|Patrick of Ireland's Liber ex Lege Moisi, which emphasizes |
biblical civil law, played a major role in transforming Celtic
The Old Testament was a model for the civil laws of early Celtic Christian governments. For our purposes here, Celtic Christians are Christians who "lived in the British Isles before the coming of the Italian mission of Augustine (A.D. 597), and continued for about a century, or a little more, in an independent state." The British Isles includes Great Britain and Ireland.
In The Celtic Church in Britain, Leslie Hardinge discusses the influence of the Old Testament on Old Irish legislation:
"This synthesis, of the old Brehon Laws and the regulations of the Old Testament, throws light on the practices of the ancient Irish Christians, and hence of the Celtic Church. It probably goes back for its inspiration to the old law book, Liber ex Lege Moisi. Wherever Patrick established a church he was believed to have left a copy of "the books of the Law and the Books of the Gospel". The Liber ex Lege Moisi is the only work surviving from Celtic sources which answers to the description, "books of the Law". Each of the four extant manuscripts of this work has an Irish provenance. The earliest has been dated about 800, and had apparently been copied from an earlier manuscript. It commences with the Decalogue and contains selections from the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which are filled with citations from the Old Latin."
Regarding Patrick's influence on Celtic laws, the Old-Irish glossator, writing on 1 Timothy 1:7's statement "desiring to be teachers of the law," comments, "That they might be engaged in framing laws with kings." On this a commentator writes:
This appears to be an allusion to the story of the revision of the laws of Ireland in St. Patrick's time: "The Seanchus and Feinechus of Ireland were purified and written, the writings and old books of Ireland having been collected and brought to one place at the request of St. Patrick. These were the nine supporting props by whom this was done: Laeghaire, King of Ireland, Corc, and Daire, the three kings; Patrick, Benen, and Cairnech, the three saints; Ross, Dubhthach, and Fearghus, the three antiquaries." —Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 438.
|Patrick's Liber ex Lege |
Moisi includes selections
from Exodus, Leviticus,
The role of Patrick of Ireland's Liber ex Lege Moisi in shaping biblical civil legislation was enormous: "The rules of the Old Testament which shaped the theocracy of Israel were followed by the Celts as a natural consequence of their view of biblical authority. The role of the Liber ex Lege Moisi was paramount." Thus, "the legislation of Moses pervaded social, economic, and legal relationships to an extent seldom seen in the history of other branches of the Church."
The influence of biblical civil law on Celtic legislation helped to minimize the barbarism of older pagan legislation. The Liber ex Lege Moisi had a long-term impact: it "apparently played an important part in the framing of the laws of Ina, and hence of those of Alfred the Great and later legislators."
Some of the civil laws from Scripture that the Liber ex Lege Moisi cites includes:
- Being a sorcerer, medium, or necromancer a capital offense (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27)
- Sacrificing to false gods a capital offense (Exodus 22:20)
- Blasphemy a capital offense (Leviticus 24:15, 16)
- Profaning the Sabbath a capital offense (Exodus 31:14)
- Striking one's parent a capital offense (Exodus 21:15)
- Cursing one's parent a capital offense (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9)
- Murder a capital offense (Exodus 21:12-14; Leviticus 35:31)
- Bestiality a capital offense (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:15, 16)
- Adultery a capital offense (Leviticus 20:10)
- Sex between a man and his father's wife a capital offense (Leviticus 20:11)
- Sex between a man and his daughter-in-law a capital offense (Leviticus 20:12)
- Sex between a man and a woman and her mother a capital offense (Leviticus 20:14)
- Kidnapping a capital offense (Exodus 21:16)
- Slave regulations (Exodus 21:1-11; 20, 21; 26, 27; 32; Leviticus 19:20)
- Thieves must pay restitution (Exodus 22:1-4; Leviticus 6:1-5)
- Partiality required in courts of law (Exodus 23:1-3; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16, 17; 16:19)
- Punishment proportionate to the crime (Leviticus 24:19, 20)
- Same law for native and sojourner (Leviticus 24:22)
- Capital offenses require two or three witnesses for conviction (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15)
- Cities of refuge for those who commit accidental homicides (Deuteronomy 19:4, 5)
- Malicious false witness to receive penalty that the accused would have received (Deuteronomy 19:16-19)
|The laws of the great Christian |
king Alfred the Great were
influenced by Patrick's
Liber ex Lege Moisi
High priority must be given to the role played by the monastery during the Celtic period. It was more vital than that of an average community a thousand years later. Its functions and responsibilities were pervasive in the life of the people. The laws of Ireland carefully defined the relationships which the "tribe of the people" were to sustain to the "tribe of the church". The sanctuary which the monastery provided for offenders in need was jealously guarded. The laws and customs which supported the idea of protection were richly flavoured by regulations taken from the Liber ex Lege Moisi.
 Leslie Hardinge, The Celtic Church in Britain (London: S.P.C.K., 1972), xi
 Whitley Stokes, ed., The Tripartite Life of Patrick II, 300. Cited in Ibid., 50.
 Hardinge, The Celtic Church in Britain, 49, 50.
 Cited in Thomas Olden, trans., The Holy Scriptures in Ireland One Thousand Years Ago: Selections from the Würtzburg Glosses (New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1889), 105.
 Ibid. Hardinge, The Celtic Church in Britain, 202.
 Ibid., 51. Ibid., 64, 65.
 Ibid., 50.
 The Liber's thirty-five total Scripture selections include: Exodus 20:2-17, 22a, 23-26; Exodus 21:1-36; Exodus 22:1-31; Exodus 23:1-19; Exodus 31:14; Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 6:1-6a; Leviticus 7:19, 20; Leviticus 11:33 (fragments), 35, 36; Leviticus 12:1-5, 6b; Leviticus 17:10-11a, 13c, 14b, 15 (fragments); Leviticus 18:2b, 5-13, 15-21, 22b-24, 29; Leviticus 19:11-19b, 20, 21a, 26-28, 31-36b; Leviticus 20:6, 7, 9-12, 14-19, 21, 23, 27; Leviticus 22:8a, 14, 21, 22; Leviticus 24:15a, 16ab, 18-22a; Leviticus 25:37; Leviticus 27:1-20, 25, 30-34; Numbers 27:7b-11a; Numbers 35:30b, 31; Deuteronomy 1:16b, 17abc; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 13b, 16; Deuteronomy 13:1-4a; Deuteronomy 14:21-22; Deuteronomy 16:19b; Deuteronomy 17:1, 6; Deuteronomy 18:10-12a; Deuteronomy 19:4, 5, 11-13a; Deuteronomy 19:15-19; Deuteronomy 22:5-8, 28, 29; Deuteronomy 23:19, 20ac, 21-23; Deuteronomy 24:16, 17; Deuteronomy 25:13-16a; Deuteronomy 27:15-27; Deuteronomy 28:1-11, 12b-25, 26c-33a, 34-45. Ibid., 210-216.
 Ibid., 173.
photo credit:Patrick Preaching to the Kings by Franz Mayer & Co. in the 19th century
Photographed by Andreas F. Borchert / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photographed by Andreas F. Borchert / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)