Слике страница

perfect acquaintance with the old Irish, Welsh, and Gaelic dialects, as well as with the French and Latin of those days, which has opened to him the writings of the earliest chroniclers, together with all that could be learned from the connection between ancient and modern nomenclature ; while his accurate topographical knowledge has compelled rocks and stones to speak to him, and the existing features of many a landscape to reveal to him hitherto undiscovered traces of the past.

The volume we are considering, though a substantive work in itself, is the second of three books into which Mr. Skene has divided a general history of Celtic Scotland—the subject of the first, already published, having been History and Ethnology, and that of the third, hereafter to appear, Land and People. That now before us, on Church and Culture, is independent of the other volumes, but the information contained in them naturally casts light on many points of ecclesiastical history which must have remained obscure to historians with a less complete grasp of the subject as a whole. The most striking characteristic of the book is its absolute impartiality. There is not a trace of any partizan religious bias in the whole book. It simply gives in clear, unexaggerated language every detail which has approved itself as authentic, and then leaves the true fabric of the ancient Celtic Church to shape itself out, as it were, from the rugged mass of facts thus brought together, without any manipulation of the author's.

The picture thus presented to us of the earliest stronghold of Christianity in Northern Britain is not only singularly striking, but, bearing on every line the stamp of truth, it is also suggestive of possible solutions to many of the ecclesiastical problems of the present day. We shall endeavour to place before our readers a slight sketch of the general aspect of the primitive Church which seems to grow under our eyes in the pages of this book, though our limited space prevents our giving an adequate idea of the picturesque details with which the volume abounds, or the weird beauty of many of its scenes.

The first ray of light that pierces the gloom of the far-off ages comes to us in the white vision of the Candida Casa, a church of stone, built, with an adjoining monastery, by S. Ninian, in the year 397, for a district christianised by him, which extended along the north shore of the Solway Firth. Well did the name given to that church by the rude natives themselves—Candida Casa--and that by which S. Ninian designated the town on the west of Wigtown Bay, where he placed it — Leukopibia — express the contrast of the pure Christian light it represented with the darkness of the surrounding paganism. “It is difficult for us now to realise to ourselves,' says Mr. Skene, 'what pagan life really was—its hopeless corruption, its utter disregard of the sanctity of domestic life, its injustice and selfishness, its violent and bloody character ;' and there is no doubt that, prior to the introduction of Christianity, this passage describes the condition both of Scotland and Ireland.

In clearing the ground for the history of the Celtic Church by a brief summary of the forms of worship it was destined to supersede, the author entirely demolishes the popular theory of a so-called Druidical religion.

"The paganism,' he says, 'which characterised the Irish tribes and the nation of the Northern Picts exhibits precisely the same features ; and all the really ancient notices we possess of it are in entire harmony with each other in describing it as a sort of fetichism, which peopled all the objects of nature with malignant beings, to whose agency its phenomena were attributed, while a class of persons termed Magi, or Druadh, exercised great influence among the people from a belief that they were able, through their aid, to practise a species of magic or witchcraft, which might either be used to benefit those who sought their assistance or to injure those to whom they were opposed. How unlike this is in every respect to the popular conception of what is called the Druidical religion will be at once apparent. The process by which this monstrous system has been evoked was simply to invest these same Druadh with all the attributes which Cæsar and the classical writers give to the Druids of Gaul, and to transfer to these northern regions all that they tell of Druidism in Gaul ; to connect that with the stone monuments — those silent records of a remote age, and possibly of a different race, which have outlived all record of their time—and to assume that the stone circles and cromlechs, which are undoubtedly sepulchral monuments, represent temples and altars. Add to this some false etymologies of terms which are supposed to contain the name of Bel or Baal, and we have at once the popular conception of the Druidical religion, with its hierarchy of Archdruids, Druids, Vates, and Eubates, and all its paraphernalia of temples, altars, human sacrifices, and the worship of Baal.'

The personified powers of ‘nature' thus worshipped by the great nation of the Northern Picts were looked upon by the Christian Church as demons. An ancient tract contained in the Leabhar na h-uidhri states that the demoniac, power was great, and so great was it that they--that is, the demonsused to tempt the people in human bodies, and that they used to show them secret places, and places where they should be immortal, and it was in that way they were believed, and it is

or more shores as a tion of the Bed in Brita

these phantoms that the unlearned people call Sidhe and aes Sidhe. It was to rescue the Picts and their land from this, or more real, thraldom to the powers of evil that Ninian came to their shores as a missionary in the fourth century. He was a bishop of the nation of the Britons. A Christian Church would seem to have been founded in Britain as early as the second century, but it was essentially a part of the Church of the Empire, and was limited to the Latin province. All who dwelt beyond that boundary were termed by the Roman writers ‘barbarians,' and their paganism was undisturbed for nearly two centuries longer. Ninian had been trained at Rome in the doctrine and discipline of the Western Church, and Bede states that he was there initiated into all the mysteries of the faith; but a still stronger religious influence seems to have been exerted over him by S. Martin of Tours, whom he visited in that city on his way home to Britain after completing his studies in Rome. It is said that Ninian obtained from S. Martin a band of masons who were to accompany him to the land of the barbarians, that he might build amongst them the church afterwards known as Candida Casa; but, whether or not he thus secured assistance for its material framework, it is certainly due to S. Martin's teaching and example that it became the germ of that which in the future was to be a great school of monasticism.

