Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Monastic Option

"By A.D. 700, writes the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, "European learning had fled to the bogs of Ireland. While Europe was sacked by the Goths, Arabs, and Vikings, a few scholars such as the Venerable Bede (circa 673-735; lived at the Jarrow monastery in Northumbria) preserved a knowledge of the classics, carrying the seeds of Western life "through the grim winter of the Dark Ages." In the seventh century alone, two hundred new monasteries were founded in Gaul...Irish monasteries "produced a series of remarkable men who exerted a profound influence on thought and letters in Western Europe... Monasteries such as those founded by the Irish monk Columba at Derry and Iona became important study centers".
                                                                        Morris Berman

Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Morris Berman's The Twilight of American Culture (2001) which is quoted above. This disturbing but powerful book describes the decline of American society, the corruption of politics, failed education system, widening gaps between rich and poor, and the "Rambification" of entertainment and culture. Not a hopeful or pretty picture by any stretch. What is most surprizing, is where Berman finds a model of hope. It comes from the early medievel world in the form of the Celtic Church. To quote, David Knowles's "Christian Monasticism", the monasteries "became centres of light and life in a simple, static, semi-barbarian world, perserving and later diffusing what remained of ancient culture and spirituality". "Or as the eminent historian Charles Homer Haskins said of them: "Set like islands in a sea of ignorance and barbarism, they had saved learning from extinction in Western Europe at a time when no other forces moved toward that end".

Berman's illuminating work, I think, sets perfectly, the agenda for this blog, and explains partially why Celtic Christianity, has something of deep significance and beauty to offer the world. We live in an identical time, where the Church, and specifically the Celtic Church, can provide light in a time of darkness.

1 comment:

  1. As far as I know, Morris Berman isn't even a practicing Christian. This fact ought to make his admiration even more impressive.