Text: Senchus Mar

The following is an extract of an introductory narrative that was added to the collection of law known as the Senchus Már “Great Tradition,” collected in the 8th century. This introductory text attempts to harmonize “Natural Law,” the oral, customary law of pre-Christian Ireland, with the new Christian order.

This text was adapted by Michael Newton from Carey, “An edition of the pseudo-historical prologue,” with emendations from Scowcroft. “Recht Fáide.”

The men of Ireland said, “We need to establish and and arrange all of our laws […]”
“It is best to do it,” said Patrick.

Then all of the people of skill in Ireland assembled together, so that each showed his skill to Patrick, in the presence of all of the Irish princes. Then Dubthach [the royal poet of Ireland] was entrusted with the arrangement of Irish jurisprudence, of the arts of learning, and of any law prevailing amongst the Irish which derived from Natural Law, the Law of Prophets (for prophecy arising from Natural Law had authority in the rulings of all of Ireland), or from learned poets (filid) who foretold that the white language of the Scriptures would come to Ireland. For the Holy Spirit spoke and prophesied through the mouths of the righteous men who were originally in Ireland (i.e., the pagan Irish), just as He prophesied through the mouths of the chief prophets and patriarchs in the law of the Old Testament; for Natural Law touched on many things that the Law of Scripture did not.

As for the judgments of true nature which the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of the righteous judges and poets of the men of Ireland, from the time that this island was first inhabited until the coming of Christianity: Dubthach showed them all to Patrick. Whatever did not conflict with God’s word in the Scriptures and in the New Testament, and did not conflict with the consciences of Christians, was set into the system of judgment by Patrick, the churches, and the princes of Ireland. The whole Natural Law was acceptable, except what concerns religion and its proper dues, and the fusion of church and kingdom.

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