Martin - Ninian - Egypt - Gaul - Scotland 

extracts from:
The Celtic Church and the Influence of the East
Rev.John Stirton, B.D., F.S.A. (Scot.), Crathie

Returning to the contemporary British Church, we find that in the
province of Valentia, which comprised that portion of North Britain
situated between the walls of Antonine and Hadrian, there was born about
the year 360, one whose personality, amid much that is vague and
legendary, seems to stand out clear and distinct before the modern
historic vision. This is Nynias or Ninian, who was the son of a
Christian Celtic prince or chief. S. Ninian was baptized and educated a
Christian. Filled with religious zeal, he resolved to visit the great
city "whose ancient glory was still the pride of the world's dominant
empire," and, circumstances being favourable to the accomplishment of
his wish, he set out from his home and reached Rome in due course. Here
he studied for some time, and in 397 he was consecrated as Bishop, and
sent back to his native country. On his way he passed through Gaul, and
turned aside for some time to the city of Tours on the Loire, where S.
Martin, commonly known as "the soldier saint" and now in his eightieth
year, presided over a monastery which he had founded on the Eastern
model, the fame of which was known to S. Ninian. As the latter's
sojourn with the aged S. Martin, to whom he is said to have been
related, was destined to bear much fruit, and to have far-reaching
consequences later in the Celtic Church, it will be well that we should
pause here for a little, and endeavour to examine briefly the nature and
general characteristics of the Church of ancient Gaul, many features of
which were afterwards to be incorporated into that of the

...........of this monasticism [the type obtaining in Gaul], S. Anthony,
the Coptic Saint, was the founder. Anthony was an Egyptian of noble
birth, who was born in Corma, situated near the boundary between Lower
and Upper Egypt, in 251 AD. He early became imbued with zeal for the
ascetic life. At first he was a solitary or eremite, but later he
advocated the coenobitic life. Later, this idea was merged in that of
the monastery in which the brethren dwelt under one roof.

Pachomius, the successor to S. Anthony, brought the monks together under
a prescribed rule and founded a monastery on the island of Tabennae in
the Upper Nile, which had latterly no fewer than 7,000 members. The
head of the monastery was the Abbas, a Syriac word which means father,
and the community was regarded as his family. The fame and reputation
for piety of this early establishment rapidly spread, and many similar
communities sprang up in neighbouring countries.

This Egyptian system of monasticism in due course took firm root in
Gaul, although not in Rome. S. Martin became impressed with it. In 360
he returned to Poitiers and was again with Hilary. He founded in the
neighbourhood the Monastery of Liguge. In 371 he was appointed Bishop
of Tours. As he was devoted to the life of a recluse he established the
Monastery of Marmoutier-les-Tours on the banks of the Loire. It should
be pointed out, however, that it was not entirely die to the name and
fame of S. Anthony that S. Martin felt the desire to be associated with
the ascetic life. Combined with this primary cause was another,
resulting from his absorbing interest in the Montanist Colony which,
years before his time, had fled from Asia to establish itself and its
doctrines in Gaul. In him therefore two streams of Eastern asceticism
converged; one from Egypt and the other from Asia Minor. .....

>From the above evidence it is clear that S. Martin received his
inspiration from Lyons [also strongly influenced by Asia Minor], through
Hilary and Symphorian, and from Egypt, rather than from Rome.

S. Martin was not alone in his enthusiasm for Egyptian monasticism.
John Cassian - who had visited the Nile and its most celebrated
monasteries, and who returned with glowing accounts of the success of
the movement in Egypt; of the 5,00 monks on the mountains where S.
Anthony had lived in his cell; of the 50,00 in the desert of Nitria;
of the 50,000 who would assemble together to celebrate the Easter
Communion; of the meagre diet, of the maceration of the flesh, of the
devout piety - founded a monastery as Marseilles after the Egyptian
model, and published two books: "De Institut Coenobiorum" and
"Collationes Patrum," which greatly influenced the religious beliefs and
practices in Gaul. The doctrine taught in this monastery was a
semi-Pelagianism, as opposed to the orthodox Augustinianism of the
Church of Rome. There were many others, like Cassian, who felt
impelled, after visiting Egypt, to found similar retreats. There
Egyptian customs and habits of thought were introduced on the islands
which range themselves along the western coasts of the Mediterranean.
"The sea was to these retreats," as the late Professor Story describes,
"what the Nile or the desert was to their Egyptian prototypes; and the
Egyptian model of the monastic life was faithfully reproduced in them."
Just as Ephesus, Antioch, and Alexandria found their way to Gaul without
making Rome a stage on the journey, so intercourse between Egypt and
Gaul which, indeed, had been established for ages before the Christian
era, although hitherto purely social, commercial, and intellectual, now
became also religious. When Jerome's eulogies of monasticism were so
angrily resented by Roman society that he saw it was best for him to
retire to Bethlehem with Paula and Eustochium, "the asceticism of the
Nile was already winning its way among hundreds of devotees in Liguria
[extreme south-western part of Northern Italy} and Gallia Narbonensis
[southeastern coast of modern day France]."

Another of the notable communities in Gaul was that of the island of
Lerins, founded by S. Honorat. This became a centre from which emanated
monastic forces which quickly spread throughout the whole of the west of
Europe. It was S. Vincent, the great and leaned doctor in this
monastery, who gave the well known definition of the true creed - "Quod
semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditumi sit."

The seven chapels of this monastery may still be traced among the ruins,
and forcibly remind us of the seven churches at Glendalough in Ireland,
both groups being symbolic of the historic seven of Asia in the

To this monastery came S. Patrick of Ireland, after escaping from the
chieftain, on the Antrim coast, who had held him in bondage. he here
studied the culture and asceticism which had been transplanted from the
East. In his "Confession" he does not speak of having received his
authority from Rome, and his whole life and teaching prove the reverse.
Like S. Ninian, he also visited S. Martin, who was his uncle, at Tours,
and there he gathered further insight into the work of the monastery.

Here then we have reached a highly interesting stage in our historical
progression. These two Christian leaders - S. Ninian, carrying from S.
Martin at Tours the enthusiasm for monasticism and culture of the East,
and later, S. Patrick, likewise imbued with monastic zeal which he had
acquired both at Lerins and Tours - returned to their respective
countries, Scotland and Ireland, and founded religious settlements
which, before many years should elapse, were calculated to wield an
influence universally felt not only in the British Isles but on the
Continent of Europe ......<snip>....

We this see that the influence of Asia Minor and of Egypt came to the
early Celtic Church in Britain from Gaul in two streams which eventually
met and merged into one; the first came from S. Martin through S.
Ninian to Whithorn, in Galloway, whence, through S. Finian it passed to
Moville in Ireland and from Moville through S. Columba to Iona and the
Celts of Scotland in 563 AD. the second originated in Lerins and
through S. Martin at Tours and S. Patrick it passed to Ireland, where it
joined the other.

extracts from:
The Celtic Church and the Influence of the East
Rev.John Stirton, B.D., F.S.A. (Scot.), Crathie

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