Category Archives: Church History

The Sacred Hearts

sacredheart sacred-heart-of-mary For some reason I’ve been thinking about pictures of Jesus and Mary that I can remember from my childhood lately. The style I remember most from the homes of the older members of my family are all of the sacred heart of Jesus and the sacred heart of Mary, usually 8 x10 or larger hung or displayed next to each other. The illustrations here are not exactly like a remember but very similar. The prints in my memory are all very pastel, because they were all faded with age.

It struck me today how long its been since I’ve seen these once ubiquidous images. The reason is simple. I belong to a protestant church now and neither of these images are used. While protestant churches avoid pictures of Mary, they don’t use images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus either. I don’t know why as the sacred heart of Jesus is a symbol of the love of God. Anyone know why Protestants avoid the image of the sacred heart?


O’Loughlin’s Celtic Theology

[cross posted from Heavenfield]

Thomas O’Loughlin’s Celtic Theology: Humanity, World, and God in Early Irish Writings, Continuum, 2000.

Going through my backlog of drafts and I just realized that I never came back and finished this book review. Better late than never!

This really is quite a valuable book that dispels some common myths and gives you a real sense for what we know of the Irish church. I know my book will be used until it is dog-eared. This book should be a must read for anyone interested in early medieval theology.

This book covers such a wide range of topics that the only way I can think to review is fully is chapter by chapter.


  1. Celtic Theology?: Discusses the concept of Celtic theology and more importantly what it is not. O’Loughlin’s attitude is that Celtic theology is a type of local theology.

  2. Patrick the Missionary: Analyzes Patrick’s work through the two documents that are genuinely accepted as being written by Patrick, notably his Confessio and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. His discussion of Patrick’s world view and personal theology is very interesting. Patrick’s theology of his fulfilling the commandment to preach at the ‘ends of the Earth’ is especially telling.

  3. The Penitentials: The Human Dilemma: He discusses the development and rationale behind the penitentials, and pays special attention to the Penitential of Finnian (Uinniau) and the penitential of Cummean,

  4. Adomnan: A Theologian at Work: O’Loughlin is best known for his work on Adomnan and this chapter does not disappoint. Adomnan was very much on par with Bede as an influential churchman and this chapter highlights all of Adomnan’s other accomplishments other than writing the Life of Columba. I think you would be hard pressed to find a more influential churchman anywhere in the British Isles in the 7-8th century than Adomnan, Abbot of Iona. His three main works, the Cain Adomnan / Law of the Innocents, On the Holy Places, and the Life of Columba are just now really becoming appreciated for the theology, skill and depth of knowledge they reflect.

  5. Muirchu: Dramatist or Theologian? Muirchu is the author of the First Life of Patrick. He notes that Muirchu was skilled at narrative theology, and this is what the Life of Patrick really is. Narrative theology, teaching theology through a story, is fairly rare today but this is the form taken by Scripture itself. The different narrative theologies of the four evangelists accounts for much of the differences between the four gospels. O’Loughlin also discusses Muirchu’s biblical models for Patrick, such as Daniel.

  6. The Collectio canonum hibernensis: Marriage and Sexuality Ireland had a well developed legal system that was independent of Roman law and this legal system influenced the Irish canons. He shows that contrary to popular opinion that Ireland was a female friendly, Augustine-free zone, the canons were quite the opposite and influenced by the theology of Augustine. (Just to back this up, read the 9th century treatise on Cain Adomnan and you’ll see how anti-female it could be!) These canons are one areas where there is plenty of detail in early medieval practices.

  7. The Stowe Missal: The Eucharist as Refreshment: The Stowe Missal is one of the only liturgical sources we have for the rites of the Celtic church dating to c. 800, probably at Tallaght. While the Eucharistic rite was Roman, other aspects of the celebration differed more modern practices. Attitudes toward community and communion of the saints was more intense that any we experience today. They really felt strongly in communion with the saints how have already departed this life, especially those of their community, and this is reflected in their liturgy. For example, they stressed that all present must share one loaf of bread at the Eucharist and in the prayers chanted by the congregation while the priest breaks the loaf into as many as 65 pieces arranging them in special patterns on the patten.

  8. The Litanies: Petition, Procession, Protection: This is a specialized section on the differences between early medieval litanies and modern litanies in text, form and function. He particularly focuses on how medieval litanies were processions, such as the litany Augustine of Canterbury led as he approached Æthelberht, King of Kent, for the first time. I would add that we also see these processional litanies occurring in times of pestilence when processions would snake through large communities in an effort to end the plague. Gregory the Great led such a procession in Rome to end the Plague of Justinian. Although not often mentioned in insular sources, we must imagine that frequent processional litanies must have occurred during the plague of 664 and other plagues.