The nionastic spirit first spread from its birthplace in the East to Italy, and subsequently to Gaul, through the influence of the great Athanasius, whose Life of S. Anthony was written in Rome, when he took refuge there from the persecutions of the Arians in 341. Mr. Skene makes a slight mistake in saying that a few years later he was exiled to Treves, his sojourn in that city having been previous to his residence in Rome; but in both places the fervour with which he described the self-denying lives of the Eastern monks worked with so strong an effect among the people that the term 'religious' was already, at that period, given to all who followed a monastic rule, while the word 'secular' was applied to the clergy who did not go beyond the general ecclesiastical rule.

It was, however, by S. Martin of Tours that monasticism was finally established. He founded the first monastery in Gaul—the ancient house of Ligugé, at Poitiers-in 361, whilst only a simple monk, and afterwards, when he became Bishop of Tours, in 372, he raised near that city the great institution which was soon known far and wide as the 'Magus Monasterium.' S. Ninian became thoroughly imbued with this ascetic spirit under the teaching of the saintly Bishop of

East to Italy, thanasius, whose there from

Tours, and Candida Casa--the little white church which he built on the stormy north shore of the Solway Firth-was in after years surrounded by the buildings of a ‘Magnum Monasterium'-the nucleus in Scotland of that vast monastic system which was destined to be ultimately the chief source of life and strength in the Celtic Church, and its most powerful agency in the conversion of the heathen. Already in the lifetime of S. Ninian the light which shone from Candida Casa extended as far as the mountain range of the Grampians, and won the whole nation of the Southern Picts to abandon, at least for a time, their pagan worship for the religion of Christ. According to the most ancient authorities, S. Ninian himself carried the lamp of the Faith over the sea to the tribes who peopled the hills and valleys of wild green Erin, where he is said to have spent the last years of his life, and to have founded a church in Leinster called Cluanconaire.

The tradition which thus assigns to S. Ninian the first planting of the Church in Ireland is held by Mr. Skene to be much more trustworthy than the accounts which attribute the conversion of that island to S. Patrick, whose somewhat mythical history he thoroughly investigates, coming apparently to the conclusion that certain chroniclers have performed on behalf of this popular saint, the feat an able writer once pronounced the 'most impossible of historical tasks—the creation of evidence which does not exist. In any case we see the Celtic Church, as it branched forth from Candida Casa, firmly established both in Scotland and Ireland in the end of the fourth century; and as thus for the first time clearly seen in the early dawn of its history, it undoubtedly manifests a high type of spiritual life, although the monastic element was not at first sufficiently developed to work the marvels of missionary enterprise which distinguished its maturity.

After the death of Ninian, which must have taken place in the early part of the fifth century—although Mr. Skene rejects as spurious the authorities by which modern writers have claimed to fix the date on September 16, 432-a long period of historical darkness ensued, furnishing but scanty authentic material for a true picture of the Celtic Church. This silence of contemporary writers for at least a century and a half is due to the fact that when the Roman dominion in Britain came to an end, in 410, the troops were withdrawn from the province, which then ceased to form part of the Empire, and all intercourse with the Continent was completely cut off by the incursions of barbarian tribes into Roman Gaul. Until now the Celtic Church had been an integral part of that

plain fromecclesiastical authorch of Rome as thallican Church,

of the Empire, in close connection with the Gallican Church, and she regarded the Patriarch of Rome as the source in the West of ecclesiastical authority and mission; but it seems plain from her subsequent history that during this period of isolation, from the commencement of the fifth century to the close of the sixth, submission to the Papal power formed no part of her constitution, and was not in any sense considered essential to her existence as a Church. From the slight contemporary notices of this period we learn little beyond the introduction of the Pelagian heresy into Britain by Agricola, son of the Pelagian bishop Severianus. This occurred only nineteen years after the termination of the Roman dominion, when there was still sufficient connection with the Gallican bishops for the fact to become known to them. Accordingly they sent first Germanus, and two years later Palladius, as first bishop to the Scots in Ireland, to bring them back to the Catholic faith from the heresy with which they, in common with their brethren on the mainland, were tainted. There is no further mention of the Pelagians, although the mission of Palladius seems to have failed, in so far at least that his episcopate clearly never became an established power in the land, and it is even said to have terminated in his martyrdom, or flight, within a year of its commencement. From this point our only sources of information respecting the isolated Celtic Church are, first, two documents belonging to the eighth century, entitled A Catalogue of the Saints in Ireland and the Litany of Angus the Culdee; and secondly, the Confession of S. Patrick, with his Epistle to Coroticus, both of which Mr. Skene accepts as undoubtedly genuine.

We must not pause to describe the maze of conflicting traditions through which the author has to struggle before he arrives at this happy conclusion-sometimes finding Patricius and Pailadius represented as the same person, or two Patricks contending equally for an authentic existence, or again a Patrick who seems really to have no substantial being at all, but to be a mere myth surrounded by a mass of legendary fiction. Mr. Skene, however, unwinds the tangled skein, and presents us with a most curious picture of the constitution of the Church at that time. A brief summary of the true history of S. Patrick may be gathered from his own authentic writings, and is of use in leading us to a clear understanding of this part of our subject. Patricius belonged to a Christian people, and was born of a Christian father—Calpornius, a deacon, who lived in the village of Bannavem of Tabernia, where he had a small farm. He was of gentle birth, his father being

« ПретходнаНастави »