10 March 2010


This past week I read through Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (New York: Doubleday, 1995) since I have had some intrigue about it for a number of years and that St Patrick's Day is less than a week away. My overly brief review of the book is that it is good - though parts of it do not lend the reader to an easy navigation of the narrative - but, people should read this book to better understand the role of the Irish in world history. Of special interest is the part played by Irish Christianity, beginning with Patrick himself. In many respects this civilization preserved and progressed the entire human enterprise, and we should be grateful for their devotion to their faith.

One particular quote from Cahill's book is worth noting:

"Patrick's gift to the Irish was his Christianity - the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history, a Christianity without the sociopolitical baggage of the Greco-Roman world, a Christianity that completely inculturated itself into the Irish scene. Through the Edict of Milan, which had legalized the new religion in 313 and made it the new emperor's pet, Christianity had been received into Rome, not Rome into Christianity! Roman culture was little altered by the exchange, and it is arguable that Christianity lost much of its distinctiveness. But in the Patrician exchange, Ireland, lacking the power and implacable traditions of Rome, had been received into Christianity, which transformed Ireland into Something New, something never seen before - a Christian culture, where slavery and human sacrifice became unthinkable, and warfare, though impossible for humans to eradicate, diminished markedly" (148).

How interesting to think that a culture could be transformed by Christianity rather than assimilating Christianity. It seems that the greater a civilization becomes the more hubris keeps the impact of the gospel from making lasting change. It should come without shock to identify the assimilation found within our own borders, and the blessings which have become commonplace make it possible for us to regard our own ways to be right, or (what is worse) our own abilities sufficient over the need for grace.

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