  9. The Cycles of Prayer: This chapter focuses the calendar and daily office among the Irish. He spends some time talking about alternative perceptions of time and how ordinary and festal time was viewed. There is a short discussion of how the daily office is reflected in Adomnan’s Life of Columba and in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, and on the Teachings of Mael Ruain.

  10. Jerusalem: Our Mother and Home Above This last chapter is a part of a departure from the rest of the book because this chapter focuses on eschatology. O’Loughlin takes Jerusalem as his theme as a “taster” of Irish eschatology. What did Jerusalem mean to the Irish and what symbolism did they invest in it? O’Loughlin focuses on the presentation of Jerusalem in three different works: Jerusalem in Adomnan’s De Locus Sanctus (On the Holy Places), Barrand’s Island in the Navigiatio Sancti Brendani, and the plan of New Jerusalem in the Book of Armagh.

  11. Conclusions

One of the areas that O’Loughlin left out was a discussion of the literature on St Bridget and is generally light on female topics. Likewise he did not really treat Irish Marian theology which is surely present. It has been suggested that Adomnan’s attitudes toward the the Virgin Mary influenced Cain Adomnan, the first law for the protection of women from violence in Ireland. Marian theology has also influenced the literature and traditions about St Bridget. While Bridget is a fairly common topic in Irish scholarship, we still await a systematic survey and Marian scholarship for this period, is even further behind. Given the breadth of topics he did cover, this is not a major detraction.

Do not look to this book for a history of monastic families or even of monastic movements. O’Loughlin’s purpose here is the study of theology more than history. He chooses examples that fit his topic, but makes no attempt to be systematic surveying all possible examples. Hagiography is also not a major topic outside of chapter 5. Here, as in the chapter on Adomnan, he is more concerned with examining the author than his work. His basic question is how was theology done in early medieval Ireland? What was the personal theology of Patrick, Adomnan and Muirchu? How was theology put into practice? I believe that you will find his answers fascinating.

EfM Y3: Medieval Reading

After last night’s rant on what is missing from the medieval portions of Y3 readings, I feel like it really should supply a suggested reading list for the revision of EfM materials and reading of current students. I’m not suggesting that EfMers read all this but it is good browsing material. I’ll try to find a variety. If you notice I have left something off, please add it in the comments section below.

Medieval Texts

  • Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English People
    • Remember that Bede did not see history the way we do so don’t hold him to modern standards. He is writing salvation history like the Old Testament writers. He learned what history is and how to write it from studying the Old Testament.
  • Bede, Homilies on the Gospels’ Vol. I and Homilies on the Gospels: Lent to the Dedication of the Church (Vol II) published in modern translation by Cistercian Publications. This would be the most accessible for people unfamiliar with medieaval styles of theology. This was a very popular book among Bede’s contemporaries and for the next couple centuries.
  • Bede’s On Genesis Liverpool UP (Translated Texts for Historians) One of his biblical commentaries just published in modern translation within the last couple years. Would be a good comparison considering all the time EfMers spend on Genesis in Y1.
    • He wrote about 18 commentaries on the bible (depending on how you count them) so there are others to choose from. Two of his most original are On the Catholic Epistles (non-Paulinine Epistles) and On Ezra-Nehemiah. He was the first to write commentaries on both of them. On Ezra in particular will give you an understanding of the great depth of his historical knowledge about the ancient world and biblical history.
  • Bede The Reckoning of Time. Liverpool UP.Check this one out to get an idea of Bede’s scientific writings. Its quite interesting. It is one of several textbooks that he wrote.
  • Farmer, D. (ed).The Age of Bede Penguin
    • Translations of the Life of Cuthbert by Bede, Stephan’s Life of Bishop Wilfrid, History of the Abbots of Wearmouth Jarrow by Bede, History of Ceolfrith, Voyage of Brendan

Secondary Sources

EfM Y3: Are We Anglican or Not?

So the topic of year 3 is supposed to be church history, right? Eighteen centuries of Christian history divided into three sections: Antiquity, Middle Ages and Reformation in 34 chapters. This has been a very frustrating year for me. The Middle Ages got only 8 chapters out of 34 and at least four of them, I would consider broad historical summaries. One thousand years (500-1500) in 8 chapters, about 25% of the material for well over half the time period. The Middle Ages is getting short shrift again as the period people want to forgot but this myopic view cuts out most of our traditions.

Out of 34 chapters there is not one chapter that focuses on England before the Reformation. There is not one chapter that discusses the origins and development of English Christianity. Apparently they believe that Roman Britain was completely converted mysteriously during the Roman era (NOT). Of course, the Anglo-Saxons were all pagan when they came to England so their conversion got an entire three paragraphs in chapter 15. Not only do French and Italian churches routinely get more attention, but much of what is written about England does not reflect modern scholarship. Not even Patrick gets more than about a paragraph! All of monasticism from John Cassian to Teresa of Avila in one chapter! And yet I have 12 nauseating chapters on the reformation to look forward to!

