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How the Irish (Christians) Saved Education

How the Irish (Christians) Saved Education

The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York. Alcuin reintroduced liberal arts as the foundation for education in Europe. He started schools in monasteries, cathedrals, and even the palace itself. Alcuin also oversaw the systematic copying and preservation of any and all ancient texts that he could find. In fact, many of the oldest copies of classical works still in existence today date from copies produced under his direction.

The Christian commitment to advancing education is part of the historical record. While not wholly consistent in every time and place, the Christian view of life and the world (especially its view of a created, ordered reality and the divine imprint on every human person) has been history’s most fertile ground for advancing learning and knowledge.

In a Christian worldview, the value of education isn’t merely utilitarian. Instead, it grows from the rich soil of Christian beliefs: in a God who wants to be known, Who created an ordered and knowable universe to be stewarded by humans, to whom He gave the ability to learn and the capacity to use knowledge in His service.

That worldview framework has been uniquely fruitful for advancing education, even (and perhaps especially) at times of civilizational crisis. For example, during the decline of the Roman Empire’s authority in Western Europe, education went into sharp decline. Centuries worth of accumulated knowledge and learning were at risk of being lost forever, except In Ireland, where monks preserved learning that they’d later reintroduce to Europe.

Irish monks viewed the preservation of literature and knowledge as part of their task as Christian scholars and clergy. More than merely preserving learning, they innovated in the methodology of education. Up to this point, the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages were written in an unbroken stream of letters with no capitalization, punctuation, or word spacing. The Irish changed that and, in doing so, made writing a primary method of learning.

The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York.

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