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power. What bears on the present point is that some of these co-arbs were women."
This Church had in St Bridget a female saint more powerful than any of Ireland's male saints—even than St Patrick himself. Her influence was so strong in Ireland that it spread itself over all England and Scotland. It may be questioned if any one appearing on earth since the days of the apostles has been so devoutly worshipped. The yearning towards a feminine nature in the conception of the Deity, which took another direction in the ordinary Catholic world, seems here to have concentrated itself on St Bridget, who has been aptly called the Madonna of the Irish. A bishop or two seem to have hung about her court, whether seeking advancement, or as becoming appendages to the establishment of a person so eminent. A legend of one of these, whether there be a word of truth in it or not, is instructive as to the position which she and her Church were understood to hold towards the See of Rome. His name was Condlead; and besides being a bishop he held another function, which has been rendered so as to reconcile it to modern notions by saying that he was St Bridget's artist. This man wanted to go to Rome, whether for artistic or other purposes; but his arbitrary ministress forbade him, under the denunciation that if he went he would be eaten by wolves on the way. The wilful man went, and for his disobedience was eaten by wolves accordingly.
1 Perhaps the clearest announcement to be found anywhere about these co-arbs is the following passage in Dr Todd's St Patrick, pp. 171, 172:“On the whole, it appears that the endowments in land, which were granted to the ancient Church by the chieftains who were first converted to Christianity, carried with them the temporal rights and principalities originally belonging to the owners of the soil; and that these rights and principalities were vested, not in bishops as such, but in the co-arbs or ecclesiastical successors of those saints to whom the grants of land were originally made. It is easy to see, therefore, that in the districts where such lands were so granted, a succession of co-arbs would necessarily be kept up. It did not follow that these co-arbs were always bishops, or even priests; in the case of Kildare the co-arbs were always females ; and there is an instance on record, although in a different sense, of a female co-arb of St Patrick at Armagh. But it is evident that the abbat or co-arb, and not the bishop as such, inherited the rights of chieftainship and property, and was therefore the inportant personage in the ecclesiastical community. Hence we have in the annals a nearer approach to a correct list of the abbats and co-arbs than to a correct list of the bishops. The bishop, or bishops, for there were often more than one bishop connected with the monastery, or with what afterwards became the episcopal see, were in subjection to the co-arb abbat, and did not necessarily succeed to each other, according to our modern notions of an episcopal succession. There were frequent breaks in the series. The presence of a pilgrim or travelling bishop, who remained for a time in the monastery, would be enough to supply the wants of the community for that time, by giving the episcopal benedictions; and it was not until he had left them that the monastic family' would feel it necessary to provide themselves with another."
But there sometimes fell to women functions of a totally different character. They had to test the command of the saints over their passions. This points to a specialty in the asceticism of this peculiar Church, as being of a defiant and aggressive temper rather than passive. Physiologists will tell us that in the dry hot climates where ascetic monachism began, fastings and other mortifications have not so much the effect of immediate suffering, as of reducing the physical constitution so as, without immediate danger to life, to render continued abstinence comparatively easy. This negative, indolent asceticism does not appear to have satisfied the Irish notions of probation. It was their glory to court temptation and defy it; and the rank achieved was not merely in proportion to the abstract virtue of the aspirant, but to the strength of the temptations which he had resisted. Hence it happens that some of the writings which do honest justice to such wrestlings with the powers of evil might, from the distinctness with which the temptation and its conquest are described, be confounded with infamous books, cunningly devised for exciting evil passions in the young. Fasting at Iona or Kells is, as every one will admit, a much more serious affair than the same practice in Egypt or Syria ; and the infliction was enhanced by the active worldly habits in other respects of those who chose to subject themselves to it. As was the endurance, so was the reward in the acquisition of spiritual power. Great acts of fasting are ever discussed as serious affairs, destined to bear great results. The power of fasting, as a cause capable of producing a definite effect, is curiously exemplified in a little incident in the life of Columba. A saint had been fasting, long and vehemently, for the purpose of getting the better of a perverse monarch with whom he had a quarrel—but it was all in vain ; and he found out the reason to be that his enemy had taken to fasting too, and had thus protected himself.
1 Todd's St Patrick, 24, 25.
In the history of the branch of this Church which settled itself in Scotland, we shall come across a few more of its specialties.?