Year 3 needs to stress why the Anglican in Anglican Communican matters!

  • A chapter on the conversion of the four peoples of the British Isles: British, English, Picts and Irish/Scots.
  • A discussion of the influences in the church of England that made it unique. Its blend of Celtic/Irish and Roman tradition.
  • Stress English monastic movements and reform movements, such as the Benedictine Reform of the 10th century.
  • Discuss pivotal synods including the Synod of Whitby.
  • Effects of the Viking period on the English church. Among other things the Norse invasions caused a destruction and/or dissolution of monasteries that was a prelude to the Reformation. This is why Jarrow and other famous early monasteries lacked a continuous history and most books were destroyed.
  • The Norman purge of the veneration of many native saints and consequences that had on the development of literature on those that continued. This purge was a milder, non-destructive version of what when on at the Reformation. This was also a period for the refounding of some historic monasteries that disappeared during the Norse period. The Normans also caused some major liturgical changes in the English church as well.
  • Medieval English traditions that survive in Anglicanism today.

Historical figures from the Island of Britain in 400-800 AD, the Age of Conversion, that all Anglicans should know: (Most are on our calendar; all are on a calendar somewhere in the Communion!)

  • Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre: (d. c448) Made two trips to Britain in the 5th century to combat Pelagianism there. Recorded all we know about St Alban, Proto-martyr of Britain. Reputed to be a teacher of Patrick of Ireland, more likely that Patrick may have been trained at one of Germanus’ churches or monasteries. The Life of Germanus the Bishop, written within a few years of his death, is one of the few contemporary glimpses of the church in Britain in the fifth century and a fascinating life of a fifth century bishop to boot!
  • Patrick, Apostle of Ireland: (5th century) Romano-British missionary bishop to Ireland. Co-patron saint of Ireland. Patrick’s two genuine writings, the Confessio and the Letter to the Soldiers of Cororticus are two of the only writings to have survived from a fifth century Romano-Briton.
  • Gregory the Great (d. 601) and Augustine of Canterbury, Apostles to England: founders of the Roman mission to the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons themselves considered Gregory to be their apostle more than Augustine. The Life of Gregory the Great written at St Hild’s Whitby within a generation of her death was possibly the earliest saints life written in England and the first hagiography on Gregory anywhere. Bede was the first to elevate Gregory to the level of the four doctors of the church (Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, and Gregory), though the term Doctor of the Church was not an offiical title for centuries later.
  • Bridget of Kildare: (d. 525) Abbess of Kildare (Ireland), popular saint of southern Ireland. Reputed to have been ordained a bishop and Kildare was the mother house for a very large monastic family. Co-Patron saint of Ireland with Patrick.
  • Columba of Iona, Apostle to the Picts (Scotland, d. 596): Patron saint of most Celtic Christians in Britain.
  • David of Wales: (d. c. 601) Bishop of Menevia, patron saint of Wales.
  • Samson of Dol: British bishop who immigrated to Dol in Brittany caring for Romano-British immigrants in Gaul. His is the earliest saints Life of the Romano-British church.
  • Ninian of Whithorn: Missionary in northern Britain. Also known as Uinniau, and modern scholarship equates him with St Finnian of Moville. If this is correct, then is mission field spanned from southern Scotland to Ulster, Ireland.  He was a major Roman British churchman in the era between Patrick and Columba. Friend of St Gildas.
  • Oswald, King of Northumbria: (d. 642) First native Anglo-Saxon saint, considered a martyr for dying in combat against a pagan king who sought dominance over Christian English kingdoms. Invited missionaries from Iona to England, patron of Aidan of Lindisfarne. Without Oswald, there may have never been any Irish influence in the English church.
  • Aidan of Lindisfarne, Apostle to Northern England: (d. 651) Aidan’s mission based at Lindisfarne evangelized over 50% of England and set the standards for the Celtic Church in England.
  • Paulinus of York: (d. 640s) First English bishop of York who started a mission in the kingdom of Deira (Yorkshire) and Lindsey (Lincolnshire).
  • Hild, Abbess of Whitby: (d. 680) A leader of the Lindisfarne faction in England and hostess of the synod of Whitby in 664. Her monastery at Whitby was the major educational monastery in northern England during her time. Five of her pupils became bishops and a sixth died between his election and consecration.
    • Caedmon: Monk of St Hild of Whitby who is recognized as the first Christian poet in the English language.
  • Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne: (d. 705) First major Anglo-Saxon author whose works have survived. A major theologian in his day.
  • Bede of Jarrow: (d. 735) A monk of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul of Wearmouth-Jarrow. He was a considered a major theologian whose influence is still felt today and a historian of Anglo-Saxon church history. He is the only native Englishman to be considered a Doctor of the Church.
  • Wilfrid of York: (d. 709) Powerful bishop of York ruling over an area larger than the current region of the Archbishop of York. He was responsible for enforcing Roman rites on the church after the Synod of Whitby.
  • Æthelthryth (Audrey) of Ely: (d. 679) Queen of Northumbria, Abbess of Ely. Most popular female Anglo-Saxon saint before the reformation. The pilgrim trail from London to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham intentionally snaked through Ely to visit St Audrey’s shrine. Patron saint of the diocese of Ely. She could be called the ‘Mary of the Angles/English’.
  • Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne: (d. 687) Although he was only bishop of Lindisfarne for three years, he became one of the most popular saints of all of England. Cuthbert was instrumental in bringing the celtic church in line with Roman rites without loosing the nature and spirit of Aidan’s Lindisfarne. Cuthbert was one of the three or four most popular saints in England at the time of the Reformation. His body is one of the few to survive the violence of the Reformation. He is buried in the floor of Durham Cathedral.
  • Theodore of Tarsus/Canterbury: (d. 690) A Greek who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to administer all of England. First archbishop after the Synod of Whitby united the English church in their acceptance of Rome. The see of Canterbury was vacant at the time of the synod; it took three years for Theodore to be chosen and arrive in England. He regularized and modernized the English church and moved the church from diocese based on kingdoms to diocese that more properly matched the number of people to be cared for.
  • Willibrord, Apostle to Frisia (Low Countries, d. 739): Northern English missionary to the Low Countries via Ireland, became the missionary Archbishop of Frisia. He is the patron saint of Anglican-Old Catholic Ecumenical Relationships. (see St Willibrord Society). Willibrord is uniquely ideal as an ecumenical saint: born in Northumbria, trained at St Wilfrid’s Ripon and later went to Ireland where he spent over a decade maturing before he left as a missionary to the Low Countries (Frisia). Missions to Frisia and Germany were particularly important to the Anglo-Saxons because they recognized them as their ethnic kinsmen who were in need of salvation. First major English missionary. Presumably an imporatant saint in the TEC diocese of Europe.
  • Boniface/Wynfrith of Wessex, Apostle to Germany (d. 754): Englishman who worked for some time under Willibrord and later became Archbishop of Germany. He was martyred in Germany.
  • Alcuin, a deacon of York (d. 804): Became Abbot of Tours in France and was a major reformer in the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne. He was instrumental in bringing the works of Bede to the continent and a major author and educator in his own rite.

