Goodreads Review: How the Irish Saved Civilization

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe¬† by Thomas Cahill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An excellent telling and explanation of the Celts pagan background and how it influenced their flavor of Christianity. Their love of story contributes much to their collecting, copying, and preserving of many documents. As often happens, the diaspora of monks through banishment spreads their philosophy throughout the continent. From the time of the Viking invasions of the late 8th century to the great famines of the 19th century, the scholarly civilization that the Irish had built up has been constantly under attack, but signs of what they once were, and how hard they worked to preserve that can still be found to this day in relics found in digs.

The Irish conversion to Christianity is noted as being the first that did not bring Roman culture with it. The Irish blended their love of story and images with the gospel story of the Bible. They were not a culture that relied on well thought out arguments to persuade but on stories. The Greek influence on Roman thought was gone. “The intellectual disciplines of distinction, definition, and dialectic that had once been the glory of men like Augustine were unobtainable by readers of the Dark Ages, whose apprehension of the world was simple and immediate, framed by myth and magic. A man no longer subordinated one thought to another with mathematical precision; instead, he apprehended similarities and balances, types and paradigms, parallels and symbols. It was a world not of thoughts, but of images.” [my wish is that this would appear as “Dark Ages”]

There is so much similarity to these ideas of myth, symbols, and images with the mind of people of the Middle Ages that though from the Vikings on various invaders and oppressors were trying to destroy this Irish way of seeing and learning, it is obvious it survived to influence those of medieval times. There is a big push in some educational circles to be “classical”, to return to the forms of the Greeks and Romans. As for me and my house, I’m going with the story-telling Celts and image-seeing Medievals.

How can you not want to be like a people that loved story and then came to love the greatest story of them all?

“In 1225, almost four centuries after it was written, Pope Honorius III order all copies of ‘De Divisione Naturae’ to be burned. Some, obviously escaped the bonfire.

“But in the age of John Scotus Eriugena, Christian churchmen did not burn books. Only barbarians did that.”



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