Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we talk about St. Comgall, Ireland, Monks, and Missionaries.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 10th of May 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

One of the most fundamental questions that might bring us to the discipline of history (and, in our case, church history) is: why do we do what we do? Why do we speak the way we do? Believe the things we believe? So on and so forth…

I’ve pointed out on this show before that Christianity comes from the Middle East- it has more in common, in its origins, with Semitic, Persian, and Arabic religion and philosophy… and while the Church is global and universal, we see a particular shift to the west as it grew in the early Middle Ages. So… how did that happen? A short answer: Irish missionaries and monks.

Today we remember St. Comgall- one of the more important Irish saints in the early years of Christianity in the British Isles. Let’s tell his story today and focus on expanding Christianity westward.

We have conflicting dates for his birth and death- put him in the 500s- born around 515 and died around 600. He may have had noble parents in and around Ulster, and he likely entered a monastery after a short career as a soldier. The monastery was run by the (in)famous St. Fintan. I say infamous because of the severe austerity of that monastery- some of which Comgall would introduce in his renowned monastery at Bangor.

Have you ever asked why Christianity has monks? There are no monks in the New Testament. There weren’t monks in the early years of the early church- but we see an explosion of monasteries after the legalization of Christianity in the 300s. Some have suggested that monasticism became self-chosen persecution after the fear of real persecution ended.

In other words- the bad guys aren’t trying to hurt us anymore- and getting all beat up (martyred, I suppose) helped prove that we were authentic Christians- so now, we shall have to hurt ourselves- martyr ourselves if you will- through a strict lifestyle. “This is how I will prove to myself and others that I am a Christian.”

I think zeal for a world-changing and life-changing Gospel can also be a part of this. Imagine (or remember a time in your life) hearing this message for the first time and saying, “well, now my whole life will center around this good news” sometimes, in our excitement, we might be zealous… nevertheless.

But these monasteries also became centers of scholarship- where manuscripts could be copied, international visitors could be taken in, and ideas could spread. Comgall’s monastery at Bangor may have had thousands of European Christians pass through its doors in Comgall’s lifetime.

The monastery's Rule was strict- Comgall and the monks lived on bread, herbs, and water. They took a public vow of silence but would sing- their versions of the psalms would spread throughout Europe (that’s right- singing as spreading the faith… lex Orandi or some such…)

And this monastery at Bangor would be a center for the translation and transmission of the New Testament. In Comgall’s day, it was remarked that they were indeed from Ireland if someone knew Greek.

Comgall was a contemporary and friend of the likes of St. Columba (the Irish missionary to Scotland) and St. Brendan the Navigator, known for his legendary missionary trips (and by legendary, I mean, they are essentially legends).

Comgall is said to have traveled through Scotland and Wales, where he helped establish monasteries there as well. While his death is given in different years in different sources, May 10th is the agreed date of his death.

Today we remember St. Comgall and Irish missionaries and monasteries that transformed the Christian faith.

The Last Word for today comes from Acts 9 in the Daily Lectionary.

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of May 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who knows that May 10th was the birthday of the Betamax back in 1975. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows the special pain of being a kid at the video store- seeing the movie you want is there- but only in Betamax… dang you, Wherehouse. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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