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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - The Celtic Connection

John Bradshaw - The Celtic Connection


John Bradshaw - The Celtic Connection
John Bradshaw - The Celtic Connection
TOPICS: 500: Reformation, Reformation

This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me for 500, our series of programs looking at the Reformation: what it was, and what it means to us today. And my guest in this program, "The Celtic Connection," is Dr. David Trim. He’s the head of archives for the world church, the Seventh-day Adventist church, and a Reformation historian. Dr. Trim, thanks for joining me.

Dr. David Trim: Thanks, John, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

John Bradshaw: We’ll be looking at the times and the ministry of the man known as St. Patrick. Interesting times those, weren’t they?

Dr. David Trim: Times of catastrophe and extraordinary violence, uh, times we hope never recur. But, uh, there are undoubtedly lessons from them for today.

John Bradshaw: Now, before our program, "The Celtic Connection," and before I speak more with Dr. David Trim, I’d like you to come with me to Ireland. Ireland we found to be a beautiful place. It’s endlessly historic. It’s fascinating. The people are wonderful. And we discovered it’s a land of miracles. While our It Is Written team was filming on the west coast of Ireland, at the Cliffs of Moher, indescribably beautiful, we saw God do something amazing. We know that nothing is impossible with God, so we shouldn’t be surprised. But this was pretty impressive, and it saved our day’s filming. Okay, let’s go. A couple of friends I’d like you to meet, and we’ve got a story to tell you. I had the good fortune of being in Ireland, in fact, across Europe, with Zach Kast and Matt Disbro. Now, guys, before we talk about the miracle in Ireland, tell me what struck you about the reformation as we looked at it.

Zach Kast: Uh, I think one of the things that, that struck me was that it’s, uh, treated very blithely right now. Um, not really anyone cares. No one really cares.

John Bradshaw: We saw a lot of monuments, a lot of places, a lot of historic sites, and a lot of people just walking by.

Zach Kast: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Without even knowing what they’re looking at. Matt, what about you?

Matt Disbro: Uh, it’s actually a really similar thing that struck me too, just, whenever we went somewhere and it was a very significant place in relation to the Reformation, um, people just didn’t seem to know what it was.

John Bradshaw: You remember the ladies who were walking past, uh, the William Tyndale church, didn’t have a clue. Even the man who lives across the street. You remember the guy who came out when the drone was out. He wanted to know what was going on. Was shocked to discover that William Tyndale had something to do with his village. And he lived virtually across the street from the Tyndale church.

Matt Disbro: And an interesting note, too: he was very interested in it. It’s just, he didn’t know. And that was, the people of the church too, right?

John Bradshaw: Yeah, didn’t have a clue.

Zach Kast: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: Fascinating. Now, Ireland. We’ll get to the miracle story in just a moment. What struck you about Ireland? Zach?

Zach Kast: Ireland is extremely beautiful. Um, I kind of went into it thinking, oh yeah, I’m going to like Ireland. And when I left, I realized I loved it.

John Bradshaw: A beautiful place. Great people. What about you, Matt?

Matt Disbro: Well, before I had not been there, and I was told it was supposed to be extremely wet and rainy. And when we were there, it was an extremely sunny, like beautiful week.

John Bradshaw: You know, we were fortunate. We were there for several days. And it rains in Ireland. It could have rained every day. I don’t know what we’d have done if it’d rained every day. But we got to a few places in Ireland. We started off in Dublin. We arrived in Dublin. Made our way to Belfast. I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what struck me. You know, I grew up during the "Troubles". And, uh, to go to Belfast and walk along the Falls Road and see the mural of Bobby Sands, the hunger striker, and go to the cemetery where Sands and others are buried, that was interesting. You’ll remember while we were at the Bobby Sands, uh, mural, three families in about 10 or 15 minutes came by and had photographs taken with Sands in the background, the image of Sands. So people haven’t forgotten. I’m not suggesting that they should. But those "Troubles" are still fresh in the minds of a lot of people. Fascinating. Okay, the miracle story. We’ve got a video to show. Why don’t we take a look at that, and then we’ll walk through what took place on the west coast of Ireland at the Cliffs of Moher. Ok, have a look at this and we'll walk you through it. All right, the Cliffs of Moher. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Though I don’t know how high those cliffs are, but they sure look good. You remember, well, you remember the day?

Zach Kast: Yeah, it was high enough I didn’t really want to stand next to the edge.

John Bradshaw: I did stand next to the edge and wondered if that was smart.

Matt Disbro: One thing you’ll notice about that grass in the last shot is that it was blowing around.

John Bradshaw: Yeah, watch this. It gets blowier in just a moment. It, we're filming by this, see, there you go. Windy as anything. It was kind of cold. We were going to film with the drone, and there’s the drone going up. And someone had the very good idea to fly out. And how far out did we go? Well, first let’s look at this. Here’s some of the footage that we, that we captured with the drone. It looks gorgeous. And that’s somebody down there.

