One can see how, while living such an austere lifestyle, it might be easy, occasionally, to slip. The rules of Columbanus show us the penalties the monasteries imposed on those who strayed from the expected norm. For small infractions, the least penalty was the recitation of three psalms. After that, the penalties increased in severity, with six to a hundred lashes given on the hand, using a leather strap. One could also be sentenced to long periods of fasting or silence. The worst offenses might require exile or banishment. The penalty for murder was ten years in exile, during which the offender might have to exist for a time on bread and water. Yet, despite the austere lifestyle and the penalties for straying, the monasteries grew....
One of the most important duties of a Celtic monk, for those with the aptitude, was the copying of manuscripts. And the Irish monks and their students copied everything they received—not only the Bible, but also Greek and Latin literature. They copied pagan works, mind you. The Celtic monks even recorded their own ancestral tales, such as The Tale of the Tain. Churchmen outside of Ireland disapproved of this welcoming view of non-Christian writings. But the Irish monks’ ready acceptance of all literature, no matter its religious worldview, helped to preserve the great works of western civilization.
But think what it meant to copy a book back then. Gutenberg and his printing press were hundreds of years away. Every document had to be painstakingly written by hand, dipping the quill in the ink pot several times to finish even one sentence. The copying took place one letter, one page, one book at a time. Such long, tedious work was perfect for the monk who wanted to sacrifice his life for Christ. But also good for saving literature that otherwise might be forgotten, burned by advancing barbarians, or hidden in a cache somewhere, never to be found again. (Read more.)
|From The Book of Kells|