Many Catholics today are unaware of the immense contributions of the Ultramontanes of the nineteenth century to the resurgence of Catholicism worldwide. Prof. Fernando Furquim de Almeida (1913-1981) studied the movement and produced dozens of articles detailing its work. We have edited these articles and will be featuring them. They highlight the actions of Ultramontane leaders in England, Spain, Italy, France and Ireland.
Two vital facts explain Ireland’s rapid conversion and the vigor of its Christian roots. At the time of evangelization, the Irish were divided into small clans. The conversion of a chief brought the entire clan into the Church. On the other hand, the country had not been subjected to pagan Roman influences, enabling Saint Patrick to construct an exclusively Christian legal code.
However, reading the island’s history, one cannot help but add a third reason—undoubtedly the most important. Saint Patrick inspired the love of austerity and suffering in the people’s souls. In a word, he gave them the cross. The tonsured Irish monks, dressed in coarse wool, became missionaries all over the West. They traveled on foot, almost always in groups of twelve. Like the Apostles, they fasted perpetually and imposed arduous penances on themselves. They prayed for long hours with their arms raised as on a cross. In winter, their penances often included being immersed in icy water.
The rule of Saint Columbanus, founder of the monastery of Luxeuil in France, consolidated Irish asceticism. In his monastic code, obedience was absolute, and silence was perpetual. The smallest faults were punished with lashes, ranging from six to two hundred. For example, a monk who conversed with a woman without having a third person near him would receive a hundred strokes of a whip or two days of fasting on bread and water.
Charlemagne asked these men to help to restore the Church in the West. They populated Ireland and all of Europe with monasteries and helped build the Middle Ages. The number of saints in their ranks is almost incalculable. It was thus natural that hell should rebel against them and manifest its hatred.
Saint Columbanus and Saint Gallus tried to establish a monastery in Switzerland, but the region’s inhabitants refused to help them. For food, they hunted wild birds and fished in the lake of Bregenz, where they established a small community. One night, as St. Gallus was in a boat watching the nets, he heard the mountain demon calling the water demon.
“Here I am,” answered the latter.
“Get up, come and help me expel these foreigners who have chased me out of my temple. Together, we will be able to drive them away.”
“How?” replied the water demon. “Here is one. I tried to break his nets but failed. He always prays and never sleeps. We’ll have to do a lot of work and will get nothing in return.”
Saint Gallus stood up, made the sign of the cross, and said to the two infernal spirits:
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to depart from these places without harming anyone.”
Saint Gallus then ran to awaken his holy abbot, who was resting. Saint Columbanus called the monks to pray the office. Before they intoned the first psalm, the demons began to roar atop nearby mountains. As the office progressed, their terrible clamor disappeared in the distance like the roar of a fleeing army.
Devotion to the Vicar of Christ was another constant among the Irish monks. This excerpt from a letter from Saint Columbanus to the pope, dated from Milan, admirably summarizes their conception of the primacy of the Roman See:
We Irish, who live at the ends of the earth, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and the other Apostles who wrote under the dictation of the Holy Spirit. We have imbibed nothing but the apostolic and evangelical doctrine. None of us has ever been a heretic, Jewish or schismatic. People who came here and bore the burden of many heretical fellow citizens are envious and disturbed like a frightened flock. Forgive me, therefore, if, swimming through these reefs, I say words offensive to pious ears. My race’s native freedom gives me this boldness. Among us, no person prevails but reason. The love of evangelical peace will make me say everything. We are bound to the Chair of Peter; for us, great and glorious Rome is only so because of that Chair. Although the ancient and glorious name of the city of Ausonia is famous and admired throughout the world, for us, it became great and august only after the Incarnation of God, after His Spirit breathed on you, and the Son of God pierced the crowds and came to you on a chariot driven by Peter and Paul, the two ardent steeds of God. You are almost heavenly, thanks to these two great Apostles of Christ. Except for the singular prerogative of the place where the divine Resurrection occurred, Rome is the head of the churches worldwide.
Ireland enjoyed the peaceful fruits of Saint Patrick’s evangelization until the end of the eighth century. Then, the Danes invaded the island from various points. They ravaged the country for two hundred years until 1014, when the supreme king, Bian Boru, successfully expelled them.
Unfortunately, that brave warrior was killed in the final victorious battle over the invaders. Ireland thus lost the leader who could pacify it. An indigenous faction supported the foreigners and continued fighting after they had withdrawn. In 1169, Dermot, King of Leister, asked England to assist him in his revolt against the supreme Irish king.
From then on, England gradually took over the island. The Tudors, especially Henry VIII, ultimately overthrew the local princes and introduced Protestantism by force. However, the weakened and divided Irish, unprotected by any foreign power, did not allow England to dominate their homeland. They remained in a constant state of revolt.
In 1649, Oliver Cromwell dethroned the unfortunate Charles I. The dictator then sent an expedition into Ireland, subduing it by fire and sword. To prevent any attempt to revolt, Cromwell distributed the confiscated Irish lands among his generals.
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the impoverished Irish were humiliated, oppressed, and practically reduced to slavery. Then the appearance of Daniel O’Connell, a young lawyer in the Dublin courts, marked the beginning of their emancipation.
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