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!


Joshua said...

I recall an otherwise pleasant retreat at a former Pallottine seminary that had partially passed into the care of some daft Uniting Church (think lowbrow Methodist) types; we were constrained to attend their "Celtic Night Prayer", which contained the surprising statement that "I bend my knee in the eye of God the Father, I bend my knee in the eye of God the Son, I bend my knee in the eye of..." - at which point I seem to recall running out of the upper chapel in fits of hysterical laughter at this bizarre blasphemy; the Uniting Church nitwits gave me some nasty looks thereafter.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father, One S.J. M. Gavin in his 1903 book, "The Sacrifice of the Mass; An explanation of its Doctrine, Rubrics and Prayers," observed, If you wish to find a people who have kept the faith through an almost passionate love for the Mass, look at Ireland where in Dublin alone some 40,000 hear Mass daily.

Father Gavin was Pastor of The Immaculate Conception Church of Fram Street London, and in 1901 he initialed a weekly series of explanations of Catholic Doctrine for the Faithful and the curious.

All of this happened back in the bad old days when the Faithful were taught the four sacrificial aspects of The Mass - The Holocaust/Sacrifice of homage to His sovereign greatness, The Holocaust/Sacrifice of expiation, offered to appease His Justice, The Holocaust/Sacrifice of impetration offered to implore His bounty, and The Holocaust/Sacrifice offered to thank Him for His beauty.

The Mass is a Holocaust which the one True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church offers to God as an offering to His greatness and power, a sacrifice of expiation to appease His Justice, a sacrificed of impetration to solicit His bounty, and a Eucharistic sacrifice offered to Him in thanksgiving for all of his favors.

Back in those benighted times, there was actual ecumenism and actual appreciation of the four sacrificial aspects of the daily Holocaust/Sacrifice but now, thanks to the new ecumenism and the new Lil' Licit Liturgy, we have progressed to the point where it now makes little difference what sect you belong to because universalism and the superstitious Real Mass has been blowed-up and so now we have the Lord's Supper which is a product of the gathering community.

And no, ABS is not bitter about anything just because his progenitors on his Mother's side were from County Cork or because he can not find a Real Mass within a decent drive of where he lives, for he has no reason for bitterness because we have progressed to the point where such irksome truths as Truth no longer matter for all is Mercy.

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.

Anonymous said...

When someone tells me they are a fan of "celtic spirituality", I ask them if that means standing up to their neck in freezing rivers while reciting the penitential psalms like St. David (Dewi) of Wales often did. It is usually met with incredulity or alarm.

Cherub said...

Father, this is very helpful and fascinating. I wonder whether you could provide the link to the piece you wrote a few years to which you refer in your article. I had often wondered about "Celtic Christianity" but, having lived most of my life in Australia, had made no effort to research it. The best that I can say for myself is that I have read Saint Bede and some others, looked up some of the lives of the Saints of that period, but never having been struck with an idea that what they knew and practiced of the Faith was any different to what an Orthodox Catholic today knows of the faith,

PM said...

Not to mention the swamping of the contemporary liturgy by what the distinguished Scottish composer James MacMillan aptly describes as faux-folk cod-Celtic that owes more to the sound tracks of The Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, than anything remotely authentic.

Simple Simon said...

A memory from yesteryear. The Celtic football club was playing Glasgow Rangers on a Saturday the 17th March. When Celtic went 2-O up, sixty thousand Celtic fans suitably liturgically attired in green white and gold sang loudly and with great fervour 'Hail Glorious St.Patrick' much to the chagrin of the mainly Calvinist Rangers supporters. Such is Celtic Spirituality Glasgow style. Every Christmas blessing Fr.H, blog warrior supreme.

Confitebor said...

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

It is -- but it comes from Isaiah, whose prophecies we often hear during Advent, so it's not out of place: "And we are all become as one unclean, and all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman: and we have all fallen as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isa. 64:6)

The King James Version euphemistically renders "rag of a menstruous woman" as "filthy rags," but the Latin literally and accurately translates the underlying Hebrew of Isaiah's prophecy here, and therefore the old Douay Rheims does the same.

Banshee said...

Heh. Yup, the more you study actual Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton, Manx, etc. Christianity... the less you can stand the sort of Celtic twilight junk.

OTOH, there is something to be said for it as a gateway drug, as long as you get interested quickly enough in the real stuff.

I just saw a really nice photo webpage on Irish holy wells, shrines, etc. It was pretty and interesting, and it talked a lot about the links between holy wells and early Christian Baptisms, in the local saint stories.

I've also seen a lot more articles by Irish people pointing out that most of the walking around in circles praying on feastdays are closely associated with the sites of old churches, where basically the local Catholics just stubbornly continued to go to church and hold processions around and through it -- even though that meant pretending that the old altars in the destroyed church, and the other buildings in the complex, still existed. They are really tired of being told they're being anciently pagan when it all started in 15-something.

Of course, there's no denying that a lot of people in the Celtic countries, or who have heritage there, are the ones who perpetuate the lies and distortions! There's such a thing as an academic urban legend; and to be fair, a made-up modern piece of folklore is just as much folklore as something made-up and ancient. It's just not accurate history or theology, that's all.

GOR said...

My beef with ‘Celtic’ such and such, lies with the contrivance of ‘Craic’ for Crack – as in “we had good crack…” Not quite the spiritual meaning you had in mind, Father, though Gaelic 'Crack' is usually associated with spirits – of the alcoholic variety, however…