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The Resurgence of the Gospel, Part Four: The Reconversion of Europe

The Resurgence of the Gospel and the Flowering of the Global Christian Message

Part Four: The Reconversion of Europe

The Re-conversion of Europe

At this juncture, I turn my attention back to Egypt and the heritage of the Coptic Church. Coptic Christianity began in Egypt and spread South into the Sudan and into Ethiopia. Through the influence of its institutions, it affected the Christian missions to Ireland and Scotland, of all places, and ultimately, the reconversion of Europe under Irish, Scottish, and British monastics, transforming European Christian life.

John Cassian has already been spoken of [Editor’s note: see also “The Resurgence of the Gospel, Part Two: Recharting the Christian World Mission” and “Spreading from the Frontiers: Another Look at the Gospel in the Medieval Church”] as having visited the monasteries which Pachomius had initiated in the desert lands of Egypt. These monasteries transformed new Christians into missionaries, missionaries who were not only knowledgeable in the Christian Scriptures but were also able artisans and craftsmen who knew how to relate to the common man. Cassian took what he saw and introduced the same concept into Western Europe and even Wales and Ireland. One man who was strongly influenced by Egyptian monasticism was the person we know today as St. Patrick.

A page from The Book of Armagh.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Born in Wales, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 and enslaved to look after the sheep of his captors. According to his Confessions, he remained in Eire (Ireland) for six years before making his escape and returning to the southern coast of Britain. Soon after returning home, he continued his education at a monastery and entered the monastic life. At some point in his life, as recorded in his Confessions, he traveled to Rome where he gained commission as a missionary to Ireland. He elected to make northern Ireland his field of work. For more than thirty years, he traveled throughout northern Ireland. He also established a Pachomian style of monasticism which encouraged literary education, the arts, the crafts, and intense biblical study. As he had walked the breadth of Ireland with the gospel, he encouraged his students to go by foot as they ministered the Word of God.

Christian historians have referred to this band of foot soldiers for Christ, the perigrini [“pilgrims”], and for the next decades these Irish perigrini traveled the footpaths of Ireland and northern and central and Europe and as far south as southern Italy and into Scotland. The central monastic center was Armagh in northern Ireland.

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Category: Church History, Spring 2019

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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