23 December 2017


As Christmas approaches and you look for suitable presents along the shelves of 'Church' bookshops: a word of advice. Don't buy anything from the shelves in the section labelled 'Celtic'.

Historians have decisively abandoned the concept of the 'Celtic' and especially of a supposed distinctive 'Celtic Church'. In a recent major scholarly work on this subject, Professor Charles-Edwards' Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge, 2000), the distinguished author writes dismissively of 'that entity - beloved of modern sectarians and romantics, but unknown to the early Middle Ages - ''the Celtic Church'' ', and surveys in a footnote the scholarly work of the last thirty years which has established this.

'Celtic' is the sexy religious thinggy because the 'Celtic' saints are distant figures in the past who , when they were alive, were rather combative old people but pose no particular threats to us now because they're dead except in in books and so they can easily be moulded to our own fads by suppressions and misrepresentations. And because 'Celtic' Christianity is in the past, people with hangups about the actual real Christianities available in the present day can invent their own 'Celtic Christianity'. Commonly such DIY constructions are all about being rather Mystical in pieces of remote and beautiful countryside, and about being 'close to nature'. If you are tempted to buy their books, check carefully whether the contents actually are sourced somewhere ancient or are merely the author's own compositions 'in the Celtic Spirit'.

If the 'Celtic' industry really had any serious interest in the Christianity of the 'Celtic fringe' during its first millennium, they would be rather keener to revive use of the earliest surviving Missal from these islands, the Stowe Missal, which dates from the 790s but was copied from an original which must have dated from before the changes made in the Mass by Pope S Gregory the Great in the late 500s. It is of southern Irish origin. I published a little academic something on it a few years ago. Its Eucharistic Prayer is almost entirely identical with the current Roman 'First Eucharistic Prayer', except that it contains rather more saints and describes the Pope as 'thy most blessed servant N our Pope, Bishop of the Apostolic See'. It has a lovely Prayer of Humble Access, so much more mystical and uplifting than Cranmer's, which includes beautiful (if possibly politically incorrect) phrases like 'I am unworthy because I filthily adhere to the mire of dung and all my good deeds are like a rag used by a menstrual woman'.

See if you can find it on those bookshelves!


Matthew said...

I can heartily recommend 'The Quest for Celtic Christianity' by Donald E. Meek: Edinburgh, The Handsel Press 2000. Two quotes: 'It seems that, for some [academic] writers at least, "Celtic Christianity" is where one goes on one's mental holidays, to relax, away from the pressing demands of the sources' (p 233f); 'Modern "Celtic Christianity" ... is a mixed bag of orthodoxy, heterodoxy and wishful thinking' (p 243).

FrB. said...

But Father! What about the penances? Surely the Celtic faddies are consistent and really embrace the penances such as fasting for years at a time, standing in freezing lakes for all the daylight hours of the day, and exiling themselves from home and family for the sake of the Gospel? We should be encouraging these pious folk and not disparaging them!

Catherina of Siena said...

Oh, wow, Father! Luther [perhaps?]would have loved that last sentence with the dung and the "menstrual rag". However, it sounds very Old Testament-Jewish to me.

If you could broadcast this charming phrase over a megaphone on every street corner, or set this text to a vague, floating melody for a new CD geared to the New Age feminists of today who all want to be spiritual but not religious in their gnostic dream world, it might just inaugurate the end of their Celtic longings.

Even youtube could reach them.

A very merry and blessed Christmas to you and your fans here.

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