The phrase "Early Irish" means the period from the fifth to the tenth century. Much theological material survives from then, but scholars have mostly used it for historical purposes, such as determining which church fathers the Irish knew. In this welcome, indeed overdue, volume, O'Laughlin examines theological themes. Throughout the book he struggles against modern perceptions of an idiosyncratic Celtic Church, "an eco-friendly, Augustine-free zone without formal theology or law" (19). This phenomenon has many parents from Irish Protestants who portrayed a national church that maintained its independence from Rome to contemporary New Age types who simply resent formality-and usually intellectuality-in religion. O'Loughlin argues for a distinctive Irish theology in the sense that every society has brought its cultural values to the understanding of Christianity. The Irish considered themselves part of the Western Church.
Two examples will show O'Loughlin's method. Adomnan of Iona (625-704) wrote De Locis Sanctis, about the Holy Land that he had never seen, yet this book became popular in the early Middle Ages. Adomnan applies Augustine's exegetical principles to his subject, and, "teasing out references to places in the Fathers," he established the theological significance of specific sites. His description of salt "fulfill(ed) a need, expressed by Augustine, for book on minerals mentioned in the Scriptures" (80). O'Loughlin similarly demonstrated how the Collectio Canonum Hibernorum embodied not just a collection of legal decisions but also a particular theological stance, such as exalting virginity over marriage. All in all, a fine book by a leading scholar.
Joseph F. Kelly
John Carroll University