This paper Hearts And Minds Aflame For Christ: Irish Monks—A Model For Making All Things New in the 21st Century by Daryl McCarthy at the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s site is magnificent. A wonderfully strong and encouraging vision — long term, total saturation, holy, passionate, reformational Christendom taking a dark land for Christ… its been done before in Europe, by some very remarkable Irish monks. It needs to be done again.
To whet your appetite here are some excerpts:
Marnell states: “Of all the Irish peregrini on the Continent there can scarcely be any doubt that Columban had the most widespread and lasting impact. Within a generation France was dotted with monasteries, founded by men who had been trained in Luxeuil. Most of their founders were natives of France….Columban supplied the inspiration, the Franks supplied the personnel.”29 More than sixty disciples of Columban fanned out across Europe wielding wide influence over the Continent.30 More than thirty monasteries were founded as a direct result of monks trained at Luxeuil, and another two hundred monasteries had some indirect linkage to Luxeuil.31
Marnell colorfully describes Columban as,
A microcosm of the entire Irish monastic movement: he was a missionary to the pagan; a theologian who debated with bishops and even with a pope; a public figure feared and therefore courted, without success, by a regent and a king; a poet who could versify his faith but also write a rowing song; the sort of man who could fell a tree with one blow of an axe and then strangle a bear. Such men have messages for popes and barbarians alike.32
The foremost motivation, especially for the early monks, was simply their love for Christ. As Gougaud eloquently states:
Christ had set their hearts on fire, and even today, after the lapse of so many centuries, our souls burn within us when we read the brief phrases that embody the great motive which led to the wanderings of these saintly exiles….These are, it is true, varied in form, but are generally crystallized in such words as ‘for the love of God,’ ‘for Christ,’ ‘for the Name of the Lord,’ and ‘for the love of the Name of Christ.’….they were indeed ‘of Christ enamoured wholly’ and had in full and bounteous measure that personal affection which…lit up their hearts with the white heat of a great passion that no sacrifice could satiate and no suffering subdue….They yearned to win all to Christ.50
These were truly academicians who loved God with their total being, including their minds, as Scripture commands.
It was said of Columban that, as Daniel-Rops expresses it, “His passing through the country started a real contagion of holiness.”63 In fact the holiness of their lives was one of their primary means of evangelism. The pagan people with their debauched lives were attracted to the simple, pure lives of the monks. They saw something in these monks they wanted. Hertling asserts that “What induced the heathens to become Christians…was, perhaps, not so much the sermons these monks preached as the example of their lives entirely devoted to God.”64
8. Training National Leaders
The goal of the early monks was to, as Zimmer puts it, make themselves “superfluous… so that, in many instances, the second generation of monks…” would be native to that country.75 And it worked. This provided a strength and resilience that carried the institutions far beyond what they would have been had they aimed to establish purely “Irish” institutions which would be mere monuments to their own national heritage. Marnell refers to one of their main objectives as being “self-liquidation.”76 For all of their love and loyalty to their homeland, these Irish monks were decidedly non-ethnocentric; they were ethnically inclusive. The Irish monks seized every opportunity to train leaders at the highest levels, leaders who would shape Europe. They seemed to instinctively understand the “top-down principle,”—that by shaping the heart and mind of a leader, one is able to multiply his influence through the many individuals and institutions that the pupil in turn will influence. Teaching kings and emperors and their sons earned them credibility and a reputation as teachers and also enabled them to wield broad influence across Europe.