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Hiberno-Scottish missions

It's not widely recognised that some of the earliest and finest European monasteries were not in mainland Europe, they were in Ireland and Scotland. It was from those monasteries that the Hiberno-Scottish mission started.

It was from Scriptoriums in Ireland and Scotland that Insular Script spread across Europe. This script system had been invented in Ireland, and spread from there to Britain and then continental Europe. Irish missionaries also took the script with them to Europe when they founded monasteries like Bobbio in Italy, or the Schottenstift in Germany and Austria.

Henry II of Austria brought Irish monks to Vienna. The monks did not come directly from Ireland, but came instead from Scots Monastery in Regensburg, Germany. ... In the foundation documents of the Schottenstift, Henry II specified that it was to be occupied exclusively by these "Iroschotten" ("Solos elegimus Scottos"). ... The "Schotten" were also involved with the University of Vienna, which was founded in 1365.
Ref : Schottenstift

See also the Schottenklöster (Scottish and Irish monks in Germany) and the Schottenstift in Vienna.

Nice that Henry II of Austria wanted Irish/Scottish monks to run his repository of knowledge. But why was that? What was special about the Irish/Scottish monks? I mentioned my confusion on this topic to a friend. The response?

Why would an Austrian insist on Irish when he could have asked the Pope for a few Italians? Very strange. Especially when all truth was to be found in the Vatican not in some Irish bog. After all the Synod of Whitby put an end to all that nonsense didn't it?

Which reminder me, the Synod of Whitby (in 664AD) had officially handed over ecumenical authority from the Irish/Scottish Church (based in Iona) to the Roman Church.

But something had still lingered for 100's of years, and had an impact on events.

From Regensburg, more Scots Monasteries were established:

.. in Erfurt (ca 1136), Würzburg (1138), Nuremberg (1140), Konstanz (1142), Eichstätt (1148/49), Memmingen (1178/81), Kiev (later 12th century) and Kelheim (1218?).

It's worth noting that these all remained linked to Ireland until "a papal bull of 1577 transferred the monastery from Irish hands to abbots from Scotland". This meant Catholic Scotland (as it was) and seems to have been a Catholic reaction to the Scottish Reformation. It seems significant that the first Scottish abbot under the new arrangements was Ninian Winzet who had recently been Mary Queen of Scots' confessor; he then escaped from Scotland along with the Papal Nuncio.

Winzet was also an arch-rival (theologically) of John Knox. Who had himself been one of the Marian exiles, mostly Protestant clergy, scholars and printers in exile in Protestant parts of Northern Europe, but mostly in Germany and Switzerland. In Geneva, Knox met John Calvin, from whom he gained experience and knowledge of Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity.

Did he also meet Michael Servetus who was in Geneva at the same time?

He was the first European to correctly describe the function of pulmonary circulation, as discussed in Christianismi Restitutio (1553). He was a polymath versed in many sciences: mathematics, astronomy and meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine and pharmacology, as well as jurisprudence, translation, poetry and the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages. ... Ángel Alcalá, identified the radical search for truth and the right for freedom of conscience as Servetus' main legacies, rather than his theology. The Polish-American scholar, Marian Hillar, has studied the evolution of freedom of conscience, from Servetus and the Polish Socinians, to John Locke and to Thomas Jefferson and the American Declaration of Independence. According to Hillar: "Historically speaking, Servetus died so that freedom of conscience could become a civil right in modern society.
Ref : Michael Servetus.

You try and encourage the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages, and get burnt alive at the stake for your troubles? Not nice.

On a more light-hearted theme, the Hiberno-Scottish mission neatly solves another riddle. How could Sean Connery (with a distinctly Shcottish accent) convincingly play the part of William of Baskerville in "The Name Of The Rose" by Umberto Eco? It is a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327. William of Baskerville, alludes both to Sherlock Holmes and to William of Ockham, of "Occam's Razor" fame, much applied and admired by some scholars of Applied Epistemology. The solution to the riddle is that he (William) was rightly a monk from Scotland.

Curiously, William of Ockham is said to have "incorporated much of the work of some previous theologians, especially Duns Scotus" (John Duns, also Scottish).

The doctrine for which John Duns is best known are the "univocity of being, "that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing"; and the idea of Haecceity.

Haecceity might well be the original term for something now commonplace in Information Technology and software design, the existence of Class and Attributes.

The mention of "the formal distinction" reminds me of "Laws of Form", a book by G. Spencer-Brown, that "straddles the boundary between mathematics and philosophy". It introduces a formal calculus of distinctions. It resonates with the yogic psychology of consciousness and the conscious acts of making distinctions. In my view, G. Spencer-Brown should be added to the list of Mystical Scientists

On a personal note, my father once told me how he had assisted with the revival of Scottish-Austrian relations in 1945. His World War Two army service was approach its end in Austria, as one of a squad guarding a Scottish Rite Monastery and their strategically important stockpile of Cherry Brandy. He told me the monks were proud of their Hiberno-Scottish connection, and thought a Scottish person would take good care of their prized assets. He did, cheerfully and personally.

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