In finishing Chadwick’s History of the Early Church over my recent holiday, I am again struck by the resonances in the development of the early Christian Church and contemporary structures in the Catholic Church in Ireland. (I’m not going to go into this at length and I promise that this might be the history of Church book I actually read over the coming years.) I never fully understood until now why there was an Eastern and Western Church (varying interpretations of the meaning of Christ’s personhood) or why there is a profession of faith at the beginning of the liturgy. The book goes through this without taxing the reader with theology.

One thing also struck me though: imagine if Catholic schools in Ireland taught this stuff? I went to school from 1977 to 1991 and it has taken me this long to get to the root of some of this. My religion classes in Dublin consisted mostly of showing films to make us ponder “hmmm” at the end e.g. when Dustin Hoffman’s character makes his brother realise that there’s more to life than money and cars. Imagine: morality through celluloid.
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Consider for a minute if there were people who left the education system (predominantly religious in ‘ethos’ here in Ireland) and were able to talk intelligently about the Church in the same way as they might be interested in mathematics or French literature? And I don’t mean in a ‘science versus religion’ kind of way but interested because it teaches us something about ourselves. Like, why is it that the early Irish Church was monastic in nature? Is there something specific about the development of the Church in Ireland in the 6th century that made it believe that being a monk was an important expression of faith?

We’ve preserved ‘the Church’ in aspic. It’s for those learned ones, those with an education who must preserve it all costs. It’s not ‘ours’ but ‘theirs’ – the dominant ones. Perhaps then we might get thousands of people in Ireland rejecting their faith in an intelligent and considered way rather than in a legalistic and knee-jerk manner as currently happens.