1. As the author notes, most historians describe periods of
stasis, not movement, so that we miss out on the transition periods
of history. Discuss this in light of the story the author tells in
2. The author often gives us tableaus where he slips deep into
the scene as it''s happening--the Roman soldiers facing the German
tribes along the banks of the frozen Rhine, for instance. Talk
about how he does this and how it depends on our understanding of
the history he reports.
3. The possibility of "psychological fiction" [p. 41] came about
because of Augustine''s Confessions. Discuss this breakthrough to
the personal in prose.
4. The author gives a picture of Irish character that spans
prehistoric to current times. Discuss character as a trait rooted
in or heavily influenced by geography, weather, and culture.
5. Ireland, an island, had fewer outside influences on it than
did many other cultures during the Pax Romana. Discuss isolation as
a protective force, and a contributor to the idea that as Roman
lands went from "peace to chaos," Ireland went from "chaos to
peace" [p. 124].
6. Talk about the particular Irish women presented in this
book--Medb, Derdriu, Brigid of Kildare, and Dark Eileen
O''Connell--and the general Irish view of the role of women.
7. Discuss the difference between Patrick and Augustine''s
"emotional grasp of Christian truth" [p. 115].
8. Talk about the Irish people''s ability to enjoy magic and
superstition and pagan influences and yet convert wholeheartedly to
9. Christianity was "received into Rome," while Ireland was
"received into Christianity" [p. 148]. Discuss the difference and
its implications and results.
10. As Columcille and Columbanus traveled in Europe and
converted people to Christianity and established monasteries, they
worked under the rubric of a democratic principle that "a man is
better than his descent" [p. 176]. Discuss this as a change in
previous and subsequent spiritualities, such as that of Augustine
and the Rule of Saint Benedict.
11. Is power always corrupt? Discuss this in light of the Church
conspiring with the enemy (Brunhilda) against its own messenger,
Columbanus, and his Irish monks.
12. Discuss the cause and effect of the clash between the Roman
Christianity of Augustine''s Canterbury and Celtic Christianity at
the Synod of Whitby in A.D. 644.
13. Discuss how the intellectual Greek approach to thought died
and the price that subsequent cultures paid for it at the Synod of
Whitby or elsewhere.
14. Discuss De Divisione Naturae, John Scotus Eriugena''s theory
of nature and reality, and Pope Honorius III''s order to burn all
copies of it. From what the author presents here, talk about the
difference between pantheism and what Scotus suggested.
For Discussion: The Hinges of History Series
1. Each book gives a piece that helps complete the picture of who
we are, of our history, of our humanity and acts as a piece in a
puzzle. How effective is this type of a reckoning of our
2. The author did not write the books in his series in strict
chronological order. Instead he traces large cultural movements
over many centuries. How does this choice affect the understanding
of each book as a piece in the puzzle? Or as an individual
3. In his books, the author gets inside the heads and hearts of his
subjects, using a very close third-person point of view. How does
this choice strengthen his premise? Does it have limitations?
4. The author is Roman Catholic. Is he able to present these
histories without being biased by his Catholicism? Does one''s
religion (or lack of it) necessarily constrict or color one''s
5. Discuss the nature and history of the Irish and the Jews as read
in these books. What are their ambitions, their differences? How do
they differ from the Romans and the Greeks in all three books?