Saturday, June 11, 2011

Re: Patrick in Ireland

Someone asked, You mention that Patrick had difficulty with Latin.  Why would he need Latin when people in all of England and Ireland spoke languages other than Latin?”

In order to preach or evangelize as Patrick did, one needed to know Latin. The Evangelist would need to know the native language in order to preach, but he would have needed to know Latin in order to study the Scriptures which were readily only in that language.

On page 87-88 of The Barbarian Conversion from Paganism to Christianity, Fletcher writes, “Christian churches imply Christian texts. Patrick was soaked in the Bible, as may be readily seen from passages in his Confessio . . . and he would have seen to it that the priests he ordained were too. Familiarity with the Bible and the Christian liturgy presupposed two things: learning Latin and acquiring the technology of writing. Ancient Ireland had a rich oral repertoire of poetry and narrative but early Christian leaders there seem to have been reluctant to translate Christian texts into the vernacular and write them down; possibly the Irish vernacular was held to be tainted by association with paganism. (It should be said that these inhibitions were overcome at a later stage and that in the course of time Ireland developed a rich Christian literature in Old Irish.) Whatever the reason, early Irish converts, unlike Ulfila’s Goths, were not presented with a vernacular Bible. So Patrick’s clerical disciples had to learn Latin. Moreover, they had to learn Latin as a foreign language. The Provençal audiences of Caesarius, the flock of Bishop Martin in Touraine, even the rustics of Galicia, all spoke Latin of a sort. The Irish did not. Learning Latin, for them, meant schools and grammar and a lot of hard work. It was the need to acquire facility in Latin – in an environment which lacked the educational system which was such a central feature of later-antique literary culture in the Roman Empire – which made the pursuit of learning an essential feature of Irish Christian communities in the early Middle Ages. Much was to follow from this. Early results were impressive: the first Irishman who has left us a substantial body of Latin writings was St Columbanus. He was born in about 545 and devoted his youth to ‘liberal and grammatical studies’, in the words of his earliest biographer: this would have been in the 550s and early 560s. The Latin of Columbanus was confident, supple and elegant, altogether different from the raw uncouth Latin of Patrick. It is plain that by the middle of the sixth century it was possible in Ireland to acquire a really good Latin education.”

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