Matt Disbro: You can see me and Zach in that last shot.

John Bradshaw: Okay, there you were. The drone is heading offshore now. We’re going to get some beautiful pictures that’ll be used in the "Celtic Connection" program. And so we get out there, this is flying offshore, about a mile. Almost a mile. I think it’s going to show us here in just a moment; 4,600 feet. Can we call it a mile.

Zach Kast: Yeah, let’s call it a mile.

Matt Disbro: I think it's fair.

John Bradshaw: Okay, so tell me what happened.

Matt Disbro: Well, uh, we were out there, and, as you can see right now, the battery life was probably about halfway. And before I knew it, it was just dropping, like, it, it started dropping rapidly, considerably faster than going out there. Because when we were out there, wind helped take me out there. But coming back we were fighting that 25 mile an hour wind.

John Bradshaw: And the challenge with drones is if they run out of battery, they drop out of the sky. And this one, if I’m not mistaken, when it gets to 5 percent, what happens?

Matt Disbro: It should at that point just use the remaining battery power to glide downward.

John Bradshaw: It lands at 5 percent.

Zach Kast: So that it doesn’t drop like a rock on somebody’s head and, and harm them.

John Bradshaw: But now we’re down at 2 percent. It should be landing. It’s not landing. And we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. As a matter of fact, we are now at...

Matt Disbro: I’d say we’re probably half a mile away, still.

John Bradshaw: Zero percent.

Matt Disbro: It was somewhere, probably, 30, 40 seconds before this point in time that I tapped Zach on the shoulder and asked him to pray about it.

John Bradshaw: And so you prayed.

Zach Kast: Yeah. And, at the time, you know, getting nearly blown off of a cliff and, and kind of the stress of the moment, didn’t really have anything other to pray than, "God, please help us get this drone back".

John Bradshaw: You know, if we lost the drone, you can replace a drone, but you can’t replace a day’s filming, because that would have been on the bottom of the ocean, on the memory card that’s inside the drone. So there’s no power. This is flying without fuel. No power. Even now it could just drop out of the sky at zero percent. And you’d have a jigsaw puzzle.

Matt Disbro: I was actually waiting to see it fall like a brick, and then listen for a little splash over the side of the cliff. But that didn’t happen. As you can see, I remained in control the whole time. It didn’t try to land itself. I was able to take it in above land, against 26 mile an hour wind. And put it down.

Zach Kast: And, uh, and 26 mile an hour wind is pretty significant, regardless of whether or not you have battery. And then flying it against the wind, with no battery, um, that’s just nothing short of a miracle.

John Bradshaw: Yeah, we might have got lucky. I don’t think there was any luck involved.

Matt Disbro: I, definitely not. Because we were flying with zero percent for, um, approximately a minute. And you just, I don’t know, you don’t, you don’t hear about that happening. You don’t see that happening.

John Bradshaw: Would you take the drone outside and try to fly it at, at zero percent for a minute?

Matt Disbro: I would not.

Zach Kast: I wouldn’t.

Matt Disbro: Unless you, uh, are willing to offer me another one.

Zach Kast: I wouldn’t even try using my phone at zero percent for a minute. It just doesn’t, zero percent is zero.

John Bradshaw: Doesn’t work.

Matt Disbro: Sometimes the phone dies at, like, five percent.

John Bradshaw: Yeah? Out of battery, but not out of power, because God was with us. Now, somebody’s going to say, if you’re to travel to Northern Ireland, to the sites we went to, we went to Downpatrick at the, the Giants Causeway, the Cliffs, well thats in the Republic, Dublin and other places, to be there for several days with no rain was a miracle. So maybe this was another miracle. But we were truly blessed.

John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. He’s one of the least-known well-known people in all of history. On a certain date every year, people all around the world celebrate him, without knowing much of anything about him. Here in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is huge. It’s a national holiday in Ireland. On St. Patrick’s Day people wear green, and there are often parades and other celebrations conducted. It was in the 17th century that the Roman Catholic Church set aside March 17 as a day of celebration and remembrance. In recent decades, Ireland has been a land of religious and political tension over the question of who should control Northern Ireland: the Irish or Great Britain. The dispute goes back many hundreds of years.

In the 1960s, the Troubles began in Northern Ireland. It was a period marked by violent clashes between unionists and republicans; basically, between Protestants and Catholics. More than 3,200 people died during the 30 years of the Troubles. There were thousands of bombings and tens of thousands of shootings. Men like Bobby Sands are still revered by many here in Ireland. Sands died in the notorious Maze Prison just outside Belfast, following a 66-day-long hunger strike in 1981. In all, ten men died during that hunger strike, men who were committed to the idea of a united Ireland and wanted to see Northern Ireland wrested out of the control of the British.

The tension began to ease following an agreement that was signed in Belfast on Good Friday of 1998. But religious tension goes back much further in Ireland. And the man responsible for radical religious change among the Irish, the man responsible for the Christian evangelization of the British Isles, is celebrated all around the world today.

