Three Orders of Irish Saints

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER VI....continued

2. The three Orders of Irish Saints.

In an old Catalogue, written in Latin by some unknown author, not later than A.D. 750 (possibly in 700), the ancient Irish saints are distinguished into three "Orders"; and much information is given regarding them. The following are the main points of this valuable old document.

Those of "The First Order of Catholic Saints" were all bishops, beginning with St. Patrick: they were "most holy: shining like the sun." They were 350 in number, all founders of churches. "All these bishops"—the Catalogue goes on to say—"were sprung from the Romans, and Franks, and Britons, and Scots"; that is, they consisted of St. Patrick, with the numerous foreign missionaries who accompanied or followed him, and of the Britons and native Scots, or Irish, ordained by him and his successors. This order continued for something more than a century.

Those of "The Second Order were Catholic Priests," numbering 300, of whom a few were bishops. These were "very holy," and "they shone like the moon." They lasted for a little more than half a century.

The Third Order consisted of priests and a few bishops; these were "holy," and "shone like the stars." They continued for a little less than three quarters of a century.

Put into matter-of-fact language, the historical statement is briefly this:—

1. For a little more than a century after St. Patrick's arrival, the work of conversion was carried on by the Patrician clergy and their successors, who were nearly all active missionary priests. Many belonging to this order were foreigners.

2. During the latter half of the sixth century, monasteries spread rapidly over the country, and monastic clergy then and for long afterwards greatly predominated. Nearly all belonging to this Order and the Third were natives.

3. From the end of the sixth century, for seventy or eighty years, eremitical communities, settled in remote and lonely places, became very general. It will be necessary to describe these three religious developments in some detail.

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