Ironic that as it stands now, Alcuin gets quite a bit more space in the EfM materials than Bede. Bede is religated to being just a historian. Anyone who studies Anglo-Saxon Christianity knows that Bede was considered a major theologian throughout the Medieval period and even today. Boniface requested Bede’s theological works from the wilds of pagan Germany. Bede’s sermons were hugely popular. Cistercian Publications has  published Bede’s Homilies on the Gospels (2 vols) in modern translation. Some of his biblical commentaries were the first ever produced in the western church on their topic and are still leaned on by modern commentaries. The style of Bede’s commentaries is out of fashion today because he was a master of allegory, a popular method of exegesis in the early medieval period, but he still has significant influence on modern commentaries.  Liverpool University Press has published translations of many of Bede’s commentaries in the last decade. He is also the only native Englishman who is among the Doctors of the Church. (Anselm was an Italian who became Archbishop of Canterbury.)

[Addition 3/15/09] I can’t believe I forgot Adomnan!

  • Adomnan, Abbot of Iona (d. 704): Known best to most laity as the author of the Life of Columba, Adomnan is best known to church historians as the driving force behind Cain Adomnan (Law of Adomnan) enacted at the Synod of Birr in 697. It is the first law in Western Christendom to protect women, children and clergy from the violence of war and women from domestic violence. Adomnan was a fascinating abbot who ruled over a church that included most of Scotland and parts of Ireland.

EfM: Year 3 begins

This blog hasn’t been totally abandoned. With year 3 of EfM beginning, I hope to have more to post on in the near future. My group starts a little later than most so we are only three weeks in. The first two readings have been really high level overview of the year (chapter 1, 1500 years of history) and then the Roman empire to Jusitinian (chapter 2). Both chapters skim the surface so lightly it wouldn’t be fair to give them much of a critique. As a medieval history buff I am looking forward to this year a great deal, but am also a little leery of it. From what I have picked up from previous years in my group there will be plenty to critque and I’m sure I will have quite a few rants on important topics they omit.

So I’ll leave you with a great early medieval illumination. These illuminations are truly unbelievable and I think nearly impossible to appreciate unless you have at some point seen at least one in person. I was lucky enough to be in London in 2003 during an exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels and several others of the same era. These pages look far better than practically anything produced today, even though they are over 1000 years old and written on essentially leather.