1 With all desire to avoid the unseemly practice of fighting the battles of Protestantism in history by carping at the ecclesiastical system of the middle ages, there is one point on which a layman brought up in the principles of the Reformation must take his stand against it, if we would fairly give the history of still earlier Christianity. The ecclesiastical historian of that school was bound to believe that all the complex articulation of the system of which he found himself a part in the thirteenth or fourteenth century had existed from the beginning; the untrammelled student knows that it is the creation of time and design. The ecclesiastic had to obey the Church, and if the Church told him that such things were of old, he must believe accordingly, whatever archæology might say to the contrary. Clergyinen are generally disinclined to look back into the origin and early history of their Church, as they are apt, in pursuit of such a task, to find things which they would
Columba was born about the year 520, at Gartan, in the county of Donegal. Both by Fedlhim his father and Ethne his mother he was descended from Irish royal houses, and many of his near relations held rule among the Irish kings. Indeed, it is almost invariably found that the Scoto-Irish saints or churchmen of the period were connected with royal houses, or the families of those potent chiefs who receive from the annalists the title of King. So dynastic, indeed, was ecclesiastical authority in the Western Church, that a genealogical table made out by the Irish antiquaries contains fifteen abbots of Iona, who, including Columba, were all descended from the royal Gulban, head of the Cinell Conaill. Among the Celts of that or even of a far later period there was nothing resembling the strict hereditary succession to temporal dignities and property which the Normans brought to perfection in the feudal system. The path of ambition was open to any member of a royal house. It was evidently a matter of selection according to qualifications and chances whether the ambitious descendant of kings should seek power as a temporal monarch or a spiritual
rather not find. The old priesthood had far stronger restraints from inquiry. They were not only told what to believe, but the complicated framework of their system greatly impeded independent investigation. Each had enough to do with the immediate affairs of his own place. Work was made for him in the significance and importance of what other people count small things. Every posture and motion-every article of costume, first in its colour, second in its structure, thirdly in the time when it was put on or off-symbolised some great truth or mystery of the Church. So did the multiplied ceremonies, small and great ; the numerous articles in the ecclesiastical treasury, the specialties of the furniture, and all the peculiarities of the architecture. It would be impossible to classify all the minute and artificial interests thus created to give the ecclesiastic enough to think of in his own little corner of the vast system, and keep his mind from inquiring backwards into the history of it all. Even when a great genius like Mabillon appeared among his brethren, he would utter his knowledge as one afraid to disturb the foundations of a mighty fabric.
The reference of all this to the present point is, that one cannot trust the ecclesiastical historians as correctly rendering events removed to any distance back from their own age. They write about everything as if the Church were constructed—say in the sixth century-exactly on the model to which it has grown in the twelfth century. The St Ninian whose bare existence is hardly proved to the lay archæologist, is with them the head of a completed hierarchy, with dioceses for bishops and parishes for presbyters. Hence the extreme value of authenticated early records, such as Adamnan's Life of St Columba. But even the records professing to be early must be viewed with caution if they come through later transcripts ; for it was the duty of the devoted clerk, if he found that the machinery of the Church was imperfectly described, to fill up the deficiency: it was no fraud, but the filling up of an omission, since he knew that every practice of the Church in his own time was only more perfectly fulfilled in its earlier stages.
Dealing merely with the early Irish and Columbate Church, the inquirer gets gradually into the practice of considering it evidence, either that a work belongs to a late period, or that it has been tampered with, if he finds in it any of the following specialties :
1. The term archbishop or bishop, given to every man possessed of high ecclesiastical influence.
2. When a bishop is mentioned, the assignment of a diocese to him. 3. The deification of the Virgin. 4. The invocation of the saints in prayer.
5. (and this will account for some of the others). The acknowledgment of the supremacy of the See of Rome.
The intervention of clergymen not belonging to the old Church has sometimes rather increased than mitigated these difficulties and confusions. The men of the Church of England who have gone back into very early ecclesiastical inquiry, have often shown a rather more active hankering after traditions than even their Romanist brethren, to whom such matters have not the zest of novelty. On the other hand, the way has not by any means been cleared by some zealots, who would place themselves on the opposite side from both. They have striven to make out that Columba was a great Presbyterian light, and that the ecclesiastical polity of Iona was constructed exactly in the form which was devised by the Huguenots of France and Geneva, and brought over to Scotland by their Covenanting followers. It is to the learning and honesty of the new school of Irish archæologists that we owe literally everything we have on so significant a chapter of our history.
1 A Genealogical Table of the early Abbots of Hy, showing their affinity to one another, and their connection with the chief families of Tirconnell, constructed from the Naehmseanchus,' by Dr Reeves.