In this 6 minute radio interview with Anna Mitchell of the Sonrise Morning Show, Dr. Italy begins a discussion on the vast topic of how the Catholic Church built Western civilization. Starting with the indomitable missionary monks of Ireland, he illustrates how they not only saved but helped build Western civilization by preserving and spreading literacy and literature across Europe. He also discusses how his upcoming Rhine pilgrimage will focus on this theme, and how many of the sites to be visited are crucial examples of it.
How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization: where do you even begin with this? A lot of people know that the Catholic Church contributed to Western civilization, but that’s not enough. The Catholic Church really built Western civilization. It’s a very strong statement, but really true.
First we will talk about the monks. St. Patrick evangelized Ireland, also bringing with him writing and Latin. The Irish monks acquired a voracious appetite for learning and copying, and for preserving learning. At a time when the European continent had been overrun by barbarians, Irish missionary monks set out and re-evangelized the continent. Mobile bands of 12, seeing exile from their beloved Ireland as a form of penance (white martyrdom), established monasteries in Scotland, Northern England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.
Barbarians were called such because they were uncivilized – no cities, no writings, the two hallmarks of civilization. So learning died out in the West, and books practically vanished. But the monks saved civilization by saving literature – not only the Bible and the Fathers, but secular Latin literature as well: Julius Caesar, Cicero, Virgil. The monks copied these works and preserved them alongside Christian writings in their monastic libraries.
One such Irish monk was St. Columbanus. He set out for France, then wanted to go to Northern Italy to evangelize the pagan Lombards. Along the way, he had to leave a sick monk behind in the area of Bavaria/Switzerland. St. Gallus was this disciple, and the monastery which he founded in Switzerland, St. Gallen, became the most important abbey north of the Alps. This great abbey is one of the sites will be visiting on our Rhine River pilgrimage, as we explore the theme of how the Catholic Church saved and built Western Civilization.