). He later went to the Vosges, where he founded a monastic community for which he wrote his monastic Rule, along with a Rule for the community and two Penitentials. His powerful call for total submission to Christ, involving an identification with and sharing of His suffering by means of Penance created conflicts with bishops and powerful local magnates. He was forced into exile. He went first to Switzerland, where he founded the monastery of St. Gall, then to Bobbio in Lombardy, where he died in 615. The strength of Columban and his disciples’ spiritual influence in Europe has led scholars to speak of a veritable ‘Irish spiritual invasion’ during this specific period between the decline of Antiquity and the later Middle Ages.
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