During his lifetime, Patrick was considered a troublemaker. He was a disturber of the peace. Today, you might call him a religious lightning rod. And there’s one thing Patrick wasn’t. He wasn’t Irish. He was born in the year 385 A.D. or thereabouts, and he died around 461 A.D. At that time, the British Isles were pagan. They were dominated by the culture and the religious practices of the Druids, an elite class that had a direct line to the occult. By the time Patrick came onto the scene, druidism was at the height of its powers. Druid literature speaks of the magical and spiritual training of the Druid, in which he is eaten by a goddess, enters into her belly, and is reborn as the greatest poet in the land.

Mention of druidism evokes images of wizardry. And the Druids in Patrick’s day were into magic and charms and healing powers. They foretold the future. And they worshipped the forces of nature. They’ve been referred to as magico-religious specialists, and it’s said that they could call up a storm to ward off invaders.

Now, while most modern scholars would not agree with this, no less a person than Julius Caesar made the claim that the Druids practiced human sacrifice, burning their victims in a device known as a "wicker man". Caesar also said that they believed in reincarnation. Modern scholars say that the Druids were essentially shaman, spiritualists.

Dr. David Trim: So the religious situation in Ireland in the 5th century is that it is the last holdout of the Druids, the Druids who had once been the predominant religious figures right across the British Isles and, indeed, the north part of what we now call France. But they had been largely stamped out by the Romans, who found their religious practices such as human sacrifice objectionable. Um, there’s very little evidence of human sacrifice being practiced by Patrick’s day, but the Druids are there. This is a religion that is really focused on, on nature and on spirits. Uh, but it is a fairly sophisticated religion as well. They had education; they were well-educated men by the standards of the time. And they had reasonably well worked out cosmology and a pantheon of gods.

But the Druid, druidic religion, as far as we can tell, does seem to be in a little bit of decline by the 5th century. It’s past its heyday, and so, uh, there is this emphasis on spirits. Uh, and where therein might still be some human sacrifice is that we know people are found in the bogs of Ireland, in the peat. Now, some of them clearly ended up there accidentally, tripped and fell, oh, too bad. But others we know, uh, are offered as sacrifices. Because you’re hoping that by doing that, you can ensure you have good weather, a good harvest, because everything depends on the harvest, and so you want to appease the natural deities.

John Bradshaw: It was this paganism that confronted St. Patrick during his ministry to the Irish people. Druid magicians hindered the work Patrick was trying to do. The Druids resented Patrick, knowing that his ministry was the beginning of the end for druidism. Patrick was born in Britain, which at the time was controlled by the Roman Empire. Exactly where he was born no one really knows, although it seems likely that he was born on or near England’s west coast. His family evidently was reasonably well off. Both his father and his grandfather worked in religious service. But Patrick, as a young man, didn’t take matters of faith seriously. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by raiders sent or led by Ireland’s King Niall. He spent six years toiling as a shepherd, and it was during this time that he found faith in God for himself.

God spoke to Patrick and told him to flee to the Irish coast, where he’d find a ship waiting to take him home. So he left his master, traveled many miles to a port, and he found the promised ship. He traveled back to England and made his way back to his family. And it was there and then that he dedicated his life to serving God. So how did Patrick, the runaway slave, become St. Patrick, known and loved all the world over? And what does Patrick have to do with the Protestant Reformation? I’ll tell you more in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. He’s known all around the world, and he’s celebrated every March the 17th. But who was St. Patrick, and what did he do that made him a global icon? Well, to begin with, he wasn’t Irish; he was English. And he wasn’t a Roman Catholic. The principles that he lived by and shared with others made him a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, which would occur many years after he died. He was taken from his home in England by Irish raiders when he was a boy, and he was forced into slavery in Ireland. He eventually escaped, and he wrote that after studying in France and returning to his home in England, he had a vision, not unlike a vision Paul had in the book of Acts.

"I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the headling: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea, and they cried out, as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’"

Eventually, Patrick acted on the vision he received and returned to Ireland to work as a missionary. He landed at the same port from which he had escaped Ireland, and began his ministry in Tara, just north of Dublin, in what today is the Republic of Ireland. And before long, the son of a powerful chieftain in the north of Ireland was converted and joined Patrick’s missionary team. Thousands were baptized, among them many who were wealthy and influential. Patrick ordained pastors throughout the island to shepherd these new Christian communities. Here’s what he said about the new Irish believers: "Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they've become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ".

There’s plenty said about Patrick’s life that’s nothing more than legend. No, he didn’t chase all the snakes out of Ireland. There’d never been any snakes in Ireland in the first place. They certainly didn’t attack him after he had fasted for 40 days. His walking stick did not grow into a tree. And he never used the shamrock to teach the Irish about the trinity. Patrick sailed from near Drogheda to just outside Belfast where he began sharing the gospel with people who for the most part had zero working knowledge of the plan of salvation. Now, Patrick wasn’t the first missionary to Ireland, but he was the first to gain any real traction and establish an effective, far-reaching work. So what was it that drove this Bible-believing missionary forward?

