How the Irish Saved Civilization


One of the most difficult elements in understanding God’s providence is understanding our obligation in our times. Consider the different responses of Joshua and Daniel concerning pagan rulers. Joshua killed them, Daniel served them, each with God’s blessing.

What would you do, for instance, if Vandals, Visigoths, and Vikings were trampling underfoot all of Western civilization? One group of Christians chose the right course. Thomas Cahill chronicles that story in his bestseller, How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.

Cahill tells of the holy men and women of unconquered Ireland, who labored to preserve the West’s written treasury and, when stability returned, spread learning east. The monasteries had walls for protection, but these saints ventured out to minister to their neighbors.

The book begins by recounting the fall of Rome and its underlying causes. It details the conversion of Ireland, and from there the preservation of learning. It serves not as a mere history book, but provides a road map toward the apparent decline of the West, and wisdom for how we might respond.

Though Cahill is a scholar, he manages to avoid the pedantic style of the academic. Neither does he practice the deadly art of political correctness. What shines through is what is so sorely missing in so many of today’s scholars—a love of knowledge. One can almost hear Cahill cheering the scribes on as they faithfully copy the sources. As such, Cahill is one of the few academics who recognize and are grateful for that wisdom from the past that was actually saved.

The book is fun, and I trust would even be so for those poor souls without a drop of the Irish in them. This book is one of few that one can both enjoy and profit from. Should the need arise to copy the wisdom of our age, I trust this book will be among those chosen. The paperback edition is published by Anchor, and can be found in just about any bookstore.

This review is reprinted from Every Thought Captive, the monthly magazine of Highlands Ministries.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.