Defense of free knowledge in XNUMXth century Ireland

Defense of free knowledge

Although this story takes place nine centuries before the printing press was invented and fourteen after the advent of photocopiers, computers and the internet, the arguments of the debate raised between property rights and the right of access to knowledge are surprisingly current

I want to make it clear that beyond the religious component, the trial and its subsequent consequences are documented historical facts.

Let me introduce you to Columbano. His birth had been prophesied by three of Ireland's greatest saints; Patricio, Brígida and Mocha. As if that wasn't enough, an angel assured his mother that he was following a great Church leader.

Young Columban is credited with curing the sick, raising the dead, and cursing a murderer to death.

His contemporaries describe him as an intelligent and sports-loving person, with a large and generous nature, but a very bad temper. It is precisely this that would have important consequences for him, for Ireland and the entire West.

The pagan religion in the hands of the Druids still predominated in Ireland while the political power was divided between different clans. Columban decided that for his ecclesiastical mission he not only needed spiritual knowledge. He also had to learn politics and marketing. Of course, in Columban times that word was not known.

In the sixth century there were no social networks, but we already had influencers. They were the bards.

The bards were itinerant poets who traveled all over the country reciting their compositions based on legends and real events past and present. They were capable of sinking and raising reputations. From their hands, Columbano learned the history and folklore of his country as well as practical knowledge of how Power was obtained and used.

From ordination as a priest at the age of 25Columban dedicated himself to founding monasteries throughout Ireland. A fundamental part of those monasteries was a library since it believed in the importance of access to knowledge.

The future saint had enemies. To begin with the rival clans to which he belonged, neither his character nor the fact that he successfully promoted Christianity in the land of the Druids helped.

They waited for an opportunity to harm him, and he finally came

Defense of free knowledge

The Vulgate is the translation of the Bible into Latin by Saint Jerome. Found out that un monk named Finnian had a copy, Columban decided to go see it and make a copy.

Finnian viewed books as cattle-like or building-like property, so he rhe was restricting his access and was unwilling to allow it to be copied. Aware that Columbano had done it secretly, he demanded the delivery of the new copy.

Both parties agreed to submit the case to the king.

Before the Court, Finnian complained of breach of trust, violation of property laws and claimed that the copy lacked the quality of the original

Pay attention to Columban's answer.

My friend applies an old law to a new reality. Books are different from other possessions and the law should recognize this.

Educated men like us. Since we have received a new heritage of knowledge through them, we have an obligation to spread that knowledge by copying and distributing these books throughout the world.

After noting that Finnian's property was undamaged, he continued:

Knowledge of books has to be available to anyone who wants to read them and it is wrong to try to hide that knowledge.

Columban's enemies manipulated the king to rule against them.

War and exile

Shortly after, the son of a clan chief kills the son of an important servant of the king after which he asks Colombian for refuge. The king does not respect the asylum and executes it in the church.

This filled the patience of the priest who jhe anointed an army and defeated the king in a battle where there were 3000 dead.

As penance his colleagues assigned him to preach in Scotland.

Thanks to Columbanus, a true forerunner of free knowledge, Irish monasteries preserved books that would otherwise have been lost forever.


Edit, Ray (2007). Colmcille and the Battle of the Book: Technology, Law and Access to Knowledge in 6th Century Ireland. In: Gikll 2 Workshop on the intersections between law, technology and popular culture at Universito College London, September 19th, 2007

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  1.   Mephisto Feles said

    Knowledge is the heritage of humanity.

  2.   deby said

    very good story!

    1.    Diego German Gonzalez said

      Thank you very much for commenting.

  3.   cgdesiderati said

    People who hide their knowledge have ALWAYS angered me