As the church lost its focus on the Bible, its increasing popularity within the Roman Empire caused it to compromise its faith and witness. However, there were many Christians who put up strong resistance to this new alliance of church and state. During these centuries, the Celtic Christians set a pattern of independence from the church of Rome. Like the reformers which would follow them later, they held to the Bible as their exclusive and supreme spiritual authority.

Historians had this to say about Patrick: "He never mentions either Rome or the pope or hints that he was in any way connected with the ecclesiastical capital of Italy. He recognizes no other authority but that of the Word of God. If he were sent by Celestine to the native Christians to be their primate or archbishop, no wonder that stout-hearted Patrick refused to bow his neck to any such yoke of bondage. There is strong evidence that Patrick had no Roman commission in Ireland, Patrick’s churches in Ireland, like their brethren in Britain, repudiated the supremacy of the popes, all knowledge of the conversion of Ireland through his ministry must be suppressed. There is not a written word from one of them rejoicing over Patrick’s additions to their church, showing clearly that he was not a Roman missionary".

Dr. David Trim: In the 5th century there is only one church. Uh, and there’s still a connection between Britain and Rome. It’s in the middle 5th century that that gets severed, and the British Isles gets cut off from the Roman Empire. Um, but at that point here is still one church, and Patrick is a member of it, from all the evidence we have, um, and we know that that church actually sent, sent Germanus to Britain in 429, and one of his colleagues, Palladius, is believed to have gone to Ireland. Um, but he seems to have minimal impact. But that’s the church that they’re part of. But it’s really the inheritance of the primitive church of Christ’s day. Um, if we say the Catholic Church, then people think of St. Peter’s, and a whole series of things which just don’t exist in the 5th century.

So to, you know, the danger of saying that he’s a Roman Catholic missionary, it’s true in one sense, but it’s not true in another, because it’s, it, there just isn’t a church like, called the Roman Catholic Church. There is the one church, which is called Catholic at the time to distinguish it from Arians, uh, who don’t believe in the full divinity of Christ. That’s what Catholic means in the 5th century; it means somebody who is an orthodox Christian on the Trinity. And Patrick is definitely that. So what we know about Patrick comes largely from his writings. There are stories, but most of them were written down in the 7th century. So 200 years after he died.

So there’s probably some grains of truth left in them, but a lot of exaggeration. To judge from his own writings, he’s a relatively simple, uh, Christian. His theology is, is relatively simplistic. And that’s not a criticism; far from it. Uh, he’s definitely trinitarian; he believes very strongly, uh, in God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and he’s very focused on Christ. But he has a simple message, and he has a burning passion for the people of Ireland, who had enslaved him as a youth. But even after he was free, he recognized, these people are lost in superstition and I have good news for them.

A century after Patrick, the Church of Rome launched an attack on the Celtic communities of Western Europe, because the Irish customs of the Celtic church were at odds with the customs sanctioned by the Bishop of Rome, who by now had become a very powerful figure. But Patrick wasn’t the only one who was reaching the world with the gospel. After Patrick, there was Aidan, who as a missionary went to England and reached not only the high nobility, but also children and slaves. And he traveled extensively.

Like Patrick, he wasn’t affiliated with the Roman church. Aidan established a cathedral off the northeastern coast of England on the island of Lindisfarne, and from there he was greatly influential in reaching great numbers of people for Christ, especially in the region of Northumbria. And there was another who reached not only the British Isles, but who impacted the world with the message of the gospel. He was from this island of Ireland, and I’ll tell you who he was in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Right here on this very spot in Belfast, Ireland, there was a hive of activity a little over 100 years ago. Right here is where the Titanic was built. Not only the Titanic, but its sister ships, the Olympic and the Britannic. Thousands of workers labored on this very spot. What happened here then dominated not only this city, but went on to impact the world. Somebody else labored here in Ireland whose work impacted the world, and that was Patrick. Patrick was a dynamic Christian missionary, and from Ireland his influence spread to impact Christians and Christianity all around the world.

In the time of Patrick, the church was dominated by the popes of Rome, and they were not too keen with what Patrick was doing. They saw it as a direct threat against their authority, and they were committed to getting rid of the distinctive Irish religious practices. But it wasn’t only Patrick that impacted the world in those days. Aidan was an Irish missionary who traveled to England and won many there to faith in Christ. He was sent from the remote Scottish island of Iona, where a missionary training center had been established by another Irish evangelist, a man by the name of Columba.

Today, Columba is remembered as one of the three chief saints of Ireland, along with Patrick and Brigit of Kildare. He was born in Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland, in the year 521. When he was about 40 years old he set off with several others to evangelize the Picts. He traveled 100 miles to Iona and built a monastery, not as a retreat, but as a missionary training center. The Venerable Bede, the influential writer and scholar, said that Columba "converted the nation to the faith of Christ, by preaching and example". As well as being an evangelist and a missionary, there was something else that set Columba apart.

In contrast with the Church of Rome, he observed the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. There’s no evidence he ever kept Sunday as the Sabbath. Dr. Leslie Hardinge examined every primary source connected with the Celtic church, and confirmed this Celtic-Sabbath connection. Just before he died, Columba said, "This day is called in the sacred books ‘Sabbath,’ which is interpreted ‘rest.’ And truly this day is for me a Sabbath, because it is my last day of this present laborious life. In it after my toilsome labors I keep Sabbath". One historian wrote, "We find traces in the early monastic churches of Ireland that they held Saturday to be the Sabbath on which they rested from all their labors".

Later, in the 11th century, Queen Margaret of Scotland said this about Scottish Christians. She said, "They work on Sunday, but they keep Saturday after a sabbatical manner". But Queen Margaret, later Saint Margaret in the Catholic Church, was committed to eradicated Sabbath worship and replacing it instead with worship on Sunday. The Roman Emperor Constantine, who was a pagan sun worshipper before his nominal conversion to Christianity, was the first to degree Sunday worship, and he did it before Patrick’s time. But the Irish Christians were not bound by Roman decrees. One thousand years before the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Patrick was a nonconformist. Before there was a reformation, Patrick was a Protestant.

In this way, the Celtic church formed part of what the Bible refers to as the "Church in the Wilderness" during the Middle Ages. John wrote about this time of exile for Christian believers. He said in Revelation 12 and verse 6, "And the woman," that’s the church, "fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God". The Albigenses of southern France, the Waldenses of Italy and the Alps, and others like them, chose to base their faith on the Bible, rather than lining up behind a church that was placing such a strong emphasis on tradition. They kept the torch of Christian faith shining brightly in an era of what was some pretty considerable spiritual darkness.

Unfortunately, the Christians of Ireland and Scotland didn’t maintain their religious freedom indefinitely. In time, new rulers came to power in both countries who submitted the practices of both church and state to the rule of the Catholic Church. But the legacy of the Celtic church, and Patrick in particular, was destined to live on. The spirit of independence from Rome was nurtured by the original British church. Submission to rules of any sort on the European continent, ecclesiastical or political, didn’t come easy to the British or the Irish.

When King Henry the Eighth declared England free from the Roman church and established the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, he was simply enshrining in law what in millions of English minds had been true for centuries. Speaking prophetically of this time, the prophet Daniel wrote in Daniel 11:32 and 33, "The people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits. And those of the people that understand shall instruct many".

This is the true legacy of Patrick, and of the Celtic church, and those heroes of faith who held the true gospel in the centuries prior to the Reformation. Without this gospel seed having been sown and scattered by Patrick and others, the Reformation might never have happened. It’s said that Patrick died on March the 17th in the year 461 A.D., and that he’s buried right here outside Down Cathedral in Downpatrick in northern Ireland, alongside Brigid and Columba, two other giants of Irish history. The legend of Patrick lives on here. The truth of his life is even more impressive than the legend.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. This is 500. I’m John Bradshaw. My guest is Dr. David Trim, a Reformation historian. Dr. Trim, how would you explain or describe the religious situation in Ireland today?

Dr. David Trim: That’s an excellent question, John. The situation today is in flux, in a way that wasn’t true in the past. You can say, isn’t it always in flux? But there used to be great stability. Ireland was Catholic except for the north, which was zealously Protestant and essentially Presbyterian, that type of Protestant. But today things are changing. The impact of secularization, postmodernism that’s affecting so much of Europe is, is very much affecting Ireland. It’s still a much more religious part of the world than any other part of the British Isles, and certainly much more so than Scotland. Um, but today the winds of change are there, and the Catholic church no longer has a complete social hegemony in Ireland, which it did for almost the whole of the history of independent Ireland since the early 1920s. And even in the north, uh Protestantism is beginning to lose its grip just a little bit.

John Bradshaw: Now, when you look at the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, it had been so strong, and for so long, and in recent years it’s had its fair share of challenges.

Dr. David Trim: It has, and it has faced unpleasant, for it, controversies, um, about the recent past. Uh, the scandal of priests abusing children, for example, which has taken place everywhere. That’s, the effects of that have been felt in Ireland. But also a scandal that has yet to come to light anywhere else but has been hugely important in Ireland, which is unmarried mothers, many of them young, teenagers or in their early twenties, um, sent to houses of correction because Ireland, being a very Catholic society, it wasn’t against the laws, supposedly, to have a child out of wedlock, but society frowned on it heavily. And many of those are badly treated, and many of their children died. And what’s happening in Ireland now is that people are excavating cemeteries and finding hundreds of bodies, uh, of children who'd died of abuse, effectively. So this has been a huge shock, uh, in Ireland and has really undermined the authority of the Catholic Church that once was unquestioned.

John Bradshaw: Take me back a few years to the time of the "Troubles". Now, I’m the right age; I grew up during the "Troubles," albeit on the other side of the world. And names like Bobby Sands were on the news every night, and the Maze prison might have been a prison in my own, uh, province. What was that like for Ireland to go through? What was daily life like in that time?

Dr. David Trim: It depends where you were, of course. You talk to people who grew up there and say, well, you know, most of the time you were unaware that anything was happening. But the truth is, there’s that underpinning of violence or the threat of violence. And it dates back to the late 1960s. Northern Ireland was a Protestant state. Catholics did not have full civil rights. And in the ‘60s, partly inspired by what was happening in the United States with Martin Luther King, um, Irish Catholics living in Ulster say, "No, we should have full civil rights". Um, the Protestant government wasn’t willing to concede those, and so violence started.

John Bradshaw: It’s stunning, isn’t it, to think that in a, in a western country, a civilized nation, a generation ago, there was an entire people group, and no matter what side of the fence you’re on, this is still stunning there’s an entire people group that was, that was discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

Dr. David Trim: Simply on the basis of their, their religion. There is really no significant ethnic difference between the two. It was oppression based purely on religion, and within the lifetime of many of your viewers at the very heart of western civilization. It is extraordinary.

John Bradshaw: Doesn’t this speak a little bit about what the human heart is actually capable of? We’d say, how can that be? We’re, we’re barely removed from that.

Dr. David Trim: That’s correct. And today with even Ireland becoming increasingly secular, it might seem that it could never happen. But the truth is, people feel passionate about religion. It moves something deep in our souls. And if you believe that somebody else is somehow actually in league with the devil or is trying to undermine the cause of Christ, normal rules get suspended when religion turns to conflict.

John Bradshaw: Let’s turn back the clock a little bit here. We’ll go back to Patrick’s day, 5th century. What was, what was life like in 5th century Ireland and England, for that matter, for young Patrick?

Dr. David Trim: Life in the 5th century could be summarized in the words of the political philosopher Thomas Hobbs, "nasty, brutish and short". Uh, because this is the era of the collapse of the Roman Empire. The British Isles, not Ireland, but England, um, and southern Scotland and most of Wales, were part of the Roman Empire, the acme of civilization, a degree of civilization not matched for probably 1,600 years. Uh, hot and cold running water in towns and in the villas that the aristocracy lived in. Something that wouldn’t be matched until the 19th century. And then it all collapses under the endless pressure of invasions by barbarian tribes. So people living at the time, uh, Christians certainly thought they must be living at the end of the world, because they looked around them and everywhere they saw violence and collapse and social disaster. So that’s the kind of, uh, situation that exists in the 5th century. People, uh, feel that their world is falling apart. And you know what? It actually was.

John Bradshaw: Dr. Trim, what can you tell me about Patrick’s own faith in God?

Dr. David Trim: John, I just want to be a little cautious first. Uh, it’s, sometimes some very big claims are made about Patrick. But the truth is, we don’t have a lot of evidence. So this, I’m an historian, and so I’m, I’m bound to say this. But the truth is, we don’t have a lot of direct evidence about Patrick. Okay, all that said, there are some things that we can say, because we have Patrick’s own writings. Very unusual for the 5th century, but we have Patrick’s own writings. And Patrick clearly has a burning Christian faith. A simple faith. There’s no sign of great theological complexity in his thought.

But that’s not a criticism. Sometimes great theological complexity can actually be a negative. But, so he has a relatively straightforward and simple Christian faith. It’s very much a trinitarian faith, which is important to note because in the 5th century, this is a century of conflict between orthodox Catholic Christians, as they call themselves, which is in opposition to Arian Christians, people who deny the full divinity of Christ. Patrick is clearly trinitarian from his writings, believes in the triune God, but he’s also has a very strong Christology. Christ is important to him. But what he also has is a desire to share Jesus Christ. And not everybody had that in the 5th century either. There were those who said the barbarians, they are a scourge sent from God; they are our enemy.

Why would we try to convert them? But not Patrick. Patrick was enslaved as a boy. He was seized by Irish raiders who’d come across the Irish sea. He was taken to a strange land, an uncivilized land without the comforts that existed in Britain because it was part of the Roman Empire. He’s enslaved there. Eventually he gets free and goes home. He says, here are people who need to hear about Jesus. And he has a dream; it’s reminiscent of Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man saying, "Come over and help us". Patrick sees in a dream an Irish man basically saying, "Come over and help us". And he’s convicted. And he does it.

John Bradshaw: Now, Patrick’s not the only great religious figure to come out of that part of the world with a, with a similar bent. What do we know about Columba and Aiden? They were also very significant missionaries.

Dr. David Trim: So the interesting thing is that Ireland, having been this utterly pagan country, becomes a stronghold of Christianity. And, in fact, the Anglos and Saxons conquer Britain and drive all the Roman inhabitants into the mountains of what today is Wales and parts of Scotland. And so Britain, which had been the Christian country from which Patrick went as a missionary, is now a completely unchristian country, people who believe in the, basically the Norse gods, uh, pagan deities.

So Christianity is basically extinguished in Britain. So how is it going to come back? Well, eventually missionaries come from the continent of Europe, sent by what is then emerging as the Roman Catholic Church. But before that, missionaries came from Ireland. Who takes it back? It’s the Irish. And the Irish, uh, have this extraordinary passion for Christianity, which they still do. Um, and so Ireland has, becomes this stronghold. Abbeys, monastic communities for men and women, where they take vows, uh, to devote themselves to God, become extremely important in Ireland, and they, they copy the gospel. They copy the Bible into the vernacular languages as well as into Latin. Uh, and so the way the Bible survives in the British Isles is because of these monasteries, uh, in Ireland. But then they also send the missionaries back. And two of the most important are Columba and Aidan.

John Bradshaw: Dr. Trim, fantastic stuff. We’ll be back with more in just a moment. Don’t go away.

John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500, brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Dr. David Trim, an archivist and a Reformation historian. Dr. Trim, a moment ago we were speaking about Columba and Aidan, two people you don’t really hear much about today in, in general circumstances. But they had a major impact on what today we call Great Britain.

Dr. David Trim: Absolutely. Uh, initially, traveling from northern Ireland across the, the narrow but very dangerous straits between Ireland and Scotland, uh, they set up a monastery on the Island of Iona. Difficult, remote, uh, a good place for a monastery, actually, because monks want to, uh, shut themselves away from the world so they can concentrate on God. But not a good place for missionaries. But it, it becomes a springboard for missionaries. And so Aidan becomes the first, travels down into what is now called Northumberland; it’s part of England but then was an independent kingdom. Its king had just been killed in battle with the Welsh.

Now, that’s interesting, because the Welsh themselves were supposed to be Christians. Uh, but so, a kingdom that’s in crisis. Political crisis often becomes an opportunity for the gospel. And so Aidan converts a man called Oswald, who becomes king of Northumberland, and he defeats the Welsh, um, at a place, we don’t know where it is, the modern location isn’t known, but he called it Heavensfield, because he prayed. And he believed that God had given him the victory. And so he establishes Christianity there in Northumberland.

Now, Columba follows. Uh, Columba has a, a much greater influence, actually. But Aidan is the first and needs to be remembered for that. Also also, Aidan, from all we can tell, was an extremely humble, godly man. So Aidan had a huge impact because of his, his saintliness. Not saint in maybe the classic sense of a, an Augustine, somebody who’s a theologian, uh, and a major church figure. But a, somebody who embodies Christ to those around him. And Aiden did that. Columba comes later, and there are other missionaries as well. Ireland be, starts to send missionaries, because the, the Saxon kings of Northumberland, everyone to the south of them, is pagan.

So where can I get other missionaries? Where can I get people to teach my people about Christ? You have to get them from Ireland. And so a wave of Irish missionaries come back to northern England, which is where Patrick had gone from centuries before, and reconvert the inhabitants. Uh, and because they’re brought in by the kings, that’s important, because they have a huge impact on the culture. Uh, they teach the elite; they teach them to read, they teach them to write. Which means they can read the Bible. And that’s what the Irish missionaries teach them to do.

John Bradshaw: Meaning that Patrick has an enormous influence on, on that entire region.

Dr. David Trim: Indeed. And though Patrick today is the patron saint of Ireland, really Patrick’s influence is still felt back in England, though it’s sort of secondhand because of the, the missionaries who he inspired some hundred years later. But they go back and reconvert. And so the north of England is actually massively influenced by Irish Christianity and Irish culture. And today you can still go and visit churches that have, uh, the relics of St. Columba and St. Columbanus and other, uh, significant Celtic missionaries. They are still remembered; they are still honored in churches, including Dorham Cathedral, for example. Uh, so their impact, it, it still lives on even today, though in a more limited way.

John Bradshaw: Even though we’re talking about the Reformation, Patrick was around a lot time before the Reformation, but his impact filtered its way down, uh, through culture and religion. Now, bring me down to the time of the Reformation, closer to the 16th century. What were some of the forces in play that made the Reformation inevitable?

Dr. David Trim: The church had become corrupt. We often thing it say, you know, people will sometimes say the Roman Catholic Church was always of a certain stamp. And it wasn’t. It evolved and developed. Uh, by the late 15th century, there is no question that the church become corrupt and full of abuses. If you, uh, are an Italian nobleman, you have a good chance of becoming a cardinal and being elected pope. Uh, the election of the pope is not so much, uh, to do with finding the most spiritual or even theologically insightful person; it’s caught up in Italian politics. Uh, the popes themselves go to war.

And, in fact, the papacy, because it has a secular territory that rules in the middle of what today is Italy, the papacy is one of the important secular states. But that means that the pope’s own energies are drawn not toward the church but towards geopolitics. It’s a sad state of affairs. And finally, even the priests, you know, part of the reason for saying that only the priests can celebrate the Eucharist, only the priests can read the scripture, and only the priest can shape his parishioners spiritual lives, is that the priest is supposed to be educated. But we know from many sources that by the late 15th century, uh, the great majority of priests, uh, are not at all well educated. Some of them can’t read the Bible, and some of them can’t read even to learn the catechism that they’re supposed to be teaching ordinary people.

John Bradshaw: And people saw wat was going on?

Dr. David Trim: Absolutely, John. Uh, it’s not only Luther, and indeed, Luther’s not the first. People identify this. Uh, especially, uh, people who are scholars, uh, academics, literary people, they’re writing satires about the immoral lives of the popes and cardinals. Uh, one of the most famous is Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Dutch humanist who’s extremely important for the Reformation because he produces an authoritative Greek New Testament. Um, and Erasmus also writes movingly that he, you know, he would wish that every plowboy could be holding a copy of the scripture in his hand, in his own language, and be reading the Bible as he drives the ox that plows the furrow to plant his crops. And that sounds very Protestant. But actually, Erasmus never becomes a Protestant. He remains in the Roman Catholic Church.

So, which highlights the fact that, yes, people see abuses. But not everybody is willing to bring on the sort of confrontation that Luther brings on, because it’s very dangerous. But also not everyone is willing to break the church. There are others who feel, no matter what the abuses, we have to stay with the church and work to reform it from inside. Whereas Luther, uh, is willing to say truth is truth, and my conscience will take me where it must. Famously, of course, he says to the Diet of Worms in 1521, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God". But people are doing this because they can see, they can see the corruption.

Now, eventually, within 50 years, the Catholic church does initiate its own reform, what’s often called the Counter-Reformation. And they eliminate a number of these abuses that are organizational. But they don’t address the theological issues that Luther had addressed. And we do have to separate those, I think, John. The social and organizational corruption is why leaders, princes, city councils were willing to support reformers, but the theological points are also profound, and if it had just been a social message, Protestantism would never have caught on like wildfire as it did. It caught on like wildfire because it addressed a deeply felt spiritual need.

John Bradshaw: One last question. The current pope, Pope Francis, much loved, well liked. I read where, where one person said even atheists should pray for this pope, and so forth. In the book he wrote called "The History of the Jesuits," he said that Protestantism is the root of all of the evils in the western world. Should we be concerned about that?

Dr. David Trim: There’s no question that the post, but that Pope Francis, uh, probably seems the most, uh, attractive and, indeed, the cuddliest figure in world Christianity.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Dr. David Trim: Uh, and I would hope, actually, that we would all pray for him, as indeed for all members of other churches. Uh, but we do need to be clear. There was a reason why Protestants separated from Catholics in the first place. Some of it was down to misunderstanding and mutual recriminations that set in when one side gets against the other. But there were also genuine significant differences. And what modern Lutherans and Catholics have done, in the laudable desire of reuniting Christianity, which I’m sure is what God would desire in an ideal world, what they have done is to very carefully parse terms, um, very careful language. But at times it probably is a matter of semantics. And if you still look at what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, the canons of the Council of Trent have never been revoked. The truth is, Protestantism still teaches that salvation comes only from Christ, and the Catholic church still teaches that we are supposed to make some contribution to that. And Protestants also still teach the supremacy of the Bible, from which many other things derive and flow.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Dr. David Trim: And the Catholic church still states, no, there is authoritative tradition. It doesn’t place it necessarily above the Bible in theory, but it says you have to interpret the Bible through the lens of authoritative tradition. Which means the Bible isn’t supreme. It doesn’t believe in sola scriptura. It believes in the Bible, and there are many fine Catholic biblical scholars. But it doesn’t teach sola scriptura. And finally, the Catholic church above all else insists that all Christians must acknowledge the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Well, you know, I grew up, uh, in a family with some Anglican connections, and I think, from my own historical research to the 1530s when England started to, uh, go its own path in terms of religion, and a number of English writers said "Why should the Bishop of Rome have authority over every other bishop in every other church in Christendom"? And the question still stands, John. The question still stands, and there is no good answer. So there are major differences, and they can’t be glossed over simply because one pope, right now, is a very attractive person.

John Bradshaw: Well said, Dr. David Trim. Thanks so much. I appreciate you joining me.

Dr. David Trim: Thanks for having me.

John Bradshaw: And we’re glad that you’ve joined us as well. There’s more to come on 500. This was program 2. Uh, join me next time for "A Lamp unto My Feet". We’ll look at William Tindale, the great English reformer, and the contribution the Bible made to the Reformation. Before we’re done, let’s pray together. Let’s pray now.

Our Father in Heaven, we’re grateful for Jesus Christ, the word made flesh. We’re so thankful you’ve given us your word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. We’re grateful for those who’ve gone before us and have pointed us in your direction. Bless us now, that Jesus would be all, that we would by your grace stand on your word, and that the Reformation that you began long ago would be completed in our hearts as we become truly yours. We